Leslie Van Houten was a teenage follower of Charles Manson. After half a century behind bars for murder, she’s now free

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It was in a jail cell that former Manson family cult member Leslie Van Houten finally found freedom.

Or so she said, grinning, in a video interview recorded six years after she was sentenced to death for her part in the 1969 murders of Californian supermarket executive Leno LaBianca and his wife Rosemary, the day after the infamous killing of actress Sharon Tate and four friends by other cult members.

“That was the biggest struggle, that I could think independently. Because living at the ranch, we were taught never to think independently — it always had to be what others would think, or not to question anything,” she told the interviewer in 1977.

“And when I realised that I could, it was like a whole new world was opened up.”

Van Houten entered prison as a fresh-faced 19-year-old, a crude “X” etched into her forehead the only visible evidence of her devotion to notorious cult leader Charles Manson.

This week the now 73-year-old walked free after more than half a century behind bars.

“I was relieved that it [the death penalty] was abolished, but I also knew that abolishing the death penalty gave me a huge responsibility to atone,” Van Houten told a podcast in 2021. “To learn to live with what I had done, and a lifetime of living with the murders.”

But as Van Houten embarks on a new chapter as a free woman, after spending her entire adult life locked up, the spectre of Manson and the teenage girls who killed for him — after digesting a poisonous cocktail of brainwashing, manipulation and LSD — lives on in the American psyche.

Content retrieved from: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2023-07-16/leslie-van-houten-released-charles-manson-the-family-cult/102592594.

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