Leslie Van Houten: Natural Born Killer, or Victim?


Photo: Leslie van Houten, circa 19 years old

The recent news that Leslie Van Houten has been approved for parole after almost 50 years of incarceration has been met with huge debate worldwide.

The former Charles Manson follower was born into a middle-class but dysfunctional existence. Her parents divorced while she was quite young, and Van Houten eventually transformed from wholesome all-American Homecoming Queen into a completely divergent being; her life changed irrevocably. After dabbling with various drugs, further misdemeanours led to her involvement with Charles Manson, and down the path which would eventually ruin her life and those of numerous others.

In 1968, she was introduced to the “Christ-like” Manson by her new-found friends, Bobby Beausoil and Catherine “Gyspy” Share. Soon, Van Houten joined “The Family” at their ranch in Los Angeles. Charles Manson, who had already been convicted multiple times for various felonies, was also bitter and hateful, having tried but failed to secure a music career (despite having one of his songs recorded by The Beach Boys). His talent for manipulation turned this following, his “Family”, into a cult – a conduit for his malevolence, which saw him carry out crimes through them.

The Family listened to The Beatles, to Manson’s predictions of a “race war”, and to his plans to incite one, starting with the murders of Sharon Tate and others, in which Van Houten was not involved. She did however play an active role in the following night’s bloodshed, when Leno and Rosemary LaBianca were brutally assaulted and murdered.

The “Family” were finally arrested and charged towards the end of 1969, leading to a trial widely regarded as a chaotic circus, due mostly to the behaviour of the defendants, in particular Van Houten and her numerous attempts to exculpate Manson.

Van Houten was found guilty of two counts of first-degree murder and one count of conspiracy to commit murder, and received the death penalty. This was later commuted to life with the possibility for parole, following a ban on capital punishment in 1972.

While imprisoned at California Institute for Women in Frontera, California, Van Houten married and got divorced, obtained a degree in counselling, and participated in regular counselling sessions for other inmates. On 6, September 2017 the board granted her parole a second time, starting a 150-day review process, during which California Governor Jerry Brown will decide whether or not to release her, having already reversed a successful parole hearing the previous year.

So, what of a pending decision to grant parole to a person who is causing such a divide in public opinion? There are those who say that her involvement in one of the most heinous crimes in American history is enough to keep her locked up for life, as called for by her sentence. Certainly, the remaining family, associates, and friends of those killed would be of this opinion. She did directly cause the violent death of another human, and so the argument might be that this can never be mitigated simply by reason of manipulation and subsequent “good behaviour”.

Then there is the suggestion that Van Houten was a vulnerable young girl who, though born into a comfortable life, had experienced a difficult childhood, which had led to bad decisions including drug taking and a downward-spiral lifestyle. If she was “groomed” by Manson and moulded through brainwashing and drugging into becoming one of many killer puppets, the arguing point arises that she was not fully aware of her actions and their consequences while in Manson’s thrall.

Manson himself has never shown any outward signs of remorse, but Van Houten has, and told her two-person parole panel, “To tell you the truth, the older I get the harder it is to deal with all of this, to know what I did, how it happened”.

Is she likely to be a threat to society now, if released – or is that even the point? Does remorse and turning her life around in prison exonerate her to a degree, if she was indeed the victim of a clever manipulator? Should she be afforded the opportunity as with any other released prisoner to try and integrate back into society to live the rest of her life, and attempt to reconcile with her past as best she can?

Had she never met Manson, one has to wonder if she would ever have committed any crime, compared to the man himself – a multiple felon, with a dogged hunger for disorder and carnage. Perhaps she was a victim too, a troubled young woman who became radicalised by a man with whom she was infatuated, and for whom she would have done anything.

Even if she had turned down a similar path, but never known him, would public opinion be so harsh if she had been convicted of crimes never connected to the notorious Manson?

It is hard to have a black and white opinion on a story comprised of such a spectrum of events and chaotic circumstances. What is certain is that a decision needs to be made and whatever that decision is, it will be one of the most talked about points for many years to come.

Tensions mount in the Korean Peninsula, as South Korea conducts bombing drills in response to its northern neighbour’s latest test missile launch


The drums of war keep getting louder around the Korean Peninsula, as tensions mount between all sides.

The latest missile launch by North Korea has been answered by a simulated bombing raid by its southern foe.

The exercise, ordered by the South Korean president Moon Jae-in, called for a squadron of F15-K to drop MK84 ordnance on practice targets on a shooting range sited near the border.

The -K variant of the F15 series is specifically manufactured for the South Korean Air Force by Boeing. It can carry almost 14 tons worth of weapons, including the MK84 multi-purpose bomb.

Second only in size to the largest Daisy Cutter weapon, the MK84 -deemed ‘the Hammer’ by F-117 pilots who dropped it during the First Gulf War- the MK84 delivers over 400kg of explosive power to the target.

The bombing drill was intended as a show of ‘overwhelming force’ to the Pyongyang regime.

The move comes hours after North Korea conducted another test missile launch. The weapon, believed to be a Hwasong-12 intermediate-range missile, flew over the northern Japanese territory of Hokkaido and triggered a planned response. Air-raid sirens blared, trains stopped, and people received text messages urging them to seek shelter immediately.

The missile is believed to have experienced a mid-flight malfunction and splashed down on Japanese waters.

The move marks a dangerous escalation in the ongoing conflict involving North Korea and the US’s allies in the area, South Korea and Japan.


Charlie Gard case: Judge will rule on where tragic baby Charlie Gard should spend his last moments of life


The case of baby Charlie Gard has gripped the public across Europe and elsewhere.

Charlie was born on August 4, 2016, to the parents of Connie Yates and Chris Gard.

Afflicted from birth by a rare genetic condition known as mitochondrial depletion syndrome, Charlie has not had much of a life outside hospital environments in London.

Charlie’s condition causes progressive muscle weakness, and in Charlie’s case, he’s also suffered brain damage, now known to be irreversible.

His parents fought a valiant, but ultimately futile legal battle to have their son treated with an experimental treatment that has reportedly had some success in other cases. Much to the parent’s pain and sorrow however, the window of opportunity to treat Charlie -if there ever was one-, has now passed. The damage to his brain is too great, and cannot be undone. Charlie cannot move or breathe unassisted. His body is being kept alive by machines.

Charlie’s parents are now fighting to be given the chance to take their son home for the last time, and let him pass away there.

A judge will rule tomorrow on the place and manner of Charlie’s passing, after the hospital where the baby is currently being cared for raised concerns about transporting the terminally ill Charlie Gard home, explaining that the ventilator that keeps him alive ‘might not fit through the door.’

Mo’ money: EU countries ready to pounce on Apple’s billions


EU countries are lining up cap in hand to get a hefty slice of the 19bn money pie baked by the recent tax ruling.

Last month’s EU resolution that Ireland can claim up piles of money in back taxes owed by the tech giant sent shockwaves across the continent, and greatly angered officials in Washington.

The Irish Government however, in all its wisdom, looked at the gift money horse in the mouth and said nay, we’d rather Apple keep it, lest their jobs teat runs dry for us.

Other, more shrewd EU leaders though are keener on getting their fair share of the cash pie in the sky.

Like warring distant cousins at a will reading, Spain, Italy, and Austria have tripped and shoved each other for the pole position in the beggars grid, and are frantically leafing through ledgers to see how much Apple may have pilfered through the years.

And so the wacky race for Apple’s billions begins. Place your bets as to who the winner and the losers may be.