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News / Northwest

Manson disciple who conspired to kill Washington beauty queen Sharon Tate could go free

By Annette Cary, Tri-City Herald
Published: June 1, 2023, 7:44am

KENNEWICK — The sister of actress Sharon Tate is asking for the public’s support to keep Charles Manson cult killer Leslie Van Houten from being paroled.

Sharon Tate was stabbed to death by Charles Manson’s disciples in August 1969, a decade after she attended high school in Richland and was named Miss Richland for Atomic Frontier Days.

A day after Sharon Tate was murdered, Van Houten helped other cult members stab to death Leno LaBianca, a grocer in Los Angeles, and his wife, Rosemary, at the direction of Charles Manson.

Van Houten, now in her 70s, is serving a life sentence.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom rejected parole for Van Houten in 2020, but on Tuesday a California appeals court ruled that she should be released from prison on parole.

Sharon Tate’s only surviving relative, Debra Tate, updated a change.org petition after the Tuesday ruling asking California Attorney General Rob Bonta to petition the California Supreme Court to stop Van Houten’s release.

The petition started in 2016, has more than 180,000 signatures.

Sharon Tate, 26, was married to film director Roman Polanski and was 8 1/2 months pregnant with her first child, a boy, when she was one of five people killed at the couple’s Benedict Canyon home the night before the LaBianca killings.

Tate was the last to be killed that night, begging for the life of her unborn child, according to the Herald’s previous reporting. Sharon Tate was stabbed to death and her blood was used to write the word “Pig” on the front door of the mansion.

Van Houten, then 19, was not part of the murders at the Polanski and Tate home, but her convictions were not only for the LaBianca killings the next night but also for conspiracy for the mass killings involving Tate.

Sharon Tate in Richland

Sharon Tate lived in Richland from 1955 to 1959, after the Tate family moved to Richland when the dad, Paul Tate, was assigned to Camp Hanford to work in Army intelligence.

She attended Chief Joseph Junior High, and then Columbia High School (now Richland High) from September 1958 to October 1959.

She won the title Miss Autorama Tri-Cities in 1958, and a year later Miss Richland for Atomic Frontier Days. But the 16-year-old had to give up her title just two weeks later when her father received orders to be stationed overseas.

The family later returned to the United States, and Tate’s first acting role was as a secretary on TV’s “The Beverly Hillbillies.”

Her first starring role was as Jane in the film “Tarzan.” Her filmography also includes “Valley of the Dolls,” “Eye of the Devil,” “The Wrecking Crew” and “The Fearless Vampire Killers.” The latter was directed by Polanski.

Van Houten parole upheld

Since 2016 Van Houten has been recommended for parole five times, with California governors rejecting parole each time.

But after Newsom’s latest decision to reject her parole, saying she offered inconsistent and inadequate explanations for her involvement with Manson, the Second District Court of Appeal in Los Angeles ruled 2-1 to reverse Newsom’s decision, writing there is “no evidence to support the Governor’s conclusions” about Van Houten’s fitness for parole.

“Van Houten has shown extraordinary rehabilitative efforts, insight, remorse, realistic parole plans, support from family and friends, favorable institutional reports, and, at the time of the Governor’s decision, had received four successive grants of parole,” the judges wrote.

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The dissenting judge argued that there was some evidence Van Houten lacked insight into the heinous killings.

Debra Tate’s petition said that Van Houten placed a pillowcase over Rosemary LaBianca’s head and tied it with a lamp cord and also held her down when she was stabbed. She also says that Van Houten stabbed her in the lower back several times.

“For years she showed no remorse at all for her actions,” according to the Change.org petition. “When asked during her trial if she ever cried about the murder of Rosemary LaBianca she replied: ‘Cry for her death? Why? … She’s not the only person who has died.’”