Monday, January 15, 2024

Louise LaBianca


Manson Family Murders: Victim's Daughter Reflects on Uneasy Journey Through Grief & Forgiveness

For me, the battle has always been one of trying to accept the unacceptable; to believe the unbelievable; and, hardest yet, to forgive the unforgivable


My father, Leno LaBianca, was killed by members of the Manson family in August 1969 when I was 13 years old. The LaBianca name became attached in the media as the Tate-LaBianca murders a few months later, which added doubly to my grief-stricken horror as a young girl. The infamous murders also ended the life of my stepmother Rosemary, a beautiful soul who had been in the LaBianca family for nearly 10 years. We spent holidays and summer vacations together every year. Dad was a proud father who took his responsibilities seriously and provided all of us with many privileged experiences — for me, private schools, beautiful clothes and gifts at Christmas and on my birthday in September every year.

I was living in Newport Beach at the time of the murders with my mother and siblings. It was a sad time for me as my 14th birthday was approaching. No more running to the front door to see my dad with his friendly, loving smile and the packages he brought to show his love. No more drives from Newport to L.A. as he sang to me a sentimental song or asked me how I was doing in school. No more greetings from Rose and her talking parrot upon our arrival. All gone because of one horrible night of bloody carnage — and for what purpose? 

According to the news reports, the Manson family had randomly targeted wealthy or famous individuals in order to gain worldwide attention. "Death to Pigs" scrawled on the walls of the family home, written in my father’s own blood. The facts were presented in daily news reports on television or in the papers, each one more baffling than the next for me. Our family was not known; had no fame or celebrity attached; and not particularly wealthy by comparison to others living in the Los Feliz area. Why did they single us out? I never could understand. I began to shut out the news but it was everywhere.

How did I cope? Mainly I turned to close friends and family members, though in all honesty I lost a few childhood friends in the beginning. We moved around; I changed schools several times; and my popularity skills were at an all-time low during those years except when I was with my family. Support groups for victims of violent crimes and their families were non-existent. Nobody knew what to say when they learned about my connection — a victim’s daughter. Their shocked looks told me all I needed to know.

A cloud of sorrow seemed to follow me everywhere I went for a while, except when I could find a quiet spot along the beach on any given day of the week. It may sound like a cliché but I found peace in the warm California sun and ocean waves. There I could find solace, swimming in the water even on blustery days, or reading for hours as I stretched out on the sand — always present, in the moment, in my own peaceful reality where I never talked about it with new people I met. Fortunately, I inherited my dad’s warm, friendly smile and zest for life. Those qualities helped me find new pathways to explore, and life became good again. Sometimes I felt a little lost, unsure of where to go next academically. I eventually settled on a path of study in childhood development. For the next 25 years of my life, I spent most of my time enjoyably with young children — my own as well as in my chosen role as a teacher.

Then the various media reports about the Manson murders came to my awareness, especially those focused on parole hearings — a long, arduous process that has been going on for several years. As a group, the LaBianca family steadfastly opposed any releases on moral and ethical grounds. Some were more vocal than others and participated in the difficult process of attending parole hearings. My cousin Lou Smaldino was one of the most active and well-known members of the LaBianca family, while I personally stayed out of the discussion. I zealously guarded my privacy for many years. Yet something changed within me on a deep level of understanding when the first parole related to the Tate-LaBianca murders took place in July 2023. Leslie Van Houten may have earned her freedom according to California laws. Indeed, she may have worked very hard to earn it. I have no idea. It’s not the LaBianca family’s battle anymore, if it ever was. The California justice system has evidently been at the helm since day one. With the possibility of several more parole releases upcoming in the next few years, speaking out publicly weighs heavily on my mind.

Did the Tate-LaBianca murders become politicized so much over the past 50-plus years while I was busy raising a family and teaching classes in California schools? I never forgot my father but I certainly wanted to forget the circumstances surrounding his untimely death. For me, the battle has always been one of trying to accept the unacceptable; to believe the unbelievable; and, hardest yet, to forgive the unforgivable. For me, the passage of time changes nothing. As a group, the LaBianca family has been strong in terms of moving on with our lives — to pursue our individual life’s dreams without falling into a clump of tears every time the justice system disappoints us and we are again reminded of our losses. For me, it is an uneasy journey that demands an inner sense of balance and integrity. The farther along the path I travel, the stronger I become as a person and as a spiritual being. The journey continues. 

Original Article