Leslie Van Houten was born in Altadena, California, on August 23, 1949, and had what seemed like a perfect middle-class upbringing. She participated in sports, and was popular in high school, per Biography. "When I was in high school, one of my teachers said I was in so many extracurricular activities, my photo was on every page of the yearbook," Van Houten recalled in "The Manson Women and Me." But after her parents divorced, she began to rebel. Van Houten experimented with drugs and briefly ran away to San Francisco with her boyfriend when she was 17. When she returned pregnant, her mother forced her to have an illegal abortion, per NBC News.
In the summer of 1968, she began traveling around California with Bobby Beausoleil and Catherine "Gypsy" Share, two of Manson's followers, and eventually became part of the Manson Family, as the rag-tag group of hippies called themselves. She lived with them at an abandoned movie set called Spahn Ranch.