The night after murdering Sharon Tate and her friends, the Manson Family stabbed Leno and Rosemary LaBianca to death.
Leno and Rosemary LaBianca went to bed on August 10, 1969, disturbed by news of a violent murder across town. The day before someone had killed actress Sharon Tate and several of her houseguests in the middle of the night, leaving a house full of bodies, and the word PIG written in blood across the wall.
The LaBiancas were disturbed, but they had no idea that the sinister forces that had murdered Tate would soon arrive on their own doorstep. Tate’s murder has captured popular imagination: beautiful, famous, and pregnant, her death seems particularly terrible. But the followers of Manson murdered Leno and Rosemary LaBianca in an even more horrific fashion. The doomed couple is overshadowed by Tate, but their deaths demonstrate the depth of Manson’s depravity.
Leno And Rosemary LaBianca: An American Couple
What makes Leno and Rosemary’s dreadful murder all the more horrible is that — unlike Sharon Tate, Jay Sebring, and Abigail Folger, all Manson Family victims who were either household names or known in Hollywood circles – the LaBiancas weren’t known or notorious. In fact, their stories echoed the those of many everyday Americans.
Leno LaBianca was born Pasqualino Antonio LaBianca on August 6, 1925; he was murdered only four days after his 44th birthday. The son of Italian-American immigrants, he followed in his father’s footsteps into the grocery store industry. After serving overseas in World War II, he married his high school sweetheart and had three children with her — but by 1955 the two had grown apart. They divorced, and Leno married Rosemary in Las Vegas in 1959 or 1960.
Rosemary had a more unconventional childhood. She may have been born in Mexico, in 1930, lived in an orphanage in Arizona until she was 12, and was adopted by a California couple by the name of Harmon. Like Leno, Rosemary married and had children, but in 1958, she too divorced.
By 1969 Leno and Rosemary LaBianca oversaw a mixed family that had become increasingly the norm in the United States, as attitudes about divorce shifted. Leno continued to work in the grocery industry; Rosemary co-founded a high-end clothing store. They often spent time with each other’s children, who, by the time of the murders, were teenagers and young adults.
From An Idyllic Day To A Night from Hell
The day before the murder, Leno and Rosemary LaBianca spent the day with Rosemary’s children, Frank and Suzan. Leno, Rosemary, and Suzan drove up to Lake Isabella, where they meant to pick up 16-year-old Frank, who was staying with his friend’s family. But Frank wanted to stay an extra day, and his parents relented.
They drove back to Los Angeles, dropped off Suzan at her apartment, and started toward their own house at 3301 Waverly Drive, in the Los Feliz neighborhood just south of Griffith Park. They had moved in the year before; it was Leno’s childhood home.
On their way home after dropping off Suzan, the LaBiancas stopped to get gas. Making a U-turn, they then picked up an issue of the Los Angeles Herald Examiner at John Fokianos’s newsstand across the street. Leno was a regular customer, and the three chatted for a few minutes about the news of the day, the Tate murders.
Rosemary seemed disturbed by the killings, according to Fokianos. He told police he remembered the LaBiancas leaving between 1 and 2 a.m.
Disturbed, But Not Afraid
Tate’s death, while startling and certainly tragic, fits a certain narrative. Famous people are often felled by assassins. The LaBiancas’ murder, however, seemingly random, has the bone-chilling power to deeply disturb.
Rosemary LaBianca may have been especially disturbed by the news of the Tate murder because of recent disconcerting events in their own neighborhood of Los Feliz.
In May of that year, Rosemary had written to Leno LaBianca’s daughter about something odd in the house. “We haven’t had any robberies,” she wrote, “but every time I come home I expect to either find someone in the house or something missing.”
The LaBiancas had reported bizarre incidences to the police: objects in the house they thought had been moved, or their dogs found outside when they had been left indoors. Rosemary wrote to her stepdaughter, “I think the police have stopped working on the case.”
An odd occurrence for sure, although no evidence suggests that Charles Manson or his followers broke into the LaBiancas’ house before the murders, or that they had been selected as victims months prior.
In the wee hours of August 10, 1969, Rosemary retired to bed. Leno LaBianca stayed up in the living room, reading the sports section of the paper before he joined her. They had no inkling of the dark force already on the move — and on the move toward them, with a cold determination to spill blood.
Why The LaBiancas?
Why Manson targeted the LaBiancas’ home is up to debate. However, most sources agree that Charles Manson and his “family” made a random choice, based on the location of a house nearby (belonging to Harold True, where Manson and several of his followers had attended a party).
But until a point, the death of the LaBiancas was far from assured — in Manson: The Life and Times of Charles Manson, Jeff Guinn writes: “Charlie made a show of considering several potential victims — a priest at a church [and] a driver whose car briefly pulled alongside [their] Ford.”
In the end — as David K. Krajicek remarks in his tome Charles Manson: The Man Who Murdered the Sixties — Manson “ultimately chose a place that was familiar to him, like a squirrel returning to a buried nut.”
The Murders Of Leno LaBianca And Rosemary LaBianca
Manson and his right-hand man, Charles “Tex” Watson, were the first to enter the LaBianca house. They subdued the couple by promising that they wouldn’t be hurt or killed — only robbed. With Rosemary in the bedroom and Leno in the living room, Manson left the house. He instructed some of the girls waiting in the car outside — Patricia Krenwinkel and Leslie Van Houten — to enter the house and murder the people inside.
While Van Houten and Krenwinkel went to find Rosemary, Watson stood over Leno. Leno LaBianca seemed to sense that Manson’s promise — that no one would be hurt — carried little weight. He began to struggle and Watson stabbed him in the neck with a bayonet.
“Don’t stab me anymore!” Leno cried. Then, in an eerie echo of Abigail Folger’s last words, he moaned, “I’m dead, I’m dead….”
In the bedroom, Rosemary LaBianca could clearly hear the struggle and her husband’s screams. She fought back against Krenwinkel and Van Houten. Angry, Van Houten went to the kitchen and brought back several utensils, including knives. Rosemary pleaded for her life, saying they could take anything and she wouldn’t call the police.
“And it seemed like the more she said ‘police,’ the more panicked I got,” Van Houten testified in 1971.
She held Rosemary down while Krenwinkel stabbed her in the neck. “We started stabbing and cutting up the lady,” Van Houten testified.
But the knife bent. The girls screamed for Watson to help them, and he did. Van Houten recalled that Watson gave her a knife, and that “I stabbed Mrs. LaBianca in the lower torso…I knew I needed to do something.”
By the end of the awful struggle, Rosemary had been stabbed 41 times.
Krenwinkel later recalled the moments after she helped murder Rosemary and turned her attention to Leno. “You won’t be sending your son off to war,” she thought, and “I guess I put WAR on the man’s chest. And then I guess I had a fork in my hands, and I put it in his stomach…and I went and wrote on the walls….”
Using blood from the victims, they wrote “Rise” and “Death to Pigs” on the walls, and a misspelled “Healter Skelter” on the refrigerator door. Then the killers showered, pet the LaBianca’s dogs, and left.
Meanwhile, Manson got back in the car with getaway driver Linda Kasabian — who later became the prosecution’s star witness. He handed her a wallet — Rosemary’s — and told her to drop it onto the sidewalk as soon as they arrived at a black neighborhood.
According to prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi’s Helter Skelter, Manson wanted a black person to find the wallet and use the credit cards, so the police would think they were the real LaBianca killer.
But his plans changed. Instead, he wanted Kasabian to pull into a gas station in Sylmar, about 20 miles northwest of the 3301 Waverly Drive, and leave the wallet in the women’s bathroom.
Kasabian didn’t just leave it — she hid it. In the toilet tank, in fact. The wallet wouldn’t be found for another four months.
The next day, Leno and Rosemary’s own children discovered their dead bodies. Leno was on the living room floor with a bloody pillowcase covering his head, a cord tied around his neck, and his hands behind his back, tied together with a leather thong.
Rosemary was on her bedroom floor wearing one of her favorite dresses — blue and white horizontal stripes — bunched up over her head, exposing her naked body.
The Aftermath Leno And Rosemary LaBianca’s Murders
In the summer of 1969, the LaBiancas’ violent murder seemed another indication of a decaying society — random violence capable of reaching anyone. Soon, the police identified the cause of the violence: the Manson Family.
The circus-like atmosphere of the trials against Manson and his young followers brought chaos to Los Angeles and the country at large. Manson shaved his head; Krenwinkel, Van Houten, and Susan Atkins followed suit. The young women disrupted the proceedings and swore their love and allegiance to Manson. All the while, the beautiful and pregnant Sharon Tate became the face for all the victims.
Manson, Watson, Krenwinkel, and Van Houten all went to prison. Although Manson has since died, Watson, Krenwinkel and Van Houten are likely to serve their sentences for the rest of their lives; all have been denied parole multiple times.
As for Leno LaBianca and Rosemary LaBianca, they are today the forgotten victims of Charles Manson and his followers. Their deaths, while horrible and shocking, are overshadowed by the brutal Tate killings. And Manson in death, as in life, manages to dominate the entire narrative.
Looking to learn more about Charles Manson and the Manson Family? Read up on Family member Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme, who tried to kill President Gerald Ford. Then discover 11 famous murders that remain bone-chilling to this day