It started in August of 1969, when actress Sharon Tate and four others were killed in what police said resembled a ritualistic mass murder.
It took months before Charles Manson and the Manson ‘family’ would be charged with the crime. Here’s how it all happened.
August 10: ‘Ritualistic slayings’ – Sharon Tate, four others murdered
From the Los Angeles Times (California) Sunday, August 10, 1969
Film star Sharon Tate, another woman and three men were found slain Saturday [August 9], their bodies scattered around a Benedict Canyon estate in what police said resembled a ritualistic mass murder.
The victims were shot, stabbed or throttled. On the front door of the home, written in blood, was one word: “Pig.”
Police arrested the only one left alive on the property — a 19-year-old houseboy. He was booked on suspicion of murder.
- Miss Tate, 26, a star of “Valley of the Dolls” and wife of Roman Polanski, director of “Rosemary’s Baby.” She was eight months pregnant. He is in England.
- Abigail Folger, 26, heiress to the Folger’s Coffee family,
- Jay Sebring, 35, once Miss Tate’s fiance, a Hollywood hairstylist credited with launching the trend to hair styling for men.
- Voitvck Frokowski, 37, who worked with Polanski in Polish films before they came to Hollywood.
- Steven Parent, 18, of El Monte, who left his home Friday morning after telling his family he was going to “go to Beverly Hills.”
A maid, Mrs. Winifred Chapman, went to the sprawling home at the end of Cielo Drive at 8:30 a.m. to begin her day’s work. What she found sent her running to a neighbor’s home in a state of shock:
In a white two-door sedan in the driveway was the body of the young man, slumped back in the driver’s seat, shot to death.
On the lawn in front of the ranch-style home was the body of Frokowski.
Twenty yards away, under a fir tree on the well-trimmed lawn, was the body of Miss Folger, clad in a nightgown.
In the living room, dressed in underwear — bikini panties and a brassiere — was Miss Tate. A bloodied nylon cord was around her neck. It ran over a beam in the open-beam ceiling, and was tied around the neck of Sebring, whose body lay nearby.
Over Sebring’s head was a black hood. “It seemed ritualistic,” said one investigating officer. Said another: “It looked like a battlefield up there.”
Mrs. Chapman ran to a neighbor’s home. Jim Asim, 15, was getting ready to leave the house.
“There’s bodies and blood all over the place!” she cried to Asim.
The youth, who is a member of Law Enforcement Troop 800 of the Boy Scouts, called West Los Angeles police.
A half-dozen police cars raced up Cielo Drive, overlooking Benedict Canyon, to the cul de sac where it ends — at the wire gate of the home at 10050 Cielo Drive rented by Polanski and Miss Tate.
The police entered the property with guns drawn. A dog bayed behind a guest house facing the driveway. Officers heard a man’s voice tell to the dog to be quiet.
They entered the guest house and at gunpoint arrested William Eston Garretson, who will be 20 on Aug. 24. He was wearing only pin-striped bellbottom trousers.
The maid, in shock, was taken to UCLA Medical Center for treatment. Later she was taken to the West Los Angeles station, as was Garretson.
After questioning him for several hours, police booked Garretson on suspicion of murder.
Tate murders: Police theory
At the scene of the crime Police Lt. Robert Madlock gave newsmen the reason:
“He was taken into custody because he was on the premises where five people were murdered.”
Madlock gave few other details. Among information police did release:
Exact causes of death were not immediately determined. Autopsies were pending.
Telephone lines into the home had been cut, apparently by the murderer.
No weapon was found at the scene, although officers found pieces of what were believed to be a pistol grip inside the home.
No narcotics were found in the home. There were evidences of a struggle. There was apparently nothing missing. No motive could be immediately determined.
Dr. Thomas T. Nogucht, county coroner, went to the home Saturday afternoon. An hour later he emerged and told newsmen he couldn’t elaborate beyond saying the dead were victims of “multiple wounds.” He said a further announcement would probably be made today.
“This is an extraordinary case, a difficult case,” he said, explaining why he came to the scene. “If my presence is demanded by the people of Los Angeles County, I’ll be there.”
Identifies four bodies
William Tenant, Miss Tate’s agent, came to the home at noon — still wearing tennis clothes — and identified the bodies of Miss Tate, Miss Folger, Sebring and Frokowski.
He left, sobbing, without speaking to reporters waiting at the gate. Later, he phoned Polanski at his apartment in London to inform him of Miss Tate’s death.
“He broke down and cried,” said a friend in London. “He made arrangements to catch the first available flight to Los Angeles.”
Hollywood associates said Miss Tate had recently visited Polanski in London, where he was working on plans for a projected film.
Friends said that Miss Folger had been staying at the Tate-Polanski home, where Frokowski was also a guest.
“Gibby” Folger was the daughter of Peter Folger of Woodside. Calif., president of the Folger Coffee Co. a subsidiary of Procter & Gamble.
She was a society girl — a graduate of Catalina School for Girls at Carmel and of Radcliffe — who had in recent months joined Miss Tate’s circle of Hollywood friends, sometimes called a community of “rich hippies.”
Folger told a reporter his daughter had been active in social welfare causes around Los Angeles for the past six months and “more or less commuted” between Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay area. “She has always led a clean life,” he said.
Hollywood friends told of seeing her at seance-type sessions, meditating Indian philosophies with Mia Farrow and others.
Police said that the men killed at the home were dressed in “hippie type” clothes.
The home is a rambling affair with a driveway at one side and a swimming pool at the other. The bodies were scattered from the driveway almost to the pool area.
Police wouldn’t offer any theories as to how five persons could have been killed without some of them successfully fleeing. The Ambassador auto in which the young man was killed was facing toward the gate, which was the exit from the driveway.
Parent was identified by his parish priest, the Rev. Robert Byrne of the Church of the Nativity, who went to the coroner’s office after the boy’s father, Wilfred E. Parent, 11214 Bryant Road, El Monte, told him his son was missing.
Father Byrne began crying as Dep. Coroner Don Strickland showed him Parent’s body. “Oh, my God,” he said, putting his head in his hand. “Steve. Steve. Steve.”
The boy’s father called the coroner’s office about the same time, and was told that his son was dead.
Police wouldn’t speculate on what an El Monte teenager was doing at the home of the jet-setting film crowd — but a coroner’s aide said there were reports young Garretson had a guest at his caretaker’s quarters Friday night, and that the guest may have been Parent.
The home is secluded from others in the neighborhood. Mrs. Seymour Kott, who lives at 10170 Cielo Drive, told a reporter:
“I thought I heard some shots about midnight. About three or four. They weren’t too loud. More a clap! clap! sort of thing.”
Sharon Tate, pregnant wife of Roman Polanski
Miss Tate and Polanski were married at a London registry office in January, 1968. They had been separated frequently because of film commitments in various parts of the world and there had been rumors in Hollywood recently that the couple were having marital trouble.
The time of the killings wasn’t immediately determined. Police told a neighbor that Miss Tate had been dead too long when the bodies were discovered for anything to be done about saving the life of her unborn child.
William Garretson, caretaker at the home
Barry Tarlow, young Garretson’s attorney, said the youth told him that he was completely innocent, and knew absolutely nothing of the crime. He said he had been asleep when police burst in his door with shotguns and arrested him.
Police in Garretson’s hometown of Lancaster, Ohio, said he was given a two-year suspended jail sentence in 1967 for contributing to the delinquency of a minor. His mother, Mary Garretson, 42, a divorcee, said her son had left home last October “without saying goodbye, but had written saying he hoped to return home soon.
She said he told of entertaining young friends in his caretaker’s quarters — including a young “nervous” veteran back from Vietnam whom he ordered out of the place for stealing neighbors’ champagne, and an AWOL Marine later caught and sent to the brig.
“He’s a quiet, gentle boy,” the mother told The Times by phone. “I could hit him and he’d never do a thing. I could holler at that kid and he’d just go lie on his bed and never talk back to me. Just lie there, quiet.”
“He wrote me and phoned me often. He said he was watching this house for this man, and he wanted to quit the job as soon as he could so he could come home. He was homesick. He left home just after he got out of school last year and he wanted to come home.
“He said he wanted to come home, get a car, and then maybe go back to California and go to school, to learn to be an actor.”
Garretson worked for Rudy Altobelli, who rented the home to the Polanskis. Altobelli is in Europe, and had asked Garretson to continue his $33-a-week job as a caretaker at the property until he came home.
“He never mentioned the people who lived there,” the boy’s mother told The Times by telephone. “He did send me a picture of that Mr. Polanski walking a dog. Bill loves dogs. He never mentioned the lady. But he did say that Mr. Cary Grant’s cook gave him a ride up the hill once in a Rolls-Royce.”
Still at the home after Garretson was taken away were the pets he had been helping care for: a Dalmatian, two poodles, a Weimaraner, a Yorkshire terrier and a kitten.
The Animal Regulation Department took them away as the coroner’s office was removing the bodies of the slain.
August 11: Los Angeles deaths planned – Police think 1-3 in plot – New killings
From the San Francisco Examiner (California) Monday, August 11, 1969
LOS ANGELES — The bloody knife and gun killings of film star Sharon Tate and four others were planned in advance, and carried out by as many as three murderers, police said today.
“It could have been as high as three men from evidence we found at the scene.” homicide Lt. Robert Helder said. “But it also could have been one man. It’s possible.”
On the other hand, there was the theory that the crime may have been the work of party crashers. The residence was known as the site of frequent and continuing parties.
Helder said whoever did it would have been “soaked in blood” by the orgy of shootings and stabbings. He said the attacks apparently were sudden and “took the victims by surprise.”
A second bloody murder orgy, five miles away, bore striking similarities to the slaying of Miss Tate and her four friends and raised the possibility at least of a “copycat” killer.
The bodies of Miss Tate and her friends were found in ner Bel Air home Saturday morning; 24 hours later, police discovered a couple killed in a similar manner.
Police said the words “death to pigs” were smeared in blood on the door of the refrigerator in the kitchen of the couple’s home, and the word “war” carved on the chest of the male victim.
Leno LaBianca, 44, the owner of a small supermarket chain, was found yesterday, a carving knife protruding from his chest, in the living room of his rambling, ranch-style home.
Detectives said the word “war” was carved on his chest along with several “Xs.” A hood was over his head, secured with a knotted electrical cord.
In the Bel Air slayings, the word “‘pigs” was scrawled in blood on the front door of Miss Tate’s $200,000 rented home, and one of the five victims, hair stylist Jay Sebring, was found with a black hood over his head.
LaBianca’s wife, Rosemary, 38, owner of a boutique in the Wilshire business district, was found in the master bedroom. Police said she had been stabbed numerous times with a bayonet-type weapon.
She was face down in the bed, clad in a sheer negligee, an electrical cord bound around her neck.
The latest slayings were in the upper middle-class Silverlake district of Los Angeles.
Similarity noted between murders
“There is a similarity, but whether it’s the same suspect or a copycat we just don’t know,” said Police Sgt. Bryce Houchin.
But Inspector K J McCauley said, “I don’t see any connection between this murder and the others. They’re too widely removed. I just don’t see any connection.
Nonetheless, the parallels were close: The words written in blood, the hoods, the numerous stab wounds, the cords around the necks of the victims, and the apparent lack of robbery as a motive.
And a policeman said the same technique was used to write the words
Police said as many as three persons could be involved in the Tate case.
The name of the unidentified suspect came up during police questioning of William E. Garretson, 19, a caretaker at the home who lived in a guest house, He was the only person alive when detectives arrived at the scene Saturday.
Garreston underwent a polygraph test yesterday. Although police said they were not “entirely satisfied” with his answers, a spokesman said, “If we can get some physical evidence checked out, we will probably release him today.” The release came late today.
Police had not established a motive for the intruder or intruders who apparently cut the telephone lines into the home sometime after 10 p.m. Friday, then murdered the five occupants with knives and guns.
Youth drops by
Garretson’s attorney, Barry Tarlow, said Parent dropped by the guest house to visit the caretaker, who looked after several dogs and cats belonging to the owners.
Tarlow said Garretson sat up reading until 6 am Saturday, but heard no unusual sounds from the main house, separated from the guest house by a swimming pool and shrubbery.
“There was a party at the house the night of the killings,” Tarlow said. “From the investigation made by my office, our best guess is that whoever did it was involved in a personal way with these people who were killed.”
A 1967 red Ferrari owned by Polanski and used by Miss Tate was missing from the estate. Detectives speculated it could have been used as a getaway car. but the vehicle was found late yesterday at a garage where it had been taken for maintenance.
There were no signs anything had been stolen from the home, which sits at the end of a long driveway in exclusive Benedict Canyon.
Contrary to earlier reports, Detective Lt. Robert Helder said there was no evidence the crime was a ritualistic murder.
“There’s nothing there to indicate there was any type of religious ritual taking place or any other type of ritual taking place,” Helder said.
The scene that greeted the detectives summoned to the home by the frightened maid was bizarre.
Miss Tate, clad in a bloody bra and bikini panties, was found in the living room with a nylon rope wrapped around her neck. The rope was looped over a living room beam and the other end was wrapped around Sebring’s neck. A black hood was over his head.
On the lawn, in front of the blood-spattered porch, was the body of Frokowski. Twenty yards away lay the body of Miss Folger, clad in a nightgown.
Parent’s body was slumped in his white, two-door sedan in the driveway leading to the front gate. The car selector was in drive, the parking brake was released, but the ignition was off.
“We have to assume there was an attempt to escape, when we find the bodies the way we did,” Helder said.
Autopsies showed there was no evidence of sexual molestation, no mutilation of the bodies. Police said there were no narcotics in the home, no alcoholic beverages on the tables, no signs of an unusually violent struggle.
“We have a weird homicide with two bodies inside and two bodies outside,” said Helder. “We don’t have anybody that we can talk to.
“We’re trying to piece the thing together with the small amount of physical evidence we have.”
Miss Tate was eight months pregnant with a child which the autopsy showed was a boy.
“The child could have been saved with a post-mortem Caesarean within the first 20 minutes after the mother’s death,” said Los Angeles County Coroner Thomas Noguchi. “But by the time the bodies were discovered, it was far too late.”
November 30: Case recap from shortly before Manson & accomplices arrested
Anatomy of a rumor
If nothing else, the Sharon Tate murders show what can happen to information when fear takes over.
By C. Robert Jennings
We are all rumor’s children. But new leisure, old caprice and the nakedness of Freudian insight have conspired to change even Webster’s latest definition of rumor: “an unconfirmed piece of information or explanation disseminated among the public by other than formal news agencies or sources.”
Some recent horrors in American life suggest that informal sources no longer have a corner on the rumor market. Moreover, even the most royal of sources tend recklessly to feed on the fiction of the commonalty and eternalize it as fact. But ours is the age of the voyeur, and disclosure must be total (and totalitarian), even if it is tasteless, even if it is totally false. And often it is both.
Nowhere in recent memory has rumor been more rampant than in the grisly Tate murders, which snuffed out six lives including that of the perfectly-formed fetus of Sharon Tate’s son. And in no other recent case have Webster’s “formal news agencies or sources” woven such a particolored tapestry of hypothesis, innuendo, evasion, equivocation, insinuation, mini-truth and maxi-lie.
The root cause is almost as ambiguous as the crime itself, but en fin the fault appears to devolve less from any individual or organization than from the collective curiosity, on overactive imagination, on the whole obstinate mystery that is the paradigmatic human person.
Gossip and rumors abound
In Warsaw, Mrs. Walter Stoessel, wife of the American ambassador to Poland, walks into a beauty salon and is deluged with inquiries of the mass murder, which commanded exactly five lines in the city’s two Communist-run dailies.
The Tate tragedy, reports Ambassador Stoessel, displaced even the Ted Kennedy debacle as “the main topic of conversation” at embassy affairs, despite the absence of tabloid titillation behind the Iron Curtain. The Sunday paper, he adds, linked the killings to drugs and, true to form, played them up as “part of the general picture” of life in these United States.
In Bangkok, a realtor who is familiar with the infamous house back on Benedict Canyon’s Cielo Drive regales executives of the Thai Silk Company with “all the gory inside details” of the murder. The tab on the two-bedroom, $150,000 house, he adds, has skyrocketed out of all proportion to its actual value.
In Manhattan, gossip’s mainliner Truman Capote fondles his big blue-tinted glasses, boasts of having interviewed more than 200 murderers (“I really got on with them very very well”) and conjectures: “Oh, golly, it’s sort of a fantasy. Of the five, I happen to have known four of them.
“My feeling is it was committed by one person. I think there were five people in the house, the victims and another person, and this person left an hour before the murders were committed. Something there triggered an instant paranoia and hatred in him. He goes home and comes back with a knife and a gun. The girls have gone to bed. Frokowski and the hair boy (Sebring) are having a drink, sitting in this room. He rings the bell and he walks inside and he’s got a gun.
“They wake up the two girls. He ties Sharon and Jay Sebring together so that if they moved either way, they’d strangle themselves. You could have made them do it themselves if you’ve got a gun.
“At this point, Frokowski and Abigail Folger decide to run for it. He kills them. He thinks the boy in the car is the caretaker, because he knows that much about the house. He shoots him. And he proceeds to kill Sharon and Sebring in a paranoic rage.
“Same as the Clutter case. I don’t think the murderer in any way intentionally tortured them — that kind of rage stimulates that kind of furious attack. As if after an intense sexual experience, you feel drowsy afterward, and I think he went someplace and slept soundly for two days. Most criminals are very sexually undefined, and murder is an outlet for their own weakness.”
Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood
In Hollywood, not to be outdone by Capote, barrister F. Lee Bailey, who has an equally keen facility for self-promotion, goes on national television to posit essentially the same theory: he is “inclined” to believe the murders were committed by one man whose dignity was affronted, igniting “an explosion in his brain.”
In Los Angeles, after having interrogated more than 400 persons, Robert A. Houghton, then chief of detectives, breaks a long silence to add: “I must tell you in all fairness we do not have conclusive evidence that one man could not have done it. Unfortunately, the murderer, or murderers, did not leave calling cards, and in this kind of a case you have 200 million suspects.”
Wild speculation presented as fact
On the Sunset Strip, a reputable movie producer sits in a fashionable cafe and categorically details the most gruesome and intimate “facts” about the condition of the bodies of Miss Tate, her unborn child, and her one-time fiance, Sebring; not only how they were stripped and sexually mutilated, but where each of their parts was located.
The producer’s host, the editor of an influential, mass-circulation magazine, listens intently until facial smirks seem to ask — what else did you expect?
As gullible as the next guy, I swallow it all whole, but it is difficult to digest, and I inquire after the source: it is Gino, Jay Sebring’s friend of twenty years who, I am told, “identified the bodies” at the house of horrors. Gino is understandably wary but helpful: “I saw only Jay’s face, but I’m sure that he was dressed, and not mutilated.”
He isn’t sure about Sharon, but he is sure about one thing: the movie producer had been in New York at the time of the murders and was merely parroting what gossips, syndicated and non-, informed and un-, friendly and antagonistic had spread around the world with the alacrity of a wild prairie fire. Why?
A mass murder of famous people has surpassing novelty, and novelty is a psychic aphrodisiac. The case quickly became a ghoulishly beguiling whodunit or, as one police sergeant put it, “a helluva homicide.”
It is as sad as it is true, moreover, that there is a dark and stubborn side of the human nature that secretly enjoys seeing emissions of wealth, success and vanity turn to tragic gestures, even to dust. It is akin to our darkling archeological explorations for clay feet in Camelot.
Patently, most of the victims were golden fribbles of the front ranks, mythic and impalpable to the common herd. But death reduces the distance between the gods and mortals. Unreal exotica becomes real, even banal, the Beautiful People touchable at last. And, in death, vulnerable to total social and journalistic exposure and exploitation.
Tabloids around the world screamed SEX -DRUG – WITCHCRAFT ORGY, and worse. The East Village Other singlehandedly solved the crime and named both killer and motive. Close-Up saw it as ”a re-enactment of Nat Turner.”
Charles Manson murders: Many incorrect news reports
Even the best journals were bemused, bewitched and frequently wrong.
“Nearly as enchanting (enchanting?) as the mystery was the glimpse the murders yielded into the swinging Hollywood subculture in which the cast of characters played,” said Newsweek. “The Hollywood gossip about the case was of drugs, mysticism and offbeat sex — and, for once, there may be more truth than fantasy in the flashy talk of the town.”
But never had truth seemed harder to come by. About the only items that both major newsmagazines, the scandal sheets and general scuttlebutt were agreed upon were that Frokowski was on a trip the day of the crime, and that four of the victims liked to trip together on pot and/or mescaline and cocaine and shared a taste for “odd” sexual fun and games.
But then one is left to wrestle with the definition of “odd.” (I tend to side with the late George Kaufman who punned, awfully but all too mortally, “What is one man’s Mede is another man’s Persian.”‘)
At any rate, all similarities ended there, e.g., Time indicated that the bloody handle of a paring knife was found next to Miss Tate’s leg; Newsweek reported that there was no trace of the knife or knives used to slash the victims and identified the same object as the handle of a broken revolver. Police said: “No weapon or parts of weapons were found.”
The coroner was silent as a churchmouse, except for waming his staff and friends to keep mum. Newsweek said the protagonist in the melodrama was Frokowski who, “friends said,” was a dealer as well as user of drugs.
Time reported, with no equivocations whatever, that Sharon and Sebring were “the prime objects of the mayhem.” The police said the Los Angeles Times showed commendable restraint (without being a bore) in its news reporting, but its various columnists wallowed in a luxury of contradiction. One defensively hoped that the public wouldn’t get “the wrong idea” about Hollywood, because this sort of thing could happen in any affluent area anywhere.
Another, same paper, claimed more realistically that “the world could rightly conclude that the ghastly events of Cielo Drive were somehow uniquely a Hollywood tragedy — not simply by the accident of geography but by the whole mixture of glamour and violence, beauty and mystery, and by the intimation that these events took place within an enclave which danced to a wild and different music from the rest of society.”
The victims’ friends publicly held that everyone involved was as normal as blueberry pie, but some privately mentioned drugs, whips, inverted sex and black magic.
The public relations firm of Rogers, Cowan & Brenner circulated a remarkable four-page document “on behalf of Roman Polanski,” gratuitously denying any rift between his wife and himself “as some thoroughly irresponsible journalists have suggested even before the tragedy”; explaining why Sharon went to California from Europe ahead of Roman — “to avoid a long air journey in her eighth month of pregnancy . . . Roman had to stay behind to accept in person the Donatello Award in Taormina … denying “any romantic involvement between Sharon and Jay at this time”; proclaiming that there was “no party or ritual of some sort” because these were all “rational people with no interest in mysticism or anything else occult . . . genuinely nice people — not hippies or cultists or anything else peculiar as some media have tried to make it seem”; and concluding, incredibly, that “what happened to them could have happened to anybody as it did to the Clutters in Kansas.” (Them again.)
The hottest, most bizarre rumors –played as fact by some of the world’s most responsible journals — involved sexual mutilation of at least two of the bodies.
With its usual Olympian authority, Time stated outright that Sharon’s body was found nude with an X cut on her stomach and one of her breasts cut off; that Frokowski’s trousers were down around his ankles; that Sebring was wearing only the torn remnants of a pair of shorts and had been sexually mutilated.
Newsweek claims it “was privy to the same information but chose not to run it because we considered it terribly bad taste — we just don’t take a great deal of pleasure in that sort of lipsmacking.”
That was a wise decision, for in its own argot, Time erred. Even after the LAPD announced that “None of the bodies had wounds involving the sex organs,” Time declined to print any retractions or corrections (but it did wrestle with some burgeoning inter-office flaps); and Newsweek privately allowed that “the police are covering up.” Though there was some justification for thinking so (considering their yo-yo response to the question of drugs), they weren’t.
The facts, confirmed and re-confirmed by both documentary evidence and highest officialdom for this dimestore detective: None of the decedents was sexually mutilated, and all the males were fully-clothed. There wasn’t so much as a cut in the genital area of any of the victims.
Sharon was found in bikini pants and bra; one of her fifteen stab wounds penetrated one breast but did not sever it; there were no marks of any kind on her stomach, the closest wound being a superficial one near the liver.
“I would say the killer made a deliberate, conscious effort to avoid stabbing her in the belly,” says one official who saw the bodies on the scene, in the morgue and during all autopsies, “This murder was not committed in crazed excitement. It was a very methodical, cold-blooded killing. The killer knew exactly what he was doing, and the multiple wounds were window dressing.”
Though this, too, was rumor, the signal question remained: How could so many earnest reporters and hard-checking researchers go so wildly agley?
A hysterical response from the press
No matter how weighty or widespread the rumors, the newsmagazines do not normally run with them without saying so (“gossip had it,” “so the stories go,” “come suspect,” etc.). But this was no normal case, and reaction was nothing short of hysterical. A strange blend of fear, shock, curiosity and even contempt distorted otherwise normal vision, tilted perfectly balanced psyches, activated some impassive egos.
“The basic reason for any kind of rumor,” says the director of the Los Angeles Rumor Control Center, “is an emotional, psychotic desire on the part of all people to have their own omniscient, infallible pipeline to reality, and to let everyone else know they have it. It’s an ego-building thing. There are essentially three kinds of rumor: fear, hope and hate. In the Tate murders, they mostly revolved around fear. And the more famous the people, the bigger your rumor.”
They began, naturally enough, on the murder scene itself. Answering the call of a 15-year-old Boy Scout, a half-dozen squad cars raced up to the property which officers entered with guns drawn. The electric gate was operated by a silver button next to the mailbox outside, and was thus accessible to anyone.
There were so many bodies with so many wounds that the first newsmen on the scene heard the words “ritualistic” and “mutilation” from the mouths of both ordinary policemen and beleaguered detectives. (Though the latter were furious at the former for giving reporters such information as what murder weapons were involved.)
So bloody were the bodies that the young caretaker thought Miss Folger was the maid and Frokowski was Polanski’s brother, whom he had met before.
Then came the avalanche of coroners, lawyers, agents, animal regulators, friends, more press and more tumbling rumors.
More rumors stated as fact
One police officer told a local newsman that “one male appears to have his pants down,” thus sex was conjoined with mutilation. Those pants, it turned out, were simply low-cut bell- bottoms. A police sergeant casually remarked, “Looks like one of those fag jobs to me,” which precipitated a rush for the phones and reports of “a homosexual orgy.”
Another policeman told newsmen that everyone was “dressed in hippie-type clothes,” with which the victims became “rich hippies.”
A private investigator noticed a Tom Bradley sticker on Miss Folger’s Firebird and brayed: “It’s typical of the modus operandi of black militants.”
A wire service reporter put out the line that “A psychotic killer was after wealthy residents of isolated homes in the Hollywood Hills.” Another speculated, in print, that “the killer belonged to a national political group” — after learning there was an American flag in the house.
As usual, the first ended up with the most errors, e.g., enterprising Reuters reported that bikinied Miss Tate, a smashing blonde if there ever was one, was “red-haired” and wore “a white robe”; that she and Sebring were found “dangling from a beam” when in fact the cord that loosely connected them was looped over a beam but they were not hanging from it; that the property was owned by Terry Melcher, son of Doris Day.
It wasn’t, but the reporter was close — Melcher had rented it in happier days, as had Cary Grant, Michele Morgan and Henry Fonda, though presumably at different times.
Even those summoned to identify the bodies could not believe what they saw, or chose not to. Asked by a female TV gossip if it was “really Sharon,” a sobbing agent snapped: “Oh, don’t be an ass.”
Sexual mutilation tales were fed to Newsweek by a detective, two close friends of Polanski and a friend and colleague of the coroner-medical examiner.
Happy to be of help, the latter also had told Time that Sharon and Jay had been cut up sexually; then, when it was too late, reversed the story, saying: “I defy anyone to show me more than a bruise.” Explained a Time reporter: “I felt the police had really jumped on (the source),” which may be the only understatement of the whole ugly affair.
Time erred further in stating that Jay Sebring had a black belt in karate — a common error that cropped up everywhere; that he charged $11.50 per haircut when in fact, at the time he had stopped routine trims a year and a half ago and was charging $50 per; that he was wearing torn boxer shorts; that he slept in a purple and black bedroom (it is white and amethyst).
His friends and attorneys took particular exception to Time’s “inaccurate and defamatory” remark that he was “anti-Negro,” pointing out that he employed Negroes both privately and professionally, had had many black friends, and the blanket of roses covering his coffin came from Sammy Davis Jr.
Word from the police and the coroner
There was even intramural squabbling within the LAPD: homicide investigators scored some members of the force for handing out “poly keys,” i.e., evidence known only to the murderer and thus necessary to test veracity on the lie detector. They specially reordered “Roll Call Training” on police- press relations, assigned two men to fulltime “no comment” duty and 21 men to work exclusively on the case.
Having been partly responsible for printed distortions, particularly in the matter of narcotics, they ultimately announced tersely: “Narcotics were found in more than one part of the estate,” but not in commercial quantities.
Six weeks after a coroner’s colleague assured me that “the murder was not ritualistic and there was no ingestion of drugs,” the county coroner-medical examiner broke his own long silence to compound the confusion: autopsies had disclosed drugs in the bloodstream of “some victims,” he wasn’t telling who; and behavioral scientists — one psychologist and two eminent psychiatrists — felt that the murders may have resulted from “a death ritual” which got out of hand and forced one or more persons into a drug-induced paranoia.
“One or more persons were suffering either paranoic tendencies or suffering from psychopathic characteristics and showed what we call overkill syndrome, more than enough to cause the deaths,” he explained, adding that the multiple stab wounds did not appear to be “window-dressing” at all, but expressions of “anger, revenge and frustration … a stage of high agitation or possible frenzy.”
Yet someone, he conceded, had to be thinking clearly to cut the phone lines and invade the property well-armed.
Take your choice, or all. Parenthetically, the police disavowed any connection with what officers dismissed as “the coroner’s own little show.”
Strange behavior from the victims’ friends and family
Equally baffling were the behavior patterns of those close to the victims. Several flew off to the Bahamas; others packed guns even for the funerals; one Beverly Hills store sold 200 guns in two days.
Yet others invited members of the press to their homes to “rap” with movie stars. The rich and famous hired private guards and bought police dogs. Parties in Benedict Canyon were peremptorily canceled.
A famous writer friend of Miss Tate, identifying himself as an actor to protect his family, wrote a gaudy sex and drug exposé for a national magazine. A former girlfriend of Jay Sebring’s did the same in a movie magazine, and a close friend of the Polanskis attempted suicide. In posher bars and beaneries, one still cannot avoid hearing joke upon sick joke, humor on outrageous humor.
The Los Angeles Times asked Polanski’s agent to ascertain if his client had anything to say. The agent “screamed and hollered that that was the last thing Polanski would ever do — “How can you even suggest such a thing?'”
Next day, Polanski called his own press conference and obviously had plenty to say. Next week, via the pages of Life, he gave numberless millions a guided tour of what he called, with heavy sarcasm, “the world-famous orgy house.”
If it hadn’t been world-famous before, it surely was now.
Polanski took along a famed clairvoyant and asked the Life photographer to take Polaroids for the former to study. The clairvoyant promptly gave or sold the pictures to The Hollywood Citizen-News which, copyrighted them and fired them around the world before Life could get its own pictures into print.
Life said Sharon “smoked a little pot because the others did.” Polanski told reporters that she never used drugs. Pageant magazine reported she boasted of taking 67 LSD trips and never made a salad without sprinkling it with grass.
The mother and brother of Voityck Frokowski went to Los Angeles to claim the body and criticized Polanski for having seemingly “turned against his old friend in death.”
Roman had told Life: “I should have thrown him out when he ran over Sharon’s dog.”
And Jerzy Frokowski added dolefully: “Voityck loved that dog and all dogs. He never would have hurt any animal intentionally. Why does Roman all of a sudden blacken the name of my only brother?”
Meanwhile, famous people got into the columns by recalling the charms of Frokowski and Sebring, the sweet vulnerability of Sharon Tate, the social-consciousness of Miss Folger.
With characteristic cupidity and a monumental lapse of taste, MGM re-released the Tate-Polanski horror film, Fearless Vampire Killers; Twentieth Century-Fox re-issued Valley of the Dolls, and National General exhibited a little cheapjack documentary called Mondo Hollywood, whose ads parroted the epitaph handed down by a neighbor of the dead, “Live Freaky, Die Freaky,” adding: “Is this the curse of Hollywood? Seven in this picture have met violent deaths, including Jay Sebring — murdered… unsolved . . . Who Will Be Next?”
Rumor has it — oh, never mind.
December 4: Charles Manson emerging as key to Tate murders
Bakersfield Californian (Bakersfield, California) December 4, 1969
Charles M Manson, accused in the mountain-desert area of rustling four-wheel-drive vehicles, has emerged as a key figure in the investigation of the killings of Sharon Tate and seven others in Los Angeles.
The bushy-haired, wild-bearded little man with piercing brown eyes has been tabbed the leader of a hippie-type roving band whose members call him “God” and “Satan” — and now two attorneys say clan members killed the actress and others.
Manson, 35, who with others is accused here of running a stolen car ring from a commune near Death Valley, sat stolidly Wednesday through his preliminary hearing. After witnesses said they saw him driving stolen cars, he was held for trial.
There are no charges against Manson in Los Angeles. But two attorneys there said Wednesday that a woman member of Manson’s mostly female “family” told them it was some of his followers who killed Miss Tate and four others after the pregnant actress pleaded, “Let me have my baby.”
The woman, Susan Denise Atkins, 21, is charged with murdering a man with whom Manson once lived. If she waives immunity to self-incrimination, a deputy district attorney says, she could become a key witness when the Los Angeles County grand jury begins a murder investigation Friday.
Shot or stabbed with Miss Tate, 26, blonde actress wife of Polish director Roman Polanski, at her $200,000 home in Bel Air last Aug. 9 were Hollywood hairstylist Jay Sebring, 35, coffee heiress Abigail Folger, 26, Polish playboy Votyk Frokowsky, 37, and Steven Parent, 18, a friend of the caretaker.
Stabbed fatally the next day at their Hollywood home were Leno LaBianca, 44, and his wife Rose Mary, 38, wealthy market owners.
Miss Atkins’ attorneys Paul Caruso and Richard Caballero, said she was among those who dressed in black and invaded the two death homes. But they said she was under Manson’s “hypnotic spell” and “had nothing to do with the murders.” Caruso said there were three women and two men.
Caballero said it was four women and one man, and said Miss Atkins told him Manson was not among them. Police say the makeup of the group was different each night.
Caruso gave this account of the killings, which he said was based on a five-hour interview with Miss Atkins:
“One man had a gun. The girls had knives. They parked the car so they could get away quickly. A man with wire cutters went up a pole and cut utility lines outside the Tate house. “They saw Parent starting to leave. He got into his car and was shot. A man went through an open window, then opened the front door. The others went inside.
“Frokowsky was lying on the couch. Sharon Tate and Sebring were talking in her bedroom. The Folger girl was in another bedroom reading a book.
“Tate and Sebring were told to stay in the bedroom. Then they were brought out. Miss Tate became very apprehensive. She wanted to make sure her baby (she was 8-1/2 months pregnant) was not harmed. That was virtually all she pleaded about, ‘Let me have my baby.’ But she was killed.
“Sebring said very little. He was killed. Frokoysky attempted to escape. As he ran through the front door, he was hit on the head with a gun butt. Miss Folger handed them all the money she had, and they took it and killed her and Frokowsky anyway.”
The next night, picking a house at random and killing again to show they hadn’t lost their nerve, Caruso said, the invaders stabbed the LaBiancas — then showered and had a snack from the ice box before leaving.
The Los Angeles Times, in an account it said was pieced together from many sources, added details:
- Frokowsky was tied up but escaped and was shot in the back as he ran. Miss Folger was stabbed in the house, but ran, then was overtaken and stabbed fatally on the lawn. Miss Tate was stabbed repeatedly in the upper body.
- After the killers wiped their hands on it, a bloody towel was used to write “Pig” on the front door, the towel was then placed over Sebring’s head like a hood and a cord was looped around his neck and over a beam to Miss Tate’s. When the group returned to a ranch commune, one reported: “We got five piggies.”
Under arrest on murder warrants in the Tate case are Patricia Kremvinkel, 21, in Mobile. Ala.; Charles D Watson, 24, in McKinney, Texas, and Linda Louise Kasabian, 20, brought here from Concord, NH.
Police say they will seek murder indictments against the three and “five others,” unidentified, from the Los Angeles County grand jury. It is to convene on the killings Friday and is expected to conclude its probe Monday.
Officers say they are holding five material witnesses, not identified. Deputy District Attorney Aaron H Stovitz says he will call 18 witnesses.
One, Stovitz, said, will be producer Marty Melcher, 27, son of singer-actress Doris Day. Melcher was a previous tenant of the rented Tate mansion.
Manson visited Melcher at the home last summer to discuss his songwriting ambitions, friends have said. Melcher has declined comment.
Miss Atkins pleaded innocent Tuesday to a charge of murder in the killing of a Malibu musician, Gary Hinman. last July. Police say Manson lived for a time with Hinman. A codefendant. Robert K. Beausoleil, 21, described as a Manson friend, was tried previously but the jury could not agree and a new trial was ordered.
Los Angeles County District Attorney Evelle J Younger, whose office will prosecute the murder cases, expressed hope there will be no court-imposed “gag order” on information. He said such an order in the case of Sirhan B Sirhan. convicted earlier this year of murdering Sen. Robert F Kennedy, prevented clarification of “absurd rumors.”
The Sirhan order forbid attorneys and public officials from discussing evidence or details in the case. He said he has no indication there will be such an order.
In Independence, Manson was charged with two counts of receiving stolen property and one of operating a stolen vehicle. After the hearing, he was ordered held for arraignment Dec. 12. Bond was fixed at $25,000.
His attorney argued: “There’s no evidence that Mr Manson knew that vehicles were stolen. The simple act of driving a vehicle, even if it is stolen, is not enough. There has to be intent.”
Charles Manson’s history of trouble
Manson is no stranger to trouble. From followers and police came sketches of a life of problems, imprisonments and menial jobs.
A Los Angeles Times account said Manson was born to an unwed 16-year-old girl in Cincinnati, Ohio, lived with his maternal grandmother, then an aunt and uncle. He ran away from a boys’ school, landed in a correctional institution and by the time he was 25 had spent 13 years in reformatories and prisons for such offenses as auto theft, forgery and transporting women across state lines for prostitution.
Out of prison on parole, he was married and fathered a son. but by the time the boy was born he was back in jail. His wife divorced him.
In his free time behind bars he became interested in the occult. Officials termed his intelligence “superior.” He also took up the guitar, discovered he could sing and began writing music.
Then, on parole, he discovered the hippie-style life and a friend said “a whole new world” opened for him. He went to San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury district and acquired a following of hippie types — most of them girls.
He and a 19-year-old girl moved into a hillside pad she described as “a luxurious hobo castle’ with Arabian tapestries, goatskin rugs and a yard full of “dancing trees and smiling clover.” Manson fancied himself a “roving minstrel” and budding songwriter. His growing clan sang and played along with him.
They left Haight-Ashbury April 12, 1965, in an old school bus, converted into living quarters for 14 young men and women — most of them women. The bus broke down near Oxnard, and one rainy afternoon, they ducked into a ranch full of old movie sets. They were still living there when the slayings occurred.
When deputies raided the place last August, shortly after the killings, and made arrests on prostitution and drug allegations, Manson moved his “family” into a canyon area populated by hippie-types near Death Valley. They set up headquarters in a ranch building in an isolated
canyon reachable only by four-wheel-drive vehicles and equipped it with walkie-talkies and observation posts. Visitors said the women often went nude or near nude.
With a combination of pronouncements — “Follow my orders or meet a horrible death” — and captivating glances, Manson convinced some of his clan he owned them. “We belong to him, not to ourselves,” Miss Atkins’ attorneys quoted her as saying. “He is a very beautiful man. If Charles said it was right, it was right.”
“He was magnetic,” another follower, Sandra Good Pugh, 26, told interviewers in Independence. “His motions were like magic… the first time I heard him sing it was like an angel… There was no dope, but sunbathing in the nude was common.”
On Oct. 12, a dozen sheriff’s deputies and highway patrolmen hunting for a band that was stealing cars and converting them to dune buggies, raided the commune. They escorted seven persons out of Hanson’s cabin. Patrolman James Purcell, who led the raid, said he returned to search the little building and found Manson.
Said Purcell: “He was in a very tiny cupboard beneath the bathroom sink… three feet high, 18 to 20 inches wide and 12 to 18 inches deep.”
December 14: Charles Manson murders – Parties that ended in death
Lansing State Journal (Lansing, Michigan) Dec 14, 1969
By Jack V Fox, United Press International
On the evening of August 8 this year, there were two parties underway 20 miles apart in the mountains northwest of Los Angeles. One was made up of what society calls “swingers,” and the second “hippies.”
The setting for the first was a $250,000 estate in a cul-de-sac of fashionable Benedict Canyon with a swimming pool, guest house, locked gate and sleek foreign sports cars.
The locale of the other was a rotting shack on an abandoned Western movie set with mongrels slinking among the garbage and the “bug”? bodies of Volkswagens stripped after being stolen from the streets of Hollywood.
The cast of main characters at each location was strikingly dissimilar, and yet in some ways the same. They were both drug-oriented, and they spurned the world of the squares.
The hostess at Benedict Canyon was an almost unbelievably beautiful actress named Sharon Tate. Her companions were a men’s hairstylist who had been her fiance before her marriage to a Polish film director. An heiress to a coffee fortune whose brand name is a household word. A hanger-on in the jet-set world. Also a kid who had the misfortune to be visiting the caretaker.
At the old Spahn Ranch, a tiny little man — with piercing eyes held sway over a collection (c) of LSD-hyped girls and a masculine young Texan. The host was Charles Manson, 35. He may never have heard of Sharon Tate but he had been at the house in Benedict Canyon and the remembrance of his rejection there was enough to make him wish to exterminate its occupants, whoever they were.
Before that evening ended, the two parties joined.
Out of that union came a macabre death scene.
A maid the next morning found Miss Tate’s panty-clad body lying in blood, a nylon rope looped from her head around that of karate-expert Jay Sebring. She was eight and one-half months pregnant, and the killer had inflicted knife wounds only in the upper part of her body.
On the lawn were the bodies of Abigail Folger and Voityck Frokowsky who had been living together at the Tate house while Sharon’s husband, Roman Polanski, was in London making a movie.
Slumped in the driver’s seat of a car in the driveway was the body of Stephen Parent, 18. Written on the door of the house in blood was the word, “Pig.”
Member of hippie clan offers macabre account of slayings
What follows is a chronicle of the slayings of the five people at the Tate estate and that of a wealthy couple named LaBianca the next night.
The account comes almost entirely from a girl named Susan Denise Atkins, 21, a tall, dark-haired young woman from San Jose, Calif., who had been on drugs for three years, and became the particular girlfriend of Manson. who changed her name to Sadie Glutz. She has told a grand jury she was in the Tate home the night of the killings and she has been charged with murder.
Miss Atkins is trying to save her own skin. There is every reason to believe she would lie to do so. She claims in one breath she was under Manson’s hypnotic spell, so that she had no self-control, but in the next carefully excludes herself from any specific act of killing.
She has incriminated a number of people who have not yet had the chance to tell their story. She may be striking back in revenge. But she was with the ”Manson family’ from its early days in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury District until the time they were rounded up in an old cabin in Death Valley last October.
What she says may be tailored to her advantage, but this is the story Susan Atkins, alias Sadie Glutz, told a grand jury — a rough outline of two absolutely senseless orgies of death.
Charles Manson murders: Eyewitness tale from Susan Atkins [later convicted]
According to Miss Atkins, Manson exercised supernatural powers over a clan of restless young people who became subservient to his every wish. So subservient that they would kill on his command.
Among the hippies at the Spahn Ranch that night were three girls and one man. The man was Charles ”Tex” Watson, 24. He comes from the little farm town of Copeville, Texas, where in high school he played football, basketball and ran on the track team.
Six feet, two inches tall with long brown hair, he was scarcely recognized by folks back home when he came back several months ago and scrounged around McKinney, Texas, until he was arrested on charges of murder in the Tate case.
One of the girls was Patricia Krenwinkel, 21, a Los Angeles native who had attended schools in California and Alabama, including Spring Hill College, a Jesuit-run school in Mobile. A mathematics instructor at the college recalls her as a “very attentive student who did her work and caused no trouble.” In jail in Mobile, she has denied any connection with the murders and is fighting extradition.
A second girl was Linda Louise Kasabian, nee Drouin, 20, a tiny, sandy-haired girl who is a mother of one child and five months pregnant with another. A native of Biddeford, Maine, she left the “family” before the Death Valley roundup and surrendered to authorities in Concord, N.H., after she was charged with murder.
The third girl was Susan Atkins.
Miss Atkins says that Manson ordered them to go to the Benedict Canyon home, to kill everyone there and steal whatever money they could find.
Dressed in black, the four drove to the estate. Miss Atkins says Watson carried a .22 caliber pistol and the girls were armed with knives and bayonets.
According to Miss Atkins — and bear in mind this is her unsubstantiated story — this is what happened:
Watson climbed a telephone pole and cut the lines leading into the house. Manson had told them the location of a button opening the iron gates and Watson, Miss Atkins and Miss Krenwinkel crept onto the grounds, leaving Miss Kasabian outside as a lookout.
Parent, who had been visiting with 18-year-old caretaker William Garretson in a cottage about 75 feet from the main house, was in his father’s car preparing to drive home. Miss Atkins said Watson shot the young man in the chest before he could get the car started.
Watson climbed through a window and unlocked the front door and the two girls entered. The house was quiet. There had been a party earlier but it had broken up. Miss Folger was in a bedroom reading a book. Sharon Tate was in bed in another room. Sebring was sitting in a chair talking with her. Frokowsky was asleep on a couch in the living room.
He awakened and looked up in surprise at the intruders.
“Who are you?” he asked.
“I’m the devil. I’m here to kill,” Miss Atkins quoted Watson as replying.
Watson ordered the 37-year-old Frokowsky, a friend of the absent Polanski, bound. The trio went into the other rooms and forced out Miss Tate, Sebring and Miss Folger at knifepoint. They were tied together with a nylon rope and Watson told them they were going to die.
Miss Atkins said Sebring screamed, and Watson shot him. Frokowsky had managed to loosen his bonds and ran toward the front door, where Watson hit him on the head with the gun, then shot and Stabbed him. Miss Folger also got loose, struggled with Miss Krenwinkel and was stabbed.
Miss Atkins said Watson ordered her to kill Sharon Tate but she refused. The actress pleaded with them: “Let me have my baby.” Miss Atkins said she held Sharon while Watson stabbed her.
It was she, Miss Atkins said, who wrote the word “Pig” on the front door with a towel soaking with blood. As a last act, they tied the rope around Miss Tate’s head, looped it over a rafter and fastened it around Sebring’s neck.
They picked up Miss Kasabian and drove back to the Spahn Ranch and told Manson what had occurred. Miss At- kins said Manson criticized them for “sloppiness,” and said. he would personally lead another foray to demonstrate how it should be done and make sure they did not lose their “nerve.”
According to Miss Atkins, seven of them set out the next night. There were the original four plus Manson and two other hippie members of the family, Miss Leslie Van Houten, 20, also known as Leslie Sankston, and Steve Grogan.
Manson selected the $50,000 home of Leno LaBianca, owner of a small supermarket chain, because it had an expensive car and a speedboat in the driveway.
Manson entered the home, confronted LaBianca and his wife, Rosemary, at gunpoint and tied them up. Then, said Miss Atkins, he sent in Watson, Miss Krenwinkel and Miss Van Houton to rob them and kill them. They were stabbed to death with their own kitchen utensils. On the refrigerator door of the home was scrawled in blood, “Death to Pigs.”
With seven persons allegedly involved in the two slayings, a revolver left at the Tate home, footprints in pools of blood and the likelihood that other members of the “Manson family” learned of the episodes, it is the mark of their secrecy that it took the police more than three months to break the case.
It came when Miss Atkins, in jail on a charge of yet another murder, that of a one-time musician friend of Manson, told a cellmate a part of the story and the girl reported it to the guards at the Sybil Brand Institute.
On the advice of attorneys, Miss Atkins agreed to turn state’s evidence and tell her entire account to the grand jury.
When she emerged after four and one-half hours of testimony, a newsman asked her how she felt.
“Dead,” said Sadie Glutz.
Revisiting the story from 1975: Helter Skelter – “Murder, bodies, blood!” Manson ‘family’ left mark
By Vincent Bugliosi with Curt Gentry – The Atlanta Constitution (Georgia) February 16, 1975
[ORIGINAL] EDITOR’S NOTE: During the weekend of Aug. 9-10, 1969, in Los Angeles, there were seven brutal murders in a matter of hours, five of them in the Benedict Canyon residence of movie actress Sharon Tate, two of them in the home of a supermarket owner near Griffith Park. The slayings had apparently lacked motive, yet the killers had left messages, including the phrase “helter skelter,” written in blood. Charles Manson and his ‘family’ had put their mark on American crime. This is… excerpted from the book ‘Helter Skelter’ in which the Manson story is told by the one man who knows it in all its parts, Vincent Bugliosi, the prosecutor.
Saturday, Aug. 9, 1969: It was so quiet, one of the killers would later say, you could almost hear the sound of ice rattling in cocktail shakers in the homes way down the canyon. The canyons above Hollywood and Beverly Hills play tricks with sounds.
A noise clearly audible a mile away may be indistinguishable a few hundred feet. It was hot that night, but not as hot as the night before, when the temperature hadn’t dropped below 92 degrees. On such a night, just four years ago, Watts had exploded in violence.
All things considered, it’s surprising that more people didn’t hear something. But then it was late, just after midnight, and 10050 Cielo Drive was secluded. Being secluded, it was also vulnerable. From the front door of the main house to the gate was over a hundred feet. From the gate to the nearest neighbor on Cielo, 10070, was almost a hundred yards.
At 10070 Cielo, Mr. and Mrs. Seymour Kott had already gone to bed, their dinner guests having left about midnight, when Mrs. Kott heard, in close sequence, what sounded like three or four gunshots. They seemed to have come from the direction of the gate of 10050. She did not check the time but later guessed it to be between 12:30 and 1 am. Hearing nothing further Mrs. Kott went to sleep.
About three-quarters of a mile directly south and downhill from 10050 Cielo Drive, Tim Ireland was one of five counselors supervising an overnight camp-out for some 35 children at the Westlake School for Girls. The other counselors had gone to sleep but Ireland had volunteered to stay up through the night.
At approximately 12:40 a.m. he heard from what seemed a long distance away, to the north or northeast, a solitary male voice The man was screaming “Oh God, no, please don’t! Oh, God, no don’t, don’t, don’t…” The scream lasted 10 to 15 seconds, then stopped, the abrupt silence almost as chilling as the cry itself. Ireland quickly checked the camp, but all the children were asleep.
Robert Burlington, an employee of the Bel Air Patrol, a private security force used by many of the homeowners in the affluent area, was parked in front of 2175 Summit Ridge Drive, with his window down, when he heard what sounded like three shots spaced a few seconds apart.
Burlington called in; Erick Karlson, who was working the desk at patrol headquarters, logged the call at 4:11 am. Karlson, in turn, called the West Los Angeles Division of the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD), and passed on the report. The officer who took the call remarked, “I hope we don’t have a murder; we just had a woman screaming call in that area.”
About 8 am., Winifred Chapman got off the bus at the intersection of Santa Monica and Canyon Drive. A light-skinned black in her mid-fifties, Mrs. Chapman was the housekeeper at 10050 Cielo, and she was upset because, thanks to L.A.’s terrible bus service, she was going to be late to work.
However, just as she was about to look for a taxi, she saw a man she had once worked with, and he gave her a ride almost to the gate. She noticed the fallen telephone wire immediately, and it worried her. In front and to the left of the gate, not hidden but not conspicuous either, was a metal pole on the top of which was the gate-control mechanism. When the button was pushed, the gate swung open.
Because of the wire, Mrs. Chapman thought the electricity might be off, but when she pushed the button, the gate swung open. She walked hurriedly onto the property, noticing an unfamiliar automobile in the driveway, a white Rambler, parked at an odd angle.
She turned right before coming to the walk, however, going to the service porch entrance at the back of the residence. The key was secreted on a rafter above the door. Taking it down, she unlocked the door and went inside, walking directly to the kitchen, where she picked up the extension phone. It was dead.
Thinking that she should alert someone that the line was down, she proceeded through the dining room toward the living room. Then she stopped suddenly, her progress impeded by two large blue steamer trunks, which hadn’t been there when she had left the previous afternoon — and by what she saw.
“There to be blood on the trunks, on the floor next to them, and on two towels in the entryway. She couldn’t see the entire living room — a long couch cut off the area in front of the fireplace — but everywhere she could see she saw the red splashes. The front door was ajar. Looking out, she saw several pools of blood on the flagstone porch. And, farther on, on the lawn, she saw a body.
Screaming, she turned and ran back through the house, leaving the same way she had come in but, on running down the driveway, changing her course so as to reach the gate-control button. In so doing, she passed on the opposite side of the white Rambler, seeing for the first time that there was a body inside the car too.
Once outside the gate, she ran down the hill to the first house 10070, ringing the bell and pounding on the door. When the Kotts didn’t answer, she ran to the next house, 10090, banging on that door and screaming, “Murder, death, bodies, blood!”
Fifteen-year-old Jim Asin was outside, warming up the family car. It was Saturday and, a member of Law Enforcement Unit 800 of the Boy Scouts of America, he was waiting for his father, Ray Asin, to drive him to the West Los Angeles Division of LAPD, where he was scheduled to work on the desk.
By the time he got to the porch, his parents opened the door. While they were trying to calm the hysterical Mrs. Chapman, Jim dialed the police emergency number. Trained by the Scouts, he noted the time: 8:33. While waiting for the police, the father and son walked as far as the gate.
The while Rambler was some 30 feet inside the property, too far way to make out anything inside it, but they did see that not one, but several wires were down. They appeared to have to have been cut.
Returning home, Jim called the police a second time, and, some minutes later, a third. There is some confusion as to exactly what happened to the calls. The official report only states “At 0914 hours, West Los Angeles Units 8L5 were given a radio call, “Code 2, possible homicide, 10050 Cielo Drive.”
The units were one-man patrol cars. Officer Jerry Joe DeRosa began interviewing Mrs. Chapman but had a difficult time of it. Not only was she still hysterical, she was vague as to what she had seen — “blood, bodies, everyplace” — and it was hard to get the names and relationships straight. Polanski. Atobelli. Frykowski.
Ray Asin, who knew the residents of 10050 Cielo, stepped in. The house was owned by Rudi Altobelli. He was in Europe but had hired a caretaker, a young man named William Garretson, to look after the place. Garretson lived in the guest house to the back of the property.
Altobelli had rented the main residence to Roman Polanski, the movie director, and his wife. The Polanskis had gone to Europe, however, in March, and while they were way, two of their friends, Abagail Folger and Voytek Frykowski, had moved in.
Mrs. Polanski had returned less than a month ago, and Frykowski and Folger were staying on with her until her husband returned.
Mrs. Polanski was a movie actress. Her name was Sharon Tate.
Charles Manson murders: The bodies looked like red mannequins
Questioned by DeRosa, Mrs. Chapman was unable to say which, if any, of these people were the two bodies she had seen. To the names, she added still another, that of Jay Sebring, a noted men’s hair stylist and a friend of Mrs. Polanski’s. She mentioned him because she remembered see his black Porsche with the other automobiles parked next to the garage.
Getting a rifle from his squad car, DeRosa and Mrs. Chapman showed him how to open the gate. Walking cautiously up to the driveway to the Rambler, he looked in the open window.
There was a body inside, in the driver’s seat but slumped toward the passenger side. Male. Caucasian, reddish hair, plaid shirt, blue denim pants, both shirt and pants drenched with blood. He appeared to be young, probably in his teens. About this time Unit 8L62, driven by Officer William T. Whisenhunt, pulled up outside the gate.
DeRosa walked back and told him he had a possible homicide. DeRosa also showed him how to open the gate, and the two officers proceeded up the driveway, DeRosa still carrying his rifle, Whisenhunt a shotgun.
A third officer, Robert Burbridge, caught up with them. As the three men reached the end of the parking area, they saw not one but two inert forms on the lawn. From a distance, they looked like mannequins that had been dipped in red paint, then tossed haphazardly on the grass. The first body was 18 to 20 feet past the front door of the residence. The closer they came, the worse it looked.
Male, Caucasian, probably on his 30s, about 5 feet 10, wearing short boots, multicolored bell bottoms, purple shirt, casual vest. He was laying on his side, his head resting on his right arm, his left hand clutching the grass. His head and face were horribly battered, his torso and limbs punctured by literally dozens of wounds.
It seemed inconceivable that so much savagery could be inflicted on one human being. The second body was about 25 feet beyond the first. Female, Caucasian, long dark hair, probably in her late 20s. She was lying supine, her arms thrown out. Barefoot, she was wearing a full-length nightgown, which, before the many stab wounds, had probably been white.
Leaving DeRosa on the lawn, Whisenhunt and Burbridge went back toward the north end of the residence, looking for another way to get in. They’d be open targets if they entered the front door. They noticed a screen had been removed from one of the front windows and was leaning up against the side of the building.
Whisenhunt also observed a horizontal slit along the bottom of the screen. Suspecting this might have been where the killer or killers entered, they looked for another means of entry. They found a window open on the side. Looking in, they saw what appeared to be a newly painted room, devoid of furniture. They climbed in.
DeRosa waited until he saw them inside the house, then approached the front door. There was a patch of blood on the walk, between the hedges; several more on the right-hand corner or the porch: with still others just outside and to the left of the door and on the doorjamb itself. He didn’t see, or later didn’t recall, any footprints, though there was a number.
The door being open, inward, DeRosa was on the porch before he noticed that something had been scrawled into its lower half. Printed on what appeared to be blood were three letters: PIG.
Whisenhunt and Burbridge had finished checking out the kitchen and dining room when DeRosa entered the hallway. Turning left into the living room, he found his way partly blocked by the two blue streamer trunks. It appeared they had been standing on end then knocked over as one was leaning against the other.
DeRosa also observed next to the trunks and on the floor a pair of horn-rimmed glasses. Burbridge, who followed him into the room, noticed something else: on the carpet were two small pieces of wood. They looked like the pieces of a broken gun grip. They had arrived expecting two bodies but had found three. They were now looking for not more death, but some explanation. A suspect.
The room was light and airy. Desk, chair, piano. Then something odd. In the center of the room, facing the fireplace, was a long couch. Draped over the back was a huge American flag. Not until they were almost to the couch did they see what was on the other side. She was young, blond, very pregnant. She lay on her left side, directly in front of the couch, her legs up towards her stomach in a fetal position.
A white, nylon rope was looped around her neck twice, one end extending over a rafter in the ceiling, the other leading across the floor to still another body, that of a man, which was about four feet away.
The rope was also looped twice around the man’s neck, the loose end going under his body, then extending several feet beyond. A bloody towel covered his face, hiding his features. He was short, about 5 feet 6, and was lying on this right side, his hands bunched up near his head as if still warding off blows.
Although DeRosa, Whisenhunt, and Burbridge were patrolmen, not homicide detectives, each, at some time in the course of his duties, had seen death. But nothing like this. 10050 Cielo Drive was a human slaughterhouse.
Stepping outside, the officers were momentarily blinded by the glare from the pool. Asin had mentioned a guest house behind the main residence. They spotted it now, or rather the corner of it, some 60 feet to the south-east, through the shrubbery.
Approaching it quietly, they heard the first sounds they had heard since coming onto the premises: the barking of a dog, and male voice saying “Shhh, be quiet.”
Whisenhunt went to the right, around the back of the house. DeRosa turned left, proceeding around the front, Burbridge following as backup. Stepping into the screened-in porch, DeRosa could see, in the living room, on a couch facing the front door, a youth of about 18. He was wearing pants but no shirt, and through he did not appear to be armed, this did not mean, DeRosa would later explain, that he didn’t have a weapon nearby.
Yelling “Freeze!” DeRosa kicked in the front door. Startled, the boy looked up to see one, then, moments later, three guns pointing directly at him, Christopher, Altobelli’s large Weimaraner charged Whisenhunt, chomping the end of his shotgun. Whisenhunt slammed the porch door on his head, then held him trapped there until the youth called him off.
As to what then happened, there are contrary versions.
The youth, who identified himself as William Garretson, the caretaker, would later state that the officers knocked him down, handcuffed him, yanked him to his feet, dragged him outside onto the lawn, then knocked him down again.
Garretson kept asking, “What’s the matter?” One of the officers replied, “We’ll show you!” and, pulling him to his feet, DeRosa and Burbridge escorted him back along the path toward the main house.
At some point, no one recalls exactly when, Garretson was informed of his rights and told that he was under arrest for murder. Asked about his activities the previous night, he said that although he had remained up all night, writing letters and listening to records, he had neither heard nor seen anything.
His highly unlikely alibi, his “vague, unrealistic” replies, and his confused identification of the bodies led to the arresting officers to conclude that the suspect was lying.
Five murders — four of them probably occurring less than a hundred feet away — and he had heard nothing?
Escorting Garretson down the driveway, DeRosa located the gate-control mechanism on the pole inside the gate. He noticed there was blood on the button.
The logical inference was that someone, quite possibly the killer, had pressed the button to get out, in so doing very likely leaving a fingerprint.
Officer DeRosa, who was charged with securing and protecting the scene until investigating officers arrived, now pressed the button himself, successfully opening the gate, but also creating a superimposure that obliterated any print that may have been there.
Later DeRosa would be questioned regarding this:
Q. “Was there some reason why you placed your finger on the bloody button that operated the gate.
A. “So that I could go through the gate.”
Q. “And that was intentionally done?”
A. “I had to get out of there.”