Quiet and secluded is just what the young movie star wanted. The canyons above Beverly Hills were far enough away from the noisy glitz of Hollywood to afford some privacy and space. Sharon Tate loved this place on Cielo Drive. To her it meant romance - romance with the man of her dreams and the father of her child, director Roman Polanski.
It was cooler up there too, which was especially refreshing on that hot muggy Saturday night, the 9th of August 1969. The beautiful young woman kept herself company with her attractive and sophisticated friends: Abigail Folger, the coffee heiress and her boyfriend Voytek Frykowski, and an internationally known hair stylist Jay Sebring.
Sharon was eight months pregnant and very lonely for her husband who was away in Europe working on a film. Impromptu gatherings like this one on a weekend night were not at all unusual.
The house was deliberately secluded but not completely insecure. Approximately 100 feet from the house was a locked gate and on the property was a guesthouse inhabited by an able-bodied young caretaker.
That night the Kotts, Sharon’s nearest neighbors who lived about 100 yards away, thought they heard a few gunshots coming from the direction of Sharon’s property sometime between 12:30 and 1 A.M. But since they heard nothing else, they went to bed.
Around the same time, Tim Ireland who was supervising a camp-out less than a mile away heard a chilling scream: "Oh, God, no, please don’t! Oh, God, no, don’t, don’t…"
He drove around the area, but found nothing unusual.
Nearby Emmett Steele’s dogs went into a barking frenzy somewhere between 2 and 3 A.M. He got out of bed and looked around, but found nothing amiss and went back to bed.
Robert Bullington, a member of a private security patrol hired by some of the wealthy property owners, thought he heard several gunshots a little after 4 A.M. and called his headquarters. Headquarters, in turn, called Los Angeles Police Department, known as LAPD, to report the disturbance. The LAPD officer said: "I hope we don’t have a murder; we just had a woman-screaming call in that area."
Winifred Chapman, Sharon Tate’s housekeeper, got to the main gate of the house a little after 8 A.M. She noticed what looked like a fallen telephone wire hanging over the gate. She pushed the gate control mechanism and it swung open. As she walked up to the house, she saw an unfamiliar white Rambler parked in the driveway.
When she got to the house, she took the housekey from its hiding place and unlocked the back door. Once inside the kitchen, she picked up the telephone and confirmed that it was a telephone wire that had fallen, completely knocking out all phone service. As she made her way toward the living room, she noticed that the front door was open and that there were splashes of red everywhere. Looking out the front door, she saw a couple of pools of blood and what appeared to be a body on the lawn.
She shrieked and ran back through the house and down the driveway, passing close enough to the Rambler to see that there was yet another body inside the car. She ran over to the Kotts and banged on the door, but they were not home, so she ran to the next house and did the same thing, screaming hysterically.
LAPD Officer Jerry DeRosa arrived first. He walked up to the Rambler and found a young man slumped toward the passenger side, drenched in blood. At this point, Officer William Whisenhunt joined DeRosa. The two officers, with guns drawn searched the other automobiles and the garage, while a third officer Robert Burbridge caught up with them.
There on the beautifully manicured lawn with its magnificent panorama of Los Angeles lay two bodies. One was a white man that appeared to be in his thirties. Someone had battered in his head and face, while savagely puncturing the rest of his body with dozens of wounds.
The other body was that of a young woman with long brown hair lying in a full-length nightgown with multiple stab wounds.
The three officers cautiously approached the house. No telling what or who may be waiting in there for them. It would have been foolhardy for all of them to enter through the front door. However, as they went near the front door, they saw that one of the front window screens had been removed. Whisenhunt found an open window on the side of the house where he and Burbridge made their entry.
Once the other two officers were inside, DeRosa approached the front door. On the lower half of the door, he saw scrawled in blood the word "PIG." In the hallway they found two large steamer trunks, a pair of horned rimmed glasses and pieces of a broken gun grip.
Then when they reached the couch, they were in for a real shock. A young blond woman, very pregnant, was lying on the floor, smeared all over with blood, a rope around her neck that extended over a rafter in the ceiling. The other end of the rope was around the neck of a man lying nearby, also drenched in blood.
As they looked through the rest of the house they heard a man’s voice and the sound of a dog. It was William Garretson the caretaker. The officers handcuffed him and put him under arrest.
Later that Saturday night, Leno and Rosemary LaBianca and Susan Struthers, Rosemary's 21-year-old daughter, drove back from vacation trailering their boat. They dropped off Susan at her apartment and drove home to 3301 Waverly Drive in the Los Feliz area of L.A. They stopped to pick up a newspaper between 1 and 2 A.M.
It wasn't until the next day that anybody came to the house to see them. Frank Struthers, Rosemary's son by a previous marriage, got a ride home. Around 8:30 P.M., as he carried his camping equipment up the driveway, he noticed things that worried him. First the speedboat was still in the driveway. It was very unlike his stepfather not to put the boat in the garage. Then Frank noticed that all the window shades were down -- something his parents never did.
He knocked on the door, but got no answer, so he went to a pay phone and called, but again with no response. He finally got in touch with his sister, who came with her boyfriend to their parents’ house.
Frank and the boyfriend found the back door open. They left Susan in the kitchen until they had a chance to look around. When the two young men walked into the living room, they saw Leno in his pajamas, lying with a pillow over his head and a cord around his neck. Something was sticking out from his stomach
They rushed out of the house, dragging Susan with them and called the police at the neighbors’ house.
Soon an ambulance and police cars arrived. Leno was found with a blood-drenched pillowcase over his head and the cord of a large lamp tied tightly around his neck. His hands had been tied behind him with a leather thong. A carving fork protruded from his stomach and the word "WAR" had been carved in his flesh.
In the master bedroom, they found his wife Rosemary lying on the floor, her nightgown up over her head. She too had a pillowcase over her head and a lamp cord tied tightly around her neck.
In three places in the house, there was writing which appeared to be in the victims’ blood: on the living room wall, "DEATH TO PIGS;" on another wall in the living room, the single word "RISE;" and in the refrigerator door, "HEALTHER SKELTER," misspelled.
Eventually, all of the victims of the massacre at Sharon Tate’s home were identified. The young man in the car was a teenager named Steve Parent who had come to visit Garretson, the caretaker. The two victims found outside the house were Abigail Folger and her lover, Voytek Frykowski. In the living room joined by rope were Sharon Tate and Jay Sebring.
A .22 caliber gun had shot Steve Parent, Jay Sebring and Voytek Frykowski. Of the five victims, all but Steve Parent had been stabbed repeatedly. Sebring had been hit in the face and Frykowski had been repeatedly hit on the head with a blunt object.
The stab wounds suggested that only one knife had been used for the wounds. The nature of the wounds indicated that something like a bayonet was the weapon. A strange knife, a Buck brand clasp-type pocketknife that the housekeeper could not identify was found very close to Sharon Tate’s body.
Sharon Tate had been a beauty all of her life. Even as a child she had won beauty contests. But her ambition was not to be a model but a movie actress. Finally in 1963 at the age of 22 she found a sponsor in Producer Martin Ransohoff. With Ransohoff’s help, she landed parts in the series Beverly Hillbillies and Petticoat Junction, and the movies The Americanization of Emily and The Sandpiper.
In 1965, she got her chance at her first feature role in the Eye of the Devil with David Niven and Deborah Kerr. In this movie she played the part of a country girl with special magical powers. While in London in the summer of 1966 for the filming of the movie, she met Roman Polanski, who had just made his mark as a director of the movie Repulsion with Catherine Deneuve and Cul de Sac, which had won many European film awards.
Polanski put Sharon as the lead in his campy film The Fearless Vampire Killers. During this period she became Polanski's lover. This relationship lasted quite a long time and shortly after the filming of Rosemary’s Baby, he and Sharon married. In 1969, they rented the house on Cielo Drive from Terry Melcher, Doris Day’s son and moved in mid-February.
Sharon’s career never skyrocketed the way Polanski’s did even with her role of Jennifer in Valley of the Dolls. A good part of the reason her career was going nowhere is that she never had an opportunity to show off whatever acting skills she had. All the roles she had were ones in which all she had to do was look pretty. Her career took a backseat when she became pregnant. The baby and her husband became the center of her life.
She was a unique lady according to most everyone who knew her. In spite of her beauty and remarkable figure, she was a very down-to-earth woman with none of the phoniness normally associated with starlets. She was very sweet and a bit on the naïve side. Everyone seemed to like Sharon even in a jealous, bitchy town like Hollywood.
Sharon’s life was ended by five stab wounds in her chest and back, which penetrated her heart, lungs and liver and caused massive internal hemorrhaging. The remaining eleven wounds simply added insult to her savaged body.
Her little boy, Paul Richard Polanski, died with her.
Abigail Folger, Sharon’s friend was twenty-five years old when she died. As heiress to the Folger coffee fortune, she had led a very comfortable life. She made her debut in San Francisco in 1961. She graduated from Radcliffe. Like many wealthy girls, she looked for something meaningful to do with her time and became very involved in social work.
In 1968, she met her lover Voytek Frykowski who introduced her to Sharon and Roman Polanski. She became an investor in Jay Sebring’s men’s toiletries and hair styling business.
Her social work in the ghettos of Los Angeles was beginning to get to her.
She started to feel that her contribution was futile in combatting the enormous problems of ignorance and poverty. She told her friends that she couldn’t get away from her work at the end of the day. "The suffering gets under your skin," she said.
Her relationship with Frykowski was also a source of concern to her. The two of them had become much too dependent upon drugs. Both the frustrations of her social work and her problems with Voytek were the subject of her almost daily conversations with a psychiatrist. She had just about built up enough strength to break off her love affair and try to get her life back on track when twenty-eight stab wounds intervened.
Voytek Frykowski was thirty-two when he died. He had been a long- time friend of Roman’s from Poland. He was, according to Polanski, "a man of little talent but immense charm." Always a playboy, he had no visible means of support, essentially living off Abigail’s money. While he told people he was a writer, there was no evidence that he was anything but a very charming, extroverted and entertaining "druggie."
However dissipated his life was or charming his personality, it came to an abrupt end with two gunshot wounds, thirteen blows to the head and fifty-one stab wounds.
Jay Sebring was quite the opposite career-wise from Frykowski. He was the top men’s hairstylist in the U.S. and was a major force in the development of a market for men’s hair products and toiletries. His customers included Frank Sinatra, Peter Lawford, George Peppard, Paul Newman and Steve McQueen. His new company, Sebring International would franchise men’s hair styling shops and his line of hair products.
He was known as a ladies man and dated many different women. One of those women had at one time been Sharon Tate, who broke off her relationship with Sebring when she became involved with Polanski.
There was another, darker side to Sebring’s exuberant sex life. He would tie up his girlfriends and occasionally whip them before they had sex. In spite of his flashy, successful outward life, there was reason to suspect that the real Jay Sebring was lonley and insecure.
A gunshot wound and seven stab wounds liberated him from his insecurities.
Aside from Sharon Tate’s baby, the youngest victim was 18-year-old Steven Earl Parent who lived with his father, mother and siblings in El Monte. At around 11:45 P.M. Saturday night,
Parent had come onto the estate to visit William Garretson, the caretaker who was living in the guesthouse. Parent’s hobby was hi-fi equipment and he wanted to show Garretson a radio he brought with him. Garretson wasn’t interested and Parent left the guesthouse around 12:15 A.M.
The young man had just graduated from high school in June and worked several jobs so that he could go to college in the fall.
Instead he got four bullets from a .22 caliber revolver.
Leno LaBianca was a respectable businessman. His father was the founder of State Wholesale Grocery Company and Leno went into the family business right out of college. He was a man who was well liked and did not appear to have any enemies. People described him as a quiet, conservative person
He died from the multiple stab wounds, twenty- six in all.
Rosemary LaBianca was an attractive 38-year- old woman of Mexican origin. She had been orphaned as a child and later adopted when she was twelve. She had worked as a carhop and a waitress. She met her first husband in the 1940’s and had two children. After they were divorced in 1958,she met Leno when she was a waitress at the Los Feliz Inn.
Rosemary had become a very successful businesswoman. Not only did she run the profitable Boutique Carriage, but also her prudent investments in securities and commodities left her with an estate of $2.6 million. Not bad for someone who started life with no advantages and spent most of her career as a waitress and carhop.
She had been stabbed forty-one times, six of which were enough to have caused her death.
On two consecutive nights, seven innocent adults and one unborn child lost their lives in what seemed to be a senseless, motiveless crime.
However one feels about the lifestyles of the wealthy and glamorous, it is hard to imagine any social good coming from these vicious murders. Yet over the years, the perpetrators of these crimes and their persistent followers have tried to suggest that these killings were necessary and desirable.
This author hopes that nobody finishing this story will agree.
In his very thorough book on the case, Helter Skelter, Prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi heaps a great deal of fault upon the homicide detectives of the Los Angeles Police Department. One of the examples he provides is LAPD’s slowness to connect the Tate murders with the LaBianca murders the following night and with the murder of Gary Hinman a few days earlier. Some of this fault on the part of LAPD apparently stemmed from its lack of cooperation with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Office.
LAPD was approached shortly after the Tate-LaBianca murders by 2 LA Sheriff’s Office detectives who told them of the July 31 murder of music teacher Gary Hinman. On the wall of the dead man’s living room was written in his own blood "POLITICAL PIGGY," which seemed very similar to the words written at the both the Tate and the LaBianca crimes scenes. Also, Hinman had been stabbed to death as had victims at the Tate and LaBianca homes.
Amazingly enough, the LAPD detectives refused to examine any connection between the deaths of Hinman and the people at the Tate house. Furthermore, the LaBianca murders were squarely in the territory of the LA Sheriff’s Office and LAPD had no interest.
Had the LAPD detectives bothered to listen to the LA Sheriff’s Office detectives, they would have heard that the Sheriff’s Office had arrested a Bobby Beausoleil for the Hinman murder who was living with a bunch of hippies led by Charles Manson. But, LAPD had already decided that the Tate murders were a result of a drug deal gone bad and didn’t want to hear about any hippies.
On the other hand, LAPD had in custody one William Garretson, the caretaker on the Tate estate who claimed that he slept through the entire bloody ordeal. The case against the frightened young man never materialized after he passed a polygraph test.
Officials essentially discounted robbery as a motive for the crimes, even though Rosemary LaBianca's wallet and wristwatch were missing. In the two homes of these affluent victims there were many items of value, which had not been touched by the killers. Small amounts of cash lying around the Tate home were still in evidence and the purses and wallets of the Tate victims were intact.
LAPD did investigate three alleged dope dealers that had once crashed a party at the Polanski’s, but one by one the men were cleared of any involvement.
Likewise, Roman Polanski was interviewed for hours by the police and agreed to a polygraph examination. On August 15, he returned for the first time since the murders to the house on Cielo Drive, accompanied by psychic Peter Hurkos.
Polanski had been devastated by the loss of his wife and son and was enraged at the media circus that he walked into when he got back to the States. He lashed out at the newspapers for suggesting that he and his wife were Satanists, indulging in sex and drug orgies. "Sharon," he said, "was so sweet and so lovely that I didn’t believe that people like that existed…She was beautiful without phoniness. She was fantastic. She loved me and the last few years I spent with her were the only time of true happiness in my life…"
He worried to the police that perhaps he was the target not Sharon. "It could be some kind of jealousy or plot or something. It couldn’t be Sharon directly." Polanski did not believe that drugs were a motive for the crimes. His wife, although she had experimented with LSD before they met, was not a big drug user. "I can tell you without question," he told the police. "She took no drugs at all, except for pot, and not too much of that. And during her pregnancy there was no question, she was so in love with her pregnancy she would do nothing. I’d pour a glass of wine and she wouldn’t touch it."
One month after the murders, Polanski, along with other contributors such as Peter Sellers, Yul Brynner and Warren Beatty, put an ad in the LA area newspapers for a reward:
Roman Polanski and friends of the Polanski family offer to pay a $25,000 reward to the person or persons who furnish information leading to the arrest and conviction of the murderer or murderers of Sharon Tate, her unborn child, and the other four victims.
It seemed like it was open season on theories. Everybody had a theory. The Mafia did it, the Polish secret police, etc. Sharon’s father, Colonel Paul Tate, a former Army intelligence officer, launched his own private investigation. Letting his hair grow long and growing a beard, he started to frequent the hippie joints, the drug markets, hoping that he would get some tidbit of information that would lead to the murderers of his beloved daughter and grandson.
On September 1, 1969, 10-year-old Steven Weiss found a gun on his lawn in Sherman Oaks. He carefully took the .22 caliber Hi Standard Longhorn revolver to his father, who immediately called LAPD. The gun was dirty and rusty and had a broken gun grip.
A couple of weeks earlier, the LAPD forensics experts determined that the .22 caliber revolver with the broken grip used on the Tate victims was none other than a Hi Standard .22 caliber Longhorn revolver which was relatively unique and rare. Amazingly enough, two weeks later, an identical gun with a broken grip is turned in to LAPD, tagged, filed away and completely forgotten.
A couple of days later, LAPD sent out flyers to all personnel describing the murder gun and attaching a photo of the revolver. The flyer was also sent out to other law enforcement agencies around the country and Canada, while all the time, the gun sat in the Property Section of the Van Nuys division.
Three months after the murders, which had been separately pursued by LAPD and the LA Sheriff’s Office, neither group had made any progress. However, the detectives working for the Sheriff’s Office were younger and more aggressive than their LAPD counterparts and came to the conclusion that the Tate and LaBianca cases were definitely connected. They had several suspects, one of which was Charles Manson.
Finally in mid-October, LAPD began to talk to the Sheriff’s Office and decided to investigate similarities between the murder of Gary Hinman and the Tate-LaBianca crimes. The investigation lead to the Spahn Ranch, which was the home of a hippie group that called itself the Manson Family.
The Spahn Ranch was in the mountains near Chatsworth. In the 1920’s it had been the site for old cowboy movies. Author John Gilmore in his book The Garbage People describes the isolated old movie set:
The façade of the main street, a cluster of rundown movie buildings, had become a ghost town with its Longhorn Saloon, the Rock City Café, some stables, weathered props and old trailers. Millions of moviegoers once viewed this old "Wild West" setting, but the dust had settled. Rusted car parts littered the grounds and few visitors passed by…
Bobby Beausoleil, the man charged with the murder of Gary Hinman, had lived at the Spahn Ranch with the Manson Family.
His girlfriend, 17-year-old Kitty Lutesinger, told police that Manson sent Bobby and a girl named Susan Atkins to Hinman’s house to get money from him. When Hinman wouldn’t give them the money, they killed him. Lutesinger also recalled that Susan Atkins mentioned a fight with a man who she stabbed in the legs several times.
When police questioned Susan Atkins, who was still in jail, she admitted that she went with Beausoleil to Hinman’s home to get some money he had inherited. When he refused, Beausoleil slashed his face. The two of them kept Hinman prisoner in his home until Beausoleil murdered him a couple of days later.
At that point there did not seem to be any direct connection between Beausoleil and the Tate-LaBianca murders, except for some hearsay that Susan Atkins had stabbed a man in the leg. Gary Hinman had not been stabbed in the leg, but Voytek Frykowski had.