I was thirteen years old and living in New York when Sharon Tate and the guests at her home were brutally murdered early in the morning on August 9, 1969. The guests were there because Sharon was having dinner that very night. Guests included action hero movie star Steve McQueen and legendary music producer Quincy Jones. Both canceled at the last minute for work reasons. The crime occurred in a luxury home rented at 10050 Cielo Drive in Benedict Canyon, a part of Beverly Crest, north of Beverly Hills, California.
The evening editions of every New York newspaper carried the story about the murders on their front pages. I found out when my parents broke the evening news. As unsettling as the news was, few details were released because not much was known yet. The only fact that struck us all was that one of the victims was an actress who was eight and a half months pregnant. It was actress and model Sharon Tate who was married to film director Roman Polanski (Rosemary’s Baby). He was out of the country when the killings occurred.
I remember my mom saying that the murders had to be the work of a madman. She was right. Charles Manson was a career criminal who spent half his life in jail, then ended up in San Francisco, where he became a self-proclaimed guru for runaways and discarded in his teens and early twenties. His group, later called the Manson Family, lived rent-free at Spahn Movie Ranch near Los Angeles, California. The owner was legally blind and needed people to help him maintain and repair his property. The family made money by stealing cars and selling drugs.
Manson had a brush with non-criminal fame. One of his followers was picked up hitchhiking by Beach Boy Dennis Wilson. She told him that Charlie was an amazing guy who played guitar and had a ton of original songs. Upon meeting Manson, Wilson fell under the spell of his charisma like so many others. He let Manson and seventeen girls move into his house. Dennis introduced Charlie to music producer Terry Melcher. In addition to his own accomplishments in the recording industry, Terry was well connected in Hollywood as the son of movie star Doris Day.
Melcher was mesmerized by Manson’s charisma. He decided to make a movie about the family and their “hippie commune.” Terry also gave Charlie the opportunity to sign a recording contract. Dennis Wilson had Manson record some of his original songs and actually used two of them. The Beach Boys recorded and retitled two original Manson songs for one of their albums and the B-side of a 45. If you are under forty, ask your parents or grandparents about a 45 record.
Manson blew his chances with Wilson and Melcher because he couldn’t control everything that was happening. One day he lost his temper with a follower and attacked him in front of Wilson and Melcher. They couldn’t deal with his explosive temper. Melcher canceled everything and Wilson evicted Charlie and his girls. Charlie kept trying to reconnect with Melcher, who lived in the house on Cielo Drive before Tate and Polanski became tenants in February 1969. Manson kept visiting the house and actually met Sharon Tate at least once. .
At the time, Manson was in his full Messiah mode telling his followers that he was the son of God. After listening to the Beatles’ White Album, he became convinced that it had been written and recorded for the family. The song ‘Helter Skelter’ was a message to Charlie that a race war was necessary. The blacks would defeat the whites and then turn to him and his followers to run things. All he had to do was start the war. His twisted mind devised a diabolical plan to kill some famous whites and then make black people take the blame.
On August 8, 1969, he sent a killing team consisting of Charles ‘Tex’ Watson, Susan Atkins, Patricia Krenwinkel, and Linda Kasabian to the house on Cielo Drive. Five people were stabbed and shot. Sharon Tate was eight and a half months pregnant when she and her unborn baby were murdered in the living room, along with famous hairstylist Jay Sebring. Wojciech Frykowski (Roman Polanski’s friend) and the coffee heiress Abigail Folger made a getaway and were killed outside the house. Eighteen-year-old Steven Parent, a guest house visitor, was shot and killed in his car. A maid discovered the bodies that morning.
Even when the media reached the Cielo Drive home and seventeen police investigators were assigned to work at the crime scene, Charlie Manson was already planning his next murder. Telling his squad that they did sloppy work and hadn’t left things gruesome enough, Manson announced that he would personally supervise the next attack. On August 10, 1969, Manson headed to Los Angeles with Charles ‘Tex’ Watson, Leslie Van Houten, Susan Atkins, and Patricia Krenwinkel. Charlie chose an expensive house that he saw on Waverly Drive in Los Angeles. Susan Atkins stood outside as a lookout while the others entered.
The house was occupied by supermarket executive Leno LaBianca and his wife Rosemary. Although Charlie Manson was present, he probably was not involved in the actual murders. Leno LaBianca was killed in the living room. A fork was used to carve the word WAR into Leno’s belly, sticking out of his corpse. Rosemary LaBianca was murdered in her bedroom. Several slogans were left at the crime scene written in blood, including HELTER SKELTER, which was scrawled on the door of his refrigerator.
Despite leaving behind two messy crime scenes, none of the Manson family members were on the police radar until Susan Atkins was arrested on unrelated charges. Susan bragged about her involvement in the Tate and LaBianca murders while in a cell with another woman. That prisoner reported their conversation to her lawyer and the police. Atkins was known as a member of the Manson family, so it was not long before the police realized that Charlie and some of his cult members had something to do with both types of murders.
Finding Charlie and the others was not easy. The Family was moving between several ranches in the middle of nowhere and could not be located. After vandalizing part of Death Valley National Park while hiding in the Mojave Desert, a local county sheriff found them and arrested them all on a number of charges, including car theft. He had no idea that Los Angeles authorities had just filed murder charges against Manson, Watson, and some of the girls. Atkins was already in custody on charges of being involved in the murder of Gary Hinman.
Gary Hinman made a drug deal with Bobby Beausoleil, a member of the Manson family. Bobby claimed that Gary sold him bad mescaline. Bobby passed it on to a motorcycle gang who wanted his money back. On July 25, 1969, Bobby Beausoleil, Susan Atkins, and Mary Brunner went to see Hinman. Manson and the family believed that Gary had a lot of money, stocks and bonds hidden in his house. Hinman told the group that he had no money or valuables. They tortured him intermittently for two days.
Charles Manson arrived at one point and struck Hinman over the head with a sword slicing off Gary’s left ear and face. Seeing that he was going nowhere, Manson took one of Hinman’s cars and drove off. Susan Atkins and Mary Brunner gave him first aid while Bobby searched the house for valuables and continued to question Hinman. On July 27, 1969, Bobby lost his temper and decided to kill Gary. Beausoleil stabbed Hinman twice in the chest and smothered him with a pillow. Susan and Mary teamed up to help suffocate their victim. Bobby wrote “POLITICAL PIGGY” on the wall using Hinman’s blood. He also drew an imprint in Hinman’s blood to implicate the Black Panthers in the murder. Gary Hinman believed in nonviolence. He died on the ground singing a prayer.
Manson’s trial was as serious as it sounds, but not for him or for his followers. Family members who weren’t arrested shaved their heads, had swastikas on their faces, and some slid down the sidewalk like snakes. The media bought it all. Manson loved being the center of attention. On August 9, 1970, Charlie showed the front page of a newspaper that said President Nixon believed he was guilty. Obviously, he hoped to cause the trial to be annulled, but the judge would not do anything and declared that the jury had not been corrupted. On October 5, 1970, Manson suddenly pounced on the defense table in front of the judge. A great assistant intercepted Manson and threw him to the ground. Then he looked at the judge and said, “In the name of Christian justice, someone should cut off his head.”
Manson and other members of the family were found guilty of multiple murders and sentenced to death. The death penalty was abolished shortly after, so the sentences were changed to life imprisonment. Charlie escaped from the gas chamber, but was unable to escape death. He died in prison on November 29, 2017. At that time, many expected it to be the last we would hear from him. I was not so lucky! August 9, 2019 will be the fiftieth anniversary of the Sharon Tate murders. Surely not one to celebrate, yet the entertainment industry hopes it will spark enough interest in the horrific crime to make the three well-known movies being made about the case successful financial ventures.
Hillary Duff plays Sharon Tate in one of the films titled “Tbe Haunting of Sharon Tate,” which Sharon’s sister Debra has called “insipid” and criticized. Debra Tate has jealously guarded her sister’s public persona over the years. While supporting Kate Bosworth in the role of Sharon in ‘Tate’, she has been highly critical of Quentin Tarantino’s new film. Tarantino’s company says the premise is: “A television actor and his stuntman embark on an odyssey to make a name for themselves in the film industry during the 1969 Los Angeles murders of Charles Manson.”
Margot Robbie landed the role of Tate in Quentin Tarantino’s ninth film, “Once Upon A Time In Hollywood.” The $ 100 million Tarantino film is a mystery crime film focusing on the murders of Sharon Tate and others committed by the Manson family. Written and directed by Quentin Tarantino, the cast includes Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, Kurt Russell, Damian Lewis, Luke Perry, Dakota Fanning, Zoë Bell, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, Timothy Olyphant, James Marsden, Julia Butters, James. Remar, Martin Kove, Brenda Vaccaro, Al Pacino, Scoot McNairy and the list goes on. The film will be released by Sony Pictures on July 26, 2019.
For more information on the murders, the complicated secrets of Sharon Tate and Roman Polanski, the Manson family, the movies, and a new book entitled ‘The Sharon Tate Murders Fifty Years Later: Case Closed?’ visit http://gothicmoods.tripod.com