In the summer of 1969, the Manson murders gripped the nation with fear. And while everyone is familiar with the mastermind—who passed away at the age of 83—and his story, his victims sometimes languish in his shadow.
But there were many people who died at the hands of Charles Manson's brainwashed "family" during the Tate murders of August 8–9, 1969, and the LaBianca murders the following night. Among the victims was Sharon Tate, a 26-year-old actress who was eight and a half months pregnant at the time of her death. Talented, beautiful, famous, and married to Rosemary's Baby director Roman Polanski, it seemed unthinkable that someone like Tate could meet such a brutal end. Her murder was not only senseless and shocking—but a definitive end to the innocence and carefree spirit of the 1960s. As renowned journalist Joan Didion writes in The White Album: "Many people I know in Los Angeles believe the Sixties ended abruptly on August 9, 1969."
Just before midnight the previous evening, a group of Manson followers arrived at Tate's home, armed with instructions to "totally destroy everyone in [it], as gruesome as you can." Charles Manson had come to the house on a different occasion, ready to argue with its then-renter—music producer Terry Melcher—about a rejected record deal. With Melcher gone and the famous Polanksi couple in his place, 10050 Cielo Drive now represented everything Manson hated.
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By the early morning hours of August 9, 1969, Sharon Tate was dead, as were three of her friends—Jay Sebring, Wojciech Frykowski, and Abigail Folger—and a fourth guest, Steven Parent. Save for Parent, who was shot, Tate and the others died from vicious stabbings. The Manson murderers then wrote "Pig" on the front door in Tate's blood, fulfilling their leader's final wish that they "leave a sign...something witchy."
Tate was mostly known for her memorable performance in the 1967 cult favorite, Valley of the Dolls. Her rise to fame had been an upwards slog from beauty pageantry to working as an extra to getting bit parts on shows like Mister Ed andThe Beverly Hillbillies. After failed movie auditions for The Cincinnati Kid and The Sound of Music in the mid-1960s, Tate finally landed her first big role in the 1966 horror film, Eye of the Devil. A succession of other movies, plus her working relationship and marriage to Roman Polanski, set her more firmly on Hollywood's radar. Her final film was 12+1—her first, and only, lead role.
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Despite the passage of 50 years, the massacre at 10500 Cielo Drive—and the LaBianca slayings the day after—has not faded from the American consciousness. Greg King recounts Tate's life and murder in Sharon Tate and the Manson Murders, painting a portrait of an actress, friend, wife, and expectant mother who had so much more to show the world. The following excerpt of the book takes readers to the devastating crime scene on the morning of August 9, 1969.
Read on for an excerpt of Sharon Tate and the Manson Family Murders, and then download the book.
Early on the morning of Saturday, August 9, 1969, Los Angeles Times delivery boy Steve Shannen rode his bike up the steep cul-de-sac to the gate of 10050 Cielo Drive. He immediately noticed the cut communication wires hanging over the gate. As he looked further on, down the drive and past the white Ambassador which was parked at an odd angle, he saw that the yellow bug light on the side of the garage was still on; this in itself was hardly unusual, for it was just beginning to get light. Noticing nothing else out of the ordinary, he pedaled his bike back down the road. A few hours later, Seymour Kott, the neighbor at 10070 Cielo Drive, also noticed both the downed wires and the bug light shining in the distance.
Just after 8:00 that morning, Mrs. Winifred Chapman, the Polanskis’ housekeeper who had turned down Sharon’s invitation to stay at 10050 Cielo Drive the previous evening, left her bus at the corner of Santa Monica and Canyon Drive, at the end of Benedict Canyon Road. She was already late for work, although, under normal circumstances, it was unusual for anyone to be up that early at the house. But Abigail Folger had mentioned the day before that she would be flying to San Francisco at 10:00 A.M. to visit her mother. Mrs. Chapman considered calling a cab for the rest of the journey, but, just then, a friend saw her, pulled his car over and gave her a ride to the gate of 10050.
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As her friend drove off, Mrs. Chapman turned to the gate to get the newspaper out of the mailbox. She immediately noticed the fallen wires across the gate. At first, she thought that the electricity might be out but, when she pushed the control button at the right side of the gate, it swung open. She walked down the driveway as the gate automatically closed behind her. Mrs. Chapman saw three cars in the driveway. One was Jay Sebring’s black Porsche, which she knew by sight. Next to it was Abigail Folger’s Firebird. But, farther up the driveway, halfway to the gate, was an unfamiliar car, a white Ambassador, which was parked at a curious angle in the middle of the road.
Mrs. Chapman entered the house by the rear door, using a key secured on the the rafter above. She did not see the front lawn, which was hidden both by the angle of the estate, and by the split-rail fence and the shrubbery lining the end of the parking area. After setting her purse down in the kitchen, she picked up the telephone. It was dead.
Wondering if any of the residents knew that the phone was out of order, she walked through the dining room and into the entrance hall. Then she abruptly stopped. The fieldstone floor was covered with pools of blood. There was blood on the stone surrounding the opening to the living room, blood on the walls, a trail of blood across the cream-colored living room carpet. The front door stood half open. As Mrs. Chapman looked out, she saw that the front porch, too, was covered with pools of blood. Farther out, halfway across the lawn, she saw a body.
She ran back through the house the same way in which she had come in, grabbing her purse on the way out. As she ran up the driveway, she crossed to the left hand side of the gate, so that she could push the “gate control button and flee from the property. This time, she saw that there was a body in the white Ambassador as well.
Once out of the gate, she ran to 10070 Cielo Drive, banging on the door and screaming at the top of her lungs. When no one answered, she ran further down the cul-de-sac, to 10090, shouting, “Murder! Death! Bodies! Blood!”
Fifteen-year old Jim Asin was standing outside the house, waiting for his father to drive him to the West Los Angeles Division of the LAPD, where he was to work the desk as part of his involvement with the Law Enforcement Unity of the Boy Scouts. He rushed to get his parents when Mrs. Chapman appeared, but they had already heard her screams and run to the door themselves. While they tried to calm her down, Jim Asin called the LAPD emergency number.
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When Officer Jerry De Rosa arrived, he tried to talk with Mrs. Chapman, but she was too hysterical to do more than repeat her story about seeing the blood and the bodies. She did, however, calm herself enough to tell him how to work the electronic gate control button so that he could gain access to the estate.
Taking his rifle from his squad car, De Rosa nervously approached the white Ambassador, where, through the open driver’s side window, he saw Steven Parent, slumped toward the space dividing the bucket seats in front. His jeans and red and blue plaid shirt were soaked with blood.
As De Rosa straightened up, a second police car, this one driven by Officer William Wisenhunt, arrived. Wisenhunt carried a shotgun as he joined De Rosa in searching the other cars at the end of the paved parking area and the garage. They found nothing. As they were about to approach the main residence, a third officer, Robert Burbridge, joined them, and together, the trio cautiously walked on to the front lawn.
They could see the two bodies which lay ahead. As they approached Voyteck, they noted the terrible condition of his body. He lay on his right side, his head against his outstretched right arm, his left hand still clutching a clump of lawn. Not only was his clothing covered in blood, but his neck and arms had been stabbed repeatedly, and his head and face were battered, scarcely recognizable. Abigail Folger lay on her back, beneath a pine tree some 25 feet beyond her lover. She had been stabbed so many times that her once white nightgown was red.
The officers did not know if the killers were still inside the house. Two of them went around back while the third stayed on the front lawn. The two officers found a raised window in the nursery, and carefully entered, guns drawn. They made their way to the entrance hall, where they were joined by their partner from the front lawn. Aside from the pools and spatters of blood covering the front porch, they saw the ugly epithet “Pig,” scrawled in Sharon’s blood on the lower half of the white Dutch door.
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The living room had spots of blood on the carpet, blood on the steamer trunks which had been knocked over in the struggle the night before, and blood near the doorway leading to the rear hallway, where Abigail had first fallen. A length of white nylon rope still hung looped over the long beam crossing the underside of the loft. As the police made their way around to the side of the couch, they saw Jay. He lay on his right side, his legs tucked up toward his stomach, and his still-bound hands bunched near his face. His face itself was covered with the beige bath towel, and the rope had been twisted round his neck several times. When the officers removed the towel, they saw that his face was horribly battered, his nose broken, flattened and swollen, large hematomae across his forehead where Watson had repeatedly kicked him.
One end of the rope crossed from Jay’s body, up around the ceiling beam, and then down again to Sharon. She lay on her left side in front of the fireplace, her back against the couch. Her legs were drawn up toward her round stomach in a fetal position. Her left arm rested next to her body, bent at the elbow as if in death she had clutched at the noose around her neck. Her right arm crossed her head, partially obscuring her features. A few wisps of blood-caked blonde hair fell across her face where it had escaped from the rope around her neck. Blood had poured from the ugly gashes in her chest and stomach, soaking the carpet onto which she had fallen, surrounding her in a large pool of crimson. “It was very quiet,” De Rosa later said, “and the only thing that I can recall hearing was the sounds of the flies on the bodies.”
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