Helter Skelter! The Bible, The Beatles, The Pigs and a Girl Named Sharon
Of all the notorious celebrity deaths, suicides, and murders that have occurred throughout the annals of Hollywood history, none was as bizarre and gruesome as the murders that occurred on a warm night during the summer of 1969 in Benedict Canyon, a hilly suburb of L.A. A young, pregnant Sharon Tate and 4 of her houseguests were brutally stabbed and/or shot to death for simply no reason other than being at the wrong place at the wrong time. Even decades after this horrific crime, the mere mention of the murderer's name, Charles Manson, brings blood curdling chills to anyone within earshot.
Sharon Marie Tate was born in Dallas, Texas, in 1943 to Paul Tate, a Lieutenant Colonel with the U.S Army, and Doris. The oldest of three Tate daughters, Sharon would live in no fewer than six different cities while growing up, as she and her family were constantly transferred about due to her father's military employment. Although she showed early personal aspirations and talents for show biz, her family neither encouraged nor disallowed such participation. In fact, shortly after 1960, while the family was living in Italy, the stunning Sharon won several beauty contests and was even selected homecoming queen at the Vicenza American High School in Verona, Italy. Hungry for more, Sharon would eventually land roles as extras in pictures that were filming on location in Italy. In a timely twist of fate, Sharon would get the break she deserved when her father was reassigned to California in 1962. This fateful opportunity would put the beautiful blonde on the path of not only eventual celebrity, but also of bloody notoriety.
The Year That Sharon Tate Happens
|A young Roman Polanski (or is that Alfred E. Neuman?)|
Less than a year later, Sharon would be working occasionally in television commercials and bit parts such as the recurring role of Janet Trego on the wildly popular television series, The Beverly Hillbillies. Sharon would eventually meet up with Polish-born director Roman Polanski while on location in England shooting Eye of the Devil. Polanski would become convinced to cast Sharon as the female lead in The Fearless Vampire Killers of 1967. Before completing the picture, the pair would fall deeply in love, get married and eventually share a house together in Santa Monica. About her impending fame and success as a movie star, a 1967 article that appeared in Playboy magazine would put it, 1967 was "to be the year that Sharon Tate happens..."
Meanwhile, a homeless, but gregarious nonetheless, drifter and ex-con named Charles Manson (some called him Charlie Manson) was amassing a motley crew of dropouts, misfits, cretins, and hippies in San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury. But after burning bridges there, Charles Manson and his "family" would eventually pack up their belongings and move to Los Angeles and take up residence in the sprawling pastures of the Spahn Movie Ranch, the scenic backdrop for numerous westerns of the 50s and 60s. Being one to concoct crazy, hair-brained prophecies of doom and gloom from such sources as the Bible and The Beatles, it was not long before Manson would set his minions of murder and mayhem loose upon the Hills of Hollywood. The plan to set forth what he believed to be the roadmap of doom as revealed to him in drug-fueled visions from Revelations 9 and lyrics on The Beatles White Album. Specifically, that he and four other long-haired angels (The Beatles), with shields of fire (electric guitars) and brimstone voices (his and The Beatles') would descend from a bottomless pit (Death Valley the ranch) while the black race would destroy a "third man" (the white race), also known as pigs (the establishment). In other words, Manson believed that if he could set forth chaos in the white man's world by causing murder and mayhem, the establishment as we know it would fall. Wow! Picture me drawing circles around my ears and cuckooing like the best of wall clocks.
|El Coyote Restaurant in Los Angeles, where Sharon enjoyed her last meal.|
On the evening of August 9th, 1969, a very pregnant Sharon, awaiting the return from Europe of her husband and father of their child, Roman Polanski, would decline an invitation to a small celebratory dinner party, deciding instead to go out for a quick meal at her favorite restaurant, El Coyote, with her friends Jay Sebring (hairdresser to the stars), Wojtek Frykowski (playboy), and Abigail Folger (coffee empire heiress). The group would then return to her home at 10050 Cielo Drive at about 10:30 p.m.
The next morning, upon arrival for housecleaning duties, the maid would find a terrifying sight. Dead bodies strewn about the house and grounds in a bloody mess. Apparently, some time during the night, after dropping acid, four of Charles Manson's followers, Charles "Tex Watson, Susan Atkins, Patricia Krenwinkel, and Linda Kasabian (Krenwinkel was earlier introduced to Charles Manson by Beach Boy Dennis Wilson) would drive out to Sharon's estate, scale the embankment to bypass the locked security gate, climb the telephone pole to cut the phone lines and head down the dimly lit driveway towards the house. Kasabian would remain outside the security gate to keep watch.
|Charles Manson, born "No Name Maddox"|
As the bloodthirsty trio headed towards the house, the first person they would encounter was Steve Parent, a friend of the housekeeper, who was exiting the property in his car. Watson would slash Parent with a knife, shoot him four times in the face at close range. It's fairly safe to say that Parent died almost instantly. Poor soul was just at the wrong place at the wrong time.
Once they reached the house, they slit a screen and Tex crawled inside after helping the girls. Once inside they herded all the occupants into the living room and lined them up like in a firing line in front of the fireplace. A tussle broke out during which Jay Sebring was shot. Everyone began to struggle and run. Wojciech Frykowski ran out the front door but was soon caught and subsequently shot twice, stabbed 51 times and was bludgeoned over the head with more than a dozen strikes with a pistol butt. Though he certainly died fairly quickly, he probably suffered greatly before finally succumbing. Nearby, Folger would attempt to flee out the back bedroom door but was caught in the lawn were she was stabbed only 28 times, and left in a white dress that appeared crimson due to the massive loss of her own blood.
|10050 Cielo Drive. The house has since been torn down.|
Inside the house, Sharon and Jay Sebring were tied together around the necks with a white cord that stretched over a high ceiling beam between them. Sebring had been shot in the face and was stabbed seven times. Sharon was stabbed sixteen times in the back and chest. As Sharon was being stabbed, she reportedly begged the murderers to spare the life of her unborn child. But her pleas were met with only cold, calloused hatred as Atkins would scream back to her, "I don't care about you or your baby." Hmmm... Such nice people. Scrawled in Sharon's blood on the outside of the front door was the word "pig." An obvious reference to the white establishment that Charles Manson clearly thought was represented by Sharon Tate.
Alone in the caretaker's quarters separate from the main house - was William Garretson, the caretaker of the estate who not only failed to hear the screams because of the loud music blaring on his stereo, be was also spared the carnage of that night. Garretson was initially arrested for questioning but was later released. Garretson had briefly met with Steve Parent, the man who was killed near the security gate as he exited, to discuss the sale of a radio.
Apparently the Manson family was not done making their statement since the establishment had not gone into chaos. The very next night, August 10th, Charles Manson himself, accompanied by Watson as well as Krenewenkel and another willing cohort, Leslie Van Houten, would go to the Los Feliz home of Leno and Rosemary LaBianca, and tie them up with buckskin thongs. Before leaving the house, Charles Manson would order his bootlickers to dispatch the couple and were told to leave something "witchy." Leno was found with 12 knife wounds and 14 additional wounds caused by a large fork, like the kind used for serving meat. The word "war" was then carved into his flesh with a knife. When police arrived, the fork was found still protruding from his throat. Rosemary was found in her bedroom with a bloody pillowcase pulled over her head and a lamp cord tied around her throat. She was stabbed a total of 41 times in the area of the back and buttocks. Oh, the rage! Once again, as the night before, messages were left at the scene that seemed to try to explain Charles Manson's prophecy. The words "rise" and "death to pigs" were written in blood on the walls. The words "Healter Skelter" (Krenwenkel's misspelling, not mine) were also scrawled on the front of the refrigerator. The killers would then take a break from the carnage and eat a delicious snack of milk and sandwiches. Unbelievable that they could eat from the same refrigerator which they had just minutes before soiled with the blood of their victims.
An Arrest is Made
But thankfully, Manson and his bunch would eventually be nabbed by the authorities. They were arrested when an investigation of a car theft ring inadvertently caught them unaware at the Spahn Ranch. But soon after, those charges were dropped, causing Manson, fearing the police were moving in on him, to move his family to the Barker Ranch (what's with all the ranches?) in the middle of death valley where he began to prepare for Helter Skelter, which he thought would signal the beginning of the end. He stockpiled weapons and began training his followers in hand-to-hand combat for the coming showdown. Sounds a bit like that nut in Waco, TX huh? Anyway, Manson was finally arrested on October 12, 1969 at the Barker Ranch.
|The police raid on the Spahn Movie Ranch.|
The Manson gang would eventually be convicted for their crimes against humanity and were sentenced. As for their sentences, all four were set for a romantic date with the California gas chamber. But on February 18, 1972, The California State Supreme Court, in a bit of final irony, abolished the death penalty as it deemed this type of punishment to be too "cruel and unusual." As a result, Charles Manson, Patricia Krenwinkle, Charles "Tex" Watson, Leslie Van Houten, and Susan Atkins were spared the same fate that they wreaked upon their victims. The murderers are still rotting in jail to this day, with Manson spending his time slurping soup and building tin birdhouses at Corcoran State prison just north of Los Angeles. Although he still remains eligible for parole, he was just recently (2007) denied parole for the 11th straight time.
Sharon Tate's funeral would be attended by over 200 people who assembled at Holy Cross Memorial Park in Culver City, California. Roman Polanski would return for his wife's funeral and bury her and their unborn son, Paul Richard, on the cemetery grounds. Sharon's white marble grave marker reads, "Beloved Wife of Roman... Sharon Tate Polanski... Paul Richard Polanski... Their baby." Sharon was but 26 years old.
UPDATE July 6, 2010: Leslie Van Houten, the one-time follower of Charles Manson, is due to face her 19th parole hearing today.
UPDATE July 7, 2010: Looks like the parole won't happen after all, as word came down today that Leslie Van Houten was denied parole for a 19th time in the killings of Leno and Rosemary LaBianca.
UPDATE January 21, 2011: Charles Manson follower, Patricia Krenwinkle, came up for a parole hearing yesterday, but California parole board officials denied her parole and ordered her to remain in prison for at least the next 7 years at which time she'll be granted another parole hearing.
UPDATE June 6, 2013: Facing a parole board for the 20th time, 63-year-old former Charles Manson follower Leslie Van Houten told the board on Wednesday in unprecedented detail how committed she was to the murders Manson ordered, but asserted that she has changed and is trying to live a life for healing. Her plea was denied for the 20th time.
UPDATE November 22, 2013: A lady who calls herself "Star" and runs the "Release Charles Manson Now" website recently told Rolling Stone Magazine that she and the convicted murderer are going to get married.
Manson, however, tells a different story. "That's a bunch of garbage ... That's trash," Manson told Rolling Stone. "We're just playing that for public consumption."
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View the Tate/LaBianca crime scene photos here. But be forewarned, they are very gruesome and should only be viewed by those who can handle such things. Oh, and NSFW. If you don't want to see them, don't look!
|The Cielo house as it appeared at the time of the murders.|
|The home of Leno and Rosemary LaBianca, as it appears today. As an interesting dichotomy, the house was also once owned by Walt Disney.
|El Coyote Restaurant, where Sharon Tate would enjoy her last meal. Bad food, we've been told.
|Circa late '60s photo of The Manson Family murderers. From left: Patricia Krenwinkel; "Tex" Watson; Susan Atkins; Leslie Van Houten|
|An AP photo of the Manson girls at the time of their arrest.|
|The front gate of the Tate/Polanski place. Notice the downed telephone wires that were cut before entering the property.|
|The gun used by Charles "Tex" Watson to shoot and pistol whip Jay Sebring.|
|Leslie Van Houten mug shot from 1999.||Susan Atkins mug shot from 2001.|
|Patricia Krenwinkel mug shot from 2001.|
|Taken Wednesday March 18, 2009 at Corcoran State Prison, Calif. The photo of the 74-year-old Manson was taken as part of a routine update of files on inmates at Corcoran State Prison, where he is serving a life sentence for conspiring to murder seven people.|
|Latest photo of Manson taken June 2011 at Corcoran state prison. A new parole hearing is set for April 11, 2012.
|Helter Skelter misspelled in blood by Krenwinkel on the LaBianca refrigerator door.|
|Writing in blood on the wall at the LaBianca place.|
|The word "pig" written in blood, left on the front door of the Tate/Polanski residence.|
|A pregnant Sharon Tate, surely taken shortly before her death.|
|Sharon Tate as Janet Trego (Miss Hathaway's assistant) on The Beverly Hillbillies.|
|Fascinating excerpt from Headliners & Legends: The Manson Women, Exploitation of Innocence. A short video documentary with a play-by-play of what went down that night. Includes some disturbing footage of the "Manson Girls" and their heartless, cold-blooded confessions.
|News footage of the murder scene at the Roman Polanski and Leno LaBianca homes shortly after the murders took place in 1969. Most interesting to note that at the time, police did not suspect a link between the murders.
|Matthew Roberts, 44, says he believes Manson fathered him during a sexual orgy. Roberts was born in Chicago in 1968 and adopted as an infant.|
|The wedding of Sharon Tate and Roman Polanski.|
|Leslie Van Houten at her parole hearing in 2007.|
|Susan Atkins at her August 2009 parole hearing. The Manson follower and convicted murderer slept through most of her parole hearing. She died of brain cancer on September 25, 2009.|
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