The Tate–LaBianca murders in 1969 were perpetrated by members of the Manson Family in Los Angeles, California, under the direction of its leader Charles Manson. They murdered five people, including actress Sharon Tate and several of her guests, on August 9–10, 1969. Allegedly displeased with the subsequent panic around the murders, Manson ordered the murders of supermarket executive Leno LaBianca and his wife Rosemary the following evening in the Los Feliz section of Los Angeles with the goal of making it seem like the murders had been perpetrated by the Black Panthers.
On the night of August 8–9, four members of the Manson Family—Tex Watson, Susan Atkins, Patricia Krenwinkel, and Linda Kasabian—drove from Spahn Ranch to 10050 Cielo Drive in Beverly Hills, the home of actors Sharon Tate and director Roman Polanski. They murdered Tate, who was 8½ months pregnant, along with three friends and an 18-year-old visitor. Polanski was not home that night as he was working on a film in Europe. Manson was an aspiring musician who had tried to get a recording contract with record producer Terry Melcher, who was a previous renter of the house with musician Mark Lindsay and Melcher's girlfriend Candice Bergen. Melcher had snubbed Manson, leaving him disgruntled.
The following night, Manson took the four murderers as well as Leslie Van Houten and Steve "Clem" Grogan on a drive "to show them how to do it".:176–184, 258–269 After considering various murder options,:258–269 he ordered Kasabian to drive the group to 3301 Waverly Drive in the Los Feliz neighborhood, the home of supermarket executive Leno LaBianca and his wife Rosemary,:22–25, 42–48 which was next door to a house party Manson had attended the previous year.:176–184, 204–210 Manson left his followers, who proceeded to murder the LaBianca couple in the early morning hours of August 10, 1969.
|Location||10050 Cielo Drive|
Los Angeles, California
|Date||August 8–9, 1969 (51 years, 8 months ago)|
|Serial killing, stabbing|
|Weapons||.22 caliber Hi-Standard "Buntline Special" revolver, clasp-type Buck knives|
Paul Richard Polanski (Fetus)
Charles "Tex" Watson
On the night of August 8, 1969, Tex Watson took Susan Atkins, Linda Kasabian, and Patricia Krenwinkel to "that house where Melcher used to live", as Manson had instructed him, to "totally destroy" everyone in it, and to do it "as gruesome as you can".:463–468 Manson told the women to do as Watson instructed them.:176–184, 258–269 Krenwinkel was one of the early Family members and had met Dennis Wilson of the Beach Boys when he picked her up hitchhiking.:250–253 It was through Wilson & the Beach Boys that Manson met Terry Melcher, son of Doris Day & a well-known record producer who had not only worked with the Beach Boys, but also with The Byrds, Paul Revere & The Raiders, The Mamas & The Papas, and many others.
The occupants of the house at 10050 Cielo Drive that evening were movie actress Sharon Tate, who was 8½ months pregnant and the wife of film director Roman Polanski; her friend and former lover Jay Sebring, a noted hairstylist; Polanski's friend and aspiring screenwriter Wojciech Frykowski; and Frykowski's girlfriend Abigail Folger, heiress to the Folgers coffee fortune and daughter of Peter Folger.:28–38 Polanski was in Europe working on a film project. Music producer Quincy Jones was a friend of Sebring; he had planned to join him that evening but did not go. Sebring had invited Steve McQueen to the party at Tate's house on the night of the murders; McQueen said that he invited his girlfriend to come along but she suggested an intimate night at home. This specific house was chosen because both Watson and Manson had been there on at least one other occasion, and Watson was familiar with the layout.
The murder team arrived at Cielo Drive just past midnight on August 9, 1969. Watson climbed a telephone pole near the entrance gate and cut the phone line to the house. The murderers backed their car to the bottom of the hill that led to the estate and walked back up to the house. They thought that the gate might be electrified or equipped with an alarm, so they climbed a brushy embankment to the right of the gate and entered the grounds.:176–184 Headlights approached them from within the angled property, and Watson ordered the women to lie in the bushes. He stepped out and ordered the approaching driver to halt. Steven Parent had been visiting the property's caretaker William Garretson, who lived in the guest house. Watson leveled a .22-caliber revolver at Parent, and the frightened youth begged him not to hurt him, claiming that he would not say anything. Watson lunged at Parent with a knife, giving him a defensive slash wound on the palm of his hand that severed tendons and tore the boy's watch off his wrist, then he shot him four times in the chest and abdomen, killing him. Watson ordered the women to help push the car farther up the driveway.:22–25
Watson next cut the screen of a window, then told Kasabian to keep watch down by the gate; she walked over to Parent's car and waited.:258–269:176–184 Watson removed the screen, entered through the window, and let Atkins and Krenwinkel in through the front door.:176–184 He whispered to Atkins and awoke Frykowski who was sleeping on the living room couch. Watson kicked him in the head, and Frykowski asked him who he was and what he was doing there. Watson replied, "I'm the devil, and I'm here to do the devil's business.":176–184
On Watson's direction, Atkins found the house's three other occupants with Krenwinkel's help:176–184, 297–300 and forced them to the living room. Watson began to tie Tate and Sebring together by their necks with rope which he had brought, and he slung it over one of the living room's ceiling beams. Sebring protested the murderers' rough treatment of the pregnant Tate, so Watson shot him. Folger was taken momentarily back to her bedroom for her purse, and she gave the murderers $70. Watson then stabbed Sebring seven times.:28–38
Frykowski's hands had been bound with a towel, but he freed himself and began struggling with Atkins, who stabbed at his legs with a knife. He fought his way out the front door and onto the porch, but Watson caught up with him, struck him over the head with the gun multiple times, stabbed him repeatedly, and shot him twice.
Kasabian had heard "horrifying sounds" and moved toward the house from her position in the driveway. She told Atkins that someone was coming in an attempt to stop the murders.:258–269 Inside the house, Folger escaped from Krenwinkel and fled out a bedroom door to the pool area.:341–344, 356–361 Krenwinkel pursued her and caught her on the front lawn where she stabbed her and tackled her to the ground. Watson then helped finish her off; her assailants stabbed her a total of 28 times.:28–38 Frykowski struggled across the lawn, but Watson murdered him with a final flurry of stabbing. Frykowski suffered 51 stab wounds, and had also been struck 13 times in the head with the butt of Watson’s gun, which bent the barrel and broke off one side of the gun grip, which was recovered at the scene.:28–38, 258–269 In the house, Tate pleaded to be allowed to live long enough to give birth, and offered herself as a hostage in an attempt to save the life of her unborn child, but both Atkins and Watson stabbed Tate 16 times, killing her.:28–38 Manson had told the women to "leave a sign—something witchy", so Atkins wrote "pig" on the front door in Tate's blood.:84–90, 176–184
|Location||3301 Waverly Drive|
Los Angeles, California
|Date||August 10, 1969|
Leslie Van Houten
Charles "Tex" Watson
Manson took the four murderers plus Leslie Van Houten and Steve "Clem" Grogan for a drive the following night. He was displeased with the panic and flight of the victims in the previous night's murders, and he was taking those six followers out "to show them how to do it".:176–184, 258–269 He considered a number of murders during the next few hours' ride and attempted one,:258–269 then told Kasabian to drive to 3301 Waverly Drive. This was the home of supermarket executive Leno and Rosemary LaBianca, co-owner of a dress shop,:22–25, 42–48 located in the Los Feliz section of Los Angeles next door to a house where Manson and Family members had attended a party the previous year.:176–184, 204–210
According to Atkins and Kasabian, Manson disappeared up the driveway and returned to say that he had tied up the house's occupants. He then sent Watson up with Krenwinkel and Van Houten.:176–184, 258–269 Watson states in his autobiography that Manson went up alone, then returned to take him up to the house with him. Manson pointed out a sleeping man through a window, and the two entered through the unlocked back door. Watson added at trial that he "went along with" the women's account because it made him "look that much less responsible". As Watson related it, Manson roused the sleeping Leno LaBianca from the couch at gunpoint and had Watson bind his hands with a leather thong. Rosemary was brought into the living room from the bedroom, and Watson followed Manson's instructions to cover the couple's heads with pillowcases which he bound in place with lamp cords. Manson left, sending Krenwinkel and Van Houten into the house with instructions that the couple should be killed.:176–184, 258–269
Watson had complained to Manson earlier of the inadequacy of the previous night's weapons.:258–269 He sent the women from the kitchen to the bedroom, where Rosemary LaBianca had been returned, while he went to the living room and began stabbing Leno LaBianca with a chrome-plated bayonet. The first thrust went into his throat. Watson heard a scuffle in the bedroom and went in there to discover Rosemary LaBianca keeping the women at bay by swinging the lamp tied to her neck. He stabbed her several times with the bayonet, then returned to the living room and resumed attacking Leno, whom he stabbed a total of 12 times. He then carved the word "WAR" into his abdomen. He then returned to the bedroom and found Krenwinkel stabbing Rosemary LaBianca with a knife from the LaBianca kitchen. Manson had instructed Watson to ensure that each of the women played a part, so he told Van Houten to join in stabbing her. She did, stabbing her approximately 16 times in the back and the exposed buttocks.:204–210, 297–300, 341–344 Van Houten claimed at trial:433 that Rosemary LaBianca was dead when she stabbed her. Evidence showed that many of the 41 stab wounds had, in fact, been inflicted post-mortem.:44, 206, 297, 341–42, 380, 404, 406–07, 433 Watson then cleaned off the bayonet and showered, while Krenwinkel wrote "Rise" and "Death to pigs" on the walls and "Healter [sic] Skelter" on the refrigerator door, all in LaBianca's blood. She gave Leno LaBianca 14 puncture wounds with an ivory-handled, two-tined carving fork, which she left jutting out of his stomach. She also planted a steak knife in his throat.:176–184, 258–269
Meanwhile, Manson drove the other three Family members who had departed Spahn with him that evening to the Venice home of an actor. He left them there and drove back to Spahn Ranch, leaving them and the LaBianca killers to hitchhike home.:176–184, 258–269 Manson wanted his followers to murder the actor in his apartment, but Kasabian thwarted this murder by deliberately knocking on the wrong apartment door and waking a stranger. The group abandoned the murder plan and left, but Atkins defecated in the stairwell on the way out.:270–273
Investigation and sentencing
In initial confessions to cellmates at Sybil Brand Institute, Atkins said she killed Tate.:84–90 In later statements to her attorney, to prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi, and before a grand jury, Atkins indicated Tate had been stabbed by Tex Watson.:163–74, 176–84
In his 1978 autobiography, Watson said that he had stabbed Tate and that Atkins had never touched her. Since he was aware that the prosecutor, Bugliosi, and the jury, that had tried the other Tate–LaBianca defendants, were convinced Atkins had stabbed Tate, he falsely testified that he did not stab her.
The five perpetrators – Atkins, Krenwinkel, Manson, Van Houten, and Watson – were each tried and convicted for their roles in the Tate–LaBianca murders. Originally, each defendant received a death sentence. However, in 1972, the Supreme Court of California ruled in People v. Anderson that the state's then-current death penalty laws were unconstitutional. As a result, the Anderson decision spared the lives of 107 death row inmates in California, including Charles Manson and his four "family members". Subsequently, the death sentences for each of the five perpetrators convicted in the Tate–LaBianca murders were commuted to life in prison, which – by law – included the possibility of parole.
- Susan Atkins (1948–2009): Atkins remained in prison until her death from brain cancer at age 61 in 2009. At the time of her death, she was California's longest-serving female inmate. Atkins had been denied parole 14 times, and her request for compassionate release had also been denied.
- Patricia Krenwinkel (born 1947): Imprisoned in 1971, Krenwinkel remains incarcerated. Following the 2009 death of fellow Manson gang member, Susan Atkins, Krenwinkel is now the longest-incarcerated female inmate in the California penal system. She has been denied parole 14 times, most recently in 2017.
- Charles Manson (1934–2017): Manson remained imprisoned until his death from cardiac arrest resulting from respiratory failure and colon cancer on November 19, 2017. He was just a few days past his 83rd birthday, and had spent all but 13 years of his life in some sort of supervised setting (either prison, reformatory or boys' home). While in prison, Manson had been denied parole 12 times. After 1997, he refused to attend any of his parole hearings.
- Leslie Van Houten (born 1949): Upon her conviction and death sentence in 1971, at the age of 21, Van Houten became the youngest woman ever put on California's death row, as well as the youngest member of the Manson Family convicted of murder. (Her original conviction and death sentence was overturned on appeal. She was later retried and sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole.) Currently incarcerated, Van Houten has been denied parole 22 times, most recently in 2019. At her three most recent parole hearings, Van Houten was approved for parole by the board, but in each case the board's decision was overturned by California's governor (first Jerry Brown, most recently by Gavin Newsom).
- Charles "Tex" Watson (born 1945): Watson remains incarcerated. He has been denied parole 17 times, most recently in 2016. While imprisoned, Watson claims that he became a born-again Christian.
The Tate–LaBianca murders "profoundly shook America's perception of itself" and "effectively sounded the death knell of '60s counterculture". Additionally, the ritualistic nature of the murders laid a foundation for the rise of Satanic Panic.
Culturally, it led to the proliferation of "darkly psychosexual, conspiracy-laced cultural exploration of America's seedy underbelly" by the movie industry, including films such as A Clockwork Orange (1971) and Dirty Harry (1971).
In popular culture
Helter Skelter: The True Story of The Manson Murders
In 1974, after leaving the DA's office, prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi, jointly with Curt Gentry, wrote a book about the Manson trial called Helter Skelter: The True Story of The Manson Murders. The book won an Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America for the best true-crime book of the year. The book was twice adapted as a television film, first in 1976, then later in 2004. As of 2015[update], Helter Skelter was the best-selling true crime book in publishing history, with more than seven million copies sold.
Movies and television
Several films recounted the Tate–LaBianca murders and the subsequent criminal trials:
- Helter Skelter, a 1976 television film based on the 1974 book by prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi and Curt Gentry
- Helter Skelter, a 2004 television film remake of the 1976 TV film of the same name
- Quentin Tarantino's 2019 film Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (featuring Margot Robbie as Tate)
- The Haunting of Sharon Tate, a 2019 film
- Aquarius (American TV series) (2015)
- Mindhunter (TV series) (2017)
- Wolves at the Door (2016 film)
In addition to Bugliosi's Helter Skelter: The True Story of The Manson Murders (1974), these are the other books about the murders:
- The Girls, a 2016 novel by Emma Cline loosely inspired by the Manson family
- CHAOS: Charles Manson, the CIA, and the Secret History of the Sixties, a 2019 non-fiction book by Tom O'Neill with Dan Piepenbring
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Sharon Tate murders.|
- Romano, Aja (August 7, 2019). "The Manson Family murders, and their complicated legacy, explained". Vox. Retrieved March 28, 2021.
- Bugliosi, Vincent with Gentry, Curt. Helter Skelter: The True Story of the Manson Murders 25th Anniversary Edition, W. W. Norton & Company, 1994. ISBN 0-393-08700-X. OCLC 15164618.
- Watson, Charles. "Will You Die For Me?, Ch. 15". Abounding Love Ministries. Retrieved July 13, 2019.
- "Watson, Ch. 14". Aboundinglove.org. Archived from the original on November 19, 2010. Retrieved November 28, 2010.
- "Quincy Jones Has a Story About That". GQ. Retrieved February 4, 2018.
- Eliot, Marc (2011). Steve McQueen: A Biography. Crown Publishing Group. ISBN 978-0-307-45323-5.
- Watson, Charles as told to Ray Hoekstra. "Will You Die for Me?". aboundinglove.org. Archived from the original on April 5, 2007. Retrieved May 3, 2007.
- Watson, Charles. "Will You Die For Me?, Ch. 19". Abounding Love Ministries. Retrieved July 13, 2019.
- "Watson, Ch. 19". Aboundinglove.org. Archived from the original on November 19, 2010. Retrieved November 28, 2010.
- People v. Anderson, 6 Cal. 3d 628 (Cal. 1972).
- Jonathan R. Sorenson, James W. Marquart & Madhava R. Bodapati,Research Note: Two Decades after People v. Anderson, 24 Loy. L.A. L.Rev. 45 (1990).
- Associated Press (February 18, 1972). "California Court Bars Death Penalty". Milwaukee Journal.
- Woo, Elaine (September 26, 2009). "Susan Atkins dies at 61; imprisoned Charles Manson follower". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved November 15, 2012.
- Where Are Charles Manson's 'Family Members' Now? While Most Are Still in Prison, Some Live Normal Lives
- Leslie Van Houten Was A 19-Year-Old Homecoming Queen When She Met Charles Manson
- Rebecca Trounson and Elaine Woo, "Famed Manson family prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi dies at 80", Los Angeles Times, June 9, 2015.
- Stout, David (June 9, 2015). "Vincent T. Bugliosi, Manson Prosecutor and True-Crime Author, Dies at 80". New York Times. Retrieved March 28, 2021.
- Jessica Lindsay (August 17, 2019). "The real people of Once Upon A Time In Hollywood – from Sharon Tate to Charles Manson". Metro Entertainment. Retrieved August 18, 2019.