On the night of August 8-9, 1969, four members of the so-called “Manson Family” brutally murdered five people in Roman Polanski’s Los Angeles estate, including the actress and pregnant wife of the Polish-French filmmaker Sharon Tate.
Married in London the previous year, the glamorous couple rented a house at 10050 Cielo Drive in Los Angeles from February 1969. While the filmmaker was away filming in the UK for most of the year, Tate stayed at the house located in the exclusive Benedict Canyon district with former lover and hairstylist Jay Sebring, as well as Polanski’s friend and aspiring screenwriter Wojciech Frykowski and his girlfriend, coffee heiress Abigail Folger.
Grisly 1969 Tate-LaBianca murders create panic in Los Angeles
A former guest of the estate which had belonged to a music producer who had rejected Manson in the past, infamous cult leader Charles Manson ordered, on August 8, follower Charles “Tex” Watson to “destroy everything” in the house and kill everyone there in the most “gruesome” manner.
That same night, Watson headed to the house accompanied by three “Manson girls” Susan Atkins, Patricia Krenwinkel, and Linda Kasabian. A little after midnight on August 9, the group of four arrived at the estate, cut the phone line, and parked their car at the bottom of the property. On their way up to the main residence, they crossed paths with and killed 18-year-old Steven Parent who had been visiting the estate’s caretaker.
After breaking into the house, Watson, Atkins and Krenwinkel brutally killed all the residents in a crime that would shock America for years to come. The fourth member, Kasabian had been ordered to stand guard in front of the house.
The first victim, Sebring was shot and stabbed to death, while Frykowski and Folger were killed after trying to flee from the house. Sharon Tate, aged 26 and more than 8 months pregnant at the time, was stabbed to death after pleading, in vain, to be kept alive until her baby was born. Her baby also died of asphyxiation in her womb. Following recommendations from Manson to leave a message on the scene of the crime, Susan Atkins used Tate’s blood to write “PIG” on the front door of the house.
The following night, Manson and other members of his cult murdered grocery store executive Leno LaBianca and his wife Rosemary in another neighbouring of Los Angeles.
Death penalty and life imprisonment
The investigation into the gruesome murders chanced a breakthrough in October following the arrest, for unrelated charges, of several Manson cult members at their “basecamp” in Spahn Ranch, Death Valley.
What has now become known as the Tate-LaBianca murders created a panic in Los Angeles and shook US society to its core, “sounding the death knell of 60’s counterculture”, according to Vox, and “ushering in a new decade of darkly psychosexual, conspiracy-laced exploration of America’s seedy underbelly”.
Cult leader Charles Manson and four of his followers were convicted of the murders in 1971 after a highly publicised trial. Facing the death penalty, their sentence was later commuted to life in prison with the possibility of parole when the capital punishment was abolished in California in 1972.
They have all repeatedly been denied parole since being imprisoned. Manson himself died in 2017 at the age of 83, while Susan Atkins passed away in 2009. The three others remain in prison to this day. One of the perpetrators of the Tate murders and California’s longest-serving female inmate, Patricia Krenwinkel was in May 2022, found suitable for parole and is still awaiting the final verdict in her case.
The Tate murders were recently revisited and fictionally reimagined by director Quentin Tarantino in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, starring Margot Robbie as Sharon Tate.
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