On Aug. 9, 1969, members of Charles Manson’s cult killed five people in movie director Roman Polanski’s Beverly Hills, California, home, including Polanski’s pregnant wife, actress Sharon Tate.
Less than two days later, the group killed again, murdering supermarket executive Leno LaBianca and his wife Rosemary in their home. The savage crimes shocked the nation.
Manson was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1934 to an unwed 16-year-old mother. He spent much of his childhood in juvenile reformatories and his early adulthood in prison. After his release in 1967, Manson moved to California and used his magnetism to attract a group of hippies and set up a commune, where drugs and orgies were common, on the outskirts of Los Angeles.
Manson preached his own blend of eccentric religious teachings to his followers, who called themselves his “Family.” He told them a race war between blacks and whites was imminent and would result in great power for the Family. Manson said they should instigate the war by killing rich white people and trying to make it look like the work of blacks.
NOT THE INTENDED TARGET
Polanski was not the cult leader’s intended target. Manson, an aspiring musician, chose the Polanski house because he had once unsuccessfully tried to get a recording deal from a producer who used to live there.
In the summer of 1966, the house was leased to music producer Terry Melcher (the son of actress Doris Day.) Melcher entered the music industry in the early 1960s, first as a performer and later a producer, composer, and songwriter for acts including The Byrds, The Ventures, Pat Boone, and Paul Revere and the Raiders. But it was his close association with The Beach Boys — and particularly the group’s drummer, Dennis Wilson — that instigated the nightmarish events to follow.
Melcher testified that was introduced to Manson at Wilson’s Sunset Boulevard home in the summer of 1968. Famously, Wilson befriended the cult leader after picking up two of his followers during a drive through Malibu. Later that day, Manson accompanied Wilson to drop Melcher off at his home on Cielo Drive.
Melcher lived at the house for roughly two and a half years, at least part of that time with then-girlfriend (and future Murphy Brown star) Candice Bergen. Paul Revere and the Raiders lead singer Mark Lindsay, who resided at the home for a time with the couple, told The Houston Press in a 2011 interview that the house became a center of the Hollywood social scene in those years, with a battery of bold-faced names passing over its threshold. Manson, he alleges, was one of those names.
Polanski was out of town at the time of the murders. On Aug. 8, Manson ordered his follower Charles “Tex” Watson to go to 10050 Cielo Dr. with several other cult members and kill everyone there “as gruesome as you can.” Watson drove to the estate with Susan Atkins, Patricia Krenwinkel and Linda Kasabian.
When they arrived on the property after midnight, they encountered a car driven by Steven Parent, an 18-year-old who had been visiting the estate’s caretaker at his home in the guesthouse. Watson shot Parent to death before he, Atkins and Krenwinkel broke into the main house, leaving Kasabian to stay at the gate as a lookout.
Of the four people in the home, celebrity hairstylist Jay Sebring, a close friend of Tate’s, was also there. They were made to gather in the living room, and Tate and Sebring were linked by ropes tied around their necks. Sebring was shot and stabbed to death. Polanski’s friend Wojciech Frykowski and his girlfriend, coffee heiress Abigail Folger, managed to free themselves and flee the house, but both were chased down and killed by Krenwinkel and Watson.
Finally, Atkins and/or Watson fatally stabbed Tate. As they left, Atkins used Tate’s blood to write the word “PIG” on the front door. Manson stayed out of the Polanski house on the night of the crime and didn’t take part in the LaBianca killings either. However, he would later be charged with murder on the grounds he had influenced his followers and masterminded the crimes.
CAUGHT AND CONVICTED
After initially eluding police suspicion, Manson was arrested only after one of his followers, already in jail on a different charge, started bragging about what had happened. Manson’s subsequent trial became a national spectacle, in which he exhibited bizarre and violent behavior. In 1971, he was convicted and given the death penalty, however, that sentence became life behind bars when the California Supreme Court overturned the death penalty in 1972.
Manson has been the subject of numerous movies and books, including the best-seller Helter Skelter (the title is a reference to a Beatles’ song of the same name, through which Manson believed the group was sending secret messages to start a race war). Manson died in prison on Nov. 19, 2017 at the age of 83.
Manson gives chilling, thought-provoking testimony
Charles Manson testified Nov. 20, 1970 outside of the presence of the jury. The following is a brief excerpt from that testimony:
“There has been a lot of charges and a lot of things said about me and brought against the co-defendants in this case, of which a lot could be cleared up and clarified …
“I never went to school, so I never growed up to read and write too good, so I have stayed in jail and I have stayed stupid, and I have stayed a child while I have watched your world grow up, and then I look at the things that you do and I don’t understand …
“You eat meat and you kill things that are better than you are, and then you say how bad, and even killers, your children are. You made your children what they are …
“These children that come at you with knives. they are your children. You taught them. I didn’t teach them. I just tried to help them stand up …
“Most of the people at the ranch that you call the Family were just people that you did not want, people that were alongside the road, that their parents had kicked out, that did not want to go to Juvenile Hall. So I did the best I could and I took them up on my garbage dump and I told them this: that in love there is no wrong …
“I told them that anything they do for their brothers and sisters is good if they do it with a good thought …”
The remainder of Manson’s testimony can be read at famous-trials.com