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The Sharon Tate Murders Fifty Years Later: New Facts and a New Film
I was thirteen years old and living in New York City when Sharon Tate and her house guests were brutally murdered early in the morning on August 9, 1969. The guests were there because Sharon had hosted a dinner party earlier that night. Among the guests were action hero star Steve McQueen and legendary music producer Quincy Jones. Both canceled at the last minute due to work. The crime occurred in a luxury rental home at 10050 Cielo Drive in Benedict Canyon, part of Beverly Crest, north of Beverly Hills, California.
The afternoon editions of all New York newspapers featured the story of the murders on their front pages. I heard about it when my parents came up on the evening news. As disturbing as the news was, few details were given because not much was known yet. The only fact that struck us all between the eyes was that one of the victims was an actress who was eight and a half months pregnant. It was actress and model Sharon Tate who was married to film director Roman Polanski (Rosemary’s Baby). He was out of the country when the murders took place.
I remember my mother saying the murders must be the work of a madman. She was right. Charles Manson was a career criminal who spent half his life in prison, then ended up in San Francisco, where he became a self-appointed guru of runaways and castaways in their late teens and early twenties. His group, later called the Manson Family, lived free of charge at the Spahn Film Ranch near Los Angeles, California. The owner was legally blind and needed people to help maintain and repair his property. The family got money by stealing cars and selling drugs.
Manson had a brush with non-criminal fame. One of his followers was hitchhiked by Beach Boy Dennis Wilson. She told him that Charlie was this amazing guy who played guitar and had a bunch of original songs. When he met Manson, Wilson fell under the spell of his charisma like many others. He let Manson and seventeen girls move into his house. Dennis introduced Charlie to music producer Terry Melcher. Besides his achievements in the recording industry, Terry was well connected in Hollywood as the son of movie star Doris Day.
Melcher became mesmerized by Manson’s charisma. He decided to make a film about the family and their “hippie commune”. Terry also gave Charlie a shot at a recording contract. Dennis Wilson asked Manson to record some of his original songs and actually used two of them. The Beach Boys recorded and remastered two original Manson songs for one of their albums and the B-side of a 45. If you’re under forty, ask your parents or grandparents about a 45 record.
Manson blew his chances with Wilson and Melcher because he couldn’t control everything that was going on. One day he lost his temper with a follower and attacked him in front of Wilson and Melcher. They could not handle his explosive temper. Melcher canceled everything and Wilson interpreted Charlie and his girls. Charlie kept trying to reconnect with Melcher who lived in the Cielo Drive house before Tate and Polanski became tenants in February 1969. Manson still continued to visit the house and actually ran into Sharon Tate at least once.
At this time Manson was in his full messiah state telling his followers that he was the son of God. After hearing The Beatles’ White Album he was convinced that they had written and recorded it for the family. The song ‘Helter Skelter’ was a message to Charlie that a race war was necessary. Blacks would defeat whites, then turn to him and his followers to run things. All he had to do was start the war. His twisted mind came up with a diabolical plan to kill some famous white people, then blackmail the blame.
On August 8, 1969, he sent a hit team consisting of Charles ‘Tex’ Watson, Susan Atkins, Patricia Kernowinkel and Linda Kasabian to the Silo Drive home. They stabbed and shot five people. Sharon Tate was eight and a half months pregnant when she and her unborn baby were murdered in the salon, along with celebrity hairstylist Jay Sebring. Wojciech Prykowski (friend of Roman Polanski) and coffee heiress Abigail Polgar made a break for it and were killed outside the house. 18-year-old Stephen Hora, a visitor to the guest house, was shot dead in his car. A maid discovered the bodies later that morning.
Even as the media descended on the Silo Drive home and seventeen police investigators were assigned to work the crime scene, Charlie Manson was already planning his next kill. Telling his hit squad that they did a sloppy job and didn’t leave things gruesome enough, Manson announced that he would personally oversee the next attack. On August 10, 1969, Manson headed to Los Angeles with Charles ‘Tex’ Watson, Leslie Van Houten, Susan Atkins, and Patricia Kernowinkle. Charlie chose an expensive house he saw on Waverly Drive in Los Angeles. Susan Atkins stayed outside as a lookout while the others burst inside.
The house was occupied by supermarket manager Leno LaBianca and his wife Rosemary. Although Charlie Manson was present, he apparently did not participate in the actual murders. Leno LaBianca was murdered in the living room. A fork was used to carve the word WAR on Leno’s stomach and is left sticking out of his corpse. Rosemary LaBianca was killed in their bedroom. Various slogans were left at the crime scene written in blood including HELTER SKELTER which was scrawled on their fridge door.
Despite leaving behind two messy crime scenes, none of the Manson family members were even on the police radar until Susan Atkins was arrested on unrelated charges. Susan bragged about her part in the Tate and Bianca murders when she was in a cell with another woman. That prisoner reported their conversation to her lawyer and the police. Atkins was known to be a member of the Manson family, so it didn’t take the police long to realize that Charlie and some of his cult members were connected to both murder groups.
Finding Charlie and the others wasn’t easy. The family wandered between several farms in the middle of nowhere and could not be located. After vandalizing part of Death Valley National Park while they were hiding in the Mojave Desert, a local county sheriff found and arrested them all on several charges including car theft. He had no idea that LA authorities had just filed murder charges against Manson, Watson and some of the girls. Atkins was already being held on charges that were involved in the killing of Gary Hinman.
Gary Hinman made a drug deal with Manson family member Bobby Bozzoli. Bobby claimed Gary sold him bad mescaline. Bobby turned him over to a motorcycle gang who wanted their money back. On July 25, 1969, Bobby Bozzoli, Susan Atkins, and Mary Brunner went to see Hinman. Manson and the family believed Gerry had a lot of money, stocks and bonds hidden in his home. Hinman told the group he had no money or valuables. They tortured him on and off for two days.
Charles Manson arrived at one point and hit Hinman over the head with a sword that cut his ear and Gary’s left face. Seeing that he was getting nowhere, Manson took one of Hinman’s cars and left. Susan Atkins and Mary Brunner gave him first aid while Bobby searched the house for valuables and continued to question Hinman. On July 27, 1969, Bobby lost his temper and decided to kill Gary. Bossolai stabbed Hinman twice in the chest and suffocated him with a pillow. Susan and Mary joined in helping to suffocate their victim. Bobby wrote “Political Piggy” on the wall using Hinman’s blood. He also painted a footprint in Hinman’s blood to implicate the Black Panthers in the murder. Gary Hinman believed in nonviolence. He died on the floor chanting a prayer.
Manson’s trial was as severe as it could be, but not for him or his followers. Family members who were not arrested had their heads shaved, swastikas on their faces and some slithered on the pavement like snakes. The media devoured everything. Manson loved being the center of attention. On August 9, 1970, Charlie picked up the front page of a newspaper stating that President Nixon believed he was guilty. He obviously hoped to cause a mistrial, but the judge was not prepared for that and declared that the jury had not been tampered with. On October 5, 1970, Manson suddenly jumped over the defense table at the judge’s. A large deputy intercepted Manson and knocked him to the floor. He then looked at the judge and said, “In the name of Christian justice, someone should cut off your head.”
Manson and other family members were found guilty of several murders and received the death penalty. The death penalty was abolished soon after, so the sentences were changed to life imprisonment. Charlie escaped the gas chamber, but could not escape death. He died in prison on November 29, 2017. At the time, many hoped that would be the last we heard of him. No such luck! August 9, 2019, will be the fiftieth anniversary of the Sharon Tate murders. Certainly not one to celebrate, however, the entertainment industry hopes it will generate enough interest in the heinous crime to turn the three well-known films made about the case into successful financial ventures.
Hilary Duff plays Sharon Tate in one of the films titled, “The Haunting of Sharon Tate”, which Sharon’s sister Debra called “pointless” and turned away. Debra Tate has jealously guarded her sister’s public persona over the years. While she supports Kate Bosworth in her portrayal of Sharon in Tate, she has been very critical of Quentin Tarantino’s new film. Tarantino’s company says the premise is: “A television actor and his stunt double embark on an odyssey to make a name for themselves in the film industry during the Charles Manson murders in Los Angeles in 1969.”
Margot Robbie landed the titular role of Tate in Quentin Tarantino’s ninth film, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. Tarantino’s $100 million film is a crime mystery film centered on the Sharon Tate murders and others committed by the Manson family. Written and directed by Quentin Tarantino, the cast includes Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, Kurt Russell, Damian Lewis, Luke Perry, Dakota Fanning, Zoe Bell, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, Timothy Olyphant, James Marsden , Julia Butters, James Remar, Martin Cobb, Brenda Vaccaro, Al Pacino, Scott McNairy and the list goes on. The film will be released by Sony Pictures on July 26, 2019.
For more on the murders, the complicated mysteries of Sharon Tate and Roman Polanski, the Manson family, the movies and a new book titled ‘The Sharon Tate Murders Fifty Years Later: Case Closed?’ Visit http://gothicmoods.tripod.com
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