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The Sharon Tate murders fifty years later: new facts and a new movie

She was thirteen years old and living in New York when Sharon Tate and her house guests were brutally murdered early on the morning of August 9, 1969. The guests were there because Sharon was having dinner that same night. Guests included action hero movie star Steve McQueen and legendary music producer Quincy Jones. Both canceled at the last minute for work reasons. The crime occurred in a luxury rented house at 10050 Cielo Drive in Benedict Canyon, a part of Beverly Crest, north of Beverly Hills, California.

The evening editions of all the New York newspapers featured the story of the murders on their front pages. I found out when my parents put on the evening news. As disturbing as the news was, few details were released 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). She was out of the country when the murders occurred.

I remember my mom saying that the murders had to be the work of a madman. She was right. Charles Manson was a career criminal who spent half of his life in jail, then ended up in San Francisco, where he became a self-proclaimed guru of fugitives and expendables in his teens and early twenties. His group, later called the Manson Family, lived rent-free at Spahn Movie Ranch near Los Angeles, California. The owner was legally blind and needed people to help maintain and fix up his property. The Family made money by stealing cars and selling drugs.

Manson had a brush with non-criminal fame. One of his followers was picked up hitchhiking by Beach Boy Dennis Wilson. She told him that Charlie was an amazing guy who played the guitar and had a ton of original songs. Upon meeting Manson, Wilson fell under the spell of his charisma like so many others. He let Manson and seventeen girls move into his house. Dennis introduced Charlie to music producer Terry Melcher. In addition to his own achievements in the recording industry, Terry was well connected in Hollywood as the son of movie star Doris Day.

Melcher was mesmerized by Manson’s charisma. He decided to make a movie about the Family and their “common hippie”. Terry also gave Charlie the chance to get a recording contract. Dennis Wilson had Manson record some of his original songs and actually used two of them. The Beach Boys recorded and retitled two original Manson songs for one of Manson’s albums and the B-side of a 45. If you’re under forty, ask your parents or grandparents about a 45.

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 couldn’t deal with his explosive temper. Melcher called the whole thing off and Wilson evicted Charlie and the girls from her. Charlie kept trying to reconnect with Melcher, who lived in the house on Cielo Drive before Tate and Polanski became tenants in February 1969. Manson kept visiting the house and actually met Sharon Tate at least once. .

At the time, Manson was in his full-blown Messiah mode telling his followers that he was the son of God. After hearing the Beatles’ White Album, he became convinced that they wrote and recorded it for The Family. The song ‘Helter Skelter’ was a message to Charlie that a race war was necessary. The blacks would defeat the whites and 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 an evil plan to kill some famous white people and then make black people take the blame.

On August 8, 1969, he sent a kill team consisting of Charles ‘Tex’ Watson, Susan Atkins, Patricia Krenwinkel, and Linda Kasabian to the house on Cielo Drive. Five people were stabbed and shot. Sharon Tate was eight and a half months pregnant when she and her unborn child were murdered in their living room, along with celebrity hairstylist Jay Sebring. Wojciech Frykowski (a friend of Roman Polanski) and cafe heiress Abigail Folger escaped and were murdered outside the house. Eighteen-year-old Steven Parent, who was visiting the guest house, was shot dead in his car. A maid discovered the bodies later that morning.

Even when the media arrived at the Cielo Drive home and seventeen police investigators were assigned to work the crime scene, Charlie Manson was already planning his next murder. Manson told his hit squad that they did a sloppy job and hadn’t made things scary enough, and 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 Krenwinkel. Charlie chose an expensive house that he saw on Waverly Drive in Los Angeles. Susan Atkins stood outside as lookout while the others broke in.

The house was occupied by supermarket executive Leno LaBianca and his wife Rosemary. Although Charlie Manson was present, he probably did not participate in the actual murders. Leno LaBianca was murdered in the living room. A fork was used to carve the word WAR into Leno’s belly and was left protruding from his corpse. Rosemary LaBianca was murdered in his bedroom. Several slogans were left at the crime scene written in blood, including HELTER SKELTER, which was scrawled on the door of her refrigerator.

Despite leaving behind two messy crime scenes, none of the Manson Family members were on the police radar until Susan Atkins was arrested on unrelated charges. Susan bragged about her involvement in the Tate and LaBianca murders while she was in a cell with another woman. That prisoner reported her conversation to her lawyer and to the police. Atkins was known as a member of the Manson Family, so it didn’t take long for the police to figure out that Charlie and some of her cult members had something to do with both sets of murders.

Finding Charlie and the others wasn’t easy. The Family moved between various ranches in the middle of nowhere and could not be located. After vandalizing part of Death Valley National Park while hiding out in the Mojave Desert, a local county sheriff found them and arrested them all on a series of charges, including auto theft. He had no idea that authorities in Los Angeles had just filed murder charges against Manson, Watson, and some of the girls. Atkins was already in custody on charges of involvement in the murder of Gary Hinman.

Gary Hinman made a drug deal with Bobby Beausoleil, a member of the Manson family. Bobby claimed that Gary sold him bad mescalin. Bobby passed it on to a biker gang who wanted the money back from him. On July 25, 1969, Bobby Beausoleil, Susan Atkins, and Mary Brunner went to see Hinman. Manson and the family believed that Gary had a lot of money, stocks and bonds, hidden in his house. Hinman told the group that he had no money or valuables. They tortured him intermittently for two days.

Charles Manson arrived at one point and struck Hinman over the head with a sword cutting Gary’s ear and left face. Seeing that he wasn’t getting anywhere, Manson took one of Hinman’s cars and drove off. 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. Beausoleil stabbed Hinman twice in the chest and suffocated him with a pillow. Susan and Mary teamed up to help put down their victim. Bobby wrote “POLITICAL PIGGY” on the wall using Hinman’s blood. He also drew a print in Hinman’s blood to implicate the Black Panthers in the murder. Gary Hinman believed in nonviolence. He died on the ground singing a prayer.

Manson’s trial was very serious, but not for him or his followers. Family members who were not arrested shaved their heads, had swastikas on their faces, and some slithered down the sidewalk like snakes. The media bought it all up. Manson loved being the center of attention. On August 9, 1970, Charlie held up the front page of a newspaper saying that President Nixon believed he was guilty. Obviously, he hoped to cause a mistrial, but the judge declined, stating that the jury had not been rigged. On October 5, 1970, Manson suddenly lunged across the defense table toward the judge. A large officer intercepted Manson and tackled him to the ground. Then he 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 multiple murders and sentenced to death. The death penalty was abolished soon after, so the sentences were changed to life imprisonment. Charlie escaped from the gas chamber, but was unable to escape death. He died in prison on November 29, 2017. At the time, many expected it to be the last we heard from him. No such luck! August 9, 2019 will be the fiftieth anniversary of the Sharon Tate murders. Surely not one to celebrate, however, the entertainment industry hopes it will cause enough interest in the horrifying crime to make the three well-known movies being made about the case successful financial ventures.

Hillary Duff plays Sharon Tate in one of the movies titled “The Haunting of Sharon Tate” which Sharon’s sister Debra called “bland” and criticized. Debra Tate has closely guarded her sister’s public image over the years. Although she supports Kate Bosworth in the role of Sharon in ‘Tate’, she has been very critical of the new Quentin Tarantino 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 1969 Charles Manson murders in Los Angeles.”

Margot Robbie has landed the 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 murders of Sharon Tate 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, ZoĆ« Bell, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, Timothy Olyphant, James Marsden, Julia Butters, James Remar, Martin Kove, Brenda Vaccaro, Al Pacino, Scoot 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 secrets 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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