In August of 1969, a crazed, demented career criminal who led a ragtag band of followers that became known as the Manson Family, ordered members of his "family" to go to the former residence of an acquaintance, TV and record producer Terry Melcher, and massacre all those present. Manson hoped to become a professional musician-songwriter and had previously auditioned for Melcher, who
had decided against signing him to a contract. Melcher, the son of actress/singer Doris Day, had moved from the home months before, but Manson continued with his plans to kill anyone found there regardless. His crazed band of hippies did precisely as the cold-blooded leader had ordered.
director Roman Polanski shared the home at 10050 Cielo Drive, Bel Air, California (just outside Beverly Hills city limits) with his actress wife, Sharon Tate. Polanski was best known for his films Repulsion
(1965), and Rosemary's Baby
(1968), but would go on to even greater fame directing Chinatown
(1974) and won the Academy Award for 2002's The Pianist
was best known for her work in Valley of the Dolls
Polanski was overseas the night of the first Manson killing spree. His pregnant wife was not so lucky. Sharon Tate was actually just days away from her expected delivery date. She was among
those murdered, along with Steve Parent (Steven Earl Parent), Abigail Folger (heiress to the Folger coffee fortune), Jay Sebring (b. Thomas John Kummer) an internationally known hairstylist to the stars, and Wojciech Frykowski (frequently misspelled "Voytek Frykowski"), boyfriend of Abigail Folger. Each was killed in a particularly sadistic manner. The victims at the scene of the Tate killing
spree, received a total of 102 stab wounds.
One day later, it happened again. Rosemary and Leno LaBianca were brutally murdered in the upper-middle-class Los Angeles neighborhood of Los Feliz. Leno was the president and chief stockholder of Gateway Markets, a small chain of profitable markets in the Los
Angeles area, and his wife Rosemary LaBianca ran a successful boutique. Their home at 3301 Waverly Drive (address was later changed to 3311), was the scene of a gruesome pair of homicides. As with the previous victims, literally dozens of stab wounds were inflicted on the LaBianca's.
Tate-LaBianca murders resulted in a high-profile trial that drew international attention for months. Charles Manson was found guilty and sentenced to death. Other members of Manson's hippie cult who were put behind bars for their part in the crimes included, Susan Atkins, Patricia Krenwinkel and Leslie Van Houten. Charles "Tex" Watson, was also found guilty, but in a separate trial. In 1972, the
California Supreme Court abolished the death penalty and Manson's sentence was automatically reduced to life in prison. As a result, he's been up for parole many times, but thankfully the parole board has wisely denied parole each time.
In September 1975, one of Manson's followers made headlines
following her assassination attempt on President Gerald R. Ford
. Secret Service agents managed to seize Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme after she aimed a gun at President Ford, who was unharmed. She was sentenced to life in prison for the attempt on his life. Fromme later escaped from prison--reportedly to be closer to Manson--before being recaptured and sentenced to
additional time behind bars. Despite receiving life in prison and additional jail time for her escape, Squeaky Fromme was actually released on parole in August 2009.
Long before his multiple murder convictions for the Tate-LaBianca killings, Manson had a lengthy criminal record stretching back to 1948.
His extensive list of charges included armed robberies, arson, burglary, assault, mail theft, drug possession, forgery, credit card fraud, receiving stolen property, pimping, grand theft auto and numerous parole violations.
Decades later, the Manson murders continue to fascinate new generations. The
Internet seems to have helped generate an allure and fascination in a generation too young to remember the bizarre and vicious murders and sensational trial. For some perverse reason, prisoner Manson has become something of a folk hero to some young people. He actually receives fan letters every day from people who oddly identify with him, or feel the convicted murderer is somehow
"misunderstood." Appallingly there are apologists out there who suggest neither Manson nor his followers had anything to do with the killing spree. They claim Manson and his cohorts were framed. These arguments are, of course, absolute nonsense. Those convicted of the crimes have offered detailed accounts of the murders which were substantiated by the evidence found at each crime scene. Several
of the murderers have not only confessed, but were initially proud of their crimes and had hoped to commit more murders. Manson himself has boasted of being responsible for more than 35 murders. Other members of the Manson Family agree that they killed between "35 to 40 people." When given the opportunity to appear before the press, the wild-eyed convict, his fanatical behavior and grand
theatrics, still manage to make headlines.
The prosecutor of the case, Vincent Bugliosi, later wrote the best-selling book Helter Skelter
, which offered an incredibly detailed look at the crimes, the participants, and subsequent trial. Bugliosi accurately observed, "The name Manson has become a
metaphor for evil, and evil has its allure. Some people have the same fascination for Jack the Ripper and Hitler."