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Culture Re-View: Hollywood star Sharon Tate murdered by the Manson Family

Sharon Tate pictured in London, 1966
Sharon Tate pictured in London, 1966 Copyright Evening Standard/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Copyright Evening Standard/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
By Saskia O'Donoghue
Published on
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On this day in 1969, Sharon Tate and four others were killed by followers of cult leader Charles Manson, horrifying Hollywood and the wider world.

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In the early hours of 9 August 1969, Valley of the Dolls actress Sharon Tate was at her rented house in Los Angeles with celebrity hairstylist Jay Sebring, writer Wojciech Frykowski and his girlfriend Abigail Folger, heiress to the Folgers coffee fortune and daughter of Peter Folger.

26 year old Tate was more than eight months pregnant with her first child, following her marriage to filmmaker Roman Polanski the previous year.

Eddie Worth/Copyright 1968 The AP
Sharon Tate and Roman Polanski skip downstairs after their wedding in London, 1968Eddie Worth/Copyright 1968 The AP

The Rosemary’s Baby director was abroad at the time of the murders, leaving his wife in the care of Frykowski and Folger.

Charles Manson was familiar with the house on Cielo Drive, as its former tenant, music producer Terry Melcher, had previously considered and then decided against giving the cult leader a recording contract.

Manson had formed his ‘Manson Family’ cult earlier in the 1960s. Consisting of around 100 followers, the group lived an unconventional lifestyle, using psychoactive drugs like Benzedrine and hallucinogens including LSD.

AP Photo
Charles Manson is escorted to his arraignment on conspiracy-murder charges in connection with the Sharon Tate murder case, 1969AP Photo

Most of his followers were young women from comfortable backgrounds, attracted by the hippie culture and communal living on offer at the infamous Sphan Ranch in California, and were soon radicalised by Manson.

Many of the cult members were convinced he was a manifestation of Jesus Christ on earth and fully believed his preaching that an apocalyptic race war was imminent.

In spectacularly un-Christ-like behaviour, Manson and the Family committed countless crimes, including murders, assaults, theft and street vandalism.

Reed Saxon/AP
10050 Cielo Drive, the scene of the murdersReed Saxon/AP

The night of the murders

On 9 August, Manson ordered his follower Charles “Tex” Watson to go to Tate’s property with several other cult members, ordering them to kill everyone present “as gruesome[ly] as you can”.

Watson, Susan Atkins and Patricia Krenwinkel made the journey to the house along with fellow Family member Linda Kasabian. While she was present, she didn’t actively take part in the murders.

When the cult members arrived at the house, they shot dead 18-year-old Steven Parent who had been visiting his friend William Garretson, the estate’s caretaker.

Following the shooting, Watson, Atkins and Krenwinkel broke into the property, leaving Kasabian to stay outside as a lookout.

AP
Manson's victims: (L-R) Wojciech Frykowski, Sharon Tate, Stephen Parent, Jay Sebring, and Abigail FolgerAP

Inside, they forced their victims to gather in the living room, tying ropes around Tate and Sebring’s necks, slinging them over the ceiling beams. Sebring was shot and stabbed multiple times, resulting in his death.

Frykowski and Folger managed to flee the house, but were soon chased down and killed by Krenwinkel and Watson.

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Inside the house, Tate begged the Family members to be allowed to live long enough to give birth to her unborn child, but her pleas fell on deaf ears. Atkins and Watson stabbed her 16 times, ending her life.

As the murderers left the property, Atkins used Tate’s blood to write the word “pig” on the front door, apparently in response to Manson’s request to "leave a sign - something witchy".

AP1969
Sharon Tate's body removed from her rented house on Cielo Drive after the murdersAP1969

The Manson's family's next killing - and the aftermath

The next night, Manson took Watson, Atkins, Krenwinkel and Kasabian as well as other Family members Leslie Van Houten and Steven “Clem” Grogan in search of more people to murder.

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They targeted the Los Angeles home of grocery store executive Leno LaBianca and his wife, Rosemary.

After Manson and Watson tied the couple up and robbed them, Manson left the scene with Atkins, Kasabian, and Grogan.

Watson, Van Houten and Krenwinkel stayed put, acting on orders from Manson, stabbing the couple to death and leaving words written in their victim’s blood on the walls.

Getty/Bettmann Archive
Charles "Tex" Watson was convicted of murder for his part in the killings of Sharon Tate and othersGetty/Bettmann Archive

The two gruesome crimes created a panic in Los Angeles, but investigators initially failed to make the connection between the two murder scenes.

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The violent killings effectively put an end to the carefree nature of the Swinging Sixties and their ritualistic nature has been credited as the foundation for the rise of Satanic panic.

Despite slightly lacking police work, by year’s end, all of the killers had been arrested, following detainment on unrelated charges.

Many of them explained that the motive for the murders was not the identity of the victims, but rather the house at that address, previously occupied by Terry Melcher, believed to have slighted Manson.

AP1971
Susan Atkins, Patricia Krenwinkel and Leslie Van Houten, laugh as they walk to court in Los Angeles for sentencing, 1971AP1971

The trial of the Manson family members - and Sharon Tate's legacy

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The trial, which combined the Tate and LaBianca murders, began in June 1970.

Linda Kasabian, who had been granted immunity, acted as the main prosecution witness.

Manson, Atkins, Van Houten, and Krenwinkel were eventually found guilty in January 1971, with Watson tried and convicted later that year.

All of the guilty received the death penalty, but the sentences were commuted to life in prison after California abolished capital punishment in 1972.

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Nick Ut/AP2016
Leslie Van Houten at a parole hearing in 2016Nick Ut/AP2016

Up until this year, all of the jailed cult member’s petitions for parole were denied. That was until 11 July 2023, when 73-year-old Leslie Van Houten was released after spending 53 years in prison, following 20 failed attempts at parole.

Frank Tewkesbury/AP
Sharon Tate poses for a portrait in 1968Frank Tewkesbury/AP

Sharon Tate was buried on 13 August in the Holy Cross Cemetery, Culver City, California. She held her unborn son in her arms, posthumously named Paul Richard Polanski.

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