It was perhaps the cruellest crime of the decade. And 52 years later, the twisted murder of actor Sharon Tate still elicits a spine tingle.
On August 9, 1969, Tate and four others were murdered by members of Charles Manson’s cult – the Manson Family.
Tate was best known for her role in Valley of the Dolls, released two years earlier.
She was married to filmmaker Roman Polanski and was eight months pregnant with their child when she was killed.
She was 26.
A murder most cold-blooded
Charles Manson didn’t commit the murders – he sent his followers to the house instead, with explicit instructions to “destroy everyone in [it], as gruesome as you can”.
The house – 10050 Cielo Drive in Los Angeles’ Benedict Canyon – was being rented by Polanski and Tate.
Manson knew the address because he’d been there before, when music producer Terry Melcher lived there.
Manson tried to get Melcher to sign him for a record deal, but Melcher refused him.
It’s still not explicitly clear if Manson knew Melcher no longer lived there; did he just want to kill whoever lived in the house that stood as a symbol of his rejection?
Either way, on the evening of August 8, Tate was throwing a small dinner party while Polanksi was away.
Her guests were hair stylist Jay Sebring, Polanski’s friend Wojciech Frykowski and his partner, Abigail Folger, a coffee heiress.
Late that night, shortly before the clock ticked over, four members of the Manson Family descended on the property.
They were Manson’s sergeant at arms Tex Watson, and Family women Susan Atkins, Patricia Krenwinkel and Linda Kasabian.
As the four intruders made their way up to the house, they shot and killed 18-year-old Steven Parent, who was leaving in his car after visiting the groundskeeper, who lived in a detached house at the rear of the property.
Kasabian stood watch outside. Inside, the spree really began.
A sleeping Frykowski was woken by a kick to the head by Watson, who told him, “I’m the devil and I’m here to do the devil’s work”.
The three other victims – including Tate – were brought into the living and tied up. Sebring and Tate were lashed together by rope around their necks.
Sebring tried to defend Tate, arguing she was heavily pregnant. Watson shot him. Still alive, Watson tired of his groaning and stabbed him seven times, killing him.
Frykowski struggled free from his bindings and tried to attack Atkins, who stabbed him repeatedly in the legs. But he made it to the front door, where he found Kasabian, who claims she was hit by the horror at what was unfolding and came to stop the killings.
She let Frykowski pass, but Watson gave chase, knocking him out with the butt of his revolver, shooting him and stabbing him.
Back inside, Folger had escaped through a bedroom window, with Krenwinkel at her heels. They wrestled on the lawn, Krenwinkel stabbing her victim several times.
Then Watson caught up with the pair and killed Folger with no less than 28 stabs. He spied a still-alive Frykowski crawling across the lawn, and stabbed him to death, too.
Finally, they killed Tate. It’s not known who delivered the fatal blows to the young actor, as Kasabian – who testified against the other three – fled the scene.
Of the 16 stab wounds to Tate’s body, the coroner ruled five of them were fatal. Her killers also cut her unborn baby out of her stomach.
As a finishing touch to an already horrific crime scene, Atkins wrote PIG in Tate’s blood on the front door of the house.
The bodies were discovered the next morning by the housekeeper.
Months of mystery
It took months for police to find the killers. Two days after the Tate murders, the Family committed another murder.
This time, Charles was personally involved – they killed grocery store executive Leno LaBianca and his wife Rosemary.
Police didn’t make the connection between the two murders.
The Manson Family’s involvement became apparent when, months later, police raided their Spahn Ranch base on suspicion of theft and vehicle arson.
Eventually, all the killers and Manson were arrested and charged.
They were all – with the exception of Kasabian, who was the key witness in exchange for immunity – found guilty and sentenced to the death penalty, which was later changed to life in prison when California abolished capital punishment.
Charles Manson died in prison in 2017.