Charles Manson and the Tate and LaBianca Murders

A Chilling Account of the Murders

Manson Mugshot
Hulton Archive/Stringer/Archive Photos/Getty Images

On the night of August 8, 1969, Charles "Tex" Watson, Susan Atkins, Patricia Krenwinkel, and Linda Kasabian were sent by Charlie to the old home of Terry Melcher at 10050 Cielo Drive. Their instructions were to kill everyone at the house and make it appear like Hinman's murder, with words and symbols written in blood on the walls. As Charlie Manson had said earlier in the day after choosing the group, "Now is the time for Helter Skelter."

What the group did not know was that Terry Melcher was no longer residing in the home and that it was being rented by film director Roman Polanski and his wife, actress Sharon Tate. Tate was two weeks away from giving birth and Polanski was delayed in London while working on his film, The Day of the Dolphin. Because Sharon was so close to giving birth, the couple arranged for friends to stay with her until Polanski could get home.

After dining together at the El Coyote restaurant, Sharon Tate, celebrity hairstylist Jay Sebring, Folger coffee heiress Abigail Folger and her lover Wojciech Frykowski, returned to the Polanski's home on Cleo Drive at around 10:30 p.m. Wojciech fell asleep on the living room couch, Abigail Folger went to her bedroom to read, and Sharon Tate and Sebring were in Sharon's bedroom talking.

Steve Parent

Just after midnight, Watson, Atkins, Krenwinkel, and Kasabian arrived at the house. Watson climbed a telephone pole and cut the phone line going to the Polanski's house. Just as the group entered the estate grounds, they saw a car approaching. Inside the car was 18-year-old Steve Parent who had been visiting the property's caretaker, William Garreston.

As Parent approached the driveway's electronic gate, he rolled down the window to reach out and push the gate's button, and Watson descended on him, yelling at him to halt. Seeing that Watson was armed with a revolver and knife, Parent began to plead for his life. Unfazed, Watson slashed at Parent, then shot him four times, killing him instantly.

The Rampage Inside

After murdering Parent, the group headed for the house. Watson told Kasabian to be on the lookout by the front gate. The other three family members entered the Polanski home. Charles "Tex" Watson went to the living room and confronted Frykowski who was asleep. Not fully awake, Frykowski asked what time it was and Watson kicked him in the head. When Frykowski asked who he was, Watson answered, "I'm the devil and I'm here to do the devil's business."

Susan Atkins went to Sharon Tate's bedroom with a buck knife and ordered Tate and Sebring to go into the living room. She then went and got Abigail Folger. The four victims were told to sit on the floor. Watson tied a rope around Sebring's neck, flung it over a ceiling beam, then tied the other side around Sharon's neck. Watson then ordered them to lie on their stomachs. When Sebring voiced his concerns that Sharon was too pregnant to lay on her stomach, Watson shot him and then kicked him while he died.

Knowing now that the intent of the intruders was murder, the three remaining victims began to struggle for survival. Patricia Krenwinkel attacked Abigail Folger and after being stabbed multiple times, Folger broke free and attempted to run from the house. Krenwinkel followed close behind and managed to tackle Folger out on the lawn and stabbed her repeatedly.

Inside, Frykowski struggled with Susan Atkins when she attempted to tie his hands. Atkins stabbed him four times in the leg, then Watson came over and beat Frykowski over the head with his revolver. Frykowski somehow managed to escape out onto the lawn and began screaming for help.

While the microbe scene was going on inside the house, all Kasabian could hear was screaming. She ran to the house just as Frykowski was escaping out the front door. According to Kasabian, she looked into the eyes of the mutilated man and horrified at what she saw, she told him that she was sorry. Minutes later, Frykowski was dead on the front lawn.Watson shot him twice, then stabbed him to death.

Seeing that Krenwinkel was struggling with Folger, Watson went over and the two continued to stab Abigail mercilessly. According to killer's statements later given to the authorities, Abigail begged them to stop stabbing her saying, "I give up, you've got me", and "I'm already dead". 

The final victim at 10050 Cielo Drive was Sharon Tate. Knowing that her friends were likely dead, Sharon begged for the life of her baby. Unmoved, Atkins held Sharon Tate down while Watson stabbed her multiple times, killing her. Atkins then used Sharon's blood to write "Pig" on a wall. Atkins later said that Sharon Tate called out for her mother as she was being murdered and that she tasted her blood and found it "warm and sticky."

According to the autopsy reports, 102 stab wounds were found on the four victims.

The Labianca Murders

The next day Manson, Tex Watson, Susan Atkins, Patricia Krenwinkel, Steve Grogan, Leslie Van Houten, and Linda Kasabian went to the home of Leno and Rosemary Labianca. Manson and Watson tied up the couple and Manson left. He told Van Houten and Krenwinkel to go in and kill the LaBiancas. The three separated the couple and murdered them, then had dinner and a shower and hitchhiked back to Spahn Ranch. Manson, Atkins, Grogan, and Kasabian drove around looking for other people to kill but failed.

Manson and The Family Arrested

At Spahn Ranch rumors of the group's involvement began to circulate. So did the police helicopters above the ranch, but because of an unrelated investigation. Parts of stolen cars were spotted in and around the ranch by police in the helicopters. On August 16, 1969, Manson and The Family were rounded up by police and taken in on suspicion of auto theft (not an unfamiliar charge for Manson). The search warrant ended up being invalid because of a date error and the group was released.

Charlie blamed the arrests on Spahn's ranch hand Donald "Shorty" Shea for snitching on the family. It was no secret that Shorty wanted the family off the ranch. Manson decided it was time for the family to move to Barker Ranch near Death Valley, but before leaving, Manson, Bruce Davis, Tex Watson and Steve Grogan killed Shorty and buried his body behind the ranch.

The Barker Ranch Raid

The Family moved onto the Barker Ranch and spent time turning stolen cars into dune buggies. On October 10, 1969, Barker Ranch was raided after investigators spotted stolen cars on the property and traced evidence of an arson back to Manson. Manson was not around during the first Family roundup, but returned on October 12 and was arrested with seven other family members. When police arrived Manson hid under a small bathroom cabinet but was quickly discovered.

The Confession of Susan Atkins

One of the biggest breaks in the case came when Susan Atkins boasted in detail about the murders to her prison cellmates. She gave specific details about Manson and the killings. She also told of other famous people the Family planned on killing. Her cellmate reported the information to the authorities and Atkins was offered a life sentence in return for her testimony. She refused the offer but repeated the prison cell story to the grand jury. Later Atkins recanted her grand jury testimony.

The Grand Jury Indictment

It took 20 minutes for the grand jury to hand down murder indictments on Manson, Watson, Krenwinkel, Atkins, Kasabian, and Van Houten. Watson was fighting extradition from Texas and Kasabian became the prosecution's main witness. Manson, Atkins, Krenwinkel and Van Houten were tried together. The chief prosecutor, Vincent Bugliosi, offered Kasabian prosecutorial immunity for her testimony. Kasabian agreed, giving Bugliosi the final piece of the puzzle needed to convict Manson and the others.

The challenge for Bugliosi was to get the jury to find Manson as responsible for the murders as those who actually committed the murders. Manson's courtroom antics helped Bugliosi accomplish this task. On the first day of court, he showed up with a bloody swastika carved into his forehead. He tried to stare down Bugliosi and with a series of hand gestures had the three women disrupt the courtroom, all in hopes of a mistrial.

It was Kasabian's account of the murders and of the control that Manson had over the Family that nailed Bugliosi's case. She told the jury that no family member ever wanted to tell Charlie Manson "no." On January 25, 1971, the jury returned a guilty verdict for all defendants and on all counts of first-degree murder. Manson, like the other three defendants, was sentenced to death in the gas chamber. Manson shouted, "You people have no authority over me," as he was led off in handcuffs.

Manson's Prison Years

Manson was originally sent to San Quentin State Prison, but was transferred to Vacaville then to Folsom and then back to San Quentin because of his constant conflicts with prison officials and other inmates. In 1989 he was sent to California's Corcoran State Prison where he currently resides. Because of various infractions in prison, Manson has spent a considerable amount of time under disciplinary custody (or as prisoners call it, "the hole"), where he was kept in isolation for 23 hours a day and kept handcuffed when moving within the general prison areas.

When not in the hole he, is kept in the prison's Protective Housing Unit (PHU) because of threats made on his life. Since his incarceration, he has been raped, set on fire, beaten several times and poisoned. While in PHU he is allowed to visit with other inmates, have books, art supplies, and other restricted privileges.

Over the years he has been charged with various crimes including conspiracy to distribute narcotics, destruction of state property, and assault of a prison guard.

He has been denied parole 10 times, the last time in 2001 when he refused to attend the hearing because he was forced to wear handcuffs. His next parole is 2007. He will be 73 years old.

Desert Shadows by Bob Murphy
Helter Skelter by Vincent Bugliosi and Curt Gentry
The Trial of Charles Manson by Bradley Steffens

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Montaldo, Charles. "Charles Manson and the Tate and LaBianca Murders." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Montaldo, Charles. (2023, April 5). Charles Manson and the Tate and LaBianca Murders. Retrieved from Montaldo, Charles. "Charles Manson and the Tate and LaBianca Murders." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 6, 2023).