Charles Manson, Sharon Tate, the Beach Boys and the Unbelievably True Story Behind the Manson Family Murders

So random, so real, so scary

Charles Manson, Sharon Tate, the Beach Boys and the Unbelievably True Story Behind the Manson Family Murders
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There was no method to Los Angeles’ sinister summer. It was all madness. 

Of all the terrifying details of the spree murders of actress Sharon Tate and six others on Aug. 9 and Aug. 10, 1969, at the hands -- and knives -- of Charles Manson and his followers, there is none more unnerving than this: the randomness. 

Conspiracy theorists may spin tales of CIA involvement, and the Quentin Tarantino film Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood may put a fairytale, oh-if-only spin on the bloody saga, but the historical record -- the police and forensics investigations, the courtroom testimony, the accounts of the people who crossed paths with the principles -- tells a plain, and plainly disturbing tale of chance.

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The worst could’ve happened to anyone within driving distance of the northern outskirts of Los Angeles, where Manson and his so-called family had set up a squalid encampment; it happened to them: Steven Parent, a teen-aged, part-time stereo-shop employee from L.A.’s suburban San Gabriel Valley; Leno LaBianca, a middle-aged owner of a Southern California grocery-store chain; Abigail Folger, the daughter of the chairman of Folgers Coffee, and a volunteer social worker; Rosemary LaBianca, a dress-shop proprietor and Leno’s wife; Jay Sebring, a celebrity hairstylist who gave iconic shape to Jim Morrison’s curls and waves; Voytek Frykowski, Folger’s companion and the childhood friend of fellow Polish filmmaker Roman Polanski, and, Sharon Tate, the 26-year-old Hollywood star and eight-and-a-half-months-pregnant wife of Polanski.

Each was murdered in brutal, up-close-and-personal fashion by people who didn’t know them, on the orders and the whim of a man who didn’t know them, either. 

“The circumstances were so bizarre as to constitute irrefutable proof that God is a deranged practical joker,” the author and Star Trek writer David Gerrold, a friend of Parent’s, once bemoaned in print. 

What follows is the story of the improbable people, unlikely connections and terrible twists that led up to Tate-LaBianca murders. What follows is a maddening story of madness. 

Prologue

He grew up poor -- a nobody from nowhere. But he has a talent: He can talk a good game. His name is Dale Carnegie, and in 1936, he publishes a self-improvement book that will teach others how to talk good games, too. Its title is How to Win Friends and Influence People. It will sell more than 30 million copies worldwide; its techniques for “win[ning] people to your way of thinking,” and for “mak[ing] the other person happy about doing the thing you suggest” will be taught in licensed courses. Over the years, its readers and followers will come to include a young man in prison. Another nobody from nowhere.

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All shook up

It’s the late 1950s. Charles Manson is behind bars. Again. A troubled youth turned troubled twentysomething, with a string of robberies, armed robberies, a stolen-car heist and probation violations on his resume, Manson is incarcerated in Los Angeles at Terminal Island federal prison for a probation violation. 

Where the outside world sees not much, his reform-minded jailers, according to biographer Jeff Guinn’s Manson: The Life and Times of Charles Manson, see potential. The intelligent, but unpredictable convict is pegged for a prized spot in one of Terminal Island’s most popular classes: a certified Dale Carnegie course. The class has a waiting list, but Manson is ushered right in -- and, for once, he shines. “Virtually every word in the Cargenie publications resonate[s] with Charlie,” Guinn writes. He doesn’t finish the course -- he still is what he is: erratic and impulsive -- but he’s not finished with its tenets.

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Calendar girl 

Sharon Tate may not know where she’s going exactly, but it seems sure she’s going somewhere. In 1961, she’s a bright, 18-year-old Texan (and former “Miss TIny Tot” title-holder) living in Italy. The European mecca is where her army-intelligence father is stationed, and where she’s been crowned homecoming queen by her fellow high-school students. As recounted in Greg King’s Sharon Tate and the Manson Murders, Tate is loosely considering a career in psychiatry when she and friends, on a trip to Verona, happen upon a movie set. Hemingway’s Adventures of a Young Man is a widescreen, would-be epic, and it needs extras to fill out its frame. Tate and friends are recruited. Once on set, Tate catches the eye of the film’s star, Richard Beymer, a 23-year-old former child actor about to achieve screen immortality as Tony in the original big-screen version of West Side Story. According to the King book, Beymer broaches the subject of Hollywood with Tate, about how she should come to Los Angeles and pursue work in the movies. Tate may not know where she’s going exactly, but she’s getting closer to finding out.

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San Francisco 

It’s the late 1960s. Charles Manson is behind bars. Again. He’s even back at Terminal Island, this time for forgery. He’s 32 now, and if the near-lifelong criminal hasn’t figured out how to fly straight in the everyday world, then he has managed a kind of contentment in incarceration. In his second stint at Terminal Island, Manson fashions himself a musician. He plays guitar, writes songs and rubs elbows with show-business types -- or, at least, the types who arrive as inmates in the Los Angeles prison. When it’s time to be paroled in March 1967, Manson has a request of prison officials: He’d like to stay --  as in, he would really, truly like to remain behind bars. His powers of persuasion, however, don’t work. Like it or not, and he does not, Manson is released.  

“I kept taking long deep breaths of fresh air, at the same time sending messages to myself,” Manson will relate of his parole in the book, Manson in His Own Words, “‘I’m free, I’m on the outside. I can go where I want, I can do as I please.’”

And so Manson does just that: He does as he pleases. He follows a lead to San Francisco. The Summer of Love, as the Summer of 1967 will come to be called, is about to begin, and the city’s Haight-Ashbury district is virtually paging all flower children to walk its streets, sit on its corners and sleep in its parks. For once, the rootless, restless Manson fits right in. He’s older than the other long-hairs, but he’s got a guitar -- and he can talk a good game.

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Good times

Sharon Tate does come to Hollywood, and she does make it in the movies. In 1967, her years of thankless TV guest gigs on the workaday likes of Mister Ed pay off with a starring role in the glossy big-screen soap, Valley of the Dolls, opposite Oscar winners Susan Hayward and Patty Duke. Tate plays Jennifer North, a sweet ingenue whose charmed life turns tragic following her marriage to a Hollywood star. While Tate’s character is doomed to die an early death, Valley of the Dolls lives to become one of the biggest box-office hits of the year. 

In January 1968, about a month after the film’s release, Tate weds Roman Polanski in London. Polanski is a director with an origin story that’s more fantastical than anything in Valley of the Dolls. Tate’s new husband is a Holocaust survivor who made his way out of Poland’s World War II-era Krakow ghetto, and, like his new bride, made his way to Hollywood. 

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It was the movies, of course, that brought Tate and Polanski together: They met on Polanski’s British-American horror comedy, The Fearless Vampire Killers. He was the director, writer and star; she was his leading lady. The movie is little-seen, but it does nothing to slow Polanski’s growing reputation as a filmmaker. By the time of the wedding, Polanski is about to break through to American moviegoers via the then-upcoming adaptation of the best-selling occult thriller, Rosemary’s Baby. Together, Tate and Polanski are a golden couple -- and,  as such, they attract other glittery people.  

Hollywood figures in attendance at the Playboy Club reception in London for Tate and Polanski include Warren Beatty, Michael Caine, Joan Collins -- and Candice Bergen, the actress and live-in girlfriend of Byrds producer Terry Melcher.

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Like Tate and Polanski, Bergen and Melcher are a golden couple, too. Owing to their roots -- Bergen is the daughter of the radio-era star Edgar Bergen; while Melcher is the son of Hollywood legend Doris Day -- they are arguably the most golden couple of all. Back home in Los Angeles, they’re at the center of a social circle they help keep rolling by hosting parties for their friends, including Tate and Polanski, at their home, a rented French country-style estate located in Benedict Canyon. At 10050 Cielo Drive.

Where is tomorrow? 

In any real sense of the word, Charles Manson isn’t a star. But in a very small way, by early 1968, Charles Manson is indeed the star of his universe. He’s talked his way into the lives and beds of a small group of young women who dig his music and fall for his no-strings-attached, no-inhibitions-allowed philosophy. For a man who was virtually raised in captivity, he seems oddly attuned to the times. With the Summer of Love a memory, Manson looks to take his traveling band south. Los Angeles is where it’s at.  

Spooky

As Rolling Stone will relate it, Harold True had ambitions of joining the Peace Corp. But the Southern California young man instead opts for college. During the week, he studies. On the weekend, he likes to have fun. One day, in March 1968, True crosses paths with a band of hippies who live itinerantly in the Malibu-bordering, artist enclave of Topanga Canyon. True’s in luck: These people like to party, too. At some point, True must mention where he lives because the hippies -- or, slippies, as Charles Manson prefers -- show up at his door the next day. True lives with a few buddies in a rental house near Los Angeles’ Griffith Park, in a neighborhood known as Los Feliz, on a street called Waverly Drive. 

Friends

Not far from Topanga Canyon, maybe about 15 miles west, Dennis Wilson is tooling around in his Rolls Royce. The 23-year-old could’ve hopped in the Mercedes or Ferrari (he’s got one of each), but the Rolls it is. He’s obviously rich, and, as a member of the Beach Boys, abundantly famous. He spies a couple of hip, hippie female hitchhikers. He likes -- and recognizes -- what he sees.

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The hitchhikers are the same alluring pair Wilson had encountered a month earlier up in the mountains. On that day, they’d been thumbing for a ride, and Wilson had given them one, and he gives them one on this day, too. At the time, hitchhiking is no big thing; in Los Angeles, in some ways, it’s the thing. 

“... [T]here was a time, 1965 to 1969 in Laurel Canyon, where you could hitchhike up and down the canyon,” Doors drummer John Densmore will remember for the book, Canyon of Dreams: The Magic and Music of Laurel Canyon. “There were some crazies. [But] frankly it was car-pooling before its time and community. You talked to people.” 

Wilson reportedly does more than talk with his two hitchhikers. According to Steven Gaines’ Heroes & Villains: The True Story of the Beach Boys, Wilson has sex with the two women at his 14400 W. Sunset Blvd. home in L.A.’s ocean-adjacent Pacific Palisades.

When Wilson returns home that night following a stint in the recording studio, he finds that the hitchhikers, known to him as Yellerstone and Marnie Reeves, are back. Not only that, they’ve brought others, including a diminutive man in fringed buckskin -- their guru, they say. The encounter is a surprise, though not entirely a shock. Earlier, Wilson and the women, in between having their fun, had talked spirituality. Wilson told them about Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the Indian-born, rock’n’roll spiritual leader and father of transcendental meditation, a movement that would be immortalized in a same-titled track from the suddenly psychedelic Beach Boys on their not-yet released 1968 album, Friends.

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At the time, the Maharishi and the band, its members rocked by the nervous breakdown of its creative leader, Brian Wilson, Dennis’ revered older brother, are so enmeshed that they will hit the road together that summer. 

“I told them about our involvement with the Maharishi and they told me they too had a guru, a guy named Charlie,” Wilson says in an interview that will appear in the U.K. music weekly, Record Mirror.  

Now Charlie’s right there, in the flesh, before Wilson. Charlie drops to the ground, and kisses the Beach Boys drummer’s sneakers. 

“I’m a friend,” Charlie assures Wilson, per the Gaines book.  

Proving his good intentions to Wilson, per accounts, Charlie offers drugs and a cadre of free-love-practicing women, including Yellerstone and Marnie. 

Yellerstone’s given name is Ella Jo Bailey. She’ll become a law-enforcement witness.

Marnie’s given name is Patricia Krenwinkel. She’ll become a killer. 

Charlie is Charles Manson. You know what he’ll become. 

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But that’s later. This is now: Wilson is rich, famous and looking for something, for someone. He allows Manson, the “girls” and assorted hangers-on to move into his home. They become a family. 

Revolution 

On Nov. 22, 1968, the Beatles issue their latest: a self-titled, 30-track release that’s as eclectic and busy as its all-white cover is sparse. Cuts on the White Album, as the collection will popularly be known, include “Piggies,” “Revolution” and “Helter Skelter.” 

Manson is a fan. The cut, “Revolution 9,” he will tell Rolling Stone in 1970, “predicts the overthrow of the establishment.” 

“This music is bringing on the revolution,” Manson will say.  

His reasoning, if that’s what you’d call it, is at best muddied, but it’s his. “I think Charlie really believed his own hype,” Catherine Share, a then-devoted follower, will tell Los Angeles magazine

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Changes 

In December 1968, Wilson’s remarkable interview with journalist David Griffiths -- featuring perhaps the first printed mentions, outside of the police record, of Manson -- is published in the Record Mirror. The headline, “Dennis Wilson: I Live With 17 Girls,” however, is already outdated. Perhaps burned by the scorching failure of the Beach Boys’ concert tour with the Maharishi -- empty arenas, hecklers, canceled dates -- or feeling tapped out by the Manson gang, whom he’d collectively sunk as much as $100,000 into for food, clothes, doctor’s bills, recording sessions, car repairs and more in a single summer, Wilson is done with the guru scene. 

But rather than ask Manson and his followers to move out of 14400 W. Sunset Blvd, Wilson in late summer moves himself out, to an apartment elsewhere in the Palisades. The Manson Family, as the group will be known to the world in about a year’s time, remains at Wilson’s old house, until, that is, the lease expires and they’re evicted. They’ll remain in Los Angeles, but barely, about 25 miles north, as squatters at Spahn Ranch, a 500-acre property in Chatsworth frequently used as a desolate-looking location for Hollywood Westerns. 

By all accounts, Manson takes the relocation in stride -- easy come, easy go. Then on Dec. 3, the Beach Boys issue the first single, “Bluebirds over the Mountain,” from their new album, 20/20. The song’s flip side, or companion cut, is “Never Learn Not to Love.” The song is credited to Dennis Wilson, but it’s really a reworking of a Manson piece, “Cease to Exist.” 

Manson is not a fan.

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Sweet inspiration

It’s February 1969. 10050 Cielo Drive has new tenants: With Terry Melcher and Candice Bergen having relocated to Malibu about a month earlier, Sharon Tate and Roman Polanski sign a rental agreement for the house on Feb. 12, and move in three days later, according to Helter Skelter, the landmark account of the Manson Family investigation by prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi and Curt Gentry. The couple will pay $1,200 a month for what Tate calls her and Polanski’s “love house.”

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Games people play

On the April 16, 1969, broadcast of The Mike Douglas Show, a daytime-variety series, the musical guest the Beach Boys performs “Never Learn Not to Love.” Dennis Wilson takes the spotlight on lead vocals. Spahn Ranch doesn’t have heat, so maybe it doesn’t have antenna-TV, either. We don’t know if Manson sees Wilson, with whom he’d stayed in contact, post-eviction, perform his song before millions. We do know from a later Manson interview that he’ll leave a bullet on Wilson’s bed -- a sign of his displeasure for Wilson having changed, or “remodelled,” as Beach Boys singer Mike Love will put it, his song. (In a 1970 Rolling Stone interview, Manson brushes off the incident: “I had a pocket full of bullets, so I gave him one.)

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But according to a Rolling Stone account of the Manson-Wilson rift, Manson keeps himself in check because he’s got his eye on the prize: Terry Melcher, the A-list music producer.

Manson has come into Melcher’s orbit through Wilson, and he wants the producer to produce him.

Leaving on a jet plane

In spring 1969, Tate and Polanski are expecting their first child. Looking to squeeze in work before her pregnancy shows, Tate prepares to fly to Rome, where she’ll film a new movie, Twelve Plus One. The production will also be shot in London, where Polanski is working on a script. 

On March 23, as recounted in Helter Skelter, while Tate packs in the main house at Cielo Drive, a man knocks on the door of the guest house. Rudi Altobelli, the Hollywood talent manager who owns the estate, and stays in the guest house when he’s in town, answers the door. 

It’s Manson. 

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As recounted in Helter Skelter, Altobelli is familiar with Manson -- he’s seen him at Dennis Wilson’s, playing music. 

Altobelli greets Charlie, as he calls him, and asks why he’s at his door, instead of the main house. Manson tells him the “people” there -- Tate, Jay Sebring, Abigail Folger and Voytek Frykowski, Altobelli will relate -- sent him to the guest house. In any case, the important thing, the reason Manson’s there this time: He’s looking for Terry Melcher. (On trial for murder in 1970, Manson will testify he’d been at, though not inside, the Cielo Drive home a total of “five or six” times. He apparently doesn’t elaborate as to why.) 

Altobelli tells Manson that Melcher has moved to Malibu. Manson leaves. 

Later, as Tate and Altobelli share a flight to Europe, the actress asks Altobelli, “Did that creepy-looking guy come back there yesterday?” 

Something in the air

It’s May 1969. Terry Melcher cedes to Manson’s overtures, and comes to Spahn Ranch. It’s not the producer’s first time at the guru’s makeshift compound, but it’ll be his last. Even if Neil Young will one day note in his memoir about Manson, the singer-songwriter, being “quite good,” Melcher hasn’t been sufficiently impressed. It’s a hard pass. Manson and him are not happening. (“Melcher thought it was nothing,” Rolling Stone will report in 1970 on the producer’s assessment.) 

Manson is not happy, but, as they say in Hollywood, he’s got other projects. The "virulent racist," as future biographer Jeff Guinn will describe him, has been talking more and more about jumpstarting what he sees as the coming race war between white and black America. The time for “Helter Skelter,” as he has dubbed his philosophy, if that’s what you’d call it, is near.

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Time of the season

On Aug. 6, 1969, at a little before 11 a.m., according to an arrest report recounted by the Manson Family public-record site, CieloDrive.com, a California Highway Patrol officer rolls up on a Fiat station wagon parked along the side of the Highway 101 in central California’s San Luis Obispo. There’s a man in a sleeping bag in the back seat. The man doesn’t have proper identification, and he doesn’t have a good explanation as to how he came to be in a vehicle that’s registered to Gary Hinman, a Los Angeles-area musician and music teacher who, as a relative will one day tell People, “was an eclectic person” who easily befriended people -- and who was found slaughtered in his Topanga home about two weeks prior.  

The man’s name is Robert Kenneth Beausoleil. He used to live with Hinman. Now he lists his address as 14400 W. Sunset Blvd., the old Dennis Wilson hang. Beausoleil (pictured, below) is arrested for murder -- a Manson Family first. 

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Everyday people

Sharon Tate is going to name the baby Paul after her Army intelligence officer father. Paul Richard Polanski -- that’ll be his full name. Tate and Roman Polanski will meet him soon enough. He’s due in two weeks. 

Today is Friday, Aug. 8, 1969. It’s hot. The Los Angeles forecast calls for clouds and a high of 94. 

In the morning, Tate and Polanski talk by phone. He’s still in London. She’s back at 10050 Cielo Drive. 

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“She told me that they had found a wild kitten, and they were trying to feed it with an eyedropper, and they were keeping him in the bathtub because he was absolutely wild, jumping on people, etc.,” Polanski will relate of their conversation to Playboy a couple of years later. 

It’s not clear who “they” is, though Tate is not without company while Polanski’s away. The director’s friend Voytek Frykowski, 32, is staying at Cielo Drive while he writes. Frykowski’s girlfriend, Abigail Folger, who is due to turn 26 on the following Monday, is living there, too. There are house staff, gardeners -- and visitors, too: actresses Joanna Pettet (1967’s Casino Royale) and Barbara “Bobo” Lewis (The Monkees, Bewitched) lunch with Tate in the afternoon. Tate shows her friends the nursery that awaits baby Paul. A couple of hours after Pettet and Lewis depart, Jay Sebring, 35, arrives. 

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Tate’s ex-fiancé, Sebring has remained friends with the married star. With Polanski’s blessing, he’s a frequent visitor to Cielo Drive.  

Tonight, Sebring makes reservations for the four Cielo Drive regulars -- himself, Tate, Fyrkowski and Folger -- to dine out at El Coyote, the red-boothed, classic L.A. Mexican restaurant on Beverly Boulevard, a 15-20-minute drive down the canyon. The group arrives, hangs at the bar as they await their table, and then dines. Around 10 p.m., they head back to Cielo Drive.

After hours

At about 11 p.m., on Aug. 8, 1969, his night shift at Jonas Miller Stereo on Wilshire Boulevard behind him, Steven Parent packs a Sony Digimatic clock radio  -- a state-of-the-art device for 1969 -- into his father’s white AMC Rambler. Parent hits the road from El Monte, per Helter Skelter. (A San Gabriel Valley Tribune account says he departs from the stereo shop.) All major accounts agree on this point: Parent is headed off to try to sell the clock radio to his friend, William Garretson. The 19-year-old Garretson (pictured, below) works as a live-in caretaker at 10050 Cielo Drive. 

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Let it bleed

Does he do it to throw the police off the trail of Beausoleil, one of his loyalists? Does he do it to strike fear in Terry Melcher? Does he do it because he can, because the one the Family calls Jesus Christ can do anything? Or, does he do it to serve “Helter Skelter”? Prosecutors will successfully argue the last one at his eventual murder trial. Their bottom line: He does it. 

Manson orders four members of the Family -- Dennis Wilson’s old acquaintance Patricia Krenwinkle, Charles “Tex” Watson, Susan Atkins and Linda Kasabian -- to drive to 10050 Cielo Drive. Their mission: Kill everyone inside. 

Dismal day

At about 8 a.m., on Aug. 9, 1969, Winifred Chapman, the housekeeper at Cielo Drive, reports to work, but she finds a crime scene instead. Tate, Sebring, Folger, Frykowski and Parent, slain in his Rambler as he headed out and down the driveway, have been shot, stabbed and beaten. Garretson, as Helter Skelter will put it, is the "only person still alive on the premises." Police don’t think he’s lucky; police think he’s the killer. Garretson is arrested.  

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Evil ways

Back at Spahn Ranch, Manson wants a do-over. The Hinman killing, which he ordered for reasons that remain murky to this day, was a protracted affair. The Cielo Drive killings weren’t efficient, either. Maybe the kill team on that one had told Manson about how Frykowski and Folger ran for their lives, and had to be chased down on the lawn, or how Tate begged the knife-wielding Susan Atkins to spare the life of her unborn baby. Manson determines to set things right, as it were. On the night of Aug. 9, 1969, Manson rounds up Tex Watson (pictured, below), Susan Atkins, Linda Kasabian and Leslie Van Houten. They hit the road.

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Get back

Frank Struthers Jr., 14, is having too much fun at the Kern County, California, reservoir to leave. His mother, Rosemary LaBianca, agrees to let him stay an extra day with a friend. She, husband Leno LaBianca and Suzan Struthers, Frank’s sister and Rosemary’s child from a previous marriage, however, are calling it a wrap on the family weekend. Bound for Los Angeles, some 150 miles south, they hit the road. 

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The worst that could happen

At about 1 a.m. on Sunday, per the timeline as presented in Helter Skelter, the LaBiancas and Struthers arrive in their L.A. neighborhood of Los Feliz. Suzan Struthers lives in an apartment at 4616 Greenwood Place, the future main exterior for TV’s Melrose Place. The LaBiancas drop her off there.  

Next, the LaBiancas stop at a local newsstand. Leno LaBianca buys a newspaper. Finally, they drive to their own home: on Waverly Drive -- 3301 Waverly Drive. 

Manson, meanwhile, pulls an address out of his head, and directs Kasabian, the Family’s driver on this night as last, to his old pal Harold True’s house. That True and his friends had vacated the rental about a year earlier is immaterial. Manson, the ever-resourceful career criminal, enters the home: It’s empty. Undeterred, Manson moves on to the house next door. The house at 3301 Waverly Drive. 

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Aftermath: Carry that weight

Bad things that can happen to anyone put everyone on edge. “Toilets are flushing all over Beverly Hills -- the entire Los Angeles sewer system is stoned,” an unnamed Hollywoodista tells Life magazine weeks after the Tate slayings. It’s speculated -- if not feared -- that the actress, her friends and the in-the-wrong-place-at-the-wrong-time Steven Parent were killed by drug dealers. (Garretson, who passes a lie-detector test, is cleared and released from custody within a day’s time.) There’s a larger assumption that a quirk or kink in the victims’ lifestyles -- or maybe in Polanski’s dark films -- is responsible. 

“This must be the world-famous orgy house,” Polanski says bitterly as he visits the still-blood-splattered Cielo Drive with a Life reporter in late August 1969. 

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If the LaBiancas don’t fit the Hollywood-hedonism-gone-bad narrative, then no matter: They don’t fit into the narrative at all. Despite the victims of Cielo and Waverly being similarly butchered, and White Album-inspired scrawlings being similarly left behind in blood (“Pig” at Cielo; “Death to pigs” at Waverly), it’ll take police months to link the Tate killings to the LaBianca killings, and then to the Hinman case (“Political piggy” was left behind, in blood, at Hinman’s house.) 

The killers will be caught by unlikely twists and turns themselves: Chief among them, in October 1969, authorities, acting on tip related to stolen cars, raid a property in California’s Death Valley. It’s called Barker Ranch, and it’s where the Family has relocated after their life at Spahn Ranch has soured (and Spahn Ranch ranch hand Donald “Shorty” Shea has gone missing and soon be presumed dead). Among those arrested in the sweep is Susan Atkins. While in custody, the 21-year-old is implicated in the Hinman murder. But the bigger picture still isn’t clear until Atkins gets chatty -- very chatty. She tells her cellmates all about Tate, LaBianca, herself, her cohorts -- and Manson. By December 1969, the puzzle pieces are assembled, and the blame for the Aug. 9-10 killings is placed where it belongs: with the Manson Family. 

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Susan Atkins, Robert Beausoleil, Tex Watson, Patricia Krenwinkel, Leslie Van Houten, Steve “Clem” Grogan, Bruce Davis and Manson will be convicted for their respective roles in the summer of ‘69 slayings that, with Shea’s and Hinman’s, total nine. (Linda Kasabian, who did not actively participate in the Tate and LaBianca killings, will be granted immunity from prosecution in exchange for her testimony.) Manson and Atkins will die in jail -- in 2017 and 2009, respectively. All the rest, save for Grogan, who was paroled in 1985 for assisting in the location of Donald Shea’s remains, remain in prison. 

Fifty years on, just as there’s no approaching milestone birthday for Paul Richard Polanski, there’s no closure for those swept up in the awful saga of chance. 

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“We went from Happy Days to hell in one weekend,” Lou Smaldino, a nephew of the LaBiancas told the Los Angeles Times in 2017. “The fork that they stabbed Leno with was from the carving set we used for our Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners. I can see that… To this day, I can see that in my mind.”

We don’t know if or how often Dennis Wilson thought back to that day in Malibu, the one when he did a solid for a couple of hitchhikers. In 1976, Wilson swore to Rolling Stone he’d “never talk about that,” meaning Manson. He never did. A broken, substance-abusing Wilson drowned in 1983 at the age of 39. The death was ruled an accident.