“I’m the devil. I’m here to do the devil’s business”
On Friday 8 August 1969 the temperature in California reached 33°C (92°F). The heat wave had lasted for three days and the residents of Los Angeles were worried. At a house at 10050 Cielo Drive, rented by the film director Roman Polanksi, was his heavily pregnant wife actress Sharon Tate, her former boyfriend Jay Sebring, Polanski’s friend Wojiciech “Voytek” Frykowski and his girlfriend, coffee heiress Abigail Anne “Gibby” Folger. Around 6pm 16-year-old Debbie Tate rang and asked her sister if she could visit but Sharon put her off and also cancelled a dinner party invitation she had for that night. After dinner at a Mexican restaurant, the four returned to the house. Folger went to her bedroom, took the stimulant MDA and began to read. Frykowski also took the drug and listened to music in the living room. Sharon Tate lay on her bed in a bikini, chatting to Sebring. He drank beer and smoked a joint.
Outside the house were four black-clad members of Charles Manson’s so-called “Family” of hippies and dropouts. They were former topless dancer, bar hustler and practising satanist Susan “Sadie” Atkins, Charles “Tex” Watson, former Sunday School teacher and insurance clerk Patricia “Katie” Krenwinkel, and Linda Drouin Kasabian who later became a prosecution witness.
After cutting the telephone lines, they first murdered 18-year-old Steven Parent, the caretaker. Watson levered open a window and climbed into the house, letting his accomplices in via the front door. Watson shook awake Frykowski, telling him: “I’m the devil. I’m here to do the devil’s business.” He then kicked Frykowski in the head. Atkins wandered around the house and saw Folger reading in bed. The coffee heiress looked up, smiled and waved. Atkins returned to the greeting and then found Sharon’s room, before she went back to report to Watson. He gave Atkins a rope and she tied up Frykowski and then went to fetch Folger, Sharon and Sebring. Watson took another rope, tied Sebring’s wrists and then put the rope around his neck before throwing the end over a ceiling beam. The other end he put around Sharon’s neck. The four were ordered to lie face down and Sharon began to weep.
Sebring protested at the treatment of his former lover and was shot in the left armpit by Watson for his troubles. He then tied Folger’s hands with a length of the rope that bound Sharon’s neck. He tied it around Sebring’s neck and, when he pulled it, Sharon and Folger had to stand on their toes to avoid being strangled. When Sebring moaned, Watson rushed to him and began to stab and kick him until he made no more noise. Frykowski made a dash for freedom but was caught on the lawn where he was stabbed 51 times and shot twice. Folger was stabbed 28 times, turning her nightie red. Her body was also discovered on the front lawn. Sharon pleaded for her life and that of her unborn baby. Susan Atkins screamed at her: “Look, bitch, I don’t care about you! I don’t care if you are going to have a baby! You had better be ready. You’re going to die and I don’t feel anything about it.” Watson slashed his knife towards Sharon’s face and Atkins began a stabbing frenzy. She took hold of Sharon’s limp body, cradled it in her arms, put her hand onto Sharon’s breast and then licked the blood from her fingers.
The four left but then remembered one of Manson’s instructions. They drove back to the house and daubed the word “Pig” in Sharon’s blood on the front door. Doctors estimated Sharon’s baby, named Richard Paul on his gravestone, lived around 20 minutes after his mother’s murder. Around 8.30am the next day housekeeper Winifred Chapman discovered the bodies. The police were alerted at 9.14am.
That night the four killers, plus Manson and Family member Leslie Sue Van Houten, set off to create more mayhem in Los Angeles. They butchered wealthy supermarket boss Leno LaBianca and his wife, Rosemary, at their home 3301 Waverley Drive, near Griffith Park. Despite finding “Death to Pigs” written in Mr LaBianca’s blood at the scene, police didn’t link the two sets of murders. They believed the Tate murders were related to the burgeoning drug culture and the LaBianca killings had been committed by copycats.
10050 Cielo Drive, Bel Air; 3301 Waverley Drive, Los Angeles, California, USA
Friday 8-Saturday 9 August 1969
In mid August police raided the Family’s Spahn Ranch and 26 arrests were made but all were released the next day. A lucky break finally led to the capture of the Family and they began to talk about the murders while in custody. On 1 December 1969 Watson, Krenwinkel and Kasabian were charged with murder.
Later Manson, Atkins and Van Houten were similarly charged. Their trial began on 15 June 1970 and they were all sentenced to death on 19 April 1971. Before the sentences could be carried out the State of California abolished the death penalty and the punishments were commuted to life imprisonment. Doris Tate, Sharon’s mother, attended parole hearings for Tex Watson and Susan Atkins. Watson, who has fathered three children since being incarcerated, was denied parole in 1985. Atkins, like Watson, claimed to have found God but Mrs Tate said to her: “You’re an excellent actress — the greatest since Sarah Bernhardt.” In 1990 Watson again applied for parole and again Mrs Tate turned up. Amazingly, one of those supporting his application was the daughter of Rosemary LaBianca.
Doris Tate reminded the hearing of the words spoken by Watson as he entered her daughter’s home: “I’m the devil. I’m here to do the devil’s business.” “As far as I am concerned, Mr Watson,” she said, “you are still in business. Whatmercy, sir, did you show my daughter when she was begging for her life? For 21 years I have wanted to ask this prisoner ‘Why?’ He did not know my daughter. How can an individual, without any feelings, slice up this woman, eight-and-a-half months pregnant? What about my family? When will Sharon come up for parole? When will I come up for parole? Can you tell me that? Will the victims walk out of their graves if you get paroled?” Watson’s application was denied. All the killers are still behind bars and the Tate family have devoted their time and energy to ensure that situation remains unchanged.