Editor's note: Vincent Bugliosi, who prosecuted Charles Manson before writing Helter Skelter, died on June 6. This excerpt appears courtesy of W.W. Norton & Company. Buy the full version of Helter Skelter here.
SATURDAY, AUGUST 9, 1969
It was so quiet, one of the killers would later say, you could almost hear the sound of ice rattling in cocktail shakers in the homes way down the canyon.
The canyons above Hollywood and Beverly Hills play tricks with sounds. A noise clearly audible a mile away may be indistinguishable at a few hundred feet.
It was hot that night, but not as hot as the night before, when the temperature hadn’t dropped below 92 degrees. The three-day heat wave had begun to break a couple of hours before, about 10 P.M. on Friday—to the psychological as well as the physical relief of those Angelenos who recalled that on such a night, just four years ago, Watts had exploded in violence. Though the coastal fog was now rolling in from the Pacific Ocean, Los Angeles itself remained hot and muggy, sweltering in its own emissions, but here, high above most of the city, and usually even above the smog, it was at least 10 degrees cooler. Still, it remained warm enough so that many residents of the area slept with their windows open, in hopes of catching a vagrant breeze.
All things considered, it’s surprising that more people didn’t hear something.
But then it was late, just after midnight, and 10050 Cielo Drive was secluded.
Being secluded, it was also vulnerable.
Cielo Drive is a narrow street that abruptly winds upward from Benedict Canyon Road. One of its cul-de-sacs, easily missed though directly opposite Bella Drive, comes to a dead end at the high gate of 10050. Looking through the gate, you could see neither the main residence nor the guest house some distance beyond it, but you could see, toward the end of the paved parking area, a corner of the garage and, a little farther on, a split-rail fence which, though it was only August, was strung with Christmas-tree lights.
The lights, which could be seen most of the way from the Sunset Strip, had been put up by actress Candice Bergen when she was living with the previous tenant of 10050 Cielo Drive, TV and record producer Terry Melcher. When Melcher, the son of Doris Day, moved to his mother’s beach house in Malibu, the new tenants left the lights up. They were on this night, as they were every night, adding a year-round holiday touch to Benedict Canyon.
From the front door of the main house to the gate was over a hundred feet. From the gate to the nearest neighbor on Cielo, 10070, was almost a hundred yards.
At 10070 Cielo, Mr. and Mrs. Seymour Kott had already gone to bed, their dinner guests having left about midnight, when Mrs. Kott heard, in close sequence, what sounded like three or four gunshots. They seemed to have come from the direction of the gate of 10050. She did not check the time but later guessed it to be between 12:30 and 1 A.M. Hearing nothing further, Mrs. Kott went to sleep.
About three-quarters of a mile directly south and downhill from 10050 Cielo Drive, Tim Ireland was one of five counselors supervising an overnight camp-out for some thirty-five children at the Westlake School for Girls. The other counselors had gone to sleep, but Ireland had volunteered to stay up through the night. At approximately 12:40 A.M. he heard from what seemed a long distance away, to the north or northeast, a solitary male voice. The man was screaming, “Oh, God, no, please don’t! Oh, God, no, don’t, don’t, don’t ...”
The scream lasted ten to fifteen seconds, then stopped, the abrupt silence almost as chilling as the cry itself. Ireland quickly checked the camp, but all the children were asleep. He awoke his supervisor, Rich Sparks, who had bedded down inside the school, and, telling him what he had heard, got his permission to drive around the area to see if anyone needed help. Ireland took a circuitous route from North Faring Road, where the school was located, south on Benedict Canyon Road to Sunset Boulevard, west to Beverly Glen, and northward back to the school. He observed nothing unusual, though he did hear a number of dogs barking.
There were other sounds in the hours before dawn that Saturday.
Emmett Steele, 9951 Beverly Grove Drive, was awakened by the barking of his two hunting dogs. The pair usually ignored ordinary sounds but went wild when they heard gunshots. Steele went out to look around but, finding nothing out of place, returned to bed. He estimated the time as between 2 and 3 A.M.
Robert Bullington, an employee of the Bel Air Patrol, a private secu- rity force used by many of the homeowners in the affluent area, was parked in front of 2175 Summit Ridge Drive, with his window down, when he heard what sounded like three shots, spaced a few seconds apart. Bullington called in; Eric Karlson, who was working the desk at patrol headquarters, logged the call at 4:11 A.M. Karlson in turn called the West Los Angeles Division of the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD), and passed on the report. The officer who took the call remarked, “I hope we don’t have a murder; we just had a woman-screaming call in that area.”
Los Angeles Times delivery boy Steve Shannon heard nothing unusual when he pedaled his bike up Cielo Drive between 4:30 and 4:45 A.M. But as he put the paper in the mailbox of 10050, he did notice what looked like a telephone wire hanging over the gate. He also observed, through the gate and some distance away, that the yellow bug light on the side of the garage was still on.
Seymour Kott also noticed the light and the fallen wire when he went out to get his paper about 7:30 A.M.
About 8 A.M., Winifred Chapman got off the bus at the intersection of Santa Monica and Canyon Drive. A light-skinned black in her mid-fifties, Mrs. Chapman was the housekeeper at 10050 Cielo, and she was upset because, thanks to L.A.’s terrible bus service, she was going to be late to work. Luck seemed with her, however; just as she was about to look for a taxi, she saw a man she had once worked with, and he gave her a ride almost to the gate.
She noticed the wire immediately, and it worried her.
In front and to the left of the gate, not hidden but not conspicuous either, was a metal pole on the top of which was the gate-control mechanism. When the button was pushed, the gate swung open. There was a similar mechanism inside the grounds, both being positioned so a driver could reach the button without having to get out of the car.
Because of the wire, Mrs. Chapman thought the electricity might be off, but when she pushed the button, the gate swung open. Taking the Times out of the mailbox, she walked hurriedly onto the property, noticing an unfamiliar automobile in the driveway, a white Rambler, parked at an odd angle. But she passed it, and several other cars nearer the garage, without much thought. Overnight guests weren’t that uncommon. Someone had left the outside light on all night, and she went to the switch at the corner of the garage and turned it off.
At the end of the paved parking area was a flagstone walkway that made a half circle to the front door of the main house. She turned right before coming to the walk, however, going to the service porch entrance at the back of the residence. The key was secreted on a rafter above the door. Taking it down, she unlocked the door and went inside, walking directly to the kitchen, where she picked up the extension phone. It was dead.
Thinking that she should alert someone that the line was down, she proceeded through the dining room toward the living room. Then she stopped suddenly, her progress impeded by two large blue steamer trunks, which hadn’t been there when she had left the previous after- noon—and by what she saw.
There appeared to be blood on the trunks, on the floor next to them, and on two towels in the entryway. She couldn’t see the entire living room—a long couch cut off the area in front of the fireplace—but everywhere she could see she saw the red splashes. The front door was ajar. Looking out, she saw several pools of blood on the flagstone porch. And, farther on, on the lawn, she saw a body.
Screaming, she turned and ran through the house, leaving the same way she had come in but, on running down the driveway, changing her course so as to reach the gate-control button. In so doing, she passed on the opposite side of the white Rambler, seeing for the first time that there was a body inside the car too.
Once outside the gate, she ran down the hill to the first house, 10070, ringing the bell and pounding on the door. When the Kotts didn’t answer, she ran to the next house, 10090, banging on that door and screaming, “Murder, death, bodies, blood!”
Fifteen-year-old Jim Asin was outside, warming up the family car. It was Saturday and, a member of Law Enforcement Unit 800 of the Boy Scouts of America, he was waiting for his father, Ray Asin, to drive him to the West Los Angeles Division of LAPD, where he was scheduled to work on the desk. By the time he got to the porch, his parents had opened the door. While they were trying to calm the hysterical Mrs. Chapman, Jim dialed the police emergency number. Trained by the Scouts to be exact, he noted the time: 8:33.
While waiting for the police, the father and son walked as far as the gate. The white Rambler was some thirty feet inside the property, too far away to make out anything inside it, but they did see that not one but several wires were down. They appeared to have been cut.
Returning home, Jim called the police a second time and, some minutes later, a third.
There is some confusion as to exactly what happened to the calls. The official police report only states, “At 0914 hours, West Lost Angeles Units 8L5 and 8L62 were given a radio call, ‘Code 2, possible homicide, 10050 Cielo Drive.’”
The units were one-man patrol cars. Officer Jerry Joe DeRosa, driving 8L5, arrived first, light flashing and siren blaring. DeRosa began interviewing Mrs. Chapman, but had a difficult time of it. Not only was she still hysterical, she was vague as to what she had seen—“blood, bodies everyplace”—and it was hard to get the names and relationships straight. Polanski. Altobelli. Frykowski.
Ray Asin, who knew the residents of 10050 Cielo, stepped in. The house was owned by Rudi Altobelli. He was in Europe, but had hired a caretaker, a young man named William Garretson, to look after the place. Garretson lived in the guest house to the back of the property. Altobelli had rented the main residence to Roman Polanksi, the movie director, and his wife. The Polanskis had gone to Europe, however, in March, and while they were away, two of their friends, Abigail Folger and Voytek Frykowski, had moved in. Mrs. Polanski had returned less than a month ago, and Frykowski and Folger were staying on with her until her husband returned. Mrs. Polanski was a movie actress. Her name was Sharon Tate.
Questioned by DeRosa, Mrs. Chapman was unable to say which, if any, of these people were the two bodies she had seen. To the names she added still another, that of Jay Sebring, a noted men’s hair stylist and a friend of Mrs. Polanski’s. She mentioned him because she remembered seeing his black Porsche with the other automobiles parked next to the garage.
Getting a rifle from his squad car, DeRosa had Mrs. Chapman show him how to open the gate. Walking cautiously up the driveway to the Rambler, he looked in the open window. There was a body inside, in the driver’s seat but slumped toward the passenger side. Male, Caucasian, reddish hair, plaid shirt, blue denim pants, both shirt and pants drenched with blood. He appeared to be young, probably in his teens.
About this time Unit 8L62, driven by Officer William T. Whisenhunt, pulled up outside the gate. DeRosa walked back and told him he had a possible homicide. DeRosa also showed him how to open the gate, and the two officers proceeded up the driveway, DeRosa still carrying his rifle, Whisenhunt a shotgun. As Whisenhunt passed the Rambler, he looked in, noting that the window on the driver’s side was down and both lights and ignition were off. The pair then checked out the other automobiles and, finding them empty, searched both the garage and the room above it. Still no one.
A third officer, Robert Burbridge, caught up with them. As the three men reached the end of the parking area, they saw not one but two inert forms on the lawn. From a distance they looked like mannequins that had been dipped in red paint, then tossed haphazardly on the grass.
They seemed grotesquely out of place on the well-cared-for lawn, with its landscaped shrubbery, flowers, and trees. To the right was the residence itself, long, rambling, looking more comfortable than ostentatious, the carriage light outside the main door shining brightly. Farther on, past the south end of the house, they could see a corner of the swimming pool, shimmering blue green in the morning light. Off to the side was a rustic wishing well. To the left was a split-rail fence, intertwined with Christmas-tree lights, still on. And beyond the fence was a sweeping, panoramic view that stretched all the way from downtown Los Angeles to the beach. Out there life was still going on. Here it had stopped.
The first body was eighteen to twenty feet past the front door of the residence. The closer they came, the worse it looked. Male, Caucasian,probably in his thirties, about five feet ten, wearing short boots, multi-colored bell bottoms, purple shirt, casual vest. He was lying on his side, his head resting on his right arm, his left hand clutching the grass. His head and face were horribly battered, his torso and limbs punctured by literally dozens of wounds. It seemed inconceivable that so much savagery could be inflicted on one human being.
The second body was about twenty-five feet beyond the first. Female, Caucasian, long dark hair, probably in her late twenties. She was lying supine, her arms thrown out. Barefoot, she was wearing a full-length nightgown, which, before the many stab wounds, had probably been white.
The stillness now got to the officers. Everything was quiet, too quiet. The serenity itself became menacing. Those windows along the front of the house: behind any a killer could be waiting, watching.
Leaving DeRosa on the lawn, Whisenhunt and Burbridge went back toward the north end of the residence, looking for another way to get in. They’d be open targets if they entered the front door. They noticed that a screen had been removed from one of the front windows and was leaning up against the side of the building. Whisenhunt also observed a horizontal slit along the bottom of the screen. Suspecting this might have been where the killer or killers entered, they looked for another means of entry. They found a window open on the side. Looking in, they saw what appeared to be a newly painted room, devoid of furniture. They climbed in.
DeRosa waited until he saw them inside the house, then approached the front door. There was a patch of blood on the walk, between the hedges; several more on the right-hand corner of the porch; with still others just outside and to the left of the door and on the doorjamb itself. He didn’t see, or later didn’t recall, any footprints, though there were a number. The door being open, inward, DeRosa was on the porch before he noticed that something had been scrawled on its lower half.
Printed in what appeared to be blood were three letters: PIG.
Whisenhunt and Burbridge had finished checking out the kitchen and dining room when DeRosa entered the hallway. Turning left into the liv- ing room, he found his way partly blocked by the two blue steamer trunks. It appeared that they had been standing on end, then knocked over, as one was leaning against the other. DeRosa also observed, next to the trunks and on the floor, a pair of horn-rimmed glasses. Burbridge, who followed him into the room, noticed something else: on the carpet, to the left of the entrance, were two small pieces of wood. They looked like pieces of a broken gun grip.
They had arrived expecting two bodies, but had found three. They were now looking not for more death, but some explanation. A suspect. Clues.
The room was light and airy. Desk, chair, piano. Then something odd. In the center of the room, facing the fireplace, was a long couch. Draped over the back was a huge American flag.
Not until they were almost to the couch did they see what was on the other side.
She was young, blond, very pregnant. She lay on her left side, directly in front of the couch, her legs tucked up toward her stomach in a fetal position. She wore a flowered bra and matching bikini panties, but the pattern was almost indistinguishable because of the blood, which looked as if it had been smeared over her entire body. A white nylon rope was looped around her neck twice, one end extending over a rafter in the ceiling, the other leading across the floor to still another body, that of a man, which was about four feet away.
The rope was also looped twice around the man’s neck, the loose end going under his body, then extending several feet beyond. A bloody towel covered his face, hiding his features. He was short, about five feet six, and was lying on his right side, his hands bunched up near his head as if still warding off blows. His clothing—blue shirt, white pants with black vertical stripes, wide modish belt, black boots—was blood-drenched.
None of the officers thought about checking either body for a pulse. As with the body in the car and the pair on the lawn, it was so obviously unnecessary.
Although DeRosa, Whisenhunt, and Burbridge were patrolmen, not homicide detectives, each, at some time in the course of his duties, had seen death. But nothing like this. 10050 Cielo Drive was a human slaughterhouse.
Shaken, the officers fanned out to search the rest of the house. There was a loft above the living room. DeRosa climbed up the wooden ladder and nervously peeked over the top, but saw no one. A hallway connected the living room with the south end of the residence. There was blood in the hall in two places. To the left, just past one of the spots, was a bedroom, the door of which was open. The blankets and pillows were rumpled and clothing strewn about, as if someone—possibly the night- gown-clad woman on the lawn—had already undressed and gone to bed before the killer or killers appeared. Sitting atop the headboard of the bed, his legs hanging down, was a toy rabbit, ears cocked as if quizzically surveying the scene. There was no blood in this room, nor any evidence of a struggle.
Across the hall was the master bedroom. Its door was also open, as were the louvered doors at the far end of the room, beyond which could be seen the swimming pool.
This bed was larger and neater, the white spread turned back to reveal a gaily flowered top sheet and a white bottom sheet with a gold geometric pattern. In the center of the bed, rather than across the top, were two pillows, dividing the side that had been slept on from the side that hadn’t. Across the room, facing the bed, was a TV set, on each side of which was a handsome armoire. On top of one was a white bassinet.
Cautiously, adjoining doors were opened: dressing room, closet, bath, closet. Again no signs of a struggle. The telephone on the nightstand next to the bed was on the hook. Nothing overturned or upset.
However, there was blood on the inside left side of the louvered French door, suggesting that someone, again possibly the woman on the lawn, had run out this way, attempting to escape.
Stepping outside, the officers were momentarily blinded by the glare from the pool. Asin had mentioned a guest house behind the main residence. They spotted it now, or rather the corner of it, some sixty feet to the southeast, through the shrubbery.
Approaching it quietly, they heard the first sounds they had heard since coming onto the premises: the barking of a dog, and a male voice saying, “Shhh, be quiet.”
Whisenhunt went to the right, around the back of the house. DeRosa turned left, proceeding around the front, Burbridge following as backup. Stepping onto the screened-in porch, DeRosa could see, in the living room, on a couch facing the front door, a youth of about eighteen. He was wearing pants but no shirt, and though he did not appear to be armed, this did not mean, DeRosa would later explain, that he didn’t have a weapon nearby.
Yelling “Freeze!,” DeRosa kicked in the front door.
Startled, the boy looked up to see one, then, moments later, three guns pointing directly at him. Christopher, Altobelli’s large Weimaraner, charged Whisenhunt, chomping the end of his shotgun. Whisenhunt slammed the porch door on his head, then held him trapped there until the youth called him off.
As to what then happened, there are contrary versions.
The youth, who identified himself as William Garretson, the caretaker, would later state that the officers knocked him down, handcuffed him, yanked him to his feet, dragged him outside onto the lawn, then knocked him down again.
DeRosa would later be asked, re Garretson:
Q. “Did he fall or stumble to the floor at any time?”
A. “He may have; I don’t recall whether he did or not.”
Q. “Did you direct him to lay on the ground outside?”
A. “I directed him, yes, to lay on the ground, yes.”
Q. “Did you help him to the ground?”
A. “No, he went down on his own.”
Garretson kept asking, “What’s the matter? What’s the matter?” One of the officers replied, “We’ll show you!” and, pulling him to his feet, DeRosa and Burbridge escorted him back along the path toward the main house.
Whisenhunt remained behind, looking for weapons and blood- stained clothing. Though he found neither, he did notice many small details of the scene. One at the time seemed so insignificant that he forgot it until later questioning brought it back to mind. There was a stereo next to the couch. It had been off when they entered the room. Looking at the controls, Whisenhunt noticed that the volume setting was between 4 and 5.
Garretson, meantime, had been led past the two bodies on the lawn. It was indicative of the condition of the first, the young woman, that he mistakenly identified her as Mrs. Chapman, the Negro maid. As for the man, he identified him as “the young Polanski.” If, as Chapman and Asin had said, Polanski was in Europe, this made no sense. What the officers couldn’t know was that Garretson believed Voytek Frykowski to be Roman Polanski’s younger brother. Garretson failed completely when it came to identifying the young man in the Rambler.
At some point, no one recalls exactly when, Garretson was informed of his rights and told that he was under arrest for murder. Asked about his activities the previous night, he said that although he had remained up all night, writing letters and listening to records, he had neither heard nor seen anything. His highly unlikely alibi, his “vague, unrealistic” replies, and his confused identification of the bodies led the arresting officers to conclude that the suspect was lying.
Five murders—four of them probably occurring less than a hundred feet away—and he had heard nothing?
Escorting Garretson down the driveway, DeRosa located the gate-control mechanism on the pole inside the gate. He noticed that there was blood on the button.
The logical inference was that someone, quite possibly the killer, had pressed the button to get out, in so doing very likely leaving a fingerprint.
Officer DeRosa, who was charged with securing and protecting the scene until investigating officers arrived, now pressed the button himself, successfully opening the gate but also creating a superimposure that obliterated any print that may have been there.
Later DeRosa would be questioned regarding this:
Q. “Was there some reason why you placed your finger on the bloody button that operated the gate?”
A. “So that I could go through the gate.”
Q. “And that was intentionally done?”
A. “I had to get out of there.”
It was 9:40. DeRosa called in, reporting five deaths and a suspect in custody. While Burbridge remained behind at the residence, awaiting the arrival of the investigating officers, DeRosa and Whisenhunt drove Garretson to the West Los Angeles police station for questioning. Another officer took Mrs. Chapman there also, but she was so hysterical she had to be driven to the UCLA Medical Center and given sedation.
In response to DeRosa’s call, four West Los Angeles detectives were dispatched to the scene. Lieutenant R. C. Madlock, Lieutenant J. J. Gregoire, Sergeant F. Gravante, and Sergeant T. L. Rogers would all arrive within the next hour. By the time the last pulled up, the first reporters were already outside the gate.
Monitoring the police radio bands, they had picked up the report of five deaths. It was hot and dry in Los Angeles, and fire was a constant concern, especially in the hills, where within minutes lives and property could vanish in an inferno. Someone apparently presumed the five people had been killed in a fire. Jay Sebring’s name must have been mentioned in one of the police calls, because a reporter phoned his residence and asked his but- ler, Amos Russell, if he knew anything about “the deaths by fire.” Russell called John Madden, president of Sebring International, and told him about the call. Madden was concerned: neither he nor Sebring’s secretary had heard from the hair stylist since late the previous afternoon. Madden placed a call to Sharon Tate’s mother in San Francisco. Sharon’s father, a colonel in Army Intelligence, was stationed at nearby Fort Baker and Mrs. Tate was visiting him. No, she hadn’t heard from Sharon. Or Jay, who was due in San Francisco sometime that same day.
Prior to her marriage to Roman Polanski, Sharon Tate had lived with Jay Sebring. Though thrown over for the Polish film director, Sebring had remained friends with Sharon’s parents, as well as Sharon and Roman, and whenever he was in San Francisco he usually called Colonel Tate.
When Madden hung up, Mrs. Tate called Sharon’s number. The phone rang and rang, but there was no answer.
It was quiet inside the house. Though anyone who called got a ringing signal, the phones were still out. Officer Joe Granado, a forensic chemist with SID, the Scientific Investigation Division of LAPD, was already at work, having arrived about 10 A.M. It was Granado’s job to take samples from wherever there appeared to be blood. Usually, on a murder case, Granado would be done in an hour or two. Not today. Not at 10050 Cielo Drive.
Mrs. Tate called Sandy Tennant, a close friend of Sharon’s and the wife of William Tennant, Roman Polanski’s business manager. No, neither she nor Bill had heard from Sharon since late the previous afternoon. At that time Sharon had said that she, Gibby (Abigail Folger), and Voytek (Frykowski) were staying in that night. Jay had said he’d be dropping over later, and she invited Sandy to join them. No party was planned, just a quiet evening at home. Sandy, just over the chicken pox, had declined. Like Mrs. Tate, she had tried to call Sharon that morning but had received no answer.
Sandy assured Mrs. Tate that there was probably no connection between the report of the fire and 10050 Cielo Drive. However, just as soon as Mrs. Tate hung up, Sandy put in a call to her husband’s tennis club and had him paged. It was important, she said.
Sometime between 10 and 11 A.M., Raymond Kilgrow, a telephone company representative, climbed the pole outside the gate to 10050 Cielo Drive and found that four phone wires had been cut. The cuts were close to the attachment on the pole, indicating that the person responsible had probably climbed the pole too. Kilgrow repaired two of the wires, leaving the others for the detectives to examine.
Police cars were arriving every few minutes now. And as more officers visited the scene, that scene changed.
The horn-rimmed glasses, first observed by DeRosa, Whisenhunt, and Burbridge near the two trunks, had somehow moved six feet away, to the top of the desk.
Two pieces of gun grip, first seen near the entryway, were now under a chair in the living room. As stated in the official LAPD report: “They were apparently kicked under the chair by one of the original officers on the scene; however, no one is copping out.”
A third piece of gun grip, smaller than the others, was later found on the front porch.
And one or more officers tracked blood from inside the residence onto the front porch and walk, adding several more bloody footprints to those already there. In an attempt to identify and eliminate the later additions, it would be necessary to interview all the personnel who had visited the scene, asking each if he had been wearing boots, shoes with smooth or rippled soles, and so on.
Granado was still taking blood samples. Later, in the police lab, he would give them the Ouchterlony test, to determine if the blood was animal or human. If human, other tests would be applied to determine the blood type—A, B, AB, or O—and the subtype. There are some thirty blood subtypes; however, if the blood is already dry when the sample is taken, it is only possible to determine whether it is one of three—M, N, or MN. It had been a warm night, and it was already turning into another hot day. By the time Granado got to work, most of the blood, except for the pools near the bodies inside, had already dried.
Within the next several days Granado would obtain from the Coroner’s Office a blood sample from each of the victims, and would attempt to match these with the samples he’d already collected. In an ordinary murder case the presence of two blood types at the crime scene might indicate that the killer, as well as the victim, had been wounded, information which could be an important clue to the killer’s identity.
But this was no ordinary murder. Instead of one body, there were five.
There was so much blood, in fact, that Granado overlooked some spots. On the right side of the front porch, as approached from the walk, there were several large pools of blood. Granado took a sample from only one spot, presuming, he later said, all were the same. Just to the right of the porch, the shrubbery appeared broken, as if someone had fallen into the bushes. Blood splatters there seemed to bear this out. Granado missed these. Nor did he take samples from the pools of blood in the immediate vicinity of the two bodies in the living room, or from the stains near the two bodies on the lawn, presuming, he’d later testify, that they belonged to the nearest victims, and he’d be getting samples from the coroner anyway.
Granado took a total of forty-five blood samples. However, for some reason never explained, he didn’t run subtypes on twenty-one of them. If this is not done a week or two after collection, the components of the blood break down.
Later, when an attempt was made to re-create the murders, these omissions would cause many problems.
Just before noon William Tennant arrived, still dressed in tennis clothes, and was escorted through the gate by the police. It was like being led through a nightmare, as he was taken first to one body, then another. He didn’t recognize the young man in the automobile. But he identified the man on the lawn as Voytek Frykowski, the woman as Abigail Folger, and the two bodies in the living room as Sharon Tate Polanski and, tentatively, Jay Sebring. When the police lifted the bloody towel, the man’s face was so badly contused Tennant couldn’t be sure. Then he went outside and was sick.
When the police photographer finished his work, another officer got sheets from the linen closet and covered the bodies.
Beyond the gate the reporters and photographers now numbered in the dozens, with more arriving every few minutes. Police and press cars so hopelessly jammed Cielo Drive that several officers were detailed to try and untangle them. As Tennant pushed through the crowd, clutching his stomach and sobbing, the reporters hurled questions at him: “Is Sharon dead?” “Were they murdered?” “Has anyone informed Roman Polanski?” He ignored them, but they read the answers on his face.
Not everyone who visited the scene was as reluctant to talk. “It’s like a battlefield up there,” police sergeant Stanley Klorman told reporters, his features grim with the shock of what he had seen. Another officer, unidentified, said, “It looked ritualistic,” this single remark providing the basis for an incredible amount of bizarre speculation.
Like the shock waves from an earthquake, news of the murders spread.
“FIVE SLAIN IN BEL AIR,” read the headline on the first AP wire story. Though sent out before the identity of the victims had become known, it correctly reported the location of the bodies; that the telephone lines had been cut; and the arrest of an unnamed suspect. There were errors: one, to be much repeated, that “one victim had a hood over his head ...”
LAPD notified the Tates, John Madden, who in turn notified Sebring’s parents, and Peter Folger, Abigail’s father. Abigail’s socially prominent parents were divorced. Her father, chairman of the board of the A. J. Folger Coffee Company, lived in Woodside, her mother, Inez Mijia Folger, in San Francisco. However, Mrs. Folger was not at home but in Connecticut, visiting friends following a Mediterranean cruise, and Mr. Folger reached her there. She couldn’t believe it; she had talked to Abigail at about ten the previous night. Both mother and daughter had planned to fly to San Francisco today, for a reunion, Abigail having made a reservation on the 10 A.M. United flight.
On reaching home, William Tennant made what was, for him, the most difficult call. He was not only Polanski’s business manager but a close friend. Tennant checked his watch, automatically adding nine hours to get London time. Though it would be late in the evening, he guessed that Polanski might still be working, trying to tie up his various film projects before returning home the following Tuesday, and he tried the number of his town house. He guessed right. Polanski and several associates were going over a scene in the script of The Day of the Dolphin when the telephone rang.
Polanski would remember the conversation as follows:
“Roman, there’s been a disaster in a house.”
“Your house.” Then, in a rush, “Sharon is dead, and Voytek and Gibby and Jay.”
“No, no, no, no!” Surely there was a mistake. Both men now crying, Tennant reiterated that it was true; he had gone to the house himself.
“How?” Polanski asked. He was thinking, he later said, not of fire but a landslide, a not uncommon thing in the Los Angeles hills, especially after heavy rains; sometimes whole houses were buried, which meant that perhaps they could still be alive. Only then did Tennant tell him that they had been murdered.
Voytek Frykowski, LAPD learned, had a son in Poland but no relatives in the United States. The youth in the Rambler remained unidentified, but was no longer nameless; he had been designated John Doe 85.
The news spread quickly—and with it the rumors. Rudi Altobelli, owner of the Cielo property and business manager for a number of show- business personalities, was in Rome. One of his clients, a young actress, called and told him that Sharon and four others had been murdered in his house and that Garretson, the caretaker he had hired, had confessed.
Garretson hadn’t, but Altobelli would not learn this until after he returned to the United States.
The specialists had begun arriving about noon.
Officers Jerrome A. Boen and D.L. Girt, Latent Prints Section, Scientific Investigation Division, LAPD, dusted the main residence and the guest house for prints.
After dusting a print with powder (“developing the print”), a clear adhesive tape was placed over it; the tape, with the print showing, would then be “lifted” and placed on a card with a contrasting background. Location, date, time, officer’s initials were noted on the back.
One such “lift” card, prepared by Boen, read: “8-9-69/10050 Cielo/1400/JAB/Inside door frame of left French door/from master bedroom to pool area/handle side.”
Another lift, taken about the same time, was from the “Outside front door/handle side/above handle.”
It took six hours to cover both residences. Later that afternoon the pair were joined by officer D. E. Dorman and Wendell Clements, the latter a civilian fingerprint expert, who concentrated on the four vehicles.
Contrary to popular opinion, a readable print is more rare than common. Many surfaces, such as clothing and fabrics, do not lend themselves to impressions. Even when the surface is such that it will take a print, one usually touches it with only a portion of the finger, leaving a fragmentary ridge, which is useless for comparison. If the finger is moved, the result is an unreadable smudge. And, as officer DeRosa demonstrated with the gate button, one print placed atop another creates a superimposure, also useless for identification purposes. Thus, at any crime scene, the number of clear, readable prints, with enough points for comparison, is usually surprisingly small.
Not counting those prints later eliminated as belonging to LAPD personnel at the scene, a total of fifty lifts were taken from the residence, guest house, and vehicles at 10050 Cielo Drive. Of these, seven were eliminated as belonging to William Garretson (all were from the guest house; none of Garretson’s prints were found in the main house or on the vehicles); an additional fifteen were eliminated as belonging to the victims; and three were not clear enough for comparison. This left a total of twenty-five unmatched latent prints, any of which might—or might not—belong to the killer or killers.
It was 1:30 P.M. before the first homicide detectives arrived. On verify- ing that the deaths were not accidental or self-inflicted, Lieutenant Madlock had requested that the investigation be reassigned to the Robbery-Homicide Division. Lieutenant Robert J. Helder, supervisor of investigations, was placed in charge. He in turn assigned Sergeants Michael J. McGann and Jess Buckles to the case. (McGann’s regular partner, Sergeant Robert Calkins, was on vacation and would replace Buckles when he returned.) Three additional officers, Sergeants E. Henderson, Dudley Varney, and Danny Galindo, were to assist them.
On being notified of the homicides, Los Angeles County Coroner Thomas Noguchi asked the police not to touch the bodies until a representative of his office had examined them. Deputy Coroner John Finken arrived about 1:45, later to be joined by Noguchi himself. Finken made the official determination of death; took liver and environmental temperatures (by 2 P.M. it was 94 degrees on the lawn, 83 degrees inside the house); and severed the rope connecting Tate and Sebring, portions of which were given to the detectives so that they could try to determine where it had been manufactured and sold. It was white, three-strand nylon, its total length 43 feet 8 inches. Granado took blood samples from the rope, but didn’t take subtypes, again presuming. Finken also removed the personal property from the bodies of the victims. Sharon Tate Polanski: yellow metal wedding band, earrings. Jay Sebring: Cartier wristwatch, later determined to be worth in excess of $1,500. John Doe 85: Lucerne wristwatch, wallet with various papers but no ID. Abigail Folger and Voytek Frykowski: no property on persons. After plastic bags had been placed over the hands of the victims, to preserve any hair or skin that might have become lodged under the nails during a struggle, Finken assisted in covering and placing the bodies on stretcher carts, to be wheeled to ambulances and taken to the Coroner’s Office, Hall of Justice, downtown Los Angeles.
Besieged by reporters at the gate, Dr. Noguchi announced he would have no comment until making public the autopsy results at noon the following day.
Both Noguchi and Finken, however, privately had already given the detectives their initial findings.
There was no evidence of sexual molestation or mutilation.
Three of the victims—the John Doe, Sebring, and Frykowski—had been shot. Aside from a defensive slash wound on his left hand, which also severed the band of his wristwatch, John Doe had not been stabbed. But the other four had—many, many times. In addition, Sebring had been hit in the face at least once, and Frykowski had been struck over the head repeatedly with a blunt object.
Though exact findings would have to await the autopsies, the coroners concluded from the size of the bullet holes that the gun used had probably been .22 caliber. The police had already suspected this. In searching the Rambler, Sergeant Varney had found four bullet fragments between the upholstery and the exterior metal of the door on the passenger side. Also found, on the cushion of the rear seat, was part of a slug. Though all were too small for comparison purposes, they appeared to be .22 caliber.
As for the stab wounds, someone suggested that the wound pattern was not dissimilar to that made by a bayonet. In their official report the detectives carried this a step further, concluding, “the knife that inflicted the stab wounds was probably a bayonet.” This not only eliminated a number of other possibilities, it also presumed that only one knife had been used.
The depth of the wounds (many in excess of 5 inches), their width (between 1 and 1 1⁄2 inches), and their thickness (1⁄8 to 1⁄4 inch) ruled out either a kitchen or a regular pocketknife.
Coincidentally, the only two knives found in the house were a kitchen knife and a pocketknife.
A steak knife had been found in the kitchen sink. Granado got a positive benzidine reaction, indicating blood, but a negative Ouchterlony, indicating it was animal, not human. Boen dusted it for prints, but got only fragmentary ridges. Mrs. Chapman later identified the knife as one of a set of steak knives that belonged to the Polanskis, and she located all the others in a drawer. But even before this, the police had eliminated it because of its dimensions, in particular its thinness. The stabbings were so savage that such a blade would have broken.
Granado found the second knife in the living room, less than three feet from Sharon Tate’s body. It was wedged behind the cushion in one of the chairs, with the blade sticking up. A Buck brand clasp-type pocketknife, its blade was 3⁄4 inch in diameter, 313⁄16 inches in length, making it too small to have caused most of the wounds. Noticing a spot on the side of the blade, Granado tested it for blood: negative. Girt dusted it for prints: an unreadable smudge.
Mrs. Chapman could not recall ever having seen this particular knife. This, plus the odd place where it was found, indicated that it might have been left by the killer(s).
In literature a murder scene is often likened to a picture puzzle. If one is patient and keeps trying, eventually all the pieces will fit into place.
Veteran policemen know otherwise. A much better analogy would be two picture puzzles, or three, or more, no one of which is in itself complete. Even after a solution emerges—if one does—there will be leftover pieces, evidence that just doesn’t fit. And some pieces will always be missing.
There was the American flag, its presence adding still another bizarre touch to a scene already horribly macabre. The possibilities it suggested ranged from one end of the political spectrum to the other—until Winifred Chapman told the police that it had been in the residence several weeks.
Few pieces of evidence were so easily eliminated. There were the bloody letters on the front door. In recent years the word “pig” had taken on a new meaning, one all too familiar to the police. But what did it mean printed here?
There was the rope. Mrs. Chapman flatly stated that she had never seen such a rope anywhere on the premises. Had the killer(s) brought it? If so, why?
What significance was there in the fact that the two victims bound together by the rope, Sharon Tate and Jay Sebring, were former lovers? Or was “former” the right word? What was Sebring doing there, with Polanski away? It was a question that many of the newspapers would also ask.
The horn-rimmed glasses—negative for both prints and blood—did they belong to a victim, a killer, or someone totally unconnected with the crime? Or—with each question the possibilities proliferated—had they been left behind as a false clue?
The two trunks in the entryway. The maid said they hadn’t been there when she left at 4:30 the previous afternoon. Who delivered them, and when, and had this person seen anything?
Why would the killer(s) go to the trouble of slitting and removing a screen when other windows, those in the newly painted room that was to be the nursery for the Polanskis’ unborn child, were open and screenless?
John Doe 85, the youth in the Rambler. Chapman, Garretson, and Tennant had failed to identify him. Who was he and what was he doing at 10050 Cielo Drive? Had he witnessed the other murders, or had he been killed before they took place? If before, wouldn’t the others have heard the shots? On the seat next to him was a Sony AM–FM Digimatic clock radio. The time at which it had stopped was 12:15 A.M. Coincidence or significant?
As for the time of the murders, the reports of gunshots and other sounds ranged from shortly after midnight to 4:10 A.M.
Not all of the evidence was as inconclusive. Some of the pieces fitted. No shell casings were found anywhere on the property, indicating that the gun was probably a revolver, which does not eject its spent shells, as contrasted to an automatic, which does.
Placed together, the three pieces of black wood formed the right-hand side of a gun grip. The police therefore knew the gun they were looking for was probably a .22 caliber revolver that was minus a right grip. From the pieces it might be possible to determine both make and model. Though there was human blood on all three pieces, only one had enough for analysis. It tested O-MN. Of the five victims, only Sebring had O- MN, indicating that the butt of the revolver could have been the blunt object used to strike him in the face.
The bloody letters on the front door tested O-M. Again, only one of the victims had this type and subtype. The word PIG had been printed in Sharon Tate’s blood.
There were four vehicles in the driveway, but one which should have been there wasn’t—Sharon Tate’s red Ferrari. It was possible that the killer(s) had used the sports car to escape, and a “want” was broadcast for it.
Long after the bodies had been removed, the detectives remained on the scene, looking for meaningful patterns.
They found several which appeared significant.
There were no indications of ransacking or robbery. McGann found Sebring’s wallet in his jacket, which was hanging over the back of a chair in the living room. It contained $80. John Doe had $9 in his wallet, Frykowski $2.44 in his wallet and pants pocket, Folger $9.64 in her purse. On the nightstand next to Sharon Tate’s bed, in plain view, were a ten, a five, and three ones. Obviously expensive items—a videotape machine, TV sets, stereo, Sebring’s wristwatch, his Porsche—had not been taken. Several days later the police would bring Winifred Chapman back to 10050 Cielo to see if she could determine if anything was missing. The only item she couldn’t locate was a camera tripod, which had been kept in the hall closet. These five incredibly savage murders were obviously not committed for a camera tripod. In all probability it had been lent to someone or lost.
While this didn’t completely eliminate the possibility that the murders had occurred during a residential burglary—the victims surprising the burglar(s) while at work—it certainly put it way down the list.
Other discoveries provided a much more likely direction.
A gram of cocaine was found in Sebring’s Porsche, plus 6.3 grams of marijuana and a two-inch “roach,” slang for a partially smoked marijuana cigarette.
There were 6.9 grams of marijuana in a plastic bag in a cabinet in the living room of the main residence. In the nightstand in the bedroom used by Frykowski and Folger were 30 grams of hashish, plus ten capsules which, later analyzed, proved to be a relatively new drug known as MDA. There was also marijuana residue in the ashtray on the stand next to Sharon Tate’s bed, a marijuana cigarette on the desk near the front door, and two more in the guest house.
Had a drug party been in progress, one of the participants “freaking out” and slaying everyone there? The police put this at the top of their list of possible reasons for the murders, though well aware this theory had several weaknesses, chief among them the presumption that there was a single killer, wielding a gun in one hand, a bayonet in the other, at the same time carrying 43 feet of rope, all of which, conveniently, he just happened to bring along. Also, there were the wires. If they had been cut before the murders, this indicated premeditation, not a spontaneous flare- up. If cut after, why?
Or could the murders have been the result of a drug “burn,” the killer(s) arriving to make a delivery or buy, an argument over money or bad drugs erupting into violence? This was the second, and in many ways the most likely, of the five theories the detectives would list in their first investigative report.
The third theory was a variation of the second, the killer(s) deciding to keep both the money and the drugs.
The fourth was the residential burglary theory.
The fifth, that these were “deaths by hire,” the killer(s) being sent to the house to eliminate one or more of the victims, then, in order to escape identification, finding it necessary to kill all. But would a hired killer choose as one of his weapons something as large, conspicuous, and unwieldy as a bayonet? And would he keep stabbing and stabbing and stabbing in a mad frenzy, as so obviously had been done in this case?
The drug theories seemed to make the most sense. In the investigation that followed, as the police interviewed acquaintances of the victims, and the victims’ habits and life styles emerged into clearer focus, the possibility that drugs were in some way linked to the motive became in some minds such a certainty that when given a clue which could have solved the case, they refused even to consider it.
The police were not the only ones to think of drugs.
On hearing of the deaths, actor Steve McQueen, long-time friend of Jay Sebring, suggested that the hair stylist’s home should be rid of narcotics to protect his family and business. Though McQueen did not himself participate in the “housecleaning,” by the time LAPD got around to searching Sebring’s residence, anything embarrassing had been removed.
Others developed instant paranoia. No one was sure who the police would question, or when. An unidentified film figure told a Life reporter: “Toilets are flushing all over Beverly Hills; the entire Los Angeles sewer system is stoned.”
FILM STAR, 4 OTHERS
DEAD IN BLOOD ORGY
Sharon Tate Victim
In "Ritual" Murders
The headlines dominated the front pages of the afternoon papers, became the big news on radio and TV. The bizarre nature of the crime, the number of victims, and their prominence—a beautiful movie star, the heiress to a coffee fortune, her jet-set playboy paramour, an internationally known hair stylist—would combine to make this one of the most publicized murder cases in American history, exceeded only by the Lindbergh kidnapping-murder case and the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Even the staid New York Times, which rarely reports crime on its front page, did so the next day, and many days thereafter.
The accounts that day and the next were notable for the unusual amount of detail they contained. So much information had been given out, in fact, that the detectives would have difficulty finding “polygraph keys” for questioning suspects.
In any homicide, it is standard practice to withhold certain information which presumably only the police and the killer(s) know. If a suspect confesses, or agrees to a polygraph examination, these keys can then be used to determine if he is telling the truth.
Owing to the many leaks, the detectives assigned to the “Tate case,” as the press was already calling the murders, could only come up with five: (1) That the knife used was probably a bayonet. (2) That the gun was probably a .22 caliber revolver. (3) The exact dimensions of the rope, as well as the way it was looped and tied. And (4) and (5), that a pair of horn-rimmed glasses and a Buck knife had been found.
The amount of information unofficially released so bothered LAPD brass that a tight lid was clamped on further disclosures. This didn’t please the reporters; also, lacking hard news, many turned to conjecture and speculation. In the days that followed a monumental amount of false information was published. It was widely reported, for example, that Sharon Tate’s unborn child had been ripped from her womb; that one or both of her breasts had been slashed off; that several of the victims had been sexually mutilated. The towel over Sebring’s face became a white hood (KKK?) or a black hood (satanists?), depending on which paper or magazine you read.
When it came to the man charged with the murders, however, there was a paucity of information. It was presumed, initially, that the police were maintaining silence to protect Garretson’s rights. It was also presumed that LAPD had to have a strong case against him or they wouldn’t have arrested him.
A Pasadena paper, picking up bits and pieces of information, sought to fill the gap. It stated that when the officers found Garretson, he asked, “When are the detectives going to see me?” The implication was obvious: Garretson knew what had happened. Garretson did ask this, but it was as he was being taken through the gate, long after his arrest, and the question was in response to an earlier comment by DeRosa. Quoting unidentified policemen, the paper also noted: “They said the slender youth had a rip in one knee of his pants and his living quarters in the guest cottage showed signs of a struggle.” Damning evidence, unless one were aware that all this happened during, not before, Garretson’s arrest.
During the first few days a total of forty-three officers would visit the crime scene, looking for weapons and other evidence. In searching the loft above the living room, Sergeant Mike McGann found a film can containing a roll of video-tape. Sergeant Ed Henderson took it to the Police Academy, which had screening facilities. The film showed Sharon and Roman Polanski making love. With a certain delicacy, the tape was not booked into evidence but was returned to the loft where it had been found.
In addition to searching the premises, detectives interviewed neighbors, asking if they had seen any strange people in the area.
Ray Asin recalled that two or three months before there had been a large party at 10050 Cielo Drive, the guests arriving in “hippie garb.” He got the impression, however, that they weren’t actually hippies, as most arrived in Rolls-Royces and Cadillacs.
Emmett Steele, who had been awakened by the barking of his hunting dogs the previous night, remembered that in recent weeks someone had been racing a dune buggy up and down the hills late at night, but he never got a close look at the driver and passengers.
Most of those interviewed, however, claimed they had neither seen nor heard anything out of the ordinary.
The detectives were left with far more questions than answers. However, they were hopeful one person could put the puzzle together for them: William Garretson.
The detectives downtown were less optimistic. Following his arrest, the nineteen-year-old had been taken to West Los Angeles jail and interrogated.The officers found his answers “stuporous and non-responsive,” and were of the opinion that he was under the residual effect of some drug. It was also possible, as Garretson himself claimed, that he had slept little the previous night, just a few hours in the morning, and that he was exhausted, and very scared.
Shortly after this, Garretson retained the services of attorney Barry Tarlow. A second interview, with Tarlow present, took place at Parker Center, headquarters of the Los Angeles Police Department. As far as the police were concerned, it too was unproductive. Garretson claimed that although he lived on the property, he had little contact with the people in the main house. He said that he’d only had one visitor the previous night, a boy named Steve Parent, who showed up about 11:45 and left about a half hour later. Questioned about Parent, Garretson said he didn’t know him well. He’d hitched a ride up the canyon with him one night a couple of weeks ago and, on getting out of the car at the gate, had told Steve if he was ever in the neighborhood to drop in. Garretson, who lived by himself in the back house, except for the dogs, said he’d extended similar invitations to others. When Steve showed up, he was surprised: no one else ever had. But Steve didn’t stay long, leaving after learning that Garretson wasn’t interested in buying a clock radio Steve had for sale.
The police did not at this time connect Garretson’s visitor with the youth in the Rambler, possibly because Garretson had earlier failed to identify him.
After conferring with Tarlow, Garretson agreed to take a polygraph examination, and one was scheduled for the following afternoon.
Twelve hours had passed since the discovery of the bodies. John Doe 85 remained unidentified.
Police lieutenant Robert Madlock, who had been in charge of the investigation during the several hours before it was assigned to homicide, would later state: “At the time we first found the [victim’s] car at the scene, we were going fourteen different directions at once. So many things had to be done, I guess we just didn’t have time to follow up on the car registration.”
All day Wilfred and Juanita Parent had waited, and worried. Their eighteen-year-old son Steven hadn’t come home the previous night. “He didn’t call, didn’t leave word. He’d never done anything like that before,” Juanita Parent said.
About 8 P.M., aware that his wife was too distraught to cook dinner, Wilfred Parent took her and their three other children to a restaurant. Maybe when we get back, he told his wife, Steve will be there.
From outside the gate of 10050 Cielo it was possible to make out the license number on the white Rambler: ZLR 694. A reporter wrote it down, then ran his own check through the Department of Motor Vehicles, learning that the registered owner was “Wilfred E. or Juanita D. Parent, 11214 Bryant Drive, El Monte, California.”
By the time he arrived in El Monte, a Los Angeles suburb some twenty-five miles from Cielo Drive, he found no one at home. Questioning the neighbors, he learned that the family did have a boy in his late teens; he also learned the name of the family priest, Father Robert Byrne, of the Church of the Nativity, and called on him. Byrne knew the youth and his family well. Though the priest was sure Steve didn’t know any movie stars and that all this was some mistake, he agreed to accompany the reporter to the county morgue. On the way he talked about Steve. He was a stereo “bug,” Father Byrne said; if you ever wanted to know anything about phonographs or radios, Steve had the answers. Father Byrne held great hopes for his future.
In the interim, LAPD discovered the identity of the youth through a print and license check. Shortly after the Parents returned home, an El Monte policeman appeared at the door and handed Wilfred Parent a card with a number on it and told him to call it. He left without saying anything else.
Parent dialed the number.
“County Coroner’s Office,” a man answered.
Confused, Parent identified himself and explained about the police- man and the card.
The call was transferred to a deputy coroner, who told him, “Your son has apparently been involved in a shooting.”
“Is he dead?” Parent asked, stunned. His wife, hearing the question, became hysterical.
“We have a body down here,” the deputy coroner replied, “and we believe it’s your son.” He then went on to describe physical characteristics. They matched.
Parent hung up the phone and began sobbing. Later, understandably bitter, he’d remark, “All I can say is that it was a hell of a way to tell somebody that their boy was dead.”
About this same time, Father Byrne viewed the body and made the identification. John Doe 85 became Steven Earl Parent, an eighteen-year-old hi-fi enthusiast from El Monte.
It was 5 A.M. before the Parents went to bed. “The wife and I finally just put the kids in bed with us and the five of us just held on to each other and cried until we went to sleep.”
About nine that same Saturday night, August 9, 1969, Leno and Rosemary LaBianca and Suzanne Struthers, Rosemary’s twenty-one-year-old daughter by a previous marriage, left Lake Isabella for the long drive back to Los Angeles. The lake, a popular resort area, was some 150 miles from L.A.
Suzanne’s brother, Frank Struthers, Jr., fifteen, had been vacationing at the lake with a friend, Jim Saffie, whose family had a cabin there. Rosemary and Leno had driven up the previous Tuesday, to leave their speedboat for the boys to use, then returned Saturday morning to pick up Frank and the boat. However, the boys were having such a good time the LaBiancas agreed to let Frank stay over another day, and they were returning now, without him, driving their 1968 green Thunderbird, towing the speedboat on a trailer behind.
Leno, the president of a chain of Los Angeles supermarkets, was forty-four, Italian, and, at 220 pounds, somewhat overweight. Rosemary, a trim, attractive brunette of thirty-eight, was a former carhop who, after a series of waitress jobs and a bad marriage, had opened her own dress shop, the Boutique Carriage, on North Figueroa in Los Angeles, and made a big success of it. She and Leno had been married since 1959.
Because of the boat, they couldn’t drive at the speed Leno preferred, and fell behind most of the Saturday night freeway traffic that was speeding toward Los Angeles and environs. Like many others that night, they had the radio on and heard the news of the Tate murders. According to Suzanne, it seemed particularly to disturb Rosemary, who, a few weeks earlier, had told a close friend, “Someone is coming in our house while we’re away. Things have been gone through and the dogs are outside the house when they should be inside.”
Excerpted from Helter Skelter: The True Story of the Manson Murders by Vincent Bugliosi with Curt Gentry. Copyright © 1974 by Curt Gentry and Vincent Bugliosi. With permission of the publisher, W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. All rights reserved.