Forty years ago today, in the early morning hours of August 9th, 1969, what is still considered to be the most infamous and bizarre act of multiple murder in American history began.
Just after midnight Charles "Tex" Watson, Susan Atkins, Patricia Krenwinkel and Linda Kasabian climbed over the fence of 10050 Cielo Drive in Los Angeles and stealthily made their way to the house of movie director Roman Polanski.
Polanski himself was not at home. But his wife was: the stunningly beautiful and nearly nine months pregnant actress Sharon Tate. So were her friend and well-known hairstylist Jay Sebring, Sebring's girlfriend Abigail Folger (heiress to the coffee fortune) and Polanski's friend Wojciech Frykowski. Also present was 18-year old Steven Parent, visiting the house's caretaker and his friend William Garretson.
Beginning with Parent, the four intruders confronted and then butchered everyone that they encountered at the house. William Garretson alone escaped the wholesale slaughter by remaining hidden and silent in the small cottage he lived in behind the main house.
Susan Atkins - who later admitted that she had wanted to tear Sharon Tate's unborn child out of her womb with a knife - wrote the word "PIG" in blood on the door of the house. She had been ordered to "leave a sign... something witchy".
And of the four, only Linda Kasabian refused to commit murder. It was Kasabian's conscience which would later come back to to testify in court and condemn the man who had sent the four on their mission of madness: Charles Milles Manson.
The bodies were discovered later that morning by housekeeper Winifred Chapman as she arrived to work. A hysterical Chapman ran from the scene screaming "MURDER! MURDER! MURDER!"
But it was not to be the end. Later that night, Manson himself - determined to "show them how to do it" - led six members of his "Family" to 3301 Waverly Drive: the home of grocery store executive Leno LaBianca and his wife Rosemary. After entering the home and then confronting and tying up the couple, Manson returned to the car and told his followers to kill the LaBiancas. Again Linda Kasabian refused to take part, but her reticence was made up for by Leslie Van Houten.
The LaBiancas were stabbed dozens of times with a bayonet. Charles "Tex" Watson carved the word "WAR" on Leno's abdomen. And throughout the house, Patricia Krenwinkel dabbed a towel in the victims' blood and wrote the words "Rise" and "Death to pigs"... and on the refrigerator door, the words "Healter Skelter".
Admittedly, the Tate/LaBianca murders weren't the real beginning of Charles Manson's insane attempt to ignite his fantasy of Helter Skelter: a race war between blacks and whites which Manson envisioned from his twisted interpretation of the Bible and the Beatles (ironically, it was on the day before the Tate murders that the Beatles shot the famous photograph for the cover of their Abbey Road album). Manson and his disciples had killed music teacher Gary Hinman a few weeks earlier, also leaving the words "Political piggy" written in blood. But it was the serial slayings of August 9th and 10th which kicked off the horror in the minds of most people.
What happened afterward has variously been described as "the murder trial of the century", a masterful performance by the prosecution to bring those responsible to justice, and severe bungling on the part of numerous law enforcement agencies. The entire saga of the Manson Family murders was later chronicled by lead prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi in the bestselling true crime book of all time: Helter Skelter.
There are countless legitimate resources on the Internet about Charles Manson, his followers and their crimes. Many of the photos used in this retrospective were found on CrimeShots, which has a gallery of photographs (some of which are extremely graphic, so caution is advised) of the murder scenes.
And I cannot recommend enough reading Helter Skelter if you are at all interested in real life crime. Even forty years after the murders, there is nothing comparable in modern history that comes close to approaching the collective madness of Charles Manson and his cult.