Reel American HistoryHistory on trial Main Page

AboutFilmsFor StudentsFor TeachersBibliographyResources

Films >> Helter Skelter (1976) >>

See the extensive bibliography (divided into print, video/audio, and online resources) below the essay.

Charles Manson and the Tate-LaBianca Slayings

[1] On the night of August 9, 1969, actress Sharon Tate, wife of internationally acclaimed filmmaker Roman Polanski, and three of her close friends -- coffee heiress Abigail Folger, men's hairstylist Jay Sebring, and Polish actor Voytek Frykowski -- were brutally murdered at the Polanski's mansion at 10050 Cielo Drive in Bel Air, California. Tate was eight months pregnant at the time of her death. Eighteen-year-old Steven Parent, who was visiting the mansion's caretaker that night, was shot several times as he was leaving the grounds in his car. Inside the mansion, police discovered a bloodbath. Lying in pools of blood, the victims had been stabbed repeatedly. The word PIG was scrawled on the front door in Tate's blood. Police called the murders "ritualistic" and arrested caretaker William Garretson as a suspect.

[2] The following night, August 10, 1969, grocery store owner Leno LaBianca and his wife Rosemary were savagely murdered in much the same way as those at the Polanski mansion. Leno was found dead with a fork protruding from his abdomen, the word WAR carved in his flesh. Rosemary lay face down on the bedroom floor, multiple stab wounds covering her back and buttocks. Again, words were scrawled in blood on the walls. DEATH TO PIGGIES and RISE appeared in the living room and the mis-spelled HEALTER SKELTER dripped from the refrigerator door. Despite the uncanny similarities between the two murders, the police at first failed to connect them.

[3] After releasing William Garretson from custody on the grounds of insufficient evidence, the Los Angeles Police Department spent several months following dead-end leads before finally linking the murders to the Manson Family, a group of "hippies" living at an abandoned movie set, Spahn Ranch, in Death Valley. Charles Manson, the leader of The Family, was an ex-convict who had spent over half of his 34 years in juvenile halls and prisons. Some of his offenses included armed robbery, arson, grand theft auto, and homosexual rape. Manson, it appeared, had used mind control to influence four of his followers -- Charles "Tex" Watson, Patricia Krenwinkel, Susan Atkins, and Leslie Van Houten -- to commit the murders. Another one of Manson's followers, Linda Kasabian, was present during the murders but did not kill anyone. Kasabian later became the prosecution's star witness in the Manson Family trial.

[4] While compiling evidence against Manson and his followers, prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi pieced together Manson's motive. Bugliosi discovered that Manson believed that the English musical group The Beatles were sending him messages through their music, encouraging him to set "Helter Skelter" in motion. "Helter Skelter," according to several witnesses, was what Manson believed to be an imminent race war in which the blacks would rise up against the whites, ultimately liquidating the white race. The sole survivors of this war, Manson said, would be he and his followers. Manson boasted that, once the war was over, the blacks would ask him and the Family to rule the world.

[5] After a seven-month trial, Bugliosi was able to convince the jury that, although Manson was not present at the Tate and LaBianca residences on the nights of the murders, he was partially, if not completely, responsible for the slayings. Manson, Van Houten, Atkins, Krenwinkel, and Watson were convicted and sentenced to death. One year later, the state of California abolished the death penalty and the killers' sentences were reduced to life in prison. The killers are alive today and remain in prison. Van Houten and Krenwinkel have expressed remorse for the murders and have denounced Manson. Watson and Atkins have become Christian Fundamentalists yet have not demonstrated remorse for their involvement in the slayings. Manson reportedly receives hundreds of letters every day from young people who offer to kill for him and who ask to join The Family. He continues to deny having controlled his followers and having urged them to kill.

Print Resources

Bugliosi, Vincent, and Curt Gentry. Helter Skelter: The True Story of the Manson Murders. New York: W.W. Norton and Co., Inc., 1974.
The prosecutor in the Manson trial, Bugliosi details the events surrounding the Tate-LaBianca murders and the subsequent trial of Manson and four of his followers.
Emmons, Nuel. Manson in His Own Words: The Shocking Confessions of "The Most Dangerous Man Alive." New York: Grove Press, 1986.
This book voices Manson's version of what happened the nights of the Tate-LaBianca murders and describes The Family's lifestyle.  Emmons, a former inmate with Manson, interviewed Manson on numerous occasions over several years and then wrote the book in the first person, as though Manson had written it himself.  Manson denies having had an active role in planning the murders and claims that he never controlled the minds of his followers.  He blames the media and prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi for his being touted "The Most Dangerous Man Alive."

See Also

George, Edward, and Dary Matera. Taming the Beast: Charles Manson's Life Behind Bars. New York: St. Martin's Griffin, 1998.

King, Greg. Sharon Tate and the Manson Murders. New York: Barricade Books Inc., 2000.

Rosen, Steve. "Rock's Dark Side: Manson Resurrected as an Anti-'60s Icon." The Denver Post 17 April 1994: F-01.

Smith, Liz. "Manson is 50 and Still Proclaiming His Innocence." The San Diego Union-Tribune 1 April 1985: C-2.

Stewart, Sally Ann. "Parole Hearing No. 8 for Manson." USA Today 20 April 1992: 3A.

Video/Audio Resources

Charles Manson: Journey Into Evil. Videotape. Producer Lisa Zeff. A&E Home Video, 1995.

Crime Stories: Serial Killers: Charles Manson. Videotape. Producer Isidore Rosmarin. Host Richard Belzer. Unapix Home Entertainment, 1998. 50 min.
This made-for-television video examines the Tate-LaBianca murders and the lifestyle the Manson Family led.  It also updates viewers on Manson's recent parole hearings.

Monsters In Our Midst: The Manson Family and Serial Killers. Videotape. Dir. Mike Wallace. A&E Home Video, 1994.

Serial Killers: Profiling the Criminal Mind: Charles Manson. Videotape. Producer Lisa Zeff. Charles Manson. A&E Home Video, 1995. 50 min.
A made-for-television documentary, this video tells the story of the Tate-LaBianca murders through interviews with Manson, Patricia Krenwinkel, and Leslie Van Houten, the latter two expressing remorse for their involvement in the slayings.

Online Resources

Access Manson. [Archived]

Charles Manson aka Jesus Christ.

Charles Manson Sounds 2. [Archived]

Charles Manson Sounds.

Crime Library: Charles Manson.

Democracy's Baby. [Archived]

The Exclusive Film Network.

Family Values, Manson Style.

Forensic Science and the Charles Manson Murders. [Archived]

Jones, Frank. "Even the Devil Had a Beginning." Toronto Star 29 March 1987.

"Magazine Locates Son of Manson." St. Petersburg Times 19 August 1989: 3A.

Manson's 1986 Parole Hearing Statement.

Manson-Beatles Link.

Tyler, Tracey. "Charles Manson Parole Hearing To Be Telecast Live." The Toronto Star 21 April 1992: C15.