The Tate-Labianca Murders: Charles Manson Family

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Table of contents

  1. Introduction to the Tate-Labianca Murders: Charles Manson's Helter Skelter
  2. Challenges in Forensic Science during the 1960s
  3. The Perpetrators and the Victims: A Night of Horror
  4. The Second Night: Further Atrocities and the Plan Behind the Murders
  5. Investigation Challenges and Evidence Collection
  6. The Trial and Conviction: Bringing the Manson Family to Justice

Introduction to the Tate-Labianca Murders: Charles Manson's Helter Skelter

It was called the summer of love, the last year of the 1960s. Little did anyone know that August 9th, 1969 would change the world for generations to come. On this night, four people left Spahn Ranch on the orders of Charles Manson to begin what Manson referred to as Helter Skelter. Helter Skelter was supposed to start a race war according to Manson and his family. On this night the killers were sent to the home of Sharon Tate. Once there, they were to kill everyone in the house. On the next night August 10th, the killers went out again this time to the home of Labianca’s. Again, the killers were told to kill everyone in the house. They did this and returned to Spahn ranch. In these two nights, seven people were murdered. No one felt safe anymore, the summer of love was over.

Challenges in Forensic Science during the 1960s

In the 1960’s forensic science really didn’t exist yet. There were no computers or digital cameras. If pictures were taken it was usually done with a Polaroid camera. When fingerprints were found pictures were taken of them to compare to pictures in a large book of fingerprints. DNA had not yet been discovered. If you were to find blood and collect it. The only thing a forensic scientist could do with it was told the blood type, which in most cases was never helpful. Do to these older forms of forensics it was very difficult to catch people who committed a crime. A police officer had to go through a lot of work to make simple discoveries. If the technologies of today existed back, then it may have been easier to solve the case. The blood that was discovered at both crime scenes would have yielded blood from the killers. At that time though it would have looked like it was from one of the victims. Police officers of this time were not trained as they are now to collect evidence. Several things at the Tate crime scene were disturbed and made unusable by police. What could have been one of the key pieces of evidence was a fingerprint on the lock for the fence. One officer after pointing out the blood of the machine proceeded to push the button himself, therefore destroying the fingerprint left by one of the killers. Police was also walking all over the crime transferring blood from one place to another. This made it difficult for the blood examiner to tell if the blood was originally in a certain place or had been tracked there.

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At the time of the murders, most police officers were not prepared or equipped for the murders that happened those nights in August. Back in the ’60s, no equipment for collecting evidence and data was available. Experts had to examine figure prints with just their eyes, to try and prove that a person was guilty they had to eye the figure print. As for DNA evidence, much of it was not collected, especially with the Tate murders. One police investigator is said to have been stupid enough to contaminate a Bloody figure print found on the button of the Tate residence gate. He pressed the button o to open the gate, “I needed to get out” was his response for messing up the evidence. All the footprints in the house and in the crime, the scene were contaminated by police, at that time foot covers were not a thing, so all the footprints were contaminated.

The Perpetrators and the Victims: A Night of Horror

August 9th, 1969 from Spahn ranch Charles Mason sent out four individuals to commit murder. Their names were Charles “Tex” Watson was 24 years of age at the time of the murders, Susan Atkins was 21 years of age at the time of the murders, Patricia Krenwinkel was 22 years of age at the time of the murders, and Linda Kasabian who was 20 years old at the time of the murders. They were told not to leave anyone alive and to make the murders “witchy”. (Bugliosi Gentry 1974) These four individuals were chosen because of their devotion to Mason. He knew they would do anything he told them to without question. On this night the individuals who lost their lives were Steven Parent who was only 18 at the time of his death and the youngest victim was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. If he would have left the house a few minutes earlier, he would have survived. Steven was shot four times and was considered the mildest murder that night. Abigail Folger 25 years of age at the time of her death, was stabbed 28 times, she was a close friend of Sharon Tate the homeowner. Voytek Frykowski 33 years of age at the time of his death was at the house because he was dating Abagail Folger. Voytek Frykowski was a fighter, he was shot twice, hit in the head at least 13 times, and stabbed 51 times. The two of them were staying with Sharon while her husband was out of the country. Jay Sebring was 35 years of age at the time of his death was at the house visiting Sharon whom he used to date and was still close friends with. Jay Sebring literally bled to death. He was stabbed seven times and shot once, he has also beaten in the face enough that it was hard to identify him. Finally, was Sharon Tate aged 26 at the time of her death who was also eight months pregnant with a baby boy. Sharon Tate was stabbed sixteen times in the chest and back. These murders were beyond overkill, the victims were shot, stabbed, and beaten. It was a frenzied murder scene as two of the victims were able to get out of the house and died on the lawn. It was said that Abagail Folger was wearing a white nightgown that night, but when her body was discovered it had been turned red with all her blood. Manson also told the group to write things on the walls in the victim’s blood. Patricia Krenwinkel wrote” Helter Skelter” on the refrigerator and Susan Atkins wrote “pigs” in Sharon Tate’s blood. These phrases seemed to be meaningless until the next night. (Bauer 2018)

The Second Night: Further Atrocities and the Plan Behind the Murders

The next night August 10th, 1969 the killers went out again. This time Charles Manson would accompany them to make sure what happened the night before did not happen again. Manson also recruited a new person to become one of his killers her name was Leslie Van Houten, she was 20 years of age at the time of the murders. Manson picked the house and went in first. He tied up the married couple that was in the house. Their names were Leno aged 44 at the time of his death and Rosemary Labianca who was 39 years old at the time of her death. These two individuals had known idea the nightmare they were about to encounter when Charles Manson entered their home. They were totally unsuspecting of what was about to happen to them because Charlie said it was only a robbery. After tying up the couple he left and told Charles “Tex” Watson, Patricia Krenwinkel, and Leslie Van Houten to enter the house and to kill the couple. He told them last night was too messy and that they should not scare this couple as he had them at ease. Again, even though the couple was tied up it was still overkilled and this time the victims could not even fight back because they were tied up. Krenwinkel stabbed Leno Labianca four times in the abdomen and 14 times with a carving fork leaving the carving fork in his stomach. She also carved the word “war” into his stomach. He also had a stake protruding from his neck though this was not discovered until the autopsy because he had a pillowcase over his head. They wrote “Rise” and “death to pigs” on the walls. Rosemary Labianca has stabbed a total of 41 times and was chocked with a lamp cord that was tied around her neck. She too had a pillowcase over her head when she was found. The killers continued to stab her long after she was dead. Not much evidence was left behind like the other crime scene. Mainly the only evidence found was blood. The only stuff that was intentionally left at the Labianca home were the phrases painted on the wall and watermelon rinds left in the sink. (Bugliosi, Gentry 1974) By leaving the watermelons rinds, Manson was hoping the cops would think an African American person did it. Which would enact his plan “Helter Skelter”, fortunately, the police officers did not fall for their plan.

“Helter Skelter” was not a phrase coined by Charles Manson. The phrase actually started as a title for a Beatles song, which was released in 1968. Manson believed that he should have been apart of The Beatles, and believed the songs were speaking to him and making him do these things. In Charlie's mind, Helter Skelter referred to a race war between black and white people. He said that the black people would take over the world, but they would not know how to lead. Then they would come to Charlie and ask him to lead them. At this point, the family would oversee the entire world. Charlie decided he was tired of waiting for Helter Skelter to happen on its own and decided to start it himself. This is the primary reason behind the Tate-Labianca murders. After the murders, personal items such as wallets were left in black neighborhoods to make it look like black people committed the crime.

Not one detective connected the two crimes, the intensity of the murders matched, each murder has phrases like “pig” and “death to pigs” but in the end, the detectives on the Tate case felt it was a drug deal gone bad and would not move from that. The Labianca detectives felt the two cases were similar but could not get anyone else to agree that both crime scenes were related. The Tate murder scene had drugs found at it and the residents were famous. The Labianca’s were a housewife and grocery store owner. There was nothing to connect the two accept the brutality of the crimes and the words in blood that were found inside both residences. So, until later there was no investigation into these two crimes being connected.

The Tate murders were gruesome, the crime scene was a horrific sight. The inside of the house was covered in blood, the outside was just as bad. Inside the house were the bodies of Sharon Tate and Jay Sebring which were badly mutilated by the killers. Outside of the house were the bodies of Abigail Folger, Voytek Frykowski, and in his own car was Steven Parent. The killers were stone cold, and they were all brainwashed by Charles Manson. Manson convinced his people to commit these crimes and most of the people in the Family would anything to please Charlie. The family committed these crimes for one thing. Manson wanted to start a war, a war between “Whites and Blacks” and he wanted the war to happen by any means necessary. (Gries 1976) He was tired of sitting around and made the decision to make a move on his own to start Helter Skelter.

Investigation Challenges and Evidence Collection

The evidence in the cases was mostly blood, and there was a lot of it and in many places at the Tate residence. Since several of the victims were able to get outside the house or were never in the house and murdered outside it left many areas of blood to be identified. There was so much blood that the examiner did not even get samples from all the pools, if two pools were close to one another it must be the same type of blood. There were several pieces of a gun butt from a 22-caliber buntline revolver, but no gun itself was found at the scene. (Douglass 2009) There were also several small knives found throughout the residence. A rope was left behind that was tied around the necks of Sharon Tate and Jay Sebring. Also found was a broken pair of reading glasses that did not belong to anyone living in the house. These reading glasses were collected, but no tests were run against them. There were two fingerprints found at the Tate house. These prints belonged to Patricia Krenwinkel and Charles Watson. These fingerprints helped Bugliosi prove that The Family committed these crimes.

The fact that the Tate-Labianca killers were caught and convicted was because of pure luck on most parts. The police themselves destroyed a lot of evidence due to carelessness, and due to the fact, they were not trained to collect evidence. Even though a flyer was distributed right after the murders to all area police stations, they did not realize that as of September 1, 1969, they had the gun that was used in the murders, in their own evidence room. When Steven Weiss found the gun, he made sure not to touch the grip in order not to disturb any evidence and DNA on the gun.(Chua-Eoan 2007) As with most of the Tate evidence, the patrol officer Michael F. Watson, that came to retrieve the gun disturbed the fingerprints by taking the gun by the grip, therefore taking away any fingerprints that might have been there. The gun sat in a police evidence locker until late December when a phone call from the boy’s father alerted the police that they had been in possession of the gun for months. For the most part, most of the evidence against the Manson family came from other family members and was given to the police to get themselves out of trouble. (Bugliosi, Gentry 1974) They wanted Manson and his crew to go away for what they did, so they sold them all out. There was not a lot of evidence found at the Labianca house, do to the victims being tied up before the horror started. Most of the evidence there was blood and the words in blood around the residence. The only problem was that the medical examiner did not take any blood samples at all because he assumed it was all from the victims. For the most part, the only solid evidence against anyone was the two fingerprints that were found at the Tate house. These fingerprints ended up belonging to Patricia Krenwinkel and Charles Watson.

The way the initial indictments against the Manson family were obtained was through one of the murders themselves. Susan Atkins decided to testify against the other family members for full immunity. With this testimony, the prosecution was able to get all the names of the killers that were involved. Other evidence ended up being found because of the testimony. After a report was made about the testimony a news crew following the directions of Susan Atkins were able to find all the clothes from the Tate murder case. Eventually, Susan Atkins recanted her statement saying she was coerced by Bugliosi and that nothing she said was true. With this, the prosecution could offer immunity to the only person involved in the case who did not hurt anyone.

The Trial and Conviction: Bringing the Manson Family to Justice

Ultimately, the case against the Manson family came down to a fantastic prosecutor in one Vincent Bugliosi. Bugliosi was chosen to prosecute this case, being picked over 100 other people. He was able to dig through all of Charles Manson’s talk to be able to find the reasons behind the murders and use his own words against him. There was also a great prosecution witness for the state. Linda Kasabian, who was with the murders on both nights but never entered either house decided to testify against Manson and company for full immunity from prosecution. Vincent Bugliosi has said that he was much happier to give the immunity to Linda Kasabian who did not hurt anyone instead of Susan Atkins, who openly participated in the murders. The trial itself lasted nine months which was the longest trial in history until the O.J. Simpson trial decades later. Linda Kasabian testified for 18 grueling days. She had to recount every detail from living with the family up to the murders. (Douglass 2009) She held her own against a rigorous defense and never wavered in her story. This young woman showed extreme courage in her willingness to testify against the family. It has been said that she was threatened more than once that if she did testify someone would kill her. Most people say she was the main reason the family was convicted.

In 1970, the case against the Manson’s ended. All defendants including Charles Manson, Patricia Krenwinkel, Susan Atkins, and Leslie Van Houten was found guilty. Manson, Atkins, and Krenwinkel were found guilty of seven counts of murder in the first degree and were sentenced to the death penalty. Leslie Van Houten was found guilty of two counts of murder in the first degree and sentenced to death. All the defendant’s death sentences were reduced to life in prison when California abolished the death penalty. In time Charles Watson was extradited from Texas and prosecuted by Vincent Bugliosi and like the other family members he was convicted and found guilty of seven counts of murder in the first degree, He to was sentenced to death but his sentence was changed to life in prison.

The decisions in these cases have never changed. None of the defendants have ever had a retrial nor have any of them asked for one. Once the killers were away from Charles Manson, they were able to see how ridiculous these murders were. All the killers with the exception of Charles Manson have shown remorse about what they did. Manson has always said he never did anything and could not help what his followers chose to do. All the defendants have had multiple chances for parole which have always been rejected. Every member of the Tate Labianca murders is still in jail on has since died. After a while, in prison, the Manson family killers would turn their backs on Charles Manson. Susan Atkins who never got into any trouble while in jail was never paroled and died of brain cancer on September 4th, 2009, she was 61 years old. Charles Manson the leader of this group of misfits who never took any responsibility in these murders died on November 19th, 2017 of natural causes, he was 83 years old. Everyone else is still in jail and come up for parole every so often. All defendants have said they never feel as though they will get out of jail. They understand that what they did was unforgivable and that the families of the victims have every right not to forgive them.

In conclusion, the Tate-Labianca murders changed a lot of things. It ended the summer of love in a hurry. Seven people lost their lives because of one psychopath’s interpretation of a song. People wonder still today if the murders would have happened if the Beatles White album had never come out, or if it was just a matter of time for this deranged mind to come up with Helter Skelter on his own. Forensics has come a long way since the Tate-Labianca murders. With the development of DNA and computers more information can be obtained a lot quicker then it was back in 1969. Thanks to the hard work of Vincent Bugliosi these murders were solved, and several vicious killers were taken off the streets. There was also Linda Kasabian to thank for being a human being during these atrocities and not a homicidal killer like the family she was with at the time. The scary thought is that without these two people the Manson family may have never been caught and the Tate-Labianca murders may still be unsolved.

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