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From the Archives: ‘Ritualistic Slayings’: Sharon Tate, Four Others Murdered

The front page of the Los Angeles Times on Aug. 10, 1969
The front page of The Times on Aug. 10, 1969, after Sharon Tate and four others were found dead at her Benedict Canyon estate.

This article appeared in the Los Angeles Times on Aug. 10, 1969.

Film star Sharon Tate, another woman and three men were found slain Saturday, their bodies scattered around a Benedict Canyon estate in what police said resembled a ritualistic mass murder.

The victims were shot, stabbed or throttled. On the front door of the home, written in blood, was one word: “Pig.”

Police arrested the only one left alive on the property — a 19-year-old houseboy. He was booked on suspicion of murder.

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Killed were:
— Miss Tate, 26, a star of “Valley of the Dolls” and wife of Roman Polanski, director of “Rosemary’s Baby.” She was eight months pregnant. He is in England.

— Abigail Folger, 26, heiress to the Folger’s Coffee family.

— Jay Sebring, 35, once Miss Tate’s fiance, a Hollywood hair stylist credited with launching the trend to hair styling for men.

— Voityck Frokowski, 37, who worked with Polanski in Polish films before they came to Hollywood.

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— Steven Parent, 18, of El Monte, who left his home Friday morning after telling his family he was going to “go to Beverly Hills.”

A maid, Mrs. Winifred Chapman, went to the sprawling home at the end of Cielo Drive at 8:30 a.m. to begin her day’s work. What she found sent her running to a neighbor’s home in a state of shock:

In a white two-door sedan in the driveway was the body of the young man, slumped back in the driver’s seat, shot to death.

On the lawn in front of the ranch-style home was the body of Frokowski.

Twenty yards away, under a fir tree on the well-trimmed lawn, was the body of Miss Folger, clad in a nightgown.

In the living room, dressed in underwear — bikini panties and a brassiere — was Miss Tate. A bloodied nylon cord was around her neck. It ran over a beam in the open-beam ceiling and was tied around the neck of Sebring, whose body lay nearby.

Archival photo from Aug. 10, 1969, of Winifred Chapman
Winifred Chapman, the maid who discovered the five bodies at a Benedict Canyon estate, is escorted into the police station in West Los Angeles by policeman Richard Gingras.
(Los Angeles Times)

Over Sebring’s head was a black hood. “It seemed ritualistic,” said one investigating officer. Said another: “It looked like a battlefield up there.”

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Mrs. Chapman ran to a neighbor’s home. Jim Asim, 15, was getting ready to leave the house. “There’s bodies and blood all over the place!” she cried to Asim.

The youth, who is a member of Law Enforcement Troop 800 of the Boy Scouts, called West Los Angeles police.

A half-dozen police cars raced up Cielo Drive, overlooking Benedict Canyon, to the cul de sac where it ends — at the wire gate of the home at 10050 Cielo Drive rented by Polanski and Miss Tate.

The police entered the property with guns drawn. A dog bayed behind a guest house facing the driveway. Officers heard a man’s voice yell to the dog to be quiet.

They entered the guest house and at gunpoint arrested William Etson Garretson, who will be 20 on Aug. 24. He was wearing only pin-striped bell-bottom trousers.

The maid, in shock, was taken to UCLA Medical Center for treatment. Later she was taken to the West Los Angeles station, as was Garretson.

After questioning him for several hours, police booked Garretson on suspicion of murder.

Police Theory

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At the scene of the crime Police Lt. Robert Madlock gave newsmen the reason:

“He was taken into custody because he was on the premises where five people were murdered.”

Madlock gave few other details. Among information police did release:

Exact causes of death were not immediately determined. Autopsies were pending.

Telephone lines into the home had been cut, apparently by the murderer. No weapon was found at the scene, although officers found pieces of what were believed to be a pistol grip inside the home.

No narcotics were found in the home. There were evidences of a struggle. There was apparently nothing missing. No motive could be immediately determined.

Archival photo from Aug. 10, 1969, of Los Angeles County Coroner Thomas Noguchi
Los Angeles County Coroner Thomas Noguchi talks with reporters at scene where actress Sharon Tate and four others were slain.
(Boris Yaro / Los Angeles Times)

Dr. Thomas T. Noguchi, county coroner, went to the home Saturday afternoon. An hour later he emerged and told newsmen he couldn’t elaborate beyond saying the dead were victims of “multiple wounds.” He said a further announcement would probably be made today.

“This is an extraordinary case, a difficult case,” he said, explaining why he came to the scene. “If my presence is demanded by the people of Los Angeles County, I’ll be there.”

Identifies Four Bodies

William Tenant, Miss Tate’s agent, came to the home at noon — still wearing tennis clothes — and identified the bodies of Miss Tate, Miss Folger, Sebring and Frokowski.

He left, sobbing, without speaking to reporters waiting at the gate. Later he phoned Polanski at his apartment in London to inform him of Miss Tate’s death.

“He broke down and cried,” said a friend in London. “He made arrangements to catch the first available flight to Los Angeles.”

Hollywood associates said Miss Tate had recently visited Polanski in London, where he was working on plans for a projected film.

Friends said that Miss Folger had been staying at the Tate-Polanski home, where Frokowski was also a guest.

“Gibby” Folger was the daughter of Peter Folger of Woodside, Calif., president of the Folger Coffee Co., a subsidiary of Procter & Gamble.

She was a society girl — a graduate of Catalina School for Girls at Carmel and of Radcliffe — who had in recent months joined Miss Tate’s circle of Hollywood friends, sometimes called a community of “rich hippies.”

Folger told a reporter his daughter had been active in social welfare causes around Los Angeles for the past six months and “more or less commuted” between Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay area. “She has always led a clean life,” he said.

Hollywood friends told of seeing her at seance-type sessions, meditating Indian philosophies with Mia Farrow and others.

Police said that the men killed at the home were dressed in “hippie type” clothes.

The home is a rambling affair with a driveway at one side and a swimming pool at the other. The bodies were scattered from the driveway almost to the pool area.

Police wouldn’t offer any theories as to how five persons could have been killed without some of them successfully fleeing. The Ambassador auto in which the young man was killed was facing toward the gate which was the exit from the driveway.

Parent was identified by his parish priest, the Rev. Robert Byrne of the Church of the Nativity, who went to the coroner’s office after the boy’s father, Wilfred E. Parent, 11214 Bryant Road, El Monte, told him his son was missing.

Father Byrne began crying as Dep. Coroner Don Strickland showed him Parent’s body. “Oh, my God,” he said, putting his head in his hand. “Steve. Steve. Steve.”

The boy’s father called the coroner’s office about the same time and was told that his son was dead.

Police wouldn’t speculate on what an El Monte teen-ager was doing at the home of the jet-setting film crowd — but a coroner’s aide said there were reports young Garretson had a guest at his caretaker’s quarters Friday night, and that the guest may have been Parent.

The home is secluded from others in the neighborhood. Mrs. Seymour Kott, who lives at 10170 Cielo Drive, told a reporter:

“I thought I heard some shots about midnight. About three or four. They weren’t too loud. More a clap! clap! sort of thing.”

Miss Tate and Polanski were married at a London registry office in January, 1968. They had been separated frequently because of film commitments in various parts of the world and there had been rumors in Hollywood recently that the couple were having marital trouble.

The time of the killings wasn’t immediately determined. Police told a neighbor that Miss Tate had been dead too long when the bodies were discovered for anything to be done about saving the life of her unborn child.

Barry Tarlow, young Garretson’s attorney, said the youth told him that he was completely innocent and knew absolutely nothing of the crime. He said he had been asleep when police burst in his door with shotguns and arrested him.

Police in Garretson’s hometown of Lancaster, Ohio, said he was given a two-year suspended jail sentence in 1967 for contributing to the delinquency of a minor. His mother, Mary Garretson, 42, a divorcee, said her son had left home last October without saying goodbye but had written saying he hoped to return home soon.

She said he told of entertaining young friends in his caretaker’s quarters — including a young “nervous” veteran back from Vietnam whom he ordered out of the place for stealing neighbors’ champagne, and an AWOL Marine later caught and sent to the brig.

“He’s a quiet, gentle boy,” the mother told The Times by phone. “I could hit him and he’d never do a thing. I could holler at that kid and he’d just go lie on his bed and never talk back to me. Just lie there, quiet.

“He wrote me and phoned me often. He said he was watching this house for this man and he wanted to quit the job as soon as he could so he could come home. He was homesick. He left home just after he got out of school last year and he wanted to come home.

“He said he wanted to come home, get a car, and then maybe go back to California and go to school, to learn to be an actor.”

Garretson worked for Rudy Altabelli, who rented the home to the Polanskis. Altabelli is in Europe and had asked Garretson to continue his $35-a-week job as a caretaker at the property until he came home.

“He never mentioned the people who lived there,” the boy’s mother told The Times by telephone. “He did send me a picture of that Mr. Polanski walking a dog. Bill loves dogs. He never mentioned the lady. But he did say that Mr. Cary Grant’s cook gave him a ride up the hill once in a Rolls-Royce.”

Still at the home after Garretson was taken away were the pets he had been helping care for: a Dalmatian, two poodles, a Weimaraner, a Yorkshire terrier and a kitten. The Animal Regulation Department took them away as the coroner’s office was removing the bodies of the slain.


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