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From the Archives: Savage Mystic Cult Blamed for 5 Tate Murders, 6 Others

The front page of the Los Angeles Times on Dec. 2, 1969
The front page of The Times on Dec. 2, 1969, when Charles Manson’s “mystic cult” was blamed for a string of murders in California.

This article appeared in the Los Angeles Times on Dec. 2, 1969.

Police believe they have solved the Sharon Tate murder case and that an occult band of hippies, directed by a leader who calls himself “Jesus,” committed the five killings.

Members of the band — a mystical, hate oriented tribe of 20th century nomads — also are suspected of the La Bianca — or “copycat” — killings and at least four other comparably grotesque butcheries.

The suspects slew their victims, police believe, both to “punish” them for their affluent life style and to “liberate” them from it.

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The killers invaded the Tate and La Bianca households, it is suspected, because they learned about the victims’ affluence through friends or relatives of those slain.

Police have found no evidence of association between the suspects and the victims prior to the murders, it was reported Monday.

The cult leader, Charles Manson, 34, who also refers to himself as “God” and “Satan,” is in custody, along with a man and two young women. A third young woman is being sought out-of-state, but her whereabouts is believed known.

At least five other women are being held in Sybil Brand Institute here as material witnesses.

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Consider Selves ‘Slaves’

All are members of Manson’s “family,” as the tribe calls itself. They reportedly consider selves his “slaves,” willing to do his bidding without question.

Police got their break about two weeks ago when a young woman member of the outlaw hippie clan poured out to an informer an eerie story of mass murder and sadistic sexual gratification.

The young woman reportedly confided that the Tate and La Bianca killers were members of the cult which considered itself divinely guided and above the law.

She recounted details of the Tate murder scene which, in the judgment of police, only the killers could have known.

She supplied nicknames, aliases, first names and a few entire names which the informant passed along to detectives. These led officers to the last known stronghold of the nomadic tribe in Death Valley.

‘Let Me Have My Baby’

Before Miss Tate was killed, the informant told police, she pleaded to be spared, saying: “Let me have my baby.” She was 8 ½ months pregnant at the time.

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At a press conference Monday, Police Chief Edward M. Davis released fragmentary details about what possibly has become the most celebrated murder investigation in California history.

He revealed that murder complaints had been issued for three of the suspects, none of them Manson, and said:

“It is anticipated that an additional four or five persons will be named in indictments which will be sought from the Los Angeles County Grand Jury.”

However, it is known that police believe only five persons, two men and three young women, actively participated in the slaughter of Miss Tate and four others at the actress’ Benedict Canyon estate Aug. 9.

The second man, Charles D. Watson, alias Charles Montgomery, 24, is being held in McKinney, Tex., on an unrelated charge. But he was accused in the complaint filed here Monday by Dep. Dist. Atty. Vincent Bugliosi with the slaying of 18-year-old Steven Parent.

The El Monte youth, who had been visiting the estate’s caretaker, was shot to death in his car parked in the driveway of the secluded estate rented by Miss Tate and her director-husband Roman Polanski.

He is not believed to have been acquainted with Miss Tate or the other three victims: hairstylist Jay Sebring, Polish playboy Wojciech (Voityck) Frykowski and coffee heiress Abigail Folger.

The two young women charged with five counts of murder in complaints filed Monday by Bugliosi are Linda Kasabian, 19, and Patricia Krenwinkel, 21, both Los Angeles area residents.

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Watson, a native of Texas, goes by the nickname of “Tex,” and his cousin, Tom Montgomery, is sheriff of Collin County where he is being held.

Charles “Tex” Watson

The suspect, son of a grocer in nearby Copeville, Tex., was described by sheriff Montgomery as clean-shaven and wearing his hair short when arrested.

Miss Krenwinkel, also known as Mary Scott, Mamie Reeves and “Katie,” and charged under the name Kernwinkel, was arrested in Mobile, Ala.

Miss Kasabian, still at liberty, is believed to have sought sanctuary in a convent in New Mexico.

No charges were filed in connection with the slayings of wealthy grocery executive Leno La Bianca and his wife Rosemary in their Silver Lake home the day after the Benedict Canyon massacre.

Formal charges in either case have yet to be filed against Manson, who is an ex-convict with a record dating back 18 years, or the third female suspect, Susan Denise Atkins, 21.

However, Manson is in custody, charged with arson and receiving stolen property, in the town of Independence, county seat of Inyo County, site of the “family’s” most recent encampment.

Miss Atkins, also known as Sadie Glutz, is in custody here, accused of a murder related to both the Tate carnage and the La Bianca murders.

Very Strange Cult

Police believe that, at the outside, the family numbers no more than 35, but investigators suspect that knowledge of the murders was widespread among members, all held in the thrall of their leader by a strange “spell.”

The cult to which the suspects belong is an anomaly even in the off-beat hippie world, and beyond its members’ proclivity for violence.

The men wear long hair, but the women crop theirs short, and they identify with no one but their own close group.

Those who have observed them, especially the young women, say “their mien is almost ethereal, as if they were listening to voices they alone can hear.”

Patricia Krenwinkel
(Associated Press)

When Miss Krenwinkel, an attractive brunette dressed in hippie garb — floppy hat, blue denims and a man’s checked shirt two sizes too big — was arrested in Mobile she was riding in a car with a teen-age boy. He was not held.

When she saw police, officers said, she pulled the hat over her face.

Miss Krenwinkle had lived in and around Mobile most of her early life, according to police. Her mother lives in nearby Theodore, Ala., said Mobile officers, but her daughter was not living with her.

It is believed police have some, but not all, of the physical evidence to support circumstantial evidence obtained from informants.

In search of it, six homicide detectives and Dep. Dist. Atty. Bugliosi armed with the young woman informant’s tips sped to the abandoned encampment near Death Valley the night of Nov. 19 with a search warrant.

Their objective was a converted school bus which the clan used as a mobile headquarters during their meanderings.

The searchers reportedly found no weapons, but confiscated clothing and other articles which they hope may yield evidence.

Most of the tribe, officers discovered, had been seized in mid-October at their encampment in barren Goler Wash, 20 miles northeast of Trona, in the Death Valley area, and booked as suspects in a ring specializing in the theft of dune buggies and expensive automobiles.

Many of the same hippies had been arrested two months earlier, or just a week after the Tate killings, for similar thefts during a raid on an isolated Chatsworth ranch, known as the Spahn Ranch, where they were living in an abandoned movie set.

It was from the Chatsworth ranch that police believe the suspects made murderous sorties into populated areas when the deities to which they paid homage so ordained.

Spahn movie ranch
According to police, the Spahn movie ranch was where three suspects in the murders of Sharon Tate and four others lived at the time of the crimes. It is near suburban Chatsworth. The group later moved to a canyon near Death Valley.
(Associated Press)

Connection With Religion

Asked if the clan was “any kind of religious organization,” Chief Davis replied Monday: “It perhaps could have some religious connotation connected with it, depending on your frame of references.”

Those familiar with the nomads say they practiced “a kind of witchcraft,” and that part of their rites was associated with drug usage marijuana and LSD, but not the “hard stuff,” heroin and cocaine, used by some of the Tate-Polanski intimates.

After the Chatsworth raid, remnants of the tribe drifted to the Death Valley commune and were soon joined by others who had been freed on bail or had their charges dismissed.

At the time of the October raid on the Death Valley commune in the Panamint Range, officers found about 20 persons — men, young women and even a few small children — living in two primitive miners’ cabins.

Deputies also found fortified observation posts, equipped with telescopes and walkie talkies.

Manson reportedly was manning one of the lookout stations when officers arrived.

The area, about 125 miles southeast of Independence, is virtually inaccessible except by four wheel drive vehicles.

Most of the young women arrested in October were nude or clad only in bikini bottoms at the time of the raid. Some of them, and the men, wore sheaths holding knives.

Officers confiscated guns there, as well as at the Chatsworth ranch.

Complaints From Miners

Deputies said Death Valley miners had complained of being driven away from the encampment earlier by young people armed with knives.

Manson, slight and fierce-eyed, with shoulder length hair, was in jail as a result of the Death Valley raid at the time he came under suspicion in the Tate case.

Miss Atkins also was arrested in the Death Valley raid, then brought to Los Angeles County when evidence linked her to a Malibu area torture murder.

Gary Hinman, 34, a musician, was slain last July in his Topanga Canyon home. He had been stabbed numerous times. “Political Piggy” was scrawled in blood on one wall of his home.

“Pig” was found written in blood at the Tate home when the murders were discovered there.

“Death to Pigs” was smeared in blood on the door of the refrigerator in the La Bianca home.

There has been speculation that the gruesome legends were an attempt to throw investigators off scent, to make it appear the slayings may have been the work of black militants, whom the Manson family is known to despise.

Death Valley residents said they had heard the Manson clan had retreated to the remote communes because they feared a black takeover in Los Angeles.

A codefendant with Miss Atkins in the Hinman case, Robert K. Beausoleil, 21, was tried last week, but an 8-4 vote for his conviction resulted in a hung jury and a mistrial. He was arrested in August, two days before the Tate murders, and his connection with Manson’s hippie tribe is not known.

However, a second informant in the Tate case testified at Beausoleil’s trial that the defendant had boasted in late July about killing the musician.

The second informant is Daniel Thomas deCarlo, 25, of Inglewood, now under heavy guard. DeCarlo reported he knew of the hippie tribe’s murderous excursions because he was the head of a motorcycle gang formerly headquartered in Death Valley near the Manson commune.

The motorcyclists reportedly were invited to join in the Tate murders, but deCarlo rejected the overture.

Miss Atkins was charged with the Hinman murder, as was Beausoleil, but she was not apprehended until long after the Tate slayings. Their cases were severed. She was arraigned only last Wednesday.

Police believe the killers entered the Tate residence just before midnight Aug. 8 and the murders occurred some time before 12:30 a.m. Aug. 9.

Parent was slain first, with a 22-caliber revolver, police said.

All four other victims died of stab wounds but Sebring and Frykowski also were shot with the same caliber revolver. Frykowski also was clubbed over the head with a heavy instrument.

It is understood police believe only one gun was used in the killings.

Davis credited “tenacious investigation carried on by robbery-homicide detectives” with forcing the break in the case.

The chief said the investigators “developed a suspicion which caused them to do a vigorous amount of work in this Spahn ranch area and the people connected with the Spahn ranch which led us to where we are today.”

The ranch is one mile west of Topanga Canyon Road on Santa Susana Pass Road.

Davis said evidence in the Tate case obtained thus far will be presented to the County Grand Jury’s criminal complaints committee this morning to support a request for a formal inquiry on Dec 9.

The district attorney’s office has assigned three deputies to assist detectives “to make certain all legal requirements are complied with,” Davis added. He said the three, J. Miller Leavy, Aaron Stovitz and Bugliosi, “will carry the case to its conclusion.”


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