Promises to Keep : Patti Tate Leads a Justice Crusade in the Name of Her Sister Sharon
Patti Tate is thinking back.
It’s the summer of ’69, and she’s got her hands on her sister’s stomach, feeling the baby inside kick. She was 11 years old then and her 26-year-old sister, actress Sharon Tate, was two weeks away from having her first baby. But on a hot August night, followers of Charles Manson killed seven people, including Sharon Tate, who was repeatedly stabbed as she pleaded for her life and that of her unborn child.
“My sister was everything to me,” said Tate, 36. “She was so sweet and such a gentle soul. She was a movie star and beautiful, and in my eyes she was just so big. There wasn’t anything I wouldn’t have done for her.”
Twenty-four years later, there still isn’t.
For her sister, Patti Tate has launched a national boycott against Geffen Records after Guns N’ Roses, which records on the Geffen label, refused to remove a song written by Manson from its new album, “The Spaghetti Incident?”
Tate said the record company “is putting Manson up on a pedestal for young people who don’t know who he is to worship like an idol.” She and other members of the Doris Tate Crime Victims Bureau are asking people to write and fax letters of protest to Geffen Records as well as to phone the record company.
Ed Rosenblatt, Geffen Records president, has told The Times that the company “would have preferred that the song wasn’t on the album, but given our belief in freedom of speech as well as the clear restraints of our legal agreements with the band, it is not our decision to make. That decision belongs solely to Guns N’ Roses. We genuinely regret the distress the situation has caused.”
Geffen Records has said neither Manson nor Guns N’ Roses will collect any money from the song, and royalties will be funneled to the son of one of Manson’s victims and to various environmental and crime-victim organizations. But that doesn’t satisfy Tate, who three weeks ago faced Geffen executives in a private meeting.
“Nothing came out of it,” she said, “but it was necessary for me to sit down with them, face to face and ask them, ‘Do you realize what you are creating here?’ This isn’t about whether or not Manson is making money or who is making money. This is about Manson still profiting by becoming a cult hero, an idol to a lot of young kids out there who will buy the album. And that’s where violence and crime is hitting us the worst right now, with our kids.
“I wanted to go in there and state exactly where I stood and that I would continue on with the boycott. I needed to touch them with my story, with my sister’s story, with her memory.”
Throughout her life, Tate, a friendly, soft-spoken woman, has fought to keep the memory of her sister alive because “you don’t want people to forget what Manson and his cult did and what others like them are capable of doing,” she said.
“Keeping Sharon’s memory alive keeps this senseless tragedy alive in the minds of many. We can’t go around thinking that ‘this won’t happen to me, it only happens to other people,’ because one day it’s going to hit home.
“The fact is that one out of every four people in California (is) going to be a victim of a serious crime: murder, rape, mayhem. We are all going to be touched by crime eventually, and it is going to get worse unless we start making our officials start changing some laws, like stiffer penalties for criminals, and laws that protect and give us, the victims, rights also.”
It is also for her sister that Tate crusades for justice on behalf of crime victims, through the efforts of the nonprofit Doris Tate Crime Victims Bureau in Sacramento. The bureau, which advocates passage of legislation for victims and their rights, was founded in 1992 by Doris Tate, who helped forge the crime victims’ movement nationwide after her daughter Sharon’s murder. Doris Tate died in July, 1992, from a brain tumor at the age of 68.
Patti Tate was at her mother’s side.
“I promised my mom before she died that I would continue on. This got started because it was her dream to pull together all the victims’ groups to make a difference in government and so that we can all stand united,” she said.
Tate also promised her mother that she would stay on top of any information regarding her sister’s murderers, who also killed wealthy grocer Leno LaBianca and his wife, Rosemary, the night after Sharon Tate was stabbed and hanged Aug. 9, 1969.
Late last month, Patti Tate attended the hearing for Patricia Krenwinkel, a member of the Manson gang up for parole for the 11th time from the California Institution for Women in Frontera. Sitting at a small table facing Krenwinkel, 46, convicted in seven of the Manson cult slayings, Tate told authorities why once again the woman should be denied her freedom. (Leslie Van Houten was up for parole for the 10th time, but Tate said she was not allowed to speak at that hearing because Van Houten was convicted only of conspiring to kill Tate, not of the murder.)
Tate directed her words to Krenwinkel’s attorney, the district attorney and three commissioners on the state Board of Prison Terms.
“I told them Krenwinkel’s crime, alone, was enough for her to stay in prison for the rest of her life. I told them my sister will be in her grave and Krenwinkel and the other Manson followers should be in prison for the rest of their lives.”
Tate said she told the group: “I knew and loved my sister. I remember her face. Could (Krenwinkel) remember what she looked like? I remember what my sister looked like in life and I’ve seen the pictures of what she and the others who were brutally murdered looked like after they got done with them. It was so savage. It was as if the murderers couldn’t get enough. They had an insatiable appetite. How can you trust someone like this? We have a society that will not accept them. They could end up being your neighbor.”
Both women were denied parole.
Tate said she will attend future parole hearings “to speak for my sister, to be the voice that they took away from her, to stand up for her rights, which she can no longer stand up for. It’s hard, real hard because every emotion comes out of you. You’re mad, sad--everything just comes out and you have to sit there and listen to how well they are doing, how they’ve gotten their college degrees, how they have received all kinds of help to make them better people. And I just want to vomit.
“People think that ‘oh, they won’t get out of jail,’ when in fact they can get out of jail. That’s why I tell people all the time that we have to know what is going on at the capital and what needs to be changed. We need to start paying attention to our elected officials and how they are voting. Are they working for us? Are they going to be tough on crime?
“I am so passionate about this because I feel that people are ready to make a change as long as they have the means to know that they can make a difference. We all have to be fighters.”
Tate said she gets her fighting spirit from her mother, who took her campaign inside prison walls, talking to inmates about the effect that crime has on victims, their families and friends.
“She was a real fighter, and she had such a voice at those parole hearings. But she never got over my sister’s death. Over the last 24 years, I have seen her agony. The most painful thing for me was to watch my parents grieve, to watch their hurt and know their hurt.
“When my mom was alive, I couldn’t help her or my father with their sadness. As a young child, I saw all that and realized that there was so much I couldn’t do. You want so much to help, but how do you help someone who is grieving so? Just by loving them. And you hope and pray and wish that nobody ever has to go through that.”
She is thinking back again to the summer of ’69, remembering her excitement at being reunited with Sharon, who had just moved from London to Southern California. Patti, her sister Debbie and their mother had moved to Los Angeles from San Francisco to be closer to Sharon. Patti said they hadn’t spent much time with Sharon because of the actress’s busy work schedule and her life abroad with director Roman Polanski. Tate’s father, who was in Army then, had remained in San Francisco to tie up the loose ends before joining his family.
“We had all moved back to California so we could be together and because we were preparing for this child,” Tate recalled. “I have fond memories of those days, of spending time with my sister, who I loved and adored.”
But then came word that would devastate the Tate family.
“We got a call early in the morning that something had happened up on Benedict Canyon where Sharon lived. We knew that something was wrong up there, but everything was very vague. Then came the reality that everybody up there was dead,” she said.
“I remember my mom saying that Sharon was dead and she collapsed on the floor. My dad was still up in San Francisco, and my sister (Debbie) and I had to call him at the Army base and tell him that Sharon was dead. He flew down and went straight to the house and identified the bodies. That’s how that day went,” she says, pausing for several seconds. “Hell. And hell continued for years.
“I don’t get angry anymore,” she said, adding that she just wants to fight and focus on making positive changes for victims and the families of victims “who virtually have no rights.”
“I know what it’s like to experience the effects of crime. Along with being a victim comes a lot of paranoia. Your personality changes, you become more skeptical, overprotective of your children and not trusting. It’s a wave that gets bigger and bigger. The effects are passed on to the next generation.”
Tate, who lives with her family in Southern California, is guarded about discussing her personal and professional life. “I have to be real careful,” she said. “I do work, but I don’t want to say more than that. There is still a huge threat out there. My life has been threatened.”
Undaunted, she forges ahead.
“I feel so strongly and my family has always felt so strongly that nothing will be accomplished if you just sit down and don’t do anything,” she said, which is why, as a board member of the Crime Victims Bureau, she helps monitor how elected officials vote on public safety and victims’ rights legislation and brings statewide crime-victims organizations together.
The group is currently gathering signatures on petitions to qualify a “three strikes, you’re out’ initiative, which would mandate a life prison term without parole for thrice-convicted serious felons, for a statewide ballot.
“We all have to help each other by talking and listening,” she said. “We all have the power to be a part of the healing process.”