The Story of the Tate Family
The murder of Sharon Tate-Polanski, and the other victims of the Manson Family in 1969, is one of the most well documented crimes of the 20th Century. Many books, movies and television programs have been devoted to the crime.
The story of the Tate family is irrevocably tied to these heinous crimes. However, the legacy of the Tate family, is one of selfless dedication to the memory of Sharon Tate-Polanski and the other victims of those crimes, in fact, all victims of violent crime. One by one the members of Sharon's immediate family have stepped forward to give a voice to those who could not speak for themselves.
In brief, this is the story of their journey.
The Murder of Sharon Tate-Polanski
Sharon Marie Tate-Polanski, was the eldest of three daughters of Col. Paul Tate and his wife Doris. She became a film actress in the 1960s. She is probably best remembered for her role in Valley of the Dolls. She was often described as one of the most beautiful women in the world. However, those that really knew her, found her best feature to be her heart. She was kind to everyone. Her husband, film director Roman Polanski would say of her: "She could not refuse any friendship. She simply could not turn anyone away."
On the night of August 9th, 1969, Charles Manson sent Charles "Tex" Watson, Susan Atkins, Patricia Krenwinkel and Linda Kasabian to 10050 Cielo Drive. His directive to this group was to kill anyone they found on the property and to "leave a sign", "something witchy". The four did not hesitate or protest. They drove from the ranch where Manson and his cult, known as "The Family", lived and headed directly for the house in the hills.
Unbeknownst to the Manson Family, this was now the home of Sharon Tate and Roman Polanski. The Polanski's had not spent much time in this house, both being in Europe most of 1969. Sharon herself had only recently returned. Roman Polanski was still in London, finishing up pre production work on a film. He was due to return within the next week. At the Tate-Polanski residence that night were Abigail Folger and Voytek Frykowski, both of whom had been house-sitting while Sharon and Roman were in Europe. Also visiting that night was family friend, Jay Sebring. A young man unknown to Sharon and her friends, Steven Parent, was also on the grounds that night, visiting the caretaker of the property William Garretson.
Upon arriving at the gate of the Tate home, Watson climbed the telephone pole and cut the wires so that the people inside the home could not call out. The killers then scaled the gate and dropped onto the grounds of the property.
At the same time, Steven Parent was leaving the property in his car. Watson flagged Parent down and shot and stabbed him.
Watson told Kasabian to stay behind and listen for anyone approaching, while he, Atkins and Krenwinkel continued on up the drive to the House.
The three broke into the Tate home. There they came upon Voytek sleeping on the couch. While Watson held a gun on Frykowksi, Atkins rounded up Abigail Folger, Jay Sebring and Sharon Tate.
Krenwinkel joined Atkins in tying up the victims.
They shot, hung, stabbed and bludgeoned to death Jay Sebring, Abigail Folger and Voytek Frykowski.
Sharon Tate-Polanski was the last to be murdered. Sharon was eight and a half months pregnant. She begged for the life of her unborn child. Atkins told her "I don't care about you. I don't care about your baby." She and Watson then stabbed Sharon to death.
Before leaving the house Atkins used Sharon's blood to write the word PIG on the front door of the house.
On the ride back to the ranch, Atkins and Krenwinkel complained that their hands hurt from using the knives on their victims so many times. Atkins said that her head hurt because Frykowski had pulled her hair while she was stabbing him.
Arriving at the ranch they were greeted by Manson, who asked them - "Do you feel any remorse?" They each answered "No."
The Manson Family trials
The murder of Sharon and her friends that night was not the first, or the last, of the murders by this group.
Prior to August 9th, the Manson Family had been responsible for the murder of musician Gary Hinman.
The night after the Murders at the Tate-Polanski home, a couple in Los Feliz, Leno and Rosemary Labianca, were also murdered in their home.
A few weeks later Donald Shea, who worked at the ranch where the Manson Family lived, was killed.
The pain the Tate Family felt was only exacerbated by the publicity surrounding Sharon's murder and the subsequent capture and trial of those responsible.
When the Manson Family came to trial the Tates were represented by Col. Paul Tate. He was the first witness called by the prosecution at the trial of Charles Manson, Susan Atkins, Patricia Krenwinkel and Leslie Van Houten. (Charles Watson would be tried separately at a later date)
Col. Tate identified photographs of Sharon, Abigail Folger, Jay Sebring and Voytek Frykowski and spoke of the last time he saw Sharon.
During the trial Manson and the female defandants caused many disturbances, making statements in unison during the testimony, screaming, threatening witnesses. At one point Manson leap across the defense table in a move to attack the Judge.
The Verdict and the Aftermath
On January 25th, 1971 the jury returned guilty verdicts against all 4 defendants. Charles Manson, Susan Atkins and Patricia Krenwinkel were found guilty of seven counts of first degree murder and one count of conspiracy to commit murder for their roles in the murders at the Tate-Labianca homes. Leslie Van Houten, who had not been present at the Tate house, was found guilty of two counts of first degree murder and one count of conspiracy to commit murder.
On March 29th, 1971 the jury recommended the death penalty on all counts for all four defendants.
As the Clerk read the verdicts the female defendants shouted:
"You have just judged yourselves."
"Better lock your doors and watch your own kids."
"Your whole system is a game. You blind, stupid people. Your children will turn against you."
On April 19th, 1971 Judge Charles Older sentenced the four defendants to death.
At the time- and indeed until the trial of O.J. Simpson in 1995 -the trial of Manson and the female defendants was the longest jury trial in California history.
Col. Tate said "That's what we wanted. That's what we expected. But there's no jubilation in some thing like this, no sense of satisfaction. It's more a feeling that justice has been done. Naturally, I wanted the death penalty. They took my daughter and my grandchild."
On October 12th, 1971 Charles Watson was found guilty of seven counts of first degree murder and one count of conspiracy to commit murder for the crimes committed at the Tate-Labianca homes.
On October 21st, 1971 the jury recommended the death penalty for Watson as well.
In other proceedings Manson and family members Bruce Davis and Steve Grogan were found guilty in the trial for the murders of Gary Hinman and Donald Shea. They each recieved a life sentence for these murders.
Susan Atkins pled guilty to the murder of Gary Hinman and also recieved an additional sentence of life in prison.
Unfortunately, in Feb. 1972, the death sentences of the Manson Family murderers were overturned by the Supreme Court of California. Their sentences were reduced to life in prison. At the time there was no life sentence without the possibility of parole, therefore every member of the Manson family became eligible for parole after serving only a few years in prison for their crimes.