/Manson murders 50th anniversary: How CBS News covered Sharon Tate and Manson murders

Manson murders 50th anniversary: How CBS News covered Sharon Tate and Manson murders


On Aug. 8, 1969, notorious cult leader Charles Manson directed four of his most devoted followers to kill whoever was at a Beverly Hills home, which was being rented to film director Roman Polanski and his wife, Sharon Tate. The brutal murder of Tate and six others over two nights shocked the nation and introduced the world to the notorious cult leader and his followers.

CBS News coverage

CBS News correspondent Josh Darsa was at the scene to cover the murders. He reported that one investigator said it was “reminiscent of a weird religious rite.”

Tate’s body was found with rope around her neck and wrapped around the body of a man, Darsa reported.

“Authorities would allow no one in an unofficial capacity inside the posh $200,000 home in the hills overlooking Los Angeles,” Darsa reported.

One of the first police officers at the scene, Stanley Conrad, described the scene. “There were signs of a struggle — in the main house and also in the guest house in the rear,” he said.

A 19-year-old caretaker was initially taken into custody, Darsa reported.

Police said telephone and electricity lines cut and the bodies were dead about 12 hours.

Darsa reported a maid found the bodies, and ran “screaming to neighbors.” One law enforcement official told Darsa that he had “in all my years, I have never seen anything like this before.”

The murders

Manson had directed four of his most devoted followers, including Charles “Tex” Watson, Patricia Krenwinkel, Susan Atkins and Linda Kasabian to go to the former residence of an acquaintance, record producer Terry Melcher, and kill whoever was there.

As it turned out, the “posh” $200,000 Beverly Hills home was being rented to Polanski and Tate, who was eight months pregnant at the time. Polanski was shooting a film in Europe and was not at the house at the time.

Wojciech Frykowski, a friend who was staying at the house, was stabbed 51 times, shot twice, and pistol-whipped 13 times in the head. Another friend, coffee heiress Abigail Folger was stabbed 28 times. A third victim, prominent American hair stylist Jay Sebring, was also murdered that evening.

Sharon Tate was an up-and-coming actress at the time of her death and was well on her way to becoming a household name. In 1967, Tate starred in the film “Valley of the Dolls,” which earned her a Golden Globe Award nomination. She was also regularly featured in fashion magazines. Tate’s last completed film, “Twelve Plus One,” was released posthumously in 1969.

On the night of her murder, Tate begged for the life of her unborn baby, Atkins said. When asked in a 1993 parole hearing about Tate’s final words, according to the Los Angeles Times, Atkins said: “She asked me to let the baby live. I told her I didn’t have mercy for her.”

The word “pig” was written in blood on the door of the house.

The following evening, the cult group would strike again in the Los Feliz district of Los Angeles. This time, Leno and Rosemary LaBianca were murdered in similar fashion. Unlike the victims from the previous night, the LaBiancas were not well-known to the public. Leno, like his father, worked in the grocery store industry. He died just shy of his 44th birthday.

The country was stunned as word spread that the slayings appeared to be apart of a ritual and the killers had left bloody messages on doors and walls. Prosecutors claimed Manson’s motive was to incite a race war he coined “Helter Skelter.”

In October 1969, Manson was arrested for stealing RV parts. Police would eventually connect him to the murders.

Manson Family convictions

Manson was the leader of the “Manson Family” cult. He was ultimately convicted of orchestrating the murders of seven people, and died in November 2017.

Three women were convicted along with Manson in the murders. Another defendant, Charles “Tex” Watson was convicted in a separate trial. All were sentenced to death but their sentences were commuted to life when the U.S. Supreme Court briefly outlawed capital punishment in 1972.

Leslie Van Houten, the youngest of the women convicted, was long thought to be the most likely to win eventual release. But she has been repeatedly denied release, with California Gov. Gavin Newsom in June 2019 overruling for a third time a parole board’s decision to free her. Newsom said she was still dangerous.

Susan Atkins, whose testimony about killing Tate and her unborn child shocked the world, diedin prison in September 2009 from brain cancer. Her death came less than a month after a parole board turned down her last chance of freedom.

Patricia Krenwinkel admitted during her trial that she chased down and stabbed Abigail Folger and participated in the stabbing deaths of Leno and Rosemary LaBianca the following night. Krenwinkle has been denied parole 13 times, most recently in 2017. During a parole hearing in 2010, she wept and apologized when the board announced its decision.