One week before the legendary Woodstock festival that marked a high point of the decade and has stayed engraved in humanities collective memory as a universal success of peace and love, occurred a terrible murder that would spell the end of the 60’s, the shattering of the hippie movement and the withering of the flower children.
Born on 24th of January 1943, the first of 3 children. Her father was a military officer and was relocated every few years to a new post. As a result, Sharon and her family moved about often and by the time she was 16 she had lived and studied in 6 different places including Washington state, Texas and Vicenza Italy. Moving around often made it hard for Sharon to make close friends and she was described as a shy child.
Sharon would stand out everywhere the family would move as an extraordinarily beautiful girl, she started attending beauty pageants as a baby but in her teens returned a kept on stunning judges and peers. including 1959 and 1960 miss Richland and miss Washington respectively.
After her family moved to Italy Sharon went to school with other American children who experienced a similar unstable upbringing and for the first time, she met and connected with peers.
In addition, she starred on the cover of an American military magazine making her somewhat of a local celebrity.
Tate began around the age of 18-19 to come on film sets as an extra and for a while, she dated Richard Beymer. She appeared on screen as an extra in a few films that were being filmed around Venice and Verona. Including: Hemingway’s Adventures of a Young Man, The Pat Boone Chevy Showroom, Barabbas.
Later in 1961 Sharon moved by herself to the USA in search of work in Hollywood.
The following promotional video was filmed about Sharon while producing the first Feature film she had a major role in ‘Eye of the Devil’
I have found a lovely quote from Sharon that really sums up part of her character: “I have no qualms about it at all. I don’t see any difference between being stark naked or fully dressed — if it’s part of the job and it’s done with meaning and intention. I honestly don’t understand the big fuss made over nudity and sex in films. It’s silly. On TV, the children can watch people murdering each other, which is a very unnatural thing, but they can’t watch two people in the very natural process of making love. Now, really, that doesn’t make any sense, does it?”
Sharon often starred as a sexy blonde and flaunted a very minimalistic dress code, often ‘falling into water’ to highlight her ‘curves’.
After filming most of Eye of the Devil in France Tate moved back to London where she was mainly interested in fashion and nightclubs, while in London she met her future husband Roman Polanski.
Tate and Polanski later agreed that neither of them had been impressed by the other when they first met. Polanski was planning The Fearless Vampire Killers, which was being coproduced by Ransohoff, and had decided that he wanted the red-headed actress Jill St. John for the female lead. Ransohoff insisted that Polanski cast Tate and, after meeting with her, Polanski agreed that she would be suitable on the condition that she wore a red wig during filming. The company traveled to Italy for filming, where Tate’s fluent Italian proved useful in communicating with the local crew members. A perfectionist, Polanski had little patience with the inexperienced Tate and said in an interview that one scene had required 70 takes before he was satisfied. In addition to directing, Polanski also played one of the main characters, a guileless young man who is intrigued by Tate’s character and begins a romance with her. As filming progressed, Polanski praised her performances and her confidence grew. They began a relationship and Tate moved into Polanski’s London apartment after filming ended.
The couple were often separated moving individualy between England and the USA for different roles.
And by 1968 Sharon had starred in multiple films and was making a name for herself.
In late 1967, Tate and Polanski returned to London and were frequent subjects of newspaper and magazine articles. She was depicted as being untraditional and modern, and was quoted as saying that couples should live together before marrying. They were married in Chelsea, London, on January 20, 1968, with considerable publicity. Polanski was dressed in “Edwardian finery” while Tate was attired in a white minidress. The couple moved into Polanski’s mews house off Eaton Square in Belgravia, London.
Tate reportedly wanted a traditional marriage but Polanski remained promiscuous and described her attitude to his infidelity as “Sharon’s big hang-up”. He reminded her that she had promised not to change him. Tate accepted his conditions, though she confided to friends that she hoped that he would change. Peter Evans quoted Tate as saying, “We have a good arrangement. Roman lies to me and I pretend to believe him.”
Tate and Polanski moved into the Chateau Marmont in Los Angeles for a few months until they arranged to lease Patty Duke’s home on Summit Ridge Drive in Beverly Hills during the latter part of 1968. The Polanski house was often full of strangers, and Tate regarded the casual atmosphere as part of the “free spirit” of the times, saying that she did not mind who came into her home as her motto was “live and let live”.Her close friend Leslie Caron commented that the Polanskis were too trusting, “to the point of recklessness”, and that she had been alarmed by it.
She became pregnant near the end of 1968, and she and Polanski moved to 10050 Cielo Drive in Benedict Canyon, Los Angeles on February 15, 1969.
The house had previously been occupied by their friends Terry Melcher and Candice Bergen. Tate and Polanski had visited it several times, and Tate was thrilled to learn that it was available, referring to it as her “love house”. At their new home, the Polanskis continued to be popular hosts for their large group of friends, although some of them still worried about the strange people who continued to show up at their parties. In March 1969, she travelled to Italy to begin filming, and Polanski went to London to work on The Day of the Dolphin.
Tate joined Polanski in London. She posed in their apartment for photographer Terry O’Neill in casual domestic scenes such as opening baby gifts, and she completed a series of glamor photographs for the British magazine Queen. She returned from London to Los Angeles on July 20, 1969. Polanski was due to return on August 12 in time for the birth.
On August 8, 1969, Tate entertained actress Joanna Pettet and Barbara Lewis for lunch at her home, confiding in them her disappointment at Polanski’s delay in returning from London. Polanski telephoned her that day. Her younger sister Debra also called, to ask if she, her boyfriend and another friend could pick up a saddle that Sharon had purchased for Debra in Europe. Tate declined, offering to have them over another time. Later that evening, she dined at El Coyote Cafe with Jay Sebring, Wojciech Frykowski, and Abigail Folger, returning at about 10:30 pm
Shortly after midnight, Tate, Sebring, Frykowski and Folger were murdered. Their bodies were discovered the following morning by Tate’s housekeeper Winifred Chapman. Police arrived at the scene to find a young man shot dead in his car in the driveway, later identified as Steven Parent. Inside the house, the bodies of Tate and Sebring were found in the living room; a long rope tied around each of their necks connected them. On the front lawn lay the bodies of Frykowski and Folger. All of the victims except Parent had been stabbed numerous times. The coroner’s report for Tate noted that she had been stabbed 16 times and that “five of the wounds were in and of themselves fatal”.
Polanski was informed of the murders and returned to Los Angeles where police questioned him about his wife and friends. On Wednesday, August 13, Tate was interred in the Holy Cross Cemetery, Culver City, California, with her stillborn son Paul Richard Polanski in her arms, named posthumously for his grandfathers. Sebring’s funeral took place later the same day; the funerals were scheduled several hours apart to allow common friends to attend both.
Life devoted a lengthy article to the murders and featured photographs of the crime scenes. Polanski was interviewed for the article and allowed himself to be photographed at the entrance of the house, next to the front door with the word “PIG” still visible, written in Tate’s blood. He was widely criticized for the photoshoot, but he argued that he wanted to know who was responsible and was willing to shock the magazine’s readers in the hope that someone would come forward with information.
Curiosity about the victims led to the re-release of Tate’s films, achieving greater popularity than they had in their initial runs. Some newspapers began to speculate about the motives for the murders. Some published photographs of Tate were alleged to be taken at a Satanic ritual, but were in fact production photographs from Eye of the Devil. Friends spoke out against the portrayal of Tate by some elements of the media. Mia Farrow said that she was as “sweet and pure a human being as I have ever known”, while Patty Duke remembered her as “a gentle, gentle creature”. Polanski berated a crowd of journalists at a news conference, asking them, “Did you ever write how good she was?” Polanski said he began to suspect various friends and associates, and his paranoia subsided only when the killers were arrested. Newspapers claimed that many Hollywood stars were moving out of the city, while others installed security systems in their homes. Dominick Dunne recalled the tension:
The shock waves that went through the town were beyond anything I had ever seen before. People were convinced that the rich and famous of the community were in peril. Children were sent out of town. Guards were hired. Steve McQueen packed a gun when he went to Jay Sebring’s funeral.
The Tate Murders and Newspaper Coverage
How the headlines portray the Tate Murders is gruesome. Details, like the grotesque descriptions of how the bodies were mutilated, are vividly depicted, perhaps to expose the heinous nature of the crime. When reading the article today, the events feel even more brutal and ghastly.
The quotes featured are from The People and The Sunday Mirror, dated Sunday, August 10th 1969.
“Beautiful film star Sharon Tate was found murdered here today – the victim of a horrifying ritual massacre.” – Malcolm Keogh, The Sunday Mirror, August 10th, 1969.
“Sharon, 26, who sometimes called herself “sexy little me,” died with another woman and three men at her £83,000 Hollywood home,” he continues, “Sharon who was eight months pregnant, was the wife of 36-year-old Roman Polanski, the Polish-born film director, who is away filming in Europe.”
Continued: “Both he and Sharon have film associations with the occult. He made the controversial films Rosemary’s Baby (1968), in which a girl is raped by the devil.”
All other quotes taken from The People:
“FILM STAR Sharon Tate was found hanging and shot dead with four other murdered people yesterday in a “ritualistic” scene of horror at a blood-spattered Hollywood mansion.”
“Police described the house as “like a battlefield.” And certainly it was more a macabre sight than those brought to the screen by the actress’s film director husband, “master of suspense” Roman Polanksi.”
An almost sinister mention of Polanski’s former film credits.
“The red-haired, 26-year-old star, clad only in a bikini, was hanging by a white nylon rope looped over a beam in the ceiling of a room. And hanging on the other end of the rope was the black-hooded body of her former fiancée Jay Serbing…”
“Outside, in the grounds of the £83,000 hilltop mansion in Bel Air, California, lay the body of 26-year-old American coffee heiress Abigail Folger, wearing a nightdress. Next to her on the lawn was the body of 19-year-old Polish-born Voyteck Frykowski.”
“The body of another murdered man lay slumped in a car parked in the drive.” But his identity was unknown. Menacing and final: “The word “Pig” was scrawled across the front door – in blood.”
“Police who raced to the house of death found William Garretson, a 19-year-old, long-haired houseboy, asleep in a guest-house in the grounds. He was arrested without offering resistance and taken, shirtless, to police headquarters. After being questioned for five hours he was charged with murder on five accounts.”
Sergeant Stanley Klorman explained that there were signs of struggle in a large room and in a guest room, “It looked like a battlefield up there,” he begins, “In all my years, I have never seen anything like this before.”, he adds.
Police statements appear dumbfounded. Their responses to the crime echo the mysterious and “ritual” like slaughter. “All five victims, apparently dead for 12 hours, had been shot. Some of their bodies were mutilated.” How was law enforcement so quick to charge the only witness on the scene for the murders when overlooked details point toward multiple culprits?
“Electricity and telephone lines to the house had been cut.”, however, neighbours commented that Roman Polanski, who was in Europe at the time of the tragedy, had telephoned his wife every day.
The act implies more than one suspect must have taken part in the acts inside and outside the house, from cutting the wire to the gravity of the slaughter inside the house itself. This premise was not yet entertained with Garretson already having been charged.
The following night, in the Los Angeles home of grocery store executive Leno LaBianca and his wife, Rosemary a second murder was committed.
The couple was found tied up, robbed and stabbed to death. And once again with words left written in blood on the walls.
The crimes created a panic in Los Angeles, especially given their horrific nature; Frykowski (one of the six victims at the tate murder) had been stabbed more than 50 times and shot twice. Investigators were initially baffled and failed to make the connection between the two murder scenes, with detectives convinced that a drug transaction was the likely trigger for the Tate murders.
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