How the Manson Family Murders Worked


The Manson Murders
Police guard the estate of movie director Roman Polanski after his wife, actress Sharon Tate, and four others were killed by the Manson family. Bettmann/Contributor/Getty Images

"I'm the devil, and I'm here to do the devil's business."

That's how Charles "Tex" Watson announced himself when he entered the home of actor Sharon Tate at 10050 Cielo Drive, Beverly Hills, California [source: Sandford]. A young teen named Steve Parent was already dead in his car outside in the driveway, slashed and shot to death by Watson as he tried to leave [source: King]. Watson was accompanied by Susan Atkins and Patricia Krenwinkel, two members of Manson's "family" of followers, while a third, Linda Kasabian, waited outside at the driveway gate.

Watson made his intimidating pronouncement about the devil to Wojtek Frykowski, who Atkins and Krenwinkel quickly tied up. Frykowski was the boyfriend of coffee heiress Abigail Folger. The three Manson followers found Folger reading in bed while they prowled through the house. Next, Watson, Atkins and Krenwinkel located Sharon Tate and her friend Jay Sebring in another room. Tate was eight months pregnant and her husband, director Roman Polanski, was away in London working on a film.

The details of the murders that happened that night are horrific; they were meant to be horrific, committed specifically to spark outrage and terror. Manson told Watson earlier that night, "Totally destroy everyone in that house, as gruesome as you can" [source: King]. The killers followed orders and were merciless and cold, ignoring the pleas of the victims and mutilating the bodies with additional stab wounds afterward — even writing the word "pig" on the door in one of the victims' blood. But these weren't the first murders committed by Manson's followers, and they weren't the last either.

Just two nights later, Manson urged his followers to go out and murder again. The plan was to commit two separate killings on the same night. After scouting several possible victims, Manson picked a house next door to one where he and his followers had stayed and partied in the past. He broke in and tied up the couple inside, Leno and Rosemary LaBianca. Manson left, and Watson, Krenwinkel and Leslie Van Houten stabbed them multiple times, killing them. "Death to pigs," "rise" and "healter skelter" [sic] were scrawled on the walls in blood.

While the LaBiancas were being killed, Manson ordered another trio of his followers to murder actor Saladin Nader. Manson again fled after issuing the command, leaving his family to his dirty work. However, Kasabian (who stood watch outside at the Tate murders) grew reluctant to take part in the murders, and intentionally knocked on the wrong apartment door, giving her and the other two followers an excuse to abandon Manson's second murder plans [source: People v. Watson, Cal.1970].

However, the other two sets of killings still shocked the entire nation. Before they were tied to the Manson family, they were labeled by many as the Tate-LaBianca murders, and they're still referred by that name. Though because of Manson's lasting notoriety, they're more commonly known simply as the Manson murders.

But the Manson murders weren't the only ones committed by the Manson family. In fact, they committed several crimes before the Tate-LaBianca murders. First, in late June 1969, Watson double-crossed a drug dealer named Bernard Crowe, resulting in bad blood between Crowe and the Manson family. Manson shot Crowe on July 1, 1969, thinking he'd killed him. But Crowe survived, and the shooting incident only amplified Manson's growing paranoia and played a part in his possible motives for future killings [source: Sanders].

Just a few weeks later on July 25, 1969, several Manson followers, including Bobby Beausoleil, tied up a man named Gary Hinman, while trying to take his car and money. Eventually, Beausoleil stabbed Hinman to death, though some versions of the story say Manson killed Hinman, or at least took part in torturing and stabbing him [source: Felton and Dalton]. Just days before the Tate-LaBianca murders, Beausoleil was arrested while driving Hinman's car. This killing also plays into Manson's possible motivations for ordering the more well-known massacres.

How did this happen? How could one small man convince an entire group of people — his "family" — to commit brutal murders on his say-so? To figure that out, let's look at where Charles Manson came from.

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