For years, I have been fascinated with the case of the Manson family. Charles Manson and members of his hippie “family” murdered of actress Sharon Tate (at the time, married to director Roman Polanski and eight and a half months pregnant with her first child) and her friends actor/writer Wojciech Frykowski, his girlfriend Abigail Folger (heiress to the Folger coffee fortune), and hairstylist Jay Sebring at the couple’s home in August 1969. Polanski was out of the country at the time of the murders. Also killed was Steven Parent, who was leaving after visiting his friend, William Garretson, the caretaker of the home who was not injured that night (and therefore briefly considered a suspect). It is believed that the family went to the house that night to kill Doris Day’s son Terry Melcher as an act of revenge because Melcher refused to sign Manson to a record contract after meeting him through Beach Boy Dennis Wilson. Melcher had lived in the house until February 1969, after which time Tate and Polanski moved in.
The next night, the Manson family members murdered supermarket exec Leno LaBianca and his wife Rosemary. The family might not have been caught except when arrested and imprisoned for stolen property, Susan Atkins decided to brag to other inmates about the killings.
Now this is the thing that has fascinated me for so long – the actual murderers in the case were Manson followers Tex Watson, Susan Atkins, Patricia Krenwinkel, and Leslie Van Houten. However, although there was no physical evidence against Manson and he had only actually gone with the group on the LaBianca murders, Los Angeles Deputy District Attorney Vincent Bugliosi was able to get Manson convicted of seven counts of murder and the one of conspiracy. How he was able to get an obviously dangerous man, who had others do his killing for him, off the streets is truly amazing.
This whole thing was like the O.J. case on steroids, the ultimate circus trial. Family members protested outside the courthouse each day, Manson and the girls (Watson fled to Texas and was tried at a later date) carved swastikas into their foreheads, Van Houten’s attorney Ronald Hughes went missing, and later turned up dead during the trial, Manson leaped over the table and tried to attack the judge, and he even tried to create a mistrial by flashing a copy of the Los Angeles Times with the headline “Manson Guilty, Nixon Declares” to the jury during the trial. Manson and the others still sit in prison, denied each time they come up for parole.
Although Atkins had also boasted in late 1969 of “three other people out in the desert they had done in” and others who were known to associate with the family went “missing,” no one had been able to find anymore Manson victims.
I was very surprised today when I went to CNN.com and saw Manson in the headlines once again. It seems that nearly four decades after the original murders occurred, a group of forensic investigators has gone to the Barker Ranch (one of the places where the Manson family had lived during the late Sixties) and guess what they found? They think there are at least two clandestine gravesites and another site that deserves more investigation. Prospector Emmett Harder, who worked there the same time the family lived there and hired several of the men to help him, lead the expedition that may find uncover more Manson murder victims.
It’s highly unlikely that Manson will ever get out of prison (and that is putting it nicely), but this new discovery may help bring some peace to the family member of those that went missing during this time.