How the Manson Killings Gripped Los Angeles

A maid called the police at 9 a.m. on Aug. 9, 1969, after finding five dead people in a Beverly Hills home. There was a blond woman on the living room floor, a rope wrapped around her neck and stab wounds in her swollen belly. A bloodied corpse wore a hood; another was behind the wheel of a car. Two more were sprawled on the lawn about 50 feet apart. A neighbor recalled hearing shots around midnight.

The word “pig” was wiped in blood on a white front door.

Charles Manson, an ex-convict turned cult leader, had planned the attack, directing his followers to sneak into a Benedict Canyon home rented by the director Roman Polanski, where they killed his pregnant wife, Sharon Tate, and four guests before dawn.

Americans have long had an insatiable appetite for gruesome crime stories. But this inexplicable act left many in Hollywood panicked that they could be next.

Some celebrities bought handguns to protect themselves. Others installed security cameras or holed up at the Beverly Hills Hotel. For many, the killings exposed the network of hustlers and hangers-on who lurk in the shadows of Los Angeles, barely within grasp of celebrity culture and the desire that fuels it.

Lawyers contended at the time that Manson had commanded his followers to go to the home to kill Melcher after he was spurned. But Melcher had already moved out, and Manson ordered the death of the inhabitants anyway. The next day, members of the cult killed two more people, the grocer Leno LaBianca and his wife, Rosemary.

Julian Wasser was a Life photographer at the time and, after hearing about the murder of Tate, he went to the house. There, he told The Guardian in 2014, he met a distraught Polanski and took photographs of the scene for him so they could be shared with a psychic.

As news of the murders spread from the seaside bungalows in Venice to the hillside estates above Sunset Boulevard, panic set in. The author Joan Didion wrote in “The White Album,” her 1979 book of essays, “Many people I know in Los Angeles believe that the Sixties ended abruptly on August 9, 1969.” Even the house in Benedict Canyon didn’t last. It was demolished in 1994.

“Hollywood was afraid because they didn’t know what was going on,” Wasser told The Guardian. “They thought it was a strange cult that was going to kill everybody. It led to security mania, everybody putting in special alarm systems. If you said ‘hi’ to someone in the street, they’d think you were another Manson. Total paranoia.”

Indeed, the murders spawned copycats. In February 1970, Capt. Jeffrey R. MacDonald, an Army medical field officer with the Green Berets at Fort Bragg in North Carolina, told the police that three men and a blond woman had entered his house, screamed “Acid is groovy, kill the pigs,” and killed his wife and two young daughters.

Source link