Who Killed Sharon Tate? How The Manson Murders Went Down

By | July 22, 2019

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Left: Sharon Tate circa 1968. Right: Charles 'Tex' Watson, one of the Manson Family members involved in Tate's murder. Sources: Silver Screen Collection/Archive Photos/Getty Images; Wikimedia Commons

The Tate-LaBianca murders, which claimed the lives of Sharon Tate and six others, are a gruesome crime inextricably linked to Charles Manson and the end of the 1960s. In the early hours of August 9, 1969, Tate, the pregnant wife of director Roman Polanski, and her friends became the victims of the Manson Family, a cult lead by the depraved and desperate Manson.

The murders were the product of a strange Hollywood ecosystem where wannabe bad boys palled around with legitimate psychopaths in order to gain credibility. Tate’s death has been dramatized and sensationalized time and time again in everything from TV shows to the 2019 release Once Upon A Time ... In Hollywood by director Quentin Tarantino. But the story of who actually killed Sharon Tate has more detail and intricacies than can be contained in one film. 

Before he was a cult leader, Manson wanted to be famous

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The story of Manson’s attempt to take over the Hollywood music scene of the 1960s is well trod territory, and the early chapters set up a standard rags to riches story. In the summer of 1968, Beach Boy Dennis Wilson picked up a pair of young hitchhikers, Patricia Krenwinkel and and Ella Jo Bailey, members of the Manson Family, and dropped them off after taking them home for “milk and cookies.”

After meeting the girls again, Wilson was introduced to Manson at a party at his own home in the Pacific Palisades. Manson reportedly knelt down and kissed the feet of the Beach Boys drummer, and for the next few months the two were inseparable. Manson leeched off Wilson’s fame while Wilson slept with the Manson girls. They attempted to collaborate on music, and Wilson even introduced Manson to Terry Melcher, a the producer for The Byrds.

When Manson showed that he was on a cult leader trip, that he was more interested in ripping apart the world that Wilson belonged to, the drummer split. He distanced himself from Manson and never saw him again. Melcher tried to work with Manson on a demo, but Manson was too hard to deal with and unwilling to compromise. Like Wilson, Melcher left Manson behind after a while.

Melcher and Wilson aren’t responsible for the unspeakable violence that occurred on Cielo Drive -- they only gave Manson a glimmer of hope that he could attain the rock god status that he so desperately wanted. Manson didn’t need Wilson and Melcher to set him off; with his temper, he would have found a way to ruin whatever shot he had regardless of the celebrity who offered to lend him a hand. Wilson and Melcher were just at the wrong place at the wrong time. After Manson’s falling out with his only connections to the rarified air of Hollywood stardom, he left the city and followed a depraved path to brutality.