Zodiac Killer at the Tate House

On the morning of August 9, 1969, Winifred Chapman, a house maid employed by Sharon Tate and Roman Polanski, entered the house at 10050 Cielo Drive between 8:00 and 8:30 to begin her day of work. She went through the dining room toward the living room. Author of the book Helter Skelter, Vincent Bugliosi, details what happened next.… Continue reading “Zodiac Killer at the Tate House”

“Then she stopped suddenly, her progress impeded by two large blue steamer trunks, which hadn’t been there when she had left the previous afternoon – and by what she saw.

There appeared to be blood on the trunks, on the floor next to them, and on two towels in the entryway. She couldn’t see the entire living room – a long couch cut off the area in front of the fireplace – but everywhere she could see she saw the red splashes. The front door was ajar. Looking out she saw several pools of blood on the flagstone porch. And, farther on, on the lawn, she saw a body.”

What Winifred did not notice in the living room as she gazed in horror at the evident signs of furious butchery was a pair of eyeglasses on the carpet next to the steamer trunks. The position of the glasses was singularly odd and precariously upright – lenses down, ear frames sticking up, perpendicular to the floor.

When the police arrived, they found in the house and on the grounds the bodies of Sharon Tate, Jay Sebring, Wojciech Frykowski, Abigail Folger and Steve Parent. Two months later, the police would make the claim that one man killed all five people and that the glasses found in the house belonged to him.

The man who owned them had very myopic vision. It had shatter-proof lenses and heavy, amber-colored, tortoise-shelled rims. The left ear frame was slightly higher than the right, a customized feature made to fit his ears. Scratches on the lenses indicated carelessness and much physical activity. Unidentifiable fingerprint smudges were on the glasses but no blood stains. In the photo below the glasses can be seen in close proximity to the right side of the lower trunk.

trunks 1

In the background is the front hall and beyond that the open front door with the word PIG written in Sharon Tate’s blood. On the carpet near the glasses, but not visible in the photo, were two small pieces of wood that broke off from the grip of a Longhorn revolver. The assailant had used the butt end of the revolver to beat the head of Frykowski. Despite blows to the head, knife and bullet wounds, Frykowski somehow stumbled out of the living room, out the front door, and onto the lawn, where he expired. Below is a detective pointing to a blood spot left by Frykowski as he went into the front hall. It was identified as Frykowski’s by his blood type (Type B).

detective pointing

The diagram below shows the location of the glasses in relation to the steamer trunks, the front door, the couch, and the bodies of Sebring, Tate, and Frykowski.

tate house floorplan

The trunks that blocked the way of Winifred Chapman were not that way prior to the murders. After she left to go home the previous afternoon, a deliveryman from Air Dispatch brought the trunks to the house about 4:30. They contained Sharon’s clothing, which Roman sent to her from London. Since Sharon was at that time taking a nap, a gardener working outside named Tom Vargas signed for them. Vargas took them inside and neatly stacked them by the living room entrance. Then he too left to go home.

Later that same night, four people of the Charles Manson Family – Tex Watson, Susan Atkins, Linda Kasabian, and Patricia Krenwinkel – took Johnny Swartz’s 1959 Ford and drove it to the Tate house. About a quarter to midnight, Tex shinnied up a telephone pole and cut the wires to the house. Then he, Susan, Linda, and Patricia endeavored to advance stealthily toward the house. Instead of pushing the button of the electrically operated gate which sounded a bell when opened, they climbed up an embankment next to the gate and came down the other side.

Meanwhile, Steve Parent, a friend of William Garretson, the caretaker living in the guest house in the back part of the lot, had ended his visit and had gotten into his car. He was driving toward the gate when he was stopped by Tex. Through the driver side window, Tex shot Parent multiple times, hitting him in the head and chest. Then he and the three women brutally killed Tate, Frykowski, Folger, and Sebring. During the massacre, the caretaker in the guest house listened to his stereo and wrote letters. Three dogs were in the guest house with him. Their constant barking through the night did not alarm him, for, as he said, they often barked at night.

After accomplishing their deadly work in forty-five minutes or less, the killers left the house and got back into their car. They drove about two miles and found a house with a garden hose. As they washed themselves off, dogs at the house began barking, awakening the owner Rudolph Weber, who noted the time as 1:00 am. He went outside to see what was going on and saw four young people in dark clothing using his hose. As he approached, the four got back into their car and quickly drove away. Weber shined his flashlight on the license plate. The number, GYY 435, belonged to Johnny Swartz’s car.

A comparison of the accounts of that night by Susan Atkins and Linda Kasabian shows that a fifth person wearing glasses did not accompany the group into the Tate house. On the other hand, both women were apparently ignorant of the mysterious glasses standing upright by the steamer trunks. On October 23, 1969, a lieutenant of the Los Angeles Police Department disclosed to the press the existence of the glasses and that it was believed that the man who owned them committed the murders at the Tate house. This led to a conversation between Atkins and Roseanne Walker, both of whom were inmates at Sybil Brand Institute. (Atkins was in jail for auto theft and taking part in the murder of Gary Hinman.) According to Walker’s testimony at the Manson Family trial in October 1970:

Well, the newscast was on and there was something about a pair of glasses that was at the scene of the murder. And I remember stating, I said “Well, they’ll catch whoever did it.”

And she said, “Why, just because they found a pair of glasses ?”

And I said, “Yeah, they can find out all kinds of things from those glasses” I said. And I said “When they found that pair of glasses, they are going to find him.”

She said “Suppose they found the person that owns those glasses there, supposing they find him and they blame him for it” she said, “wouldn’t that be too much if they blamed him for the murders and the only thing he was guilty of was dropping a pair of sunglasses there.”

Susan’s belief that what the police found were sunglasses and not prescription glasses indirectly confirms her lack of awareness of how the glasses came into the house or who owned them.

Originally the news media touted the glasses as a major breakthrough in the case. By early December, it became an almost forgotten loose end when police charged five people with normal vision for the murders at the Tate and LaBianca houses: Charles Manson, Tex Watson, Susan Atkins, Patricia Krenwinkel, and Linda Kasabian.

Still puzzled by the glasses was a journalist named Ed Sanders, who was covering the Manson Family trial for the Los Angeles Free Press. The glasses along with other unresolved clues led him to believe that there was a second intrusion into the house. He wrote in his book The Family, “I was very certain that the scene as found by the police was different from the one left by the killers. I was certain that the scene had been disturbed after the murders.” To prove his point, he noted the following discrepancies:

  • The disarray of the steamer trunks blocking the living room entrance.
  • A stain of blood extending from one side of the upper trunk to the top of the bottom trunk. It was Sebring’s blood, yet Susan Atkins said he never moved from the spot where he was killed. This spot was at a distance too far for a blood dripping to reach the trunks.
  • The previously mentioned, unidentified eyeglasses near the trunks.
  • The towel placed over the head of Jay Sebring.
  • Fingerprints of some unidentified intruder on the freshly painted window sill of the nursery,
  • The length of rope extending from Sharon Tate to Jay Sebring lacked the slack needed for her to stand and move around as she supposedly did, according to Atkins.
  • Spatters of blood from Sharon in the front hall and on the door sill and a large pool of her blood on the front porch to the left of the door mat.
  • Another pool of blood on the north edge of the porch that was Sebring’s. Supposedly, neither Sharon nor Jay ever left the living room.
  • A bloody boot heel print on the flagstone front porch. It was not made by the police, nor was it made by any of the four killers, who were all barefoot (according to defense attorney Paul Fitzgerald in his closing argument at the Manson trial).

Sanders shared his hunch of a second entry with Paul Fitzgerald and asked him to ask Manson if he had gone to the Tate House after the murders. His hunch was confirmed, when Manson said, “I went back to see what my children did.” He also admitted leaving the glasses “to create confusion.”

In Nuel Emmons’ book “Manson in His Own Words”, Manson gave further details of a second entry into the house. He also reveals the existence of a mysterious partner who accompanied him to the crime scene:

“Returning to the scene of any crime is risky business, so instead of turning up Cielo Drive, we drove past and looked up the hill to see if there was any activity that might indicate the police had arrived. Everything was quiet. Still not wanting to be too obvious, we parked the car a short distance away and walked to the premises. We entered the grounds by climbing over the fence, as the kids had done. As Sadie and Tex had said, the first victim’s car was off the driveway a short distance from the gate. Going by Tex’s description of how he had approached the car and how he had pushed it, I carefully wiped the car clean of possible fingerprints without disturbing the body of the boy who lay dead inside.

“Approaching a house where you know there are dead bodies has a spine-chilling effect, and I think if I had been alone, I might have forgotten about continuing any farther. My partner probably felt the same way, but neither of us spoke and we did go on to see the whole gory mess. Tex and Sadie’s description had been accurate. What I was seeing was not a scene from a movie or some horrible acid fantasy, but real people who would never see the morning’s sun. I’d had thoughts of creating a scene more in keeping with a black-against-white retaliation, but in looking around, I lost the heart to carry out my plans. The two of us took towels and wiped every place a fingerprint could have been left. I then placed the towel I was using over the head of the man inside the room. My partner had an old pair of eyeglasses which we often used as a magnifying glass or as a device to start a fire when matches weren’t available. We carefully wiped the glasses free of prints and dropped them on the floor, so that, when discovered, they would be a misleading clue for the police. Within an hour and twenty minutes after leaving Spahn, we were back. The sun was already bringing the light of day as I crawled in bed with Stephanie.”

A second entry into the house goes far in resolving the discrepancies noted by Sanders, such as face towel over Sebring’s head, the fingerprints on the freshly painted windowsill of the nursery, the disturbed steamer trunks, and the glasses next to them.

The bloodstains of Sebring and Tate on the trunks, in the front hall, and on the porch are more difficult to explain. Tex and his female partners left the scene by 12:30 or 12:45. They probably got back to Spahn Ranch and spoke with Manson around 2:00 am. Thus Manson and his partner might have arrived at the Tate house by 3:00. The bleeding from the victims’ bodies should have stopped long before then. Once dead, the heart stops pumping. So if Manson and his partner had moved the bodies around, they could not have left the extensive blood stains that were noted by crime scene investigators.

The only solution to the problem is that Sharon and Jay were still alive when Manson and his partner came to the house. Tex, Susan, and Patricia might have thought they had killed them, but that does not mean that they were actually dead. One might think that multiple stab wounds would effectively kill someone, yet that is not always true. The following is a post entitled “Stab Wounds Don’t Always Kill” from a website called Crime Fiction Writer’s Blog

“Writers often ask me questions about various traumas and how they will affect the victim. Maybe it’s a gunshot wound, or a knife wound, or a blow to the head, or even a push down the stairs. The problem with answering these questions is that almost anything can happen. A gunshot wound can be a minor flesh wound, or it can be immediately fatal — usually if it enters the heart, the brain, on the upper portion of the spinal cord. The gunshot wound could cause damage to internal organs such as the lungs or liver and the victim could bleed to death rapidly, or slowly, or not at all. The same can be said of knife wounds and blunt trauma. Ask any emergency room physician and they will tell you that these types of injuries come in 1000 flavors.”

A case in point is the Zodiac Killer attack at Lake Berryessa on September 27, 1969. He stabbed Cecelia Shepard ten times, mortally wounding her, yet she lived two more days, long enough to answer questions from the police. Her companion Bryan Hartnell was stabbed six times. He survived the attack by feigning death. After the Zodiac Killer departed he then moved toward the road, first by walking and then by crawling. He was crying for help by the side of the road, when a passing park ranger found him and called for an ambulance.

It is therefore not unreasonable to postulate that Sharon Tate and Jay Sebring somehow survived the multiple injuries they suffered. Tex, Susan, and Patricia might have thought they were dead, but perhaps they only appeared to be dead. They might have lost consciousness and woke later, or they might have feigned death like Hartnell.

Assuming this scenario to be true, the surviving victims’ first impulse, after the attackers were gone, would be to seek help. Perhaps one of them stumbled or crawled to reach the nearest telephone. There was one on the desk in the living room, but of course the phone line was dead. The next course of action would be to go outside and see if they could somehow call for the caretaker or any of the neighbors nearby. Loss of blood would make walking or crawling slow and arduous. Probably Sebring paused long enough by the steamer trunks to leave a blood stain. The blood drippings are perpendicular to the bottom edge of the trunk, as can be seen in the photo below. This would mean that the two trunks were not in the haphazard disarray as seen in the picture.

trunks 2

When they reached the front porch and walkway, they stopped. Loss of strength kept them from going further. Below is a photograph of Sharon’s blood stains on the door sill and porch

porch of tate

The next photo shows a large pool of blood, probably Sebring’s.

pool of blood

Although immobilized, they could, like Hartnell, still cry for help. In the first  investigation report of the murders in the Tate house there is mention of a police station getting a report of a screaming woman.

When Manson and his partner arrived on the scene, they would have seen the couple still alive on the porch. Resolved to make sure no one was still alive when the police came, they dragged Sharon and Jay back into the living room and delivered the final stab wounds causing immediate death. A stab wound to Jay’s neck cut his aorta, and three stab wounds to Sharon’s chest penetrated her heart. A rope burn on her face indicated that she was hanging from a rope at the time of her death.

Sights and sounds connected with the second entry into the house did not go unnoticed by those on the outside.

Between 2:00 and 3:00, Emmett Steele who lived at 9951 Beverly Grove Drive heard his two dogs barking and howling. He went out to calm the dogs, checked around the area, and could see nothing except a lavender Volkswagen-type dune buggy and a black foreign-type motorcycle, possibly a Triumph, parked nearby. He had seen the dune buggy and the motorcycle a number of times before over the past six weeks in the late night and early morning hours. (Dune buggies were a favored mode of transportation for the Manson Family.)

At about 4:00, Carlos Gill, 9955 Beverly Grove Drive, two houses down from Emmett Steele’s house, was awake and writing letters. He heard the sound of three or four persons arguing at the Tate residence. He could see the front of the house from his bedroom window on the opposite side of Benedict Canyon, about a fourth to one-half  mile away. The argument increased in volume and became more heated. It lasted approximately one minute and then subsided abruptly. He said that the severity of the argument so frightened him that he closed the window and went immediately to bed.

Officer Bullington of Bel Air Patrol heard three shots, spaced several seconds apart. He was parked in front of 2175 Summit Ridge Drive. He contacted Mr. Karlson of Bel Air Patrol by radio, who noted the time as 4:11. Karlson called the West Los Angeles Desk and reported this to an officer. The officer replied, “I hope we don’t have a murder. We just had a woman screaming call in that area.”

According to the official narrative, Tex used his Longhorn revolver to fire four rounds into Parent, one into Sebring, and two into Frykowski. All this occurred in the hour after midnight. What Bullington heard at 4:10 am were gunshots made by Manson and his partner. The several seconds between shots is indicative of a purpose other than bringing someone down. Perhaps they were shooting into the bodies of Frykowski, Folger, and Parent to test whether or not any of them had a response. If they did, then Manson and his partner would dispatch them accordingly.

As a macabre joke, the partner left a spare pair of glasses by the steamer trunks. Although it clearly linked him to the murders in the Tate house, he probably expected the police to cover up this clue rather than untangle the confusion it created. Unexpectedly, however, in a rare departure from the Keystone Kop incompetence typical for this case, the police decided to put out a public notice of the existence of the glasses and their attempt to find the owner. This momentary flash of clarity disappeared, however, and in the months that followed, the police buried this piece of evidence. When Paul Fitzgerald, defense attorney for Patricia Krenwinkel, wanted to know more about the glasses, the police refused to cooperate. In a news article printed May 29, 1970 Fitzgerald complained to a journalist that the police were ignoring – and withholding – information and photographs of two vital pieces of evidence, the glasses and the bloody boot heel print.

In his closing argument on December 28, 1970, Fitzgerald said that someone other than Charles Manson and his three women co-defendants killed the actress and six others. He said that the pair of eyeglasses found at the Tate mansion had not been connected to an owner. “Those glasses,” he said, “were introduced into that residence by the person or persons actually responsible for the deaths.” He also said that the pools of blood on the porch indicated that Sharon and Jay were bleeding outside the house for some reason, even though the prosecution alleged them to have died inside.

The identity of the owner of the glasses would continue to remain a mystery until the following year when Marie Vigil wrote two letters to the Redwood City Tribune during the time of the John Frazier trial. She said that the man who lost his glasses at the Tate house was the Zodiac Killer, also known as Robert Linkletter. One of these letters was picked up by conspiracy researcher Mae Brussell, who in turn revealed the contents of the letter on several of her weekly broadcasts, particularly in September 1980 after the death of Linkletter on September 12.

Pictures in this article are from the photo archive of www.cielodrive.com/