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Friday, August 9, 2019

A Tribute

Fifty years ago the world woke up to horrific news out of Los Angeles- five people were found brutally murdered in a posh, gated mansion. While the aftermath of the tragedy has been endlessly rehashed in the last fifty years, the lives of those lost outside of the most famous victim are rarely covered. Today, we look back at their lives, each brutally cut short.

Steven Parent was Born in 1951 to Earl and Juanita Parent. A middle class family in El Monte, California, they lived mere miles away from the posh Benedict Canyon mansion where Steven was murdered, but they were worlds away from the Jet Set lifestyle of Benedict Canyon. Steven had a few run-ins with the law, though that could probably be blamed on his aptitude and interest in electronics. Steven had just graduated from high school that summer and was working two jobs to earn money to pay for college, which he planned to attend that Fall. Steven’s first job was at a plumbing supply business, while his second job was at a Beverly Hills stereo shop where he could more legitimately pursue his interest in electronics. That summer must have been an exciting time for him; he had finished one life milestone and was embarking on another. His kindness and generosity had led him to Sharon Tate’s mansion that fateful night; he had given a ride to the estate’s caretaker a few weeks before and was taking advantage of the young caretaker’s invitation to stop by. 

Abigail Folger had been literally born into California royalty. An heiress to the Folger Coffee fortune, Ms. Folger was born into wealth and privilege. Her mother was the daughter of foreign dignitaries and taught her the importance of noblesse oblige- giving back to the community. As Ms. Folger began to seek out her place in the world, she eagerly took on social work, both as a volunteer and employee. She met and began dating Voytek Frykowski, who was a friend of Roman Polanski. Through this friendship she met Sharon Tate. Abigail and Voytek had been housesitting while Sharon and Roman were out of the country and had stayed on to look after an extremely pregnant Sharon while Roman was out of the country. They were in the process of moving out when fate intervened.

Voytek Frykowski was a friend of Roman Polanski’s who fancied himself an artist. Back in Poland, the two collaborated on low budget student films. When Roman became a much sought after director, Voytek tagged along, becoming part of the director’s entourage. Through Roman’s jet set contacts, Voytek met Abigail Folger and they became a couple. Voytek left behind a son from a previous marriage.

Jay Sebring was a hairdresser to the Stars, perfecting a technique for cutting men’s hair that was revolutionary for its time. Hollywood’s biggest stars like Steve McQueen and Warren Beatty had their hair cut by Jay. Mr. Sebring was known as a lady’s man who had dated many of Hollywood’s hottest women, yet his heart belonged to Sharon Tate. They had dated in the past and Jay had proposed marriage. Sharon broke it off, declaring herself unready for matrimony. Jay remained a close friend of hers and became a friend of Roman Polanski when Sharon became involved with him. Despite the unfounded rumors, Sharon was not having an affair with Jay on that fateful night; Jay was there at Roman’s request to look after Sharon. Jay’s final acts on Earth were to try to protect Sharon.

Thursday, August 8, 2019

Cielo Part Two: A Horrific Morning

As Southern California began waking up on what seemed like a normal morning, the biggest news was the opening of Disneyland’s newest attraction- the Haunted Mansion, a ride that was many years in the making. The ride’s grand opening would be so well attended that the park would have to close its gates due to a capacity crowd for the very first time ever. Unbeknownst to the throngs of tourists and locals alike who braved the crowds, a real house of horrors would be uncovered about 40 miles north.

At the end of our last chapter, Winifred Chapman had discovered the grisly murder scene and fled from Sharon Tate’s estate. She found some neighbors who lived down the street and frantically asked them to call the police. After the neighbors got enough information from Ms. Chapman, they called the police, whose wires got crossed; the first officer on the scene seemed to think that there was a fire or landslide. Ms. Chapman, who was still in shock, was of little help. The first responder was able to ascertain that there were dead people in the house at the end of the road and that he should probably wait for backup. After his backup arrived, they asked Ms. Chapman to help open the gate, which she did. The two officers quickly saw the body in the car. This wasn’t just a hysterical exaggeration; something horrible happened on this property.

They went up towards the front of the house, guns drawn, and saw two more victims laying out on the lawn- a man and a woman. The sight was more horrific than the first, since the bodies were badly injured. The man had been beaten so badly that his face was practically unrecognizable. The woman appeared to be wearing a red nightgown, but a closer looked showed it to be white and stained red from the woman’s bloody wounds.

They approached the front door, noting that it was ajar and had ‘pig’ scrawled on it in blood. As they carefully went into the house, a gruesome discovery awaited them in the living room. A young woman lay in front of the couch, covered in blood and obviously very pregnant. A few feet away was another victim- a man wearing mod-ish clothing, his head covered with what appeared to be a hood. After clearing the remaining rooms of the house, the officers knew that they would need to call this in and ask for all available hands. 


As they walked out of the house, they noticed a small cottage in the back of the property. Could the cottage have more victims in it? Approaching it with caution, they heard dogs barking within and heard a voice yelling at the dogs to be quiet. Guns drawn again, they burst through the cottage door and saw a young man inside. Assuming that the only living person on the property must have been the murderer, they violently subdued the young man and cuffed him. The young man turned out to be William Garretson, the caretaker who looked after the property while its owner was out of town.

What happened next was disputed by both sides, but Garretson insists that he was roughed up and accused of being the killer. He claims that he was violently dragged around the property, forced to identify the bodies and, according to the police officers, look at what he’d done. He claimed that he didn’t know the young man in the car. (This was actually not true.) He mis-identified the dead woman as Winifred Chapman and the man on the lawn as the “younger” Polanski. He correctly identified the victims in the house. At that point, he was escorted past the growing crowd of reporters and taken downtown for questioning.

Initial media reports incorrectly reported the original LAPD assumption that a landslide or fire had occurred. It wouldn’t take long for them to realize that something far more sinister had taken place in that house. Once word got out about the gruesome murders, Hollywood- and the world- would never be the same.