On this day in 1969, the 26-year-old actress Sharon Tate, the pregnant wife of acclaimed movie director Roman Polanski (Rosemary’s Baby, Chinatown), is found murdered along with four other people at her Los Angeles home. The gruesome crime, in which the killers scrawled messages on the walls with the victims’ blood, sent Hollywood into a state of panic. The career criminal and cult leader Charles Manson and his followers, who lived together on the outskirts of L.A. in a commune where drug use and orgies were common, were later convicted for the murders.
Sharon Marie Tate was born January 24, 1943, in Dallas, Texas. She moved to Los Angeles in the early 1960s to pursue acting, eventually appearing in such films as Eye of the Devil (1966); The Fearless Vampire Killers (1967), which was directed by Polanski; Valley of the Dolls (1967), for which she received a Golden Globe nomination; The Wrecking Crew (1969) and The Thirteen Chairs (1969).
Tate and Polanski were married in January 1968. The director was out of the country on the night of August 8, 1969, when Tate, who was due to give birth in a matter of weeks, and her friends, including the coffee heiress Abigail Folger and the celebrity hairstylist Jay Sebring, were shot or stabbed to death at Tate and Polanski’s rented home on Cielo Drive in Benedict Canyon. The Tate-Polanski home reportedly was chosen as a target because Manson had unsuccessfully attempted to get a recording deal from a producer who used to live there. Manson’s subsequent trial became a national spectacle, during which he exhibited bizarre, violent behavior. He was convicted and given the death penalty, a sentence that was commuted to life behind bars when the California Supreme Court overturned the death penalty law in 1972. Since his trial, Manson has become a criminal icon and the subject of numerous books and films, notably the bestselling 1974 true crime book Helter Skelter, co-authored by Vincent Bugliosi, the Los Angeles County assistant district attorney who successfully prosecuted Manson and his followers.
In 1977, Polanski became embroiled in controversy after he pled guilty to engaging in unlawful sex with a 13-year-old girl and later fled the United States to avoid a possible prison sentence. The director continued to make movies, but has not returned to America, where he could be arrested. At the 2002 Academy Awards, Polanski was awarded the Best Director Oscar in absentia for his wrenching Holocaust-era film The Pianist.