Los Angeles in the summer of 1969 was a hotbed of anxiety and fear. In just two short days, Charles Manson and the cult he referred to as his "Family" were able to commit acts so vicious and unhinged that they shocked the city. The timeline of Manson Family murders played out at a breakneck speed with many overlapping events. Over the ensuing decades, the story of the Tate-LaBianca murders has been pieced together from stories told by all involved, revealing the tale to be both incredibly detailed and intense.
Charles Manson’s alleged motivation behind the Cielo Drive and Waverly crimes was to strike out against those in Hollywood whom he believed cast him out of their society. He also hoped that his chaotic plot would jump-start “Helter Skelter,” a race-fuelled, apocalyptic scenario Manson believed was imminent. For several months following the Tate-LaBianca slayings, Manson and his followers ran wild through the greater Los Angeles area, though they were always looking over their collective shoulder for police. Here are the key moments from Manson’s last free months in 1969.
- Photo: Eye of the Devil/MGM
March 23, 1969: Charles Manson Visits Sharon Tate's Home During A Photoshoot
By early 1969, Charles Manson had been excised so thoroughly from record producer Terry Melcher's life, he didn't even know Melcher had moved out of his Cielo Drive home. In Melcher's absence, director Roman Polanski and his wife, actor Sharon Tate, moved in.
On March 23 of that year, Manson approached the house in search of Melcher. Instead, he found Tate involved in a photoshoot with some friends. When she told Manson that Melcher had moved, the cult leader left the premises. Tate flew to Rome the following day.
July 25, 1969: Bobby Beausoleil Slays Gary Hinman
Gary Hinman was one of the many music industry-adjacent people Manson befriended in the late '60s. Since Manson believed Hinman possessed a sizable cache of money and stocks, the cult leader wanted him in the Family so he would have to turn over his assets.
At some point, however, Hinman got on Manson's bad side - member Bobby Beausoleil claimed this was because Hinman sold the Family low-quality illicit substances. Over the course of three days, Manson and Beausoleil, as well as Family members Susan Atkins and Mary Brunner, tortured Hinman with a samurai sword. Beausoleil admitted to stabbing Hinman in the chest himself.
Following Hinman's brutal dispatch, the Family wrote "political piggy" on the wall in his blood. Next to the inscription, they left what was meant to be a paw symbol to incriminate the Black Panthers in the slaying. The plan was unsuccessful, however, and Beausoleil was taken into custody.
Afternoon Of August 8, 1969: Manson Announces The Family Must Kill Again That Night
In early August, Manson was prepared to jump-start "Helter Skelter," an apocalypse resulting from racial tensions. He also sought to free Family member Beausoleil from prison. To do so, he ordered his Family to commit a crime similar to Hinman's slaying in order to confuse the police.
Everyone on Spahn Ranch - a former LA movie set serving as the Family's base - agreed to the plan. According to Family member Tex Watson's book, Will You Die For Me, Manson decided amidst a group sexual encounter that Terry Melcher's former Cielo Drive residence would serve as their target. Manson allegedly told Watson:
I want you to take a couple of the girls I'll send with you and go down there... and totally destroy everyone in that house, as gruesome as you can. Make it [real nice], just as bad as you've ever seen. And get all their money.
Manson also ordered Watson to write messages such as "Helter Skelter" and "Rise" on the walls in their victims' blood.
Evening Of August 8, 1969: The Family Sets Out For Tate's Home
Watson and several other Manson Family members - all high on speed - prepared to set out for the Cielo Drive house. Manson told Watson that he shouldn't return until he had $600. If the cash couldn't be found at the Melcher's former home, then Watson was to go from door to door until he had the money.
The Family borrowed a yellow 1959 Ford from one of Spahn Ranch's workers, telling him they were going to attend a concert in the city. Between them, they only carried three knives - one of which was broken - and a handgun. As they began to drive away, Manson allegedly stopped the group to say, "Remember to leave a sign, something witchy."