Cielo Drive: The House of Love and Terror

(This is the first in a series of articles, about the history of some of the sites that are most associated with Charles Manson and the Family.

In this first article, we dive into the history of 10050 Cielo Drive — the house where Sharon Tate and her houseguests were brutally murdered by members of the Manson Family. Later articles will also cover the history of Spahn Ranch in Chatsworth and the Spiral Staircase house in Topanga.)

Benedict Canyon

Benedict Canyon lies in a ravine at the crest of the Santa Monica mountains. To the east sits Franklin and Coldwater Canyons, and to the north is Stone Canyon Reservoir. Benedict Canyon is separated by West Hollywood/Sunset Boulevard to the east, and by North Beverly Glen Boulevard to the west. Benedict Canyon is part of Bel Air, and currently consists of two subdivisions: Benedict Hills and Benedict Hills Estates.

In the mid-1800s, this region (along with most of Beverly Hills) was known as Rancho de las Aguas (Ranch of the Waters). In 1852, a grant for Rancho de las Aguas was filed with the Public Land Commission by Maria Rita Quinteros Valdez de Villa, granddaughter of one of the first settlers of the Mission de los Angeles. In 1868, she sold some of the acreage at Rancho de las Aguas to Edson A. Benedict, a beekeeper and shop owner who moved to California from Missouri. The Canyon was named for Edson Benedict, considered its’ founding father.

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A photograph of Benedict Canyon, taken in 1890

Formed of volcanic rock thousands of years ago, Benedict Canyon has an ecosystem much like the Mediterranean: the salty water air from the Pacific breezes in via Santa Monica and results in a humid canyon base filled with chaparral, grasslands, and evergreens. Where the sun hits hardest (the slopes of the canyon) is instead ripe with oaks, eucalyptus, and wild grasses.

During the earliest days of Rancho de las Aguas, grizzly bears roamed the hillside, but they were snuffed out by big game hunters in the late 1800s. Yet there are eighteen different species of snakes that inhabit the Canyon — only the rattlesnake is venomous among them.

The Movie Stars

With the development of greater Los Angeles during the late 1800s and the first decade of the 1900s, so too did Benedict Canyon grow. Roads were quickly built leading from urban areas into the Canyon. Yet, the ravine and topography have always made Benedict Canyon a respite from the outside world — a place where the wealthy and powerful could isolate themselves.

As the movie industry began to percolate, nearby Hollywood became the Mecca for the rich and famous. Many of the earliest film stars chose Benedict Canyon as their homes, including silent screen heartthrob Rudolf Valentino. In 1925, Valentino built a palatial Spanish Colonial Revival mansion, on a four-acre property in the Canyon. Famed Hollywood architect Wallace Neff designed and constructed the 4700-square foot home on Bella Drive, a winding residential street. Bella Drive juts off to the east from Cielo Drive and was just a 0.3-mile drive from the property where Sharon Tate later resided in 1969.

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Rudolph Valentino, pictured at Falcon Lair the year of his death

Valentino died only a year after Falcon Lair was completed, and the property was auctioned off to pay the actor’s many debts. Falcon Lair was later sold in the early ’50s to heiress Doris Duke. Doris and Sharon became quite good friends during the last months of the doomed actress’ life. We will resume that part of the story later.

Other film stars who lived in Benedict Canyon included Charlie Chaplin (Summit Drive) and John Barrymore (Tower Lane).

Cielo Drive

In 1940, French actress Michele Morgan came to America, seeking refuge from World War II and the Nazi occupation. Born Simone Renée Roussel in 1920, she was christened ‘Michele Morgan’ after leaving home at age 15 to become an actress. Morgan appeared in several box office hits in France before the war, and when the situation in her home country became perilous, she fled to Hollywood. There, she was contracted to RKO Pictures, gained US citizenship, and attempted to make it as an American film star.

In 1941, Morgan bought the property then listed as 10050 Cielo Drive and commissioned renowned architect Robert Byrd to build her a home at the property. Byrd’s design was constructed by builder J.F. Watkins and finished in late 1941.

Sitting on 3.3 acres of prime Benedict Canyon real estate, the main property at 10050 Cielo Drive was a 3200-square foot house, designed to resemble a 19th Century French cottage. According to our book,

Built in 1942 by architect Robert Byrd, a pioneer of the California indoor/outdoor home typified by beamed ceilings, Dutch doors and rustic details… The living room featured a stone fireplace and half-loft. There was a swimming pool and guest house just past the master bedroom. 10050 sat at the end of a cul-de-sac, bordered by thick pines and flowering cherry trees. It was the kind of lush California canyon terrain where you could look out but few of your neighbors could see in.

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10050 Cielo Drive in Benedict Canyon, built in 1941

10050 and its’ neighboring property, 10048, were both designed by Byrd, built at the same time, and referred to as ‘twin houses’ (similar in design, although not identical). They sat on a plateau in Benedict Canyon known as ‘The Bedroom Properties’. 10048 was purchased by Harold Lamb, an author and screenwriter, for $20,000 and Michele Morgan paid $32,000 for her property at 10050.

10050 Cielo was at the end of the cul-de-sac, and boasted a swimming pool, wishing well and a charming woodland garden. There was also a 2000-square foot guest house, or caretaker’s cottage at the back of the property, plus a multi-vehicle garage between the main house and front drive. The entrance was gated, the driveway bordered by tall pine trees — an important element during the August 1969 murders, as the killers would have been nearly invisible to neighboring properties and the street once they entered the property.

Michele Morgan liked to climb the living room loft and paint landscape pictures, using the view as inspiration. In one publicity picture, the actress sits in an upstairs window (accessible from the loft) looking out at her scenic Hollywood vista.

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A French Magazine article featuring Michele Morgan at 10050 Cielo Drive

In 1942, Morgan married bandleader William Marshall and they had a son, Mike (born in 1944, later an actor like his mother) but not all of their memories at 10050 were pleasant: rumor has it that Michele considered the property haunted (specifically the LIVING ROOM — and she was not the only person to claim they heard and saw strange things in the house long BEFORE Sharon and Roman moved in!) She was also unsuccessful at achieving the level of success she had previously experienced in France, despite several leading roles (she was even considered for the female lead in Casablanca, which inevitably went instead to Ingrid Bergman). In 1945, with the war in Europe over, the Morgan/Marshall family departed California and returned to Europe, where the actress continued with her career.

The property was then sold to Dr. Hartley Dewey. Socialites Hartley and his wife Louise were good friends with Walt Disney, often vacationing with the famed illustrator. The doctor and his family only lived at Cielo Drive occasionally — most of the time they rented it out, often to actors. In 1946, it was rented to film star Lillian Gish. Gish, who was then filming Duel in the Sun, lived at the property with her mother.

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Lillian Gish, sitting atop the wishing well at 10050 Cielo Drive

Another tenant during the Dewey era was Baroness Philippine de Rothschild, an actress and heir to the Rothschild banking dynasty. During the eighteen years the Dewey’s owned the property, the house was rented to new tenants on average once every two years.

Other well-known residents of Benedict Canyon by the ’50s included Fred Astaire, Jack Lemmon, Merv Griffin and William Holden. As more properties were developed, the Benedict Canyon houses of that era were often built directly into the steep hills, so that property owners could enjoy more of the picturesque lands around them.

In 1963, Dr. Dewey sold Cielo Drive to talent manager Rudolph ‘Rudy’ Altobelli for $86,000. Altobelli was an openly gay man at a time when that was not socially acceptable. Yet in Hollywood, he found a culture that accepted him and allowed his career to thrive. Altobelli frequently traveled for work to Europe and when he was overseas, he rented out the main house. If he happened to return while the home was still leased, he would live in the guest house or have friends stay there as caretakers for the property. Altobelli owned three dogs: two poodles and a Weimaraner. The talent manager kenneled his dogs at the property, and often paid caretakers to watch after them while he traveled.

Rudy rented Cielo to several tenants between 1963–1969. His most famous renters included Henry Fonda and newlyweds Cary Grant and Dyan Cannon (who honeymooned at Cielo Drive following their July 1965 wedding). Actress Samantha Eggar lived there from 1965–1966.

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A 1966 photograph of actress Samantha Eggar beside the pool. You can see the entrance to the master bedroom just behind the pool.

The Children of the Stars

In May of 1966, Altobelli rented the house to music producer Terry Melcher.

Melcher, the son of movie star Doris Day, was a producer for Columbia Records. He had taken local bands The Byrds and Paul Revere and the Raiders and turned them into megastars. He began this journey when he was just 23 and went on to produce more than eighty hit songs for Columbia.

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Terry Melcher with his mother, film star Doris Day

Terry Melcher had just begun his career at Columbia when he leased 10050 Cielo, along with talent manager Roger Hart. Later, when Hart moved out, singer Mark Lindsay (of Paul Revere and the Raiders — a good friend of Melchers) became Terry’s second roommate.

Lindsay was at least the second resident of Cielo Drive to claim that the house was haunted — years before Sharon Tate and her friends were murdered there.

According to Lindsay,

“The house had a million-dollar view, a pool, and a peaceful, well-sculpted grounds with a rose garden. The interior at first seemed ideal. There was plenty of room with a master and guest bedroom, as well as a spacious living room with a grand piano and a loft. Across a small entry hall was the kitchen, dining room, and a maid’s quarters.

But a couple of weeks after I moved in, I began to sense two areas in this idyllic setting that seemed, well, not quite right. The two bedrooms were in the back of the house and although there was a door from the master to the pool, I always took the long way to the pool, out the front door and around to the back.

The master bedroom just felt ‘wrong’ to me somehow. Although it was much larger than my room, it always seemed cold and a little creepy. I know Terry had a hard time feeling comfortable in his room and took sleeping pills nightly.”

Mark also recounted times when the sound system would inexplicably turn itself on, sometimes in the middle of the night when the occupants were sleeping. He claimed that Terry started taking downers during the day, not just at night to sleep, and he himself put a 44 magnum under his pillow each night.

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Mark Lindsay of Paul Revere and the Raiders, with Columbia Records producer Terry Melcher, in the home they shared at 10050 Cielo Drive

Lindsay explained that after he lived at Cielo for around a month, Rudy Altobelli visited with him and Terry and told them that the home was haunted by a woman who killed herself in the house, after learning that her husband had cheated on her. We don’t know if this woman lived in the house during the Dewey or early Altobelli years, but Rudy made it seem that the suicide was several years before. He told Mark and Terry to watch out for the spirit of the jealous woman.

“He said that although the femme fatale’s spirit still lingered, she probably wouldn’t bother two guys — although he warned that she didn’t seem to tolerate beautiful women very well. ‘As long as you don’t let your girlfriends stay over too long, you should be okay’.”

By late 1967, Melcher was dating Candice Bergen, the daughter of famed ventriloquist Edgar Bergen. During the mid-1960s, Candice enjoyed a successful career as a fashion model and by ’66 she had parlayed that success into work as a film actor.

As the relationship between the producer and starlet progressed, and Candice spent more and more time at Cielo Drive, Mark Lindsay noticed that strange events happened in the home when Bergen was there, leaving the singer to wonder of the spirit of the femme fatale was trying to chase the pretty young blonde away. He also kept walking in on Melcher and Candice canoodling on the living room sofa, so when it became apparent that Candice would be staying there indefinitely, Mark moved out. But before he did, sometime in 1968, he once found a strange, short, dark-haired man sitting on the kitchen floor:

“I walked into the kitchen to get a drink and there was this guy squatting against the refrigerator on the floor wearing this work shirt and jeans and looking really scruffy. So, I said, ‘Excuse me’ and tried to open the door, but he wouldn’t move; he was just like a doorstop and stared straight ahead. After trying a few times, I walked into the other room and said ‘Hey, who’s the weird dude in the kitchen? And someone said “Oh, that’s just Charlie. He’s okay!’”

(Mark Lindsay’s quotes taken from his Facebook page for fans)

Manson

Charles Manson was introduced to Melcher in either the spring or summer of 1968, by Beach Boys’ drummer Dennis Wilson. Charlie and many other members of his so-called Family were encamped at Wilson’s Sunset Boulevard property on and off that year. Wilson enjoyed Manson’s lyrics and his canny wisdom and had vowed to help the ex-con find success in the music industry. Charlie hoped he would be produced someday by Melcher and he visited the Cielo Drive home (according to him) at least five times between 1968–1969.

Melcher, Wilson, and talent scout Gregg Jakobson, collectively, were often known as the Golden Penetrators for their sexual proclivities during that era. Charlie’s girls had been well-trained by the former pimp to please anyone with power and means, to provide for the pint-sized guru. All of the women were instructed to make themselves available to Wilson and his friends. Charlie made sure to include Melcher in these orgies, in hopes of securing a record deal.

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A 1968 newspaper interview with Beach Boys drummer Dennis Wilson. The 17 girls living with Wilson that year were Charlie’s girls.

Charlie had both Wilson and Jakobson eating out of the palm of his hand. But Terry Melcher proved elusive:

Melcher was a different kind of dude, though. He might indulge in a little hanky-panky with the girls… but he was aloof and reserved. Terry knew that he was a hot ticket and wanted to preserve his reputation by working with only the best. And as the son of a well-known actress, he also recognized the kind of sycophants that gravitated to people like him… Melcher would visit Dennis’ pad and have some fun with Charlie and the women, but he never seemed to have time to listen to Manson perform.

Terry and Candice’s relationship was not always perfect (Melcher was often unfaithful, including with some of Charlie’s gals) but their life at Cielo Drive befitted these children of the stars. Bergen remembered, “There was a cartoonlike perfection about it: You waited to find Bambi drinking from the pool, Thumper dozing in the flowers, to hear the dwarfs whistling home at the end of the day. It was a fairy-tale place, that house on the hill, a Never-Never Land far from the real world where nothing could go wrong.” (from her memoir, Knock Wood)

Lynette ‘Squeaky’ Fromme (in her 2018 book Reflexion) derisively wrote, “Terry and his girlfriend looked like print ads for expensive liquors and leisure vacations.”

In fact, the couple shared Cielo Drive with Bergen’s pet Peruvian kinkajou and Melcher’s 14 cats.

A 1968 photograph of Candice Bergen and Terry Melcher

Piggies

Charlie was hopeful that his relationship with the Golden Penetrators would pay off for him. Dennis Wilson invited Charlie and the Family to perform in the Beach Boys’ private studio, and introduced him to Neil Young, Frank Zappa, and other music stars.

Finally, Manson was in the kind of music circles he had dreamed about. Fame and fortune surrounded him, plus great talent and generosity. But the big prize, Charlie knew, was a record deal and the man to make that happen was Terry Melcher.

And he certainly visited the Cielo Drive home several times:

A few times, Manson tagged along with Dennis and Gregg on their way to Melcher’s home at 10050 Cielo Drive. The man who could fulfill his dreams, Charlie knew, lived in that luxury hillside home.

Charlie and several other members of his Family had lived with Dennis Wilson for a few months, but after Manson purchased a cow (with Wilson’s money) and brought it to Dennis’ home, he realized that he had tested the drummer’s patience too far.

To preserve his relationship with Dennis and Wilson’s influential friends, he moved his Family to an abandoned Western film set in Chatsworth. Spahn Ranch was owned by a blind 79-year old man, and the property was in very derelict conditions. The Family cleaned up the land and made themselves useful by managing the pony rides — Spahn’s last source of revenue by 1969. Charlie also made sure to ingratiate himself with Old George, planting Lynette ‘Squeaky’ Fromme at the rancher’s side, and wooing Spahn and his property manager Ruby Pearl with gifts.

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Blind George Spahn, owner of the Spahn Movie Ranch in Chatsworth, California

By that October, after the birth of Susan ‘Sadie’ Atkins’ son, Charlie understood that his Family had again become a nuisance, plus he was craving isolation from ongoing police harassment, as he and his followers had turned more to petty crime to survive. So, he took the Family to Death Valley, where they lived at two meager desert properties. They returned to the Los Angeles area in November, after Charlie had a ‘vision’ of achieving fame and fortune with his music career. He came back to some sour news however — their friend Gregg Jakobson (Dennis Wilson’s buddy) had just been arrested on a minor drug possession charge. Charlie offered to help bail the talent scout out but was broke. So, he sent his follower, Charles ‘Tex’ Watson to Terry Melcher’s house to borrow some money for Jakobson’s bail.

Watson hitched down to Benedict Canyon and when he arrived at Cielo Drive, was led by Melcher’s maid into the kitchen and told to wait while she found her employer. While Tex was waiting, Melcher’s girlfriend Candace Bergen came into the kitchen.

By Bergen’s behavior, Watson knew she didn’t care for the looks of him. Melcher, once he greeted Watson, said he didn’t have any cash but agreed to loan Tex one of his cars — a Jaguar, so Tex could pick Jakobson up at jail.

Melcher gave Watson the keys to the Jaguar plus his Standard Oil card for gas. Tex retrieved Jakobson and took him home but didn’t immediately return the Jag… Watson used Melcher’s credit card to fill the gas tank of the black bus before returning it and the sports car back to the producer.

You have to wonder about those moments he spent in Melcher’s house. This is, after all, the same house he later sliced into through a screen window and then butchered everyone inside. Looking back — the fancy maid, the elite vehicles at the producer’s disposal, the hot blonde starlet and her snooty attitude — if you don’t have the same privileges, you’re bound to grow resentful. I’m talking about Tex, not just Manson.

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Charles ‘Tex’ Watson: Murderer

Reminders of the wealth and privilege that others around them enjoyed, Charlie and the Family began to resent those that they saw as the ‘establishment’ or piggies (the word Piggies was inspired by the Beatles’ White Album, released in late 1968). Charlie began to talk about Helter Skelter: a race war that he believed was imminent. He told his Family that they would survive a violent racial apocalypse by fleeing back to Death Valley and waiting out the war in which most whites would be slaughtered, and black people would be the victors.

The Family began to drive around the greater Los Angeles area, looking for cars and other valuables to steal. And in the spring of ’69, they started breaking into middle-class homes in the dead of night, a macabre form of theater which they called ‘Creepy Crawling’ — moving furniture around, sometimes taking small trinkets and food, stealthily and silently, never leaving enough evidence of their crimes that homeowners called police.

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Susan Atkins aka Sadie Mae Glutz, in the dark clothing the Family wore during Creepy Crawling

As the world closed in on them in 1969, the Family became more desperate, more drug-addicted, and more bitter toward anyone in better positions than them.

The end of 1968 also brought trouble for Terry Melcher.

His relationship with Candace Bergen was not going well (he slept around including with the Manson girls) … (And) Melcher had another personal crisis — his mother was broke. Doris Day discovered her late husband (Melcher’s stepdad) had embezzled from her accounts. She was on the verge of ruin and needed someone to manage her career and salvage her finances. Terry successfully stepped in and negotiated a sweet contract for a television variety show that would run four years.

Melcher moved out of Cielo Drive in January 1969. He moved to a new rental home on the beach, and he and Candice dissolved their relationship. Within a few weeks, Rudy Altobelli found his new renters:

They were a young married couple, expecting a baby. He was a famed European film director and she was a beautiful and glamorous starlet. They would be moving to Cielo Drive the following month.

The Love House

On February 12, 1969, Roman Polanski and Sharon Tate signed the lease at Cielo. The newlyweds moved in three days later. Their rent was $1200 a month. They had previous lived at another Benedict Canyon home, actress Patty Duke’s Summit Ridge house (Duke was Tate’s costar in ‘Valley of the Dolls’) and before that, at the Chateau Marmont.

The couple met in 1966 on the set of the film The Fearless Vampire Killers, directed by Polanski. Roman and Sharon fell deeply in love and were married in January 1968 in London, but the marriage had many issues, most notably Polanski’s many infidelities. Roman had told Sharon, before they wed, that he could not be faithful and not to try to change him.

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Sharon Marie Tate and Roman Polanski, at their 1968 Chelsea, London wedding

Sharon learned that she was expecting just before she and Roman moved to Cielo Drive. A year into her marriage, despite her agreement not to try to change her husband, she was struggling. Allegedly, she found a home movie of Roman and another woman, having sex in their marital bed. She considered ending the marriage at that time, but when she discovered she was expecting (thinking the news would wake her husband up) she told Roman. His response was apoplectic.

Yet Sharon ultimately chose to stay with Roman and have her baby, despite his lack of enthusiasm.

Sadly, the last year of her life Roman treated her abysmally, taunting her lack of talent and allegedly calling her ‘a dumb hag’.

This was the situation that Sharon Tate was in at the start of 1969. Pregnant, deeply in love with a man who would not be faithful to her and settling in to a new home. Sharon pinned her hopes on her coming baby and on 10050 Cielo. This peaceful, beautiful place was a nice distraction from her personal woes.

To friends and family, Sharon referred to 10050 Cielo as her “Love House.”

On March 15th, Sharon and Roman threw a housewarming party. Approximately one hundred guests came, including Warren Beatty, Steve McQueen, Peter Fonda, his sister Jane and her husband Roger Vadim, Nancy Sinatra and Tony Curtis. Three members of the Mamas and the Papas were there, and other friends of the Polanski’s, including Jay Sebring.

A friend of Roman’s from Poland, Wojciech Frykowski, attended the Polanski’s housewarming party with his girlfriend Abigail Folger.

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An undated photograph of Wojciech Frykowski and Abigail Folger

Abigail was a former debutante, the daughter of the heir to the Folger’s coffee fortune. But she was also a philanthropist like her mother Ines. She graduated Magna cum Laude from Harvard and Radcliffe and registered as a volunteer social worker while in Los Angeles.

Wojciech and Abigail (Gibbie, as she was known to friends) were leasing a property at 2774 Woodstock Road, in the Laurel Canyon area. They lived right by Cass Eliot, singer for the Mamas and the Papas. Wojciech was a bit of a playboy — he came from a wealthy Polish family and knew Roman since the years of his earliest films.

The Polanskis did not actually spend much time living at the Love House. In late March 1969, Sharon had booked a film shoot in Italy, and Roman had just been hired to direct an adaptation of the science fiction thriller Day of the Dolphin. He left for Europe on March 16th. Worried about Sharon being alone and pregnant, he asked Wojciech and Gibbie to stay with Sharon until she departed for Italy. They agreed and came to stay at Cielo Drive.

Roman asked Wojciech to help him with research material for his Dolphin movie, and Frykowski sometimes worked construction on nearby film sets but his chief income in 1969 was sponging off his wealthy girlfriend, and dealing MDMA (Ecstasy, X or Molly). Wojciech was made an exclusive MDMA dealer in Hollywood by friends of Mama Cass’s.

To keep Sharon company, her ex-boyfriend Jay Sebring also frequently visited. Sharon and Jay dated before she met Roman, and they remained good friends. Jay Sebring was one of the most talented hair stylists in Los Angeles and cut the hair of the film and music industry’s leading men including Steve McQueen and Jim Morrison. Jay graciously accepted Sharon’s breakup when she and Roman began dating, and in fact all three became good friends.

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Jay Sebring, Roman Polanski, and Sharon Tate, photographed together at a party

On March 23rd, the day before Sharon departed for Italy, Charles Manson showed up at Cielo Drive.

Charlie did not know that Terry Melcher had moved out of Cielo Drive. On March 23rd, he went to Benedict Canyon looking for the producer. Manson, wearing a fringed buckskin suit, sauntered onto the property where he encountered Shahrokh Hatami, Sharon’s photographer friend. Hatami was visiting Sharon, taking pictures of her that day. He was outside, readying his equipment for photos by the poolside, when Manson arrived.

Sharon Tate, Wojciech Frykowski, Abigail Folger and Jay Sebring were all inside the house that day. Charlie approached the front porch and Hatami walked up the path from the pool to greet him. When Manson demanded to see Melcher, Hatami said he didn’t know any Melcher, and suggested he check the guest house.

Charlie walked down the flagstone path to the small cottage. There, he encountered landlord Rudy Altobelli.

Altobelli met Manson once, the summer before, at Dennis Wilson’s home. He’d heard Manson’s rap and wasn’t interested. In fact, he thought the musician was a leech. That March, when Manson showed up at his house, Altobelli ordered him off the property. Voices were raised.

At some point the foursome in the main house looked out to see what the fuss was. Sharon stepped onto the front porch, just as Manson finally understood that the man he was looking for no longer lived there and he needed to buzz off.

The next day, Sharon flew to Rome with Altobelli and during the flight, asked him whether that ‘creepy-looking guy’ came back to Cielo Drive!

She saw the man who would orchestrate her murder and he left her with a disturbing impression, although she had no idea just how diabolical he was.

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A police photograph of Charles Manson, wearing his buckskin suit

Summer Swelter

By summer, Sharon had returned from her overseas filming and was now approaching her third trimester. She found Gibbie and Wojciech firmly ensconced at Cielo Drive. They were both increasingly becoming addicted to the steady stream of drugs available to them, courtesy of Folger’s family’s money. Sharon and Gibbie enjoyed an easy, relaxed friendship although Wojciech often tested Sharon’s patience (like the time he ran over her little Yorkie, Prudence).

Sharon had also grown close with her neighbor, heiress Doris Duke. Duke, the daughter of a man who made his fortune in tobacco and energy, was a highly eccentric woman then in her late 50s. Twice married and divorced, Duke also boasted a legendary list of great lovers including General George S. Patton. Doris lived at Falcon Lair, a four-acre estate on Cielo Drive with a palatial Spanish Colonial Revival mansion, built by Rudolf Valentino in the 1920’s. Doris much enjoyed the company of the younger woman and Sharon’s natural goodness and gentle humor. Doris liked to take Sharon shopping on Rodeo Drive, where Sharon was naturally most interested in gifts for the baby.

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Sharon Tate, photographed by Terry O’Neill, holding gifts for her coming baby.

By August 1st, Sharon was eight months pregnant, uncomfortable, and deeply missing her husband. They spoke every day, while Roman was in London finalizing plans to shoot his upcoming film. Wojciech and Gibbie made plans to return to their Woodstock Road house as soon as Roman came home.

Helter Skelter

Friday, August 8th was a busy day at 10050 Cielo Drive. It was the day before Sharon’s scheduled baby shower and the expectant mom was in nesting mode, despite the 90° temperatures. Her housekeeper Winifred Chapman arrived at 8:00am. Ms. Chapman had worked for Sharon and Roman since spring of ’68, when the Polanski’s rented Patty Duke’s Beverly Crest house. Winifred lived in the city and took public transportation to and from work, so she often stayed overnight at Cielo for convenience. She and Sharon enjoyed an easy, relaxed relationship and that day, Sharon asked Winifred if she would prefer to stay over. It was so terribly hot and Sharon knew that Ms. Chapman didn’t have air conditioning at her home. But Winifred declined, to her eternal gratitude.

At 8:30am a handyman arrived to paint the nursery. He stayed several hours, leaving a window open to air out the fumes. The screen was in place.

At 11:00am Roman phoned Sharon. “She wanted to know if I wanted a birthday party {his 36th birthday was approaching}. I said, yes, let’s hold one. She said a little kitten had come in from the hills and she was trying to feed it with an eye dropper.”

At 12:00 noon, gardeners Tom and Dave (brothers) arrived. They mowed the lawn and groomed the hedges. Sharon planned to host her shower outside if temperatures cooled. While they worked, Winifred continued cleaning the house. Sharon’s new puppy and Gibbie and Wojciech’s Dalmatian had been scampering about the place, leaving paw prints on the white farmhouse door. Ms. Chapman washed the door down with soap and water during the noon hour.

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The front yard of 10050 Cielo Drive

At 12:30pm, Sharon’s friends Joanna Pettet and Barbara Lewis arrived for lunch. Gibbie and Wojciech joined them, as did Winifred. It was a long, leisurely meal, with the guests departing at 3:30pm.

One of the gardeners left at 3:45pm. Jay Sebring called shortly thereafter to speak with Sharon. Gibbie left to run errands, including her weekly visit with a psychiatrist.

Wojciech left at 4:00pm, visited Jay at his studio, and then picked up the keys for the Woodstock house. Witold K had stayed there for a few weeks. With Roman’s impending return, Wojciech and Abigail planned to return to their rented house by mid-month.

The remaining gardener signed for a delivery at 4:30pm. It was Sharon’s two steamer trunks, sent from Europe. Sharon was napping when the delivery arrived and the gardener stepped in to let the woman rest. The trunks were placed in the living room, adjacent the entryway from the dining room, stacked at an angle.

The second gardener left at 4:45pm, giving Winifred a ride to her bus station.

At 6:00pm, Sharon was awake from her siesta. She spoke again to Jay, who said he would come over. At 6:30pm a bicycle that Abigail purchased was delivered. Jay arrived at approximately the same time as the delivery.

Within a few moments, both Gibbie and Wojciech returned. Early in the evening, Debra Tate called and asked to come over. But Sharon declined, as she was tired.

The four — Sharon, Jay, Wojciech and Abigail — spent the evening at home, followed by a late dinner at El Coyote, the Mexican restaurant on Beverly Boulevard. They arrived back at Cielo Drive shortly before 11:00pm, when Abigail took a phone call from her mother. After the call, she went to her bedroom. There, she changed into a long white night gown and laid down to read. Sharon and Jay retreated to the master bedroom, where Sharon slipped into a bikini bathing suit and a sheer peignoir layered over the swimsuit. It was all she could do to keep cool that sultry evening. Wojciech remained in the living room and began to nap on the sofa.

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The victims’ last meal was at El Coyote

But Sharon and her houseguests were not the only residents at Cielo Drive that summer.

There was one other person living on the property at 10050 Cielo, that summer. William Garretson was 19, from Ohio and lived in the guesthouse. He met property owner Rudy Altobelli the previous spring and Altobelli invited Garretson to stay in the guesthouse and work as the caretaker. For his services he was paid $35 weekly and his responsibilities included caring for Altobelli’s three dogs: two poodles and a Weimaraner.

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Bill Garretson at 10050 Cielo Drive

On Friday, Garretson… hitchhiked down to the Sunset Strip. He purchased a TV dinner from Turner’s Drug Store plus a Coke and a pack of cigarettes. He walked around for a while, then started back toward Benedict Canyon. He was picked up hitch-hiking by a group of female hippies who dropped him off at the gate to 10050 Cielo Drive around 10:00pm…

Around 11:30pm, there was a knock at the door. An acquaintance, Steven Parent came by, carrying a clock radio.

He needed extra cash and hoped to sell a Sony AM-FM Digimatic clock/radio. Steve brought it with him when he stopped by to see Garretson, hoping the 19-year old would be interested…

Bill declined to buy the radio. They sat, talking and sharing a beer… Then Parent borrowed Bill’s phone to call another friend (a UCLA student) still hoping to unload the radio. According to Garretson, after the call Steve unplugged the radio, said goodbye to Bill and left the caretaker’s cottage. He walked out to his car, his father’s 1966 AMC Rambler.

As Steve drove down the driveway, Garretson heard the dogs barking outside. Then he heard several popping noises. It sounded like fireworks.

Sometime after midnight (now Saturday, August 9th), four killers approached the gate at Cielo Dive: Charles ‘Tex’ Watson, Susan ‘Sadie’ Atkins, Patricia ‘Katie’ Krenwinkel and Linda Kasabian.

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Stephen Parent’s 1969 graduation picture

Stephen Parent was driving toward the gate as the four lay in way. He paused to open the button for the gate, and there was assaulted by Watson. Steve Parent was shot four times and slashed with a knife. The killers pushed the car aside and approached the main house.

The murders at Cielo Drive have been written about and discussed at length, including in my book ‘The Manson Family: More to the Story’. Jay Sebring, Abigail Folger, Wojciech Frykowski and Sharon Tate were terrorized, assaulted, and brutally murdered.

Sharon’s unborn child also perished that night.

The Aftermath

Roman learned about his wife’s murder the following day from his manager. He fell apart, falling on the floor and sobbing uncontrollably. He returned to Los Angeles on August 11th, staying at the Beverly Wilshire hotel, where he also held a press conference to lambast the press on their more salacious stories about his late wife and their friends.

Days later, he accompanied a photographer to the house on Cielo Drive. There was blood everywhere, and images of Roman sitting despondently at the scene of the crime.

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Roman Polanski on the front porch of 10050 Cielo Drive — Sharon’s blood was used to write the word ‘PIG’ on the front door.

Three weeks after the murders, Rudy Altobelli came back to his house. It was a mess, to be certain, and needed professional cleaning to get rid of the blood and other damage from the murders. Altobelli then leased the house to starlet Olivia Hussey (Romeo and Juliet) who lived there for just a couple months. Altobelli became enraged when Life Magazine shared the photographs of Roman at the house that fall, photos that showed the blood pooled around the living room and other areas.

Claiming that the images hurt the value of his home, Altobelli then sued Polanski and publishers of Life Magazine for damages and three months’ worth of rent. Rudy also sent Sharon’s parents (executors of her estate) the cleaning bill for the house. Sharon’s father, Colonel Paul Tate, responded by sending back a nasty letter, Altobelli then sued Sharon’s estate for $480,000 including $300,000 for ‘embarrassment’. He claimed that some of the charges were the result of the property rented inappropriately — that it was intended (and written in the lease agreement) as a single-use residence, and that because Sharon and Roman allowed Wojciech and Abigail to stay there, they invalidated the lease.

In the end, the talent manager was awarded only $4,350. He claimed it wasn’t personal — just business.

Altobelli then moved into Cielo Drive, where he remained until 1988.

A New Era

In 1989, 10050 Cielo Drive was sold to real estate investor John Press for $1.6 million. Three years later, Press sold the house to another investor, Alvin Weintraub, for $2.25 million. Weintraub then rented the house out to musician Trent Reznor of the band Nine Inch Nails.

Reznor knew the history of the house (although he later feigned ignorance with one of Sharon’s sisters) and built a recording studio inside, naming it ‘Le Pig’ in honor of the bloody script left by killer Susan Atkins in 1969. Nine Inch Nails recorded their album The Downward Spiral at Le Pig in 1994, and Marilyn Manson also booked the studio for his album Portrait of an American Family.

But Reznor did experience some strange things at the property during the two years he resided there.

‘The first night was terrifying,’ Reznor confessed. ‘By then, I knew all about the place; I’d read all the books about the Manson murders. So I walked the place at night and everything was dark, and I was like, ‘Holy Jesus that’s where it happened.’ Scary. I jumped a mile at every sound — even if it was an owl. I woke up in the middle of the night and there was a coyote looking in the window at me. I thought, ‘I’m not gonna make it.’

(Quote from Reznor from Dissecting Marilyn Manson by Gavin Baddeley)

Reznor moved out of 10050 in ’94, taking the front door with him (it is allegedly at his New Orleans recording studio). The Love House was demolished that year. A new house was built at the property in 1996 and the address was formally changed to 10066 Cielo Drive, to keep the looky-loo’s (unsuccessfully) away.

The new house was a Mediterranean style mansion (six times larger than the original house) that owner Alvin Weintraub named Villa Bella. Villa Bella boasted nine bedrooms, thirteen bathrooms, a wine cellar and private screening room. He then attempted to sell the property in 1998 but took it off the market. He tried again in 2002. The property bore no resemblance to the house where Sharon Tate and four others were savagely murdered, but Weintraub could not get the return on his investment he had desired.

Sometime before 2010 (the year is uncertain), Hollywood producer Jeff Franklin (Full House) bought 10066 Cielo Drive for an undisclosed amount of money. He loved the setting, the privacy, but hated the design of Weintraub’s Villa Bella.

So, Franklin hired architect Richard Landry to raze the property and build a new home. Inspired by villas in southern Spain, the new Andalusian mansion features a 15-car garage, six bars, two swimming pools, and an Elvis museum.

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From Architectural Digest in 2010, Jeff Franklin’s home at 10066 Cielo Drive

Nothing of the original property at 10050 Cielo Drive remains. From time to time, items from the home that Sharon Tate dubbed the ‘Love House’ will show up for sale on eBay, such as fireplace bricks.

Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood

The set used as 10050 Cielo Drive in Quentin Tarantino’s 2019 film Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood is not, of course, the property where Sharon Tate and Roman Polanski lived in 1969. Tarantino toured several properties and areas around Benedict Canyon with Scott Michaels, owner of Dearly Departed Tours, which takes visitors around several famous crime scenes in Hollywood. In the end, the film maker used three separate locations to recreate Sharon Tate’s Love House.

To capture the look of 1969 Sunset Strip, Tarantino utilized the talents of historian Alison Martino. Together, they worked with other production teams to bring the look and feel of the late ’60s to a whole new audience. They were able to film in three key locations: the Musso and Frank Grill, El Coyote Café, where Sharon and her friends ate their last meal, and the Playboy Mansion.

Crews were also able to film on Cielo Drive for the outdoor street shots, after wooing a coalition of Cielo residents. But they had to find replacements for two other key locations: the Spahn Movie Ranch and Sharon’s house.

In the end, Tarantino used three different homes in canyon country to shoot the Cielo Drive scenes.

Some say that Benedict Canyon is haunted, with the ghosts of Sharon Tate, Jay Sebring, Abigail Folger, Wojciech Frykowski, and Stephen Parent. Reports of a woman’s screams, of ghostly apparitions have been whispered for years.

But the house was haunted long before the Manson Family arrived with their knives, to creepy crawl the House of Love.

All italicized content comes directly from the true crime book The Manson Family: More to the Story.

This article originally was excerpted here.

Written by

Author of the “More to the Story” true crime nonfiction series. https://www.mansonfamily.net/

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