the death of Rosemary and Leno LaBianca, told from the perspective of the killers
In my true crime book The Manson Family: More to the Story, I used the words of the killers to describe the events that took place on August 9th (when five victims were killed at Cielo Drive, including Sharon Tate) and the following night, when married couple Rosemary and Leno LaBianca were murdered.
On August 9th, Charles Manson (the leader of the Manson Family) sent Charles ‘Tex’ Watson, Susan ‘Sadie’ Atkins, Patricia ‘Katie’ Krenwinkel and Linda Kasabian to 10050 Cielo Drive in Benedict Canyon, the current home of actress Sharon Tate and director Roman Polanski, and the former home of Columbia Records producer Terry Melcher (who Charlie believed had whelched on a deal to produce his own music). He told Tex Watson to kill everyone there, to steal at least $600, to make it look like black militants had committed the murders, to make sure everyone participated and to ‘leave something witchy’ — witchy, as in something macabre that would freak everyone out. After the murders of Sharon Tate, Stephen Parent, Jay Sebring, Abigail Folger and Wojciech Frykowski at Cielo Drive, Susan Atkins left a bloody word written on the front door: PIG. The word was written in Sharon Tate’s blood. Witchy, indeed.
Charlie also told Watson (whom he gave all his explicit orders to that night) to continue on to other houses if they didn’t get $600. They didn’t, but the killers were so exhausted and numb after the murders that they returned to Spahn Ranch where the Family was living, anyway.
Charlie was not happy about all the details that went wrong. Not everyone participated: Linda did not kill anyone or attempt to do so. They didn’t get $600 — they got only $75 from victim Abigail Folger. There were no clues left at the scene indicating that black militants committed the crimes. The killers came back after hitting only one property, and so on.
Most importantly, Helter Skelter didn’t start that next morning. Helter Skelter was presumably the reason why the killings took place — to start a race war, although this author debunked the idea that Helter Skelter was the primary reason for the murders. There were other reasons, although Charlie only shared his real concerns with some of the men. His motives included protecting himself after he believed he was implicated in two murders. But the women were always given a different story.
So when Los Angeles didn’t erupt in the flames of a race war, Charlie knew that the killings had to continue. This time, he decided to join the four killers from the night before, along with Leslie Van Houten and Steve Grogan (aka Clem).
“In learning of the popularity and wealth of the victims, I suddenly felt cheated that the kids had come away from the scene with less than a hundred dollars in cash…” — Charles Manson quoted in Manson: In His Own Words as told to Nuel Emmons ©1986 Grove Press
“I slept very late Saturday, then spent part of the afternoon working on dune buggies and snorting speed… Sadie told me that our murders were on the news and that we’d killed some really ‘beautiful people’, but the names didn’t mean anything to me and I immediately forgot most of them except Sharon Tate… I didn’t really feel anything for what had happened, for what I’d done …” — Will You Die For Me? by Charles Watson and Chaplain Ray ©1978 Fleming H. Revell
“While rumors were still flying and the police still scratching their heads, I had visions of another night that would add to the confusion and make the affairs of that night look like more than copy-cat murders. We’d make it appear as though a full-scale war was being waged against the whites.” — Charles Manson quoted in Manson: In His Own Words as told to Nuel Emmons ©1986 Grove Press
“Charlie called us together again — Linda, Katie, Sadie, and me. And two more as well… It would be the same as last night, he told us, only tonight we’d get two separate houses instead of just one. And this time we’d do it right… Tonight he would show us how to do it. We all put on dark clothing again, except Clem who wore a khaki jacket, and before we left, Charlie gave me a light tab of acid. While people were getting things together, Sadie and I… hit our speed bottle and I gave myself three good snorts in each nostril. I knew now I’d need it for what was to come.” — Will You Die For Me? by Charles Watson and Chaplain Ray ©1978 Fleming H. Revell
“Charlie… called Katie and Leslie and myself aside and told us to get a change of clothes and meet him at the bunk room, which we did.” — Official Court Transcript: July 1970 trial testimony of Linda Kasabian
“Charlie definitely had me go the second night. At that point I felt so dead inside it really didn’t matter.” — Patricia Krenwinkel from the program “Turning Point” ©1994 American Broadcast Company (ABC)
“He (Manson) asked me, ‘Do you believe in me enough to know that this is something that has to be done?’ and I said, ‘Yes, I do.’ I didn’t walk right up and ask to go but I think everything on my face said that.” — Leslie Van Houten from the program “Turning Point” ©1994 American Broadcast Company (ABC)
“When we were all gathered at the car, Charlie handed me a .45 automatic pistol. He also had the chrome-plated bayonet we’d bought at the army-surplus store at the same time we’d purchased the Buck knives used at the Tate house. Linda and I got in the front seat with Charlie, and the four others piled in back.” — Will You Die For Me? by Charles Watson and Chaplain Ray ©1978 Fleming H. Revell
“We just started driving and I know that we went to Pasadena because we went on the Pasadena Freeway… The only discussion that I can recall, sticks in my mind, is that the same thing we had done last night only two different houses, there was to be… two groups consisting of one man and two girls to go to two different houses. That is why there were two men and… four women.” — Official Court Transcript: December 1969 Grand Jury Testimony of Susan Atkins
“We ended up driving for about three hours. Sometimes Charlie would be at the wheel, sometimes Linda, with Charlie giving her directions. Between the speed and the acid, I wasn’t always certain exactly where we were… Our first stop was somewhere in Pasadena… Charlie and I finally walked up to a house and peered in the windows. In the living room, bathed in warm light, we could see framed photographs of children arranged neatly on one wall. Charlie shook his head, and when we were back at the car he told us he didn’t want to kill children, not yet but the time might come, he warned, when we’d have to kill the children as well.” — Will You Die For Me? by Charles Watson and Chaplain Ray ©1978 Fleming H. Revell
“At one point I had them stop in front of a church. As I started out of the car, Linda said in a surprised voice, ‘We aren’t going to kill a priest are we?’ ‘No, we aren’t, but I am,’ I responded. ‘Besides, what’s so fucking different about a priest? They eat, shit and tell lies just like you and me.’ Actually, I had just stopped the car because I had to take a piss… When I returned to the car, I told the kids the priest had lucked out, no one answered the bell.” — Charles Manson quoted in Manson: In His Own Words as told to Nuel Emmons ©1986 Grove Press
“There was a small white sports car in front of us and… Charlie wanted me to pull up beside the car, and Charlie was going to get out and kill the man, shoot the man, whatever. He proceeded to get out of the car… The light turned green, so the car left.” — Official Court Transcript: July 1970 trial testimony of Linda Kasabian
“After over two hours of driving with nothing coming down, I thought of an area out near Griffith Park. In the past we had partied at a guy’s pad in that neighborhood. It was a pretty ritzy area.” — Charles Manson quoted in Manson: In His Own Words as told to Nuel Emmons ©1986 Grove Press
The neighborhood in question was Los Feliz, and the street was Waverly Drive. A year and a half before, members of the Family had partied at a house on Waverly rented by four guys. One was Harold True, who periodically let members of the Family stay on his couch in 1968. Linda Kasabian wasn’t with the Family at that time (she only joined in June 1969) but she also had been at that house.
“My husband and I and friends were on our way down from Seattle… to New Mexico and we stopped off in Los Angeles, and this one particular person knew Harold True, so we went to his house and had a party.” — Official Court Transcript: July 1970 trial testimony of Linda Kasabian
“I knew that people would die. I knew that there would be killing.” — Leslie Van Houten from the program “Turning Point” ©1994 American Broadcast Company (ABC)
“‘Charlie, you are not going into that house, are you?’… he said, ‘No, I’m going next door.’ He got out of the car alone. I saw him put something in his pants, an object… He disappeared up the walkway, the driveway leading toward Harold’s house…” — Official Court Transcript: July 1970 trial testimony of Linda Kasabian
“I walked up a long driveway and looked in a window. The only person I could see was a heavy-set guy about forty-five years old who had fallen asleep while reading a newspaper. Satisfied that this was where the night’s work would start, I went back to the car and got Tex.” — Charles Manson quoted in Manson: In His Own Words as told to Nuel Emmons ©1986 Grove Press
Manson and Watson stood at a living room window, looking into the home at 3301 Waverly Drive. They saw a man in his 40s, asleep on the couch with a newspaper over his face. Charlie carried a gun and Tex held a bayonet as they walked around the house to the back kitchen entrance, and walked inside.
“Leno LaBianca’s first words were: ‘Who are you? What do you want?’ Holding the gun on him, Charlie smiled and murmured, ‘We’re not going to hurt you. Just relax. Don’t be afraid.’ ‘How can I help being afraid when you’ve got a gun on me?’ LaBianca asked… Charlie’s voice remained low, soothing: ‘It’s okay; I’m your friend. We don’t want anything but money’… Charlie pulled off a leather thong that had been looped around his neck and had me tie LaBianca’s hands with it. I must have cinched him up pretty firmly, because he immediately protested that it was too tight, especially when we turned him onto his back again with the weight of his body pressing down on his wrists. Charlie asked if there was anyone else in the house. Yes, LaBianca answered, his wife was in the bedroom.” — Will You Die For Me? by Charles Watson and Chaplain Ray ©1978 Fleming H. Revell
Charlie left Watson with Leno and went into the bedroom. Rosemary LaBianca, 38 years old, was asleep in the bed. Charlie touched her shoulder and woke her up.
“Her sleepy eyes focused on me. Then, with a start, she sat up and grabbed for the covers in an effort to hide her body. She had a nightgown on, but to assist her in her modesty, I handed her a dress that was folded over the back of a chair. She quickly pulled it over her nightgown, and said, ‘What are you doing here? What do you want?’” — Charles Manson quoted in Manson: In His Own Words as told to Nuel Emmons ©1986 Grove Press
Charlie brought Mrs. LaBianca into the living room and sat her at her husband’s feet. Mr. LaBianca continued to protest the tight bindings on his wrists, and Rosemary asked the two intruders to please help him get more comfortable. Neither Watson nor Manson made a move to help Leno. Leno then tried to negotiate:
“He turned to Charlie with an attempt at reason: ‘Look, we’ll give you anything you want; just tell us.’ Charlie, still speaking with almost hypnotic calm, answered, ‘Do you have any cash?’ LaBianca told him that the only cash in the house was what he’d left on his nightstand next to the bed and perhaps a little in his wife’s wallet. Charlie sent me for both and was obviously displeased at how little money there was. ‘I can get you more,’ LaBianca insisted nervously. ‘Just let me take you to my store and you can get as much as you want’.” — Will You Die For Me? by Charles Watson and Chaplain Ray ©1978 Fleming H. Revell
“Hell, I thought, if he owns a store and has offered me anything I want, maybe there were big bucks there. But then I thought, he’s just buying time.” — Charles Manson quoted in Manson: In His Own Words as told to Nuel Emmons ©1986 Grove Press
Tex then went to the bedroom to remove two pillowcases from the bed, returned to the living room, placed the pillowcase over Leno’s head and then tied the cord of a lamp around his neck, skull and mouth as tightly as possible. Meanwhile, Charlie left to go get the girls.
“I walked to the car and told Katie and Leslie to go give Tex a hand. ‘Do it good! Make sure it’s done so the pigs will put it together with Hinman (another man the Family killed about two weeks before) and that pad last night. We’re going to find another house.’” — Charles Manson quoted in Manson: In His Own Words as told to Nuel Emmons ©1986 Grove Press
“He said, ‘Leslie, go into the house. I have got the people tied up. They are very calm.’ He said something to the effect last night that Tex let the people know they were going to be killed which caused panic and Charlie said that he reassured the people with smiles in a very quiet manner that they were not to be harmed.” — Official Court Transcript: December 1969 Grand Jury Testimony of Susan Atkins
“He said that he didn’t want them to be as gruesome. He didn’t want it to be as frightening for them. That they believed that it was a robbery and to go in and do what Tex said. So we went into the house, and Mr. and Mrs. LaBianca were sitting on the sofa…” — Leslie Van Houten, from her 2016 parole hearing
“Katie and Leslie appeared in the kitchen, holding their changes of clothing. I thought I was whispering when I asked, ‘Did he say to kill them?’ Perhaps my voice was louder than I thought, because as they nodded grimly, Leno LaBianca began to scream from the living room, ‘You’re going to kill us, aren’t you? You’re going to kill us!’” — Will You Die For Me? by Charles Watson and Chaplain Ray ©1978 Fleming H. Revell
“They were frightened, and he told Pat and I to go into the kitchen and get knives, and we took Mrs. LaBianca into the bedroom… And she had been pleading, you know, take whatever you want… I wrapped the lamp cord around her head to hold the pillowcase on her head. I went to hold her down.” — Leslie Van Houten, from her 2016 parole hearing
“Leslie didn’t want to go through with what was coming, but like all the rest of us, she must have felt she owed it to Charlie… Katie, on the other hand, began to look through the kitchen drawers for knives with positive relish. Mr. LaBianca continued to shout… I walked back to the sofa with the bayonet and the horror began all over again. I drove the chrome-plated blade down full force. The shiny bayonet plunged again and again.” — Will You Die For Me? by Charles Watson and Chaplain Ray ©1978 Fleming H. Revell
“Pat and I took Mrs. LaBianca into the bedroom and the sounds of Mr. LaBianca dying came into the bedroom — horrible, guttural sounds. She started calling out to him and yelling for him and at that moment — for a brief moment — I realized these are people that love each other.” — Leslie Van Houten from the program “Turning Point” ©1994 American Broadcast Company (ABC)
“I don’t believe that any of us had any concept of really what we were doing… in other words, I don’t think we know how to define what brings death. We were so locked in the… it’s like — okay, okay — if somehow I could just keep doing this, this will make death. This will bring death.” — Patricia Krenwinkel from the program “Turning Point” ©1994 American Broadcast Company (ABC)
Pat attempted to stab Mrs. LaBianca near the collarbones, but the knife did not go in and the panicked victim was able to keep herself away from the killers for a brief time.
“I ran to the door and I told Tex, ‘We can’t kill her, it’s not working’, or something to that effect. Tex came into the bedroom.” — Leslie Van Houten from the program “Turning Point” ©1994 American Broadcast Company (ABC)
“Mrs. LaBianca was in a corner of the room, still hooded with the pillowcase, swinging a large lamp (the wire was wrapped around her head) in an arc that kept the two girls from getting close to her. The bayonet had greater range and I struck out time after time, even after the woman had fallen to the floor.” — Will You Die For Me? by Charles Watson and Chaplain Ray ©1978 Fleming H. Revell
While Tex stabbed Rosemary, Leslie went into the den and stared at the wall. While Tex killed Mrs. LaBianca, Pat Krenwinkel went into the living room and came back, claiming she heard sounds from Mr. LaBianca. Tex told Leslie and Katie to stab Mrs. LaBianca, even though he could tell the woman was already dead. Tex then grabbed Leslie, brought her back into the bedroom and handed her a knife.
“The lady was dead. I pushed Leslie down beside her. She shook her head. I turned her face up towards me. I had blood all the way up my arms and I had a knife in my hand. She was one scared girl.” — Will You Die For Me? by Charles Watson and Chaplain Ray ©1978 Fleming H. Revell
“Tex turned me around and handed me the knife and he said, ‘do something’ because Manson had told him to make sure that all of us got our hands dirty… I stabbed Mrs. LaBianca in the lower back about sixteen times.” — Leslie Van Houten from the program “Turning Point” ©1994 American Broadcast Company (ABC). Leslie also recalled, “It was such a violent act. Once I started I wasn’t able to stop… it was a horrible thing to do and while I was doing it I think I was fighting with myself… I felt like a predator… I felt like a shark just out of control for that moment.” — Leslie Van Houten, from her 1996 parole hearing
While Leslie stabbed Mrs. LaBianca in the lower back, Tex ran back to the living room where he used the bayonet to carve the word WAR on the man’s belly. Leno and Rosemary LaBianca were dead. But the killers’ job was still not finished.
“It had been said by Charlie, ‘Make sure that there was all these witchy signs’.” — Patricia Krenwinkel from the program “Turning Point” ©1994 American Broadcast Company (ABC)
“We started looking through the house, rifling drawers, opening closets partly for money (we did find a bag of coins) and also for a change of clothes for me. While I washed off the bayonet in the bathroom sink and showered, the girls wrote on the walls and refrigerator door in blood.” — Will You Die For Me? by Charles Watson and Chaplain Ray ©1978 Fleming H. Revell
“I wrote words all over the place… Helter Skelter and Rise and… I think there was something else.” — Patricia Krenwinkel from the program “Turning Point” ©1994 American Broadcast Company (ABC)
The words HEALTER SKELTER (misspelled) was written in blood on the refrigerator. The words RISE and DEATH TO PIGS was written upon the living room wall. A reminder that the word PIG was written at the scene of the murders the night before. Pat then added another witchy touch:
“Mr. LaBianca was already dead and I had gotten a fork and I stabbed him with a fork repeatedly and eventually left the fork in him.” — Patricia Krenwinkel from the program “Turning Point” ©1994 American Broadcast Company (ABC)
Leslie began wiping down fingerprints in the bedroom. All three changed into clothes that belonged to the victims. They drank chocolate milk from the LaBianca’s refrigerator, and ate cheese and watermelon. Finally, their job was done. They hitchhiked back to Spahn Ranch in the early dawn.
Yet Helter Skelter still did not begin.
You can read more about the LaBianca’s here:
They were no saints, but they didn’t deserve to die
the story of Manson Family victims Leno and Rosemary LaBianca
And more about Leslie Van Houten here: