Tex Watson committed the Devil’s Business in the Tate/LaBianca murders
On Friday, August 8, 1969, Charles Manson returned to Spahn Ranch after several days away. He arrived to bad news: Bobby Beausoleil had been picked up by police and charged with the murder of musician Gary Hinman.
Bobby stabbed Hinman, a friend of his, on July 28th after more than a day trying to plead with Gary to give him money. Bobby had procured drugs (either $1,000 or $2,000 worth) from Hinman on behalf of the Straight Satans, an outlaw motorcycle club that had befriended the Manson Family.
The Straight Satans claimed the drugs were bad (poison) and demanded their money back. Charlie needed the bikers, in case Helter Skelter happened — he had plans for them as his army and muscle during the Apocalypse. So it was critically important to placate them and keep them on his side.
Charlie first sent Bobby along with Susan Atkins and Mary Brunner to Hinman’s home to negotiate for either the return of the drug money or collateral equaling its value. When they were unsuccessful, Mary called Spahn Ranch and summoned Charlie to help.
Charlie arrived (along with Bruce Davis, another Manson Family member) and immediately sliced Gary across the temple with a cutlass sword belonging to the bikers. He and Davis then departed, taking one of Hinman’s cars and a set of bagpipes with them. Manson allegedly told Beausoleil to ‘take care of’ the situation.
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Charlie wasn’t present when Bobby stabbed Gary, but having drawn blood he could be implicated in the murder. So learning that Beausoleil was in police custody was extremely bad news: he had to find a way to stop Bobby from naming him. He believed that the answer lie in Death Valley: the place where the Family was supposed to hide during Helter Skelter. So he sent Mary Brunner (again) along with Sandra Good to a Sears store in San Fernando to buy supplies.
The women used a stolen credit card for their purchases, were chased out of the store by the manager, and apprehended moments later by police.
News (around 11pm) that night of their arrest is what spurred Charlie to order the murders. If he couldn’t escape to Death Valley, at least he could cast suspicion on the idea that Bobby was responsible for Gary Hinman’s death by creating a copycat killing. If police thought Bobby was innocent of Hinman’s murder, they’d let him go and then Bobby need never name Manson to the authorities.
Charlie first selected Tex Watson that night. Then he tapped Susan Atkins, Patricia Krenwinkel and Linda Kasabian to join Watson, telling the women to do whatever Tex told them.
Manson chose Watson because of the situation with Bernard ‘Lotsapoppa’ Crowe just a month before.
“I’d saved Tex from the fate he was suffering under, so when the brother has a problem, I pass it on to Tex.” — Charles Manson quoted in “Charles Manson Today: The Final Confessions of a Psychopath” by Erik Hedegaard ©November 2013 Rolling Stone magazine
In other words, Charlie had (he believed) killed a man on behalf of Watson. Then Bobby had killed a man for all of them. So, it was Tex’s turn to repay the favor.
“Charlie sat up slowly and ran his finger across his throat. Then he told me to put on my clothes and come with him. As we walked up the hill in the darkness he said, ‘I’ve got a favor I want you to do for me tonight… but it’ll take a lot of nerve to do it.’ I told him he knew I’d do anything he wanted. He brought up the ‘killing’ of Bernard Crowe, saying how he’d taken care of that for me… Now he wanted me to take care of something for him. Again I assured him I would do whatever he asked me.” — Will You Die For Me? by Charles Watson and Chaplain Ray ©1978 Fleming H. Revell
Charlie gave Tex implicit instructions about where to go (10050 Cielo Drive, the former home of Columbia Records producer Terry Melcher and current home of pregnant actress Sharon Tate), what to do (‘take a couple of the girls and go down there and totally destroy everyone in that house. And get all their money’), how to go about it (cut the telephone wires, use bolt cutters if necessary to get through the fence, avoid the gate since it might be attached to an alarm system, wear dark colors and bring changes of clothing) and also to continue to other houses until they got at least $600 (believed to be the amount of Mary and Sandy’s bail). Charlie also told Watson that the killings should be gruesome (to mutilate the victims including pulling out their eyes and hanging them on mirrors, and to write messages on the way in blood (like the message of ‘Political Piggy’ which had been scrawled at the scene of Hinman’s death. Lastly, Charlie gave Watson a .22 Buntline pistol although he warned him to use knives instead of the gun, if possible.
Watson was already on acid (LSD) that day, but after receiving Charlie’s instructions, he needed a little more courage. He dipped into the jar of liquid speed that he kept hidden under a nearby porch.
“I took a couple of deep snorts of speed and went to get the clothes and rope and bolt cutters as Charlie had ordered.” — Will You Die For Me? by Charles Watson and Chaplain Ray ©1978 Fleming H. Revell
Borrowing a car that belonged to one of the ranch hands, Watson got into the driver’s seat. Linda got beside him and Atkins and Krenwinkel got into the back. They each had knives, in addition to the pistol. Just before they left, Charlie leaned into the open window and gave them a message.
“‘Remember to leave a sign,’ he told the girls, ‘something witchy’.” — Will You Die For Me? by Charles Watson and Chaplain Ray ©1978 Fleming H. Revell
Watson drove out of Spahn Ranch headed for Hollywood, but took a wrong turn somewhere and got lost. He had to backtrack to find Sunset Boulevard, Benedict Canyon and then the darkened and winding road of Cielo Drive.
He parked the car under a power pole, and climbed up the pole with the bolt cutters to cut the telephone lines. The women silently got out of the car, each carrying their bundles of extra clothes. They threw the clothes over the fence, and scaled over into the bushes. Just as they landed though, they saw headlights coming toward them.
“I told the girls to get into the bushes, lie down, and be quiet. The driver of the car had to stop and roll down his window to push the button for the automatic gate, and as he did so I stepped forward out of the shadows, gun in right hand, knife in left, commanding him to halt. A terrified teenage boy looked up at me, his glasses flashing.” — Will You Die For Me? by Charles Watson and Chaplain Ray ©1978 Fleming H. Revell
The boy was 18-year old Steven Parent, a recent high school graduate who was leaving the caretaker’s cottage (or guest house) after attempting to sell him a clock/radio. Parent was just an unlikely house guest who came upon the killers at a most inopportune time.
Steven saw Watson, holding both a knife and a gun and immediately pled for help. He said he was their friend, and he wouldn’t hurt them. He promised not to tell anyone he saw them.
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Tex shot him four times anyway, and slashed him across the left arm with the knife. Watson pushed the car back in the driveway, to make it less visible from the road and then gestured for the women to follow him toward the main house.
“There was no sign that anyone inside had been roused by the shots. I told Linda to go around to the back of the house and check for open doors or windows. She was back in a few moments, saying that everything was locked. A window that opened into the entry hall, just to the side of the front door, was raised several inches, so after telling Linda to go back down to the gate and keep watch in case anyone was alerted by the sounds of the shots, I slit the bottom of the screen, removed it, pushed up the window, and climbed through. It was very still inside the house. I crept to the front door and let in Sadie.” — Will You Die For Me? by Charles Watson and Chaplain Ray ©1978 Fleming H. Revell
Watson and Atkins crept through the house, eventually spying a man asleep on the living room sofa. Tex told Susan to walk toward the back bedrooms, looking for others. Meanwhile, he walked over to the sleeping man. It was Wojciech Frykowski, a houseguest and longtime friend of Sharon Tate’s husband, film director Roman Polanski.
“Frykowski stirred at the sound of my voice and mumbled something like: ‘What time is it?’ I kicked him in the head. As he struggled up in confusion, mumbling: ‘Who are you? What do you want?’ I answered, ‘I’m the devil and I’m here to do the devil’s business’.” — Will You Die For Me? by Charles Watson and Chaplain Ray ©1978 Fleming H. Revell
Susan soon returned to the living room with three others: Abigail Folger (Frykowski’s girlfriend), Sharon Tate and Jay Sebring, another friend. They were terrified. Watson didn’t even notice right away that Sharon was eight months pregnant. Meanwhile, Patricia Krenwinkel was now also inside the house, brandishing her knife at the women. Watson began tying up the four victims, around the neck, looping the center of the rope over a beam near the fireplace. It forced Sharon to stand on her tiptoes. Jay was tied, while sitting in a chair. Meanwhile, Susan tied Wocjiech’s hands behind his back with a towel.
Sebring, Sharon’s former fiance, saw how distressed she was and pleaded with the invaders to be careful of her. Watson angrily then shot him. The women immediately began screaming. Tex then ordered Susan to go get money from the victims. She took Abigail with her to the back bedroom, where the desperate woman gave her about $70 cash. They returned to the living room, where Sebring lay on the ground, groaning loudly in pain.
“I went over to him and stabbed him until I thought he was dead. The women began to scream and someone asked, ‘What are you going to do with us?’ ‘You’re all going to die,’ I answered. They began pleading with us for their lives, and suddenly Frykowski started kicking and fighting, jerking at the towel that bound his hands. ‘Kill him!’ I ordered Sadie, but he dragged her down as she flailed at him awkwardly with the knife, stabbing him in the legs several times. Then she had lost the knife in the cushions and Frykowski was loose, tearing her hair and pulling her down onto the floor.” — Will You Die For Me? by Charles Watson and Chaplain Ray ©1978 Fleming H. Revell
Susan and Wojciech fought each over, rolling over and over on the ground. Finally, Tex joined him and began beating him over the head with the handle of the gun. He hit him so hard, the gun grip broke and pieces fell off and onto the ground. They would later be found by police.
Still, Wojciech managed to run outside with Watson chasing behind him. Finally Tex overtook him, stabbing him multiple times and eventually shooting him twice. He looked up, and saw Linda Kasabian, staring in horror at him from a distance away on the front lawn.
Tex then saw that Patricia was running across the back lawn, chasing Abigail with an upraised knife. He went to join her.
“I ran across the grass as Katie tackled her. Suddenly she stopped fighting. Looking up at me as she lay on her back, she whispered without emotion, ‘I give up; you’ve got me.’ It was as if my hand and the knife were one, plunging up and down. I felt nothing.” — Will You Die For Me? by Charles Watson and Chaplain Ray ©1978 Fleming H. Revell
He suddenly realized that Frykowski was still alive, and trying to drag himself away from the porch toward the driveway. Tex went back to him, and stabbed him several more times until he was still. Then he went inside the house, where Susan Atkins was holding Sharon at knifepoint.
When Susan was in a jail cell three months later, she bragged about the murders to several cellmates (two of whom reported her claims to investigators, which finally solved the case). She claimed to them that she was the one who killed Sharon Tate, that she told her that she didn’t have any mercy for her, to prepare to die, that she didn’t care about her baby, and that she licked Sharon’s blood off her hand after she was dead.
The only truth to those claims were likely the cruel things she said to Sharon. The job of killing the pregnant woman actually fell to Watson.
“I looked at Sadie. But she just sat there holding Sharon, so I reached out and made the first cut across her cheek… It was my hand that struck out, over and over, until the cries of ‘Mother . . . mother . . .’ stopped. Suddenly it seemed very quiet. It was over.” — Will You Die For Me? by Charles Watson and Chaplain Ray ©1978 Fleming H. Revell
But it wasn’t over. As Watson, Atkins and Krenwinkel staggered outside again, they saw that Wojciech Frykowski was somehow still alive. Watson stabbed him again, until he was truly dead. Autopsy results showed that fatty tissue appeared through some of the cuts, indicating wounds that were made post-mortem.
The killers left out the front gate, with Watson leaving an incriminating fingerprint at the button. They found Linda behind the wheel of their car, and got in. As she drove away, they took off their bloody clothes and wrapped the weapons with them into a bloody bundle. They hadn’t gotten $600, but they were too exhausted to repeat the mayhem at another property. Instead, they tossed the clothes out into the hillside and looked for a place to wash up.
They found a nearby house with a water hose, and piled out of the car to wash their hands and feet. But the homeowners heard them, and came running outside.
“I put on my Texas accent, saying we had just been walking and needed a drink. As we ran back to the car, the man followed us, his wife shrieking, ‘Get the license number; get the number!’ from the doorway. In my rush I flooded the engine, and as I struggled to get the car started again the old man came up to my window and stuck his hand in, grabbing for the keys. I managed to crank up the glass and drive off, leaving him shouting after us in the middle of the road.” — Will You Die For Me? by Charles Watson and Chaplain Ray ©1978 Fleming H. Revell
They stopped at a gas station, using the money they got from Abigail Folger to pay, and wiping up traces of blood on the car. Watson then drove back to Spahn Ranch, where they reported what happened to Charlie.
It was not until the next day that they learned who their victims were.
But that night, unconvinced that the killers had done enough to get him off the hook for Hinman’s murder, Charlie decided to send them out again. This time, he was going to join them.
After driving around the Los Angeles area for nearly three hours, Manson finally selected a house to target: 3301 Waverly Drive in Los Feliz. The Family had attended parties at the house next door, and saw a light on in the living room.
Manson and Watson together entered the property. Watson carried a bayonet, and a .45 automatic pistol.
“We went in the unlocked back door and, as a big dog nosed at us with friendly curiosity, crossed through the kitchen into the living room… Charlie poked the man gently with the pistol to wake him up… 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’.” — Will You Die For Me? by Charles Watson and Chaplain Ray ©1978 Fleming H. Revell
Manson then tied Leno up with a leather thong, and demanded to know if anyone else was home. The man admitted that his wife was asleep in the bedroom, and Charlie went to find her.
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“Charlie disappeared for a minute or two and then returned with Rosemary LaBianca, holding the gun on her but still murmuring assurances that no one was going to be hurt, this was just a simple robbery. He sat the frightened-looking woman at her husband’s feet.” — Will You Die For Me? by Charles Watson and Chaplain Ray ©1978 Fleming H. Revell
The couple pled with Watson and Manson to let them go. Leno offered them money, before Charlie decided to separate them, taking Rosemary back to the bedroom.
Tex then put a pillowcase over each of the victim’s heads, and tied lamp cords around their mouths to stifle them. At this point, Manson left the home and went to the car to summon Patricia Krenwinkel and Leslie Van Houten to assist Watson.
“A minute or two later, Katie (Krenwinkel) 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
The girls ran to the bedroom, while Tex stabbed Mr. LaBianca with the bayonet. The victim began screaming, while his terrified wife called out for him. Then they yelled for Watson to come help them.
Rosemary had managed to keep her attackers at bay, holding onto the lamp that was tied around her face and neck, to keep arms’ length from them. But the bayonet offered Watson the distance needed, and he struck Mrs. LaBianca several times until she lay still on the floor, face down.
Watson then dragged Leslie Van Houten from another room (where she had retreated, staring at a wall in shock) and forced her to stab Rosemary. Autopsy results showed that Van Houten struck the victim with a knife 16–17 times in the low back and buttocks. These wounds were all ruled post-mortem.
But again, a victim remained miraculously alive. Watson discovered that Leno was still breathing, and stabbed him again. This time, he added a gruesome touch:
“Out of some horrible part of my brain an image formed and I reached down and carved WAR on the bare belly below me. Later-while I was washing away the LaBiancas’ blood in their own shower — Katie would add to the grotesque picture by stabbing the dead man fourteen times (with an ivory-handled carving fork that she left wobbling in his stomach) and by planting a small steak knife in his neck, both these weapons coming from the LaBiancas’ kitchen drawers.” — Will You Die For Me? by Charles Watson and Chaplain Ray ©1978 Fleming H. Revell
Pat Krenwinkel then wrote bloody messages around the crime scene. “Rise”. “Death to Pigs”. “Healter (misspelled) Skelter.” The killers looked through the house for valuables, finding only a bag of coins. They ate watermelon and drank chocolate milk from the victims’ refrigerator, and then showered and changed into clothes belonging to Leno and Rosemary. They departed the house, headed back to Spahn Ranch.
“Charlie had already gone back into the hills to a camp we had by a waterfall, so I didn’t see him. The girls disappeared and I flopped down on a mattress in one of the buildings, ready to sleep. As I lay there, my mind raced and turned with images from the past two nights, like some horrible light show all full of red glare and frantic motion. Yet I felt nothing for what had been done to seven innocent people and an unborn child… Charlie had made it clear that two nights would not be the end of it, that we would do more and more killing until either the blacks or the whites took matters into their own hands and Helter Skelter would begin.” — Will You Die For Me? by Charles Watson and Chaplain Ray ©1978 Fleming H. Revell
But the killing spree did not continue (although the Family did kill a ranch hand two weeks later). Watson claimed that the end of the spree was thanks to his creative lies.
“I have no doubt that things would have continued just as Charlie planned-for another night, for three more nights, ten, however long — if later that Sunday afternoon my mother had not called (a friend) in Los Angeles and asked him to get in touch with me because she hadn’t had a word from her son in six months… that lie stopped the killing..” — Will You Die For Me? by Charles Watson and Chaplain Ray ©1978 Fleming H. Revell
His mother may have tried to call him after the murders but it’s doubtful it was the next day. Still, Tex convinced Manson that he should go to Death Valley. Manson agreed and Tex left sometime before August 14th. He went to Olanche, three hours north of Barker Ranch, to a property owned by the family of one of the Spahn Ranch hands.
In the next installment of this series (to be posted later this week) you’ll learn about Watson’s activities after the murders, leading up to his November 30th arrest.