51 years ago today…
American actress Sharon Tate and Polish film director Roman Polanski met in 1966 on the London set of the movie “The Fearless Vampire Killers”. It was not love at first sight (Sharon was seriously dating men’s hairstylist Jay Sebring and Polanski was a divorcee, playing the field and didn’t think much of his leading lady’s acting abilities) but after they spent a weekend together at a hotel, dropping acid and having sex, they soon fell deeply in love.
They were married January 1968 in Chelsea, London and then promptly moved to Los Angeles. They stayed for several months at the famed Chateau Marmont and then moved to a home on Summitridge Drive, owned by Sharon’s “Valley of the Dolls” co-star, Patty Duke.
It was while at the Summit Drive home that Sharon and Roman met Winifred Chapman.
Mrs. Chapman (who we believe was either divorced or widowed) was a 54-year old African American woman from the greater Los Angeles area. She considered herself as a “light housekeeper” which according to later testimony meant cooking and generally keeping the house in order (tidying up, emptying ashtrays, bringing glasses in from the pool area, sweeping and dusting, mopping floors, cleaning doors and windows. She did not consider herself a maid because she didn’t do what she called “heavy housekeeping.”
Winifred Chapman was living at 1163 E. 46t Street in Los Angeles. She rented a 300-square foot tiny flat in a 20-unit apartment building in the Central Alameda neighborhood of Los Angeles.
Apparently, Ms. Chapman’s cooking and housekeeping were enjoyable enough that when Roman and Sharon planned to move out of Duke’s Summitridge home, they asked Winifred to come work for them.
Winifred agreed, and left Patty Duke’s employ to become a full-time housekeeper for the Polanski’s at their new rented house, 10050 Cielo Drive.
Sharon and Roman had just learned that she was expecting their first child. Roman was against having children — as a Holocaust survivor (he lost his mother in the gas chambers at Auschwitz and was separated from his family while they were in the camps), he did not have a particularly hopeful view of the future. He wanted to enjoy himself, but the responsibility of bringing children into the world after his own bleak childhood scared him.
In fact, he had asked Sharon to have an abortion when she told him her good news. She refused, and was committed to making things work with her husband despite his lack of enthusiasm over their baby, and his ongoing dalliances with other women.
She felt a sense of hope at Cielo Drive, which she called her “love house” and it appears that Winifred was a part of that cheery outlook.
Sharon and Roman did not actually spend much time at Cielo Drive during the first five months they lived there. In March, both departed to Europe (separately) for different film roles they were committed to.
In their absence, Roman’s friend Wojciech Frykowski (a former swim champion also from Poland, a bit of a playboy) and his American girlfriend Abigail Folger (heiress to the coffee fortune, and social worker) came to stay at Cielo Drive. They were there at Roman’s request to keep Sharon company when she was home alone, and to keep an eye on the house. Wojciech and Gibbie (as Folger was known to close friends) were renting another home, on Woodstock Avenue which they let a friend stay at when they were at Cielo.
Ms. Chapman did continue her housekeeping duties while Folger/Frykowski were there without Sharon, but she also had another job: she watched the children of friends in the evening. Those little girls later remembered how lovely “Winnie the Pooh” (as they called her) was, how warm and motherly she was. They also later remembered how traumatized she was, after what happened later that summer.
In July, Sharon Tate returned home from filming “Thirteen Chairs”. It was a brutally hot summer, and it was all she could do to keep cool. She missed her husband and spoke to him by phone nearly every day. She enjoyed Abigail’s company, although Wojciech sometimes tested her patience — like the time he accidentally ran over her little Yorkie, Saperstein.
By the first week of August, Sharon was approximately eight months pregnant and ready for Roman to return home. He was scheduled to fly back from London on August 16th.
From my book, The Manson Family: More to the Story —
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.
- The Manson Family: More to the Story by H. Allegra Lansing ©2019 Swann Publications
The evening before, Sharon had entertained a few friends at her home and Winifred had some tidying up to do. There have also long been rumors of a party planned for that night — Friday, August 8th — but that is not true. The only upcoming party was the Saturday afternoon baby shower. Sharon planned to have her mother, sisters and a few lady friends over for a small, casual celebration. Even Abigail wasn’t going to be there — she was schedule to fly to San Francisco the next day, to celebrate her upcoming birthday with her mother.
Winifred took a day off that week so that she could work, instead, on Saturday.
During the day on Friday, several workers visited the property to prepare for the shower and upcoming birth. Two gardeners — Tom and Dave — arrived at noon to mow the yard and tend the garden. A painter arrived at 8:30am, around the same time Winifred came to work, to paint the baby’s nursery. He left the window open in the nursery, with a screen in place, to air out the fumes.
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… With Roman’s impending return, Wojciech and Abigail planned to return to their rented house by mid-month…
The second gardener left at 4:45pm, giving Winifred a ride to her bus station.
— The Manson Family: More to the Story by H. Allegra Lansing ©2019 Swann Publications
After Winifred left, Sharon woke from her nap, Abigail and Wojciech returned, and Jay Sebring came to the home. The four spent the evening at home together, and then went out for a late dinner at El Coyote, the famed Mexican restaurant.
They came home around 11pm. Within an hour, the killers had arrived.
Charles ‘Tex’ Watson, Susan ‘Sadie’ Atkins, Patricia ‘Katie’ Krenwinkel and Linda Kasabian came to the Cielo Drive home to commit murder, and to create a scene that would inspire revenge killings, part of a vision that their ‘cult leader’ Charles Manson had of a global race war. Charlie told Watson to stage the scene as though it were committed by black people, so that white people would kill other black people in retaliation.
But can you imagine of a black woman had been one of those victims? It would have been a lot harder for the prosecution to later use Helter Skelter as their primary motive.
Jay, Abigail, Wojciech, Sharon and another guest at the home (18-year old Stephen Parent, a friend of property caretaker) were all savagely murdered during the overnight hours of August 8/9th. Some were shot. Two were beaten. Several were tied up with rope, to the wood beam in the living room. All were stabbed. Two bodies were left on the lawn. One was in a car in the driveway. Two more bodies were left in the living room, including Sharon Tate.
(warning — the following image although obscurred includes the crime scene)
Murder Death Bodies Blood:
Just before eight-thirty on the morning of Saturday, August 9th, Winifred Chapman arrived at Cielo Drive. Winifred lived in an apartment in the Central Alameda neighborhood of South Los Angeles. She had to ride at least two buses to get to her employer’s, followed by either a short car ride or taxi from the bus stop at Sunset Boulevard and Benedict Canyon Drive. That morning after the murders, she hailed a ride from an acquaintance.
As she approached the gate at 10050 Cielo, she spied a downed telephone line. Concerned and distracted, she made her way onto the property. She walked past the ’66 Rambler where Steven Parent lay dead, but did not register that anyone was inside… Ms. Chapman paid the car no mind as she walked up the driveway toward the main house. From the driveway and side of the garage, she headed to the back service door. Had she walked toward the front door, she would have seen the carnage on the lawn.
She noted that someone left the outside light on overnight and stopped at the corner of the garage to turn it off. From there, she entered the home from the back porch area, near what would have soon been the baby’s nursery. Passing through a service entry into the kitchen, Winifred immediately headed to the phone to check if the line was clear. She felt quite uneasy when she discovered no dial tone.
The kitchen led to the dining room, which opened into the living room. The steamer trunks delivered the previous day were in the living room, near the dining room, diagonally placed together. The other two bedrooms — the master bedroom and the bedroom that Wojciech and Gibbie were using — were on the other side of the living room, down a narrow hall that included one of four bathrooms. The master bedroom on the other end of that hall had two exits to the pool area — one from the bedroom, the other from a walk-in closet. Wondering if everyone was awake and wanting to alert them to the trouble with the phone, the housekeeper walked into the living room.
There were pools of blood everywhere, on the walls and the floor. Sharon lay in front of the sofa on her side, her bikini drenched in blood. Jay was crouched a few feet away, closer to the fireplace. Both still had the rope around their necks. The towel that Susan had used to write ‘pig’ on the front door was (perhaps) over Jay’s face… The front door was open and more blood was splashed from inside to outside, onto the porch and even the lawn. Winifred immediately ran back the way she’d come, through the kitchen and out the back entrance, beside the garage and toward the gate. This time, she looked into the white car and saw 18-year old Steven Parent, slashed and shot and dead. Ms. Chapman fled out the gate, pushing the inside button in her rush… The terrified housekeeper raced toward the other homes on Cielo, screaming about ‘murder, death, bodies and blood’.
Winifred came to the home of the Asin family, hysterical. The Asins immediately called police… Leaving Ms. Chapman in the care of Mrs. Asin, father and son walked over to 10050 Cielo. They saw the downed lines and the Rambler, with Steven inside. They walked back to their house and called police a second time and when the cops still had not arrived at 9:14am, called them a third time. Finally, an officer arrived.
Officer Jerry DeRosa of LAPD’s Robbery/Homicide Division was the first on the scene. He quickly interviewed Winifred Chapman just outside the gate at Cielo Drive. She was of little help at the time. She was distraught, sometimes incoherent and it was difficult understanding some of the foreign names (Frykowski, Polanski, Altobelli) she was reciting. Luckily, Mr. Asin was able to help...
Winifred was unable to tell Officer DeRosa who the victims were. She didn’t stay to check them, after all. But she mentioned that one might be Jay Sebring. She could see his black Porsche parked near the garage.
DeRosa had Ms. Chapman open the gate and escorted her onto the property. When asked to identify the body of the man in the Rambler, she professed that she had no idea who it was. At this time, a second unit car and Officer Whisenhunt arrived. DeRosa and Whisenhunt cautiously walked together onto the grounds.
- The Manson Family: More to the Story by H. Allegra Lansing ©2019 Swann Publications
The caretaker was found by the three officers, and taken from the guesthouse. They dragged him past the bodies, which he did not initially recognize in their bloodied state, and out to a squad car.
DeRosa called Homicide at 9:40am, reporting five deaths and one suspect in custody. He and Whisenhunt left, driving Garretson to the West Los Angeles police station for questioning and leaving Burbridge to wait for investigators. Another cop, newly arrived at the scene, drove Winifred to the UCLA Medical Center where she was given a sedative. — The Manson Family: More to the Story by H. Allegra Lansing ©2019 Swann Publications
Winifred was extremely distraught. She clearly had come to care for her employers, particularly Sharon, as well as their friends. She did not, reportedly, immediately recognize any of the victims but you can image how those images would pop up alarmingly in her dreams and waking nightmares, in the weeks and months that followed.
A week into the investigation, a friend of Ms. Chapman’s reported her missing — she was found ten days later, claiming she was so distraught she needed to ‘get away’ from the constant scrutiny (police, press, the public). Many believe she might actually have been in protective custody, as the police did not yet know who the killers were.
Winifred Chapman testified during both the December 1969 grand jury, and the summer 1970 trials (the Tate/LaBianca trials against Charles Manson and three of the women murderers). Prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi later described Chapman as ‘quarrelsome’ in his book Helter Skelter, but in reading through her official testimony it is clear that she was still traumatized.
She was also a woman of color, living in a city with decades-long racial tensions, and at a moment in history that was fraught with police violence against black Americans. We don’t know what her personal experiences with law enforcement were — before, during or after the murders of her employer.
We know little, in fact, about Winifred’s life before or after the murders. My research was unable to find even her birth or death records. We know that she was 54 years old when the Polanski’s first met her (in late 1968) and that she was referred to as “Mrs. Chapman” — indicating perhaps that Chapman was a married name, and therefore we do not know her surname at birth. We don’t even have a middle initial, or any description of her family.
Winifred Chapman is another victim of the Manson Family. She lost her job that horrible day 51 years ago, and her life was turned upside down.
If anyone knows more details about this woman, I’d love to learn more and pay tribute to her. Feel free to reach out through MansonFamily.net.
You can read more about Sharon just before the murders here: