She Found Sharon Tate’s body

51 years ago today…

Image for post
Image for post
A July 1969 photograph of Sharon Tate by Terry O’Neill is one of the last formal photographs taken of the pregnant actress, in London. She is pictured with gifts for her baby of clothing. She was expecting a boy just a month after her tragic murder.

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.

Image for post
Image for post
A 1968 photograph of Sharon at the Summitridge home

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.

Image for post
Image for post
Winifred Chapman’s apartment was in this building, current view via Google Maps

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

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.

Image for post
Image for post
Winifred Chapman

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.

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)

Image for post
Image for post
An imprint of Sharon Tate’s body (left) and Jay Sebring’s (right) against the official crime scene photos of the living room

Murder Death Bodies Blood:

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.

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.

Image for post
Image for post
Winifred Chapman during her testimony in the Tate/LaBianca trials. Manson Family member Lynette ‘Squeaky’ Fromme (the woman smiling) stands behind the stoic Ms. Chapman

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:

And here:

Written by

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

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store