So much more than an heiress

the story of Manson Family victim Abigail Folger

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Abigail Folger

On August 9, 1969, members of a cult known as the Manson Family murdered five innocent people in Benedict Canyon, a wealthy neighborhood in the Hollywood Hills. The victims that night included pregnant film star Sharon Tate, successful men’s hairstylist Jay Sebring, an 18-year old recent high school graduate, a Polish swimming champion, and heiress Abigail Folger. More victims followed the next night.

But Sharon Tate obviously gets most of the attention, in terms of the victims. Beautiful, talented, young, kind, and devoted to her family. She was eagerly anticipating the birth of her first child, a boy, at the time of her birth. The baby died in utero, along with his mother.

But with the spotlight on Sharon — for understandable reasons — that light rarely shines on the other woman who was killed that fateful evening.

Abigail Folger was also young, talented, kind, hard-working and looking forward to her future. She was killed just two days before her 26th birthday.

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Abigail Folger as a child

Abigail Anne Folger grew up in wealth and privilege, in San Francisco. Her great-grandfather, originally from Nantucket, set off in 1850 with hopes of striking it rich in the California gold rush. Instead, he made his fortune with the import and roasting of coffee beans. James Ahearne Folger’s company bore his name and continued its success with each passing generation.

Folgers™ became the third largest coffee wholesaler in America, thanks to James’ grandsons, James III and Peter. The family sold the business to Proctor and Gamble in 1963 but continue to manage Folgers as a P&G subsidiary.

Peter Folger, Abigail’s father, was a skilled athlete, a former football player at Yale who also excelled at polo and track. He served as a Marine Major during World War II.

But Abigail was especially close with her mother. Ines ‘Pui’ Mejia Folger was born in California of Salvadoran heritage. Her father was a consulate for El Salvador and Ines was educated in Europe. She married Peter Folger in 1933 and had two children, Abigail and a son named after his father. Ines divorced Peter in 1952 (he cheated on her and impregnated his secretary, whom he later married).

Her parents instilled in Abigail (or ‘Gibbie’, as she was known to friends) with a sense of curiosity about history and culture, along with a moral responsibility to help those less fortunate. Ines was a voracious reader, opinionated and lively — the kind of woman who was the center of attention at dinner parties. Abigail was shy, but engaging. She attended private high school in Carmel (Patricia Hearst later attended the same finishing school) and was a 1961 debutante on the San Francisco social register. She went on to attend Radcliff College in Cambridge and then Harvard, graduating with honors in Art History. She was also a very talented pianist.

Her first job after college was at the University of California art museum in Berkeley. Her former supervisor, UC professor Peter Selz, recalled, “She was very outgoing, very enthusiastic and did a beautiful job organizing the fine art museum council. She wasn’t a hippie type at all. She didn’t look, dress or act like a hippie.”

Abigail moved to New York after Berkeley, where she worked for a magazine publisher, and then for the Gotham Book Mart.

  • The Manson Family: More to the Story by H. Allegra Lansing ©2019 Swann Publications including the following quote by Peter Selz: Original source unknown — likely printed in an early newspaper article about Folger’s death
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Abigail Folger

hile living in New York City, Gibbie was introduced to Wojciech Frykowski. Frykowski, a former swimming champion, had recently moved to the U.S. from Poland. He was 31 years old at the time, twice divorced and with a young son (Bartłomiej nicknamed Bartek) back in Europe. Frykowski and Folger were introduced by fellow Pole, author Jerzy Kosinski (Being There) at a 1967 party. Neither spoke each other’s language but were both fluent in French. Shortly after their introduction, Wojciech moved into Abigail’s apartment.

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Wojciech and Gibbie

In the spring of 1968, Gibbie and Wojciech drove cross-country to California. They rented a home at 2774 Woodstock Road in Laurel Canyon, across the street from Mama Cass. Wojciech wrote poetry and took odd jobs in construction and on film sets but mostly lived off the money Abigail received each month from her wealthy father.

Abigail, like her mother, felt a duty to serve the poor and underprivileged. Ines, at the time, was volunteering at the Free Clinic in San Francisco — the same facility where the Manson Family were treated. It is unclear if either Folger woman ever met Charlie or his followers but there were occasions (like fundraising dinners) where the group may have interacted.

In Los Angeles, Abigail registered as a volunteer social worker for the County Welfare Department. She then threw her efforts into the political campaign of council member Tom Bradley, who was running for mayor. She was devoting much of her time to helping others, and quickly burning out as a result. Her drug use, along with Wojciech’s, began to escalate. When Bradley, who was black, lost the election thanks to a nasty and racially-charged smear campaign, Abigail was despondent.

  • The Manson Family: More to the Story by H. Allegra Lansing ©2019 Swann Publications
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Abigail and Wojciech

ojciech was longtime friends with Polish filmmaker Roman Polanski. In fact, Wojciech had helped finance some of Roman’s early movies (Frykowski’s father was a wealthy textile printer. Wojciech also served as lifeguard on Polanski’s first feature-length film, 1962’s Knife in the Water.

When Frykowski and Folger came to Los Angeles, Wojciech reached out to his old friend. Polanski was also in Los Angeles, newly married to actress Sharon Tate. When Roman and Sharon learned they were expecting a baby, they moved to a beautiful but modest 3-bedroom home in Benedict Canyon, the former rented home of Columbia Records producer Terry Melcher. Charles Manson believed that Melcher was going to help him get a record deal. He had visited 10050 Cielo Drive, the home later rented by the Polanski’s, several times while Melcher lived there.

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Roman Polanski and Sharon Tate shortly after their 1968 wedding

haron and Roman moved into Cielo Drive (which Sharon called her Love House) on February 15, 1969. Four weeks later, they threw a housewarming party. Guests included Jane Fonda and Roger Vadim, Nancy Sinatra and other Hollywood luminaries.

Wojciech and Gibbie also attended the party.

Roman had recently been signed to direct a film adapation of the science-fiction novel Day of the Dolphin. He was expected to spend several months in Europe and South America, working on the film. Meanwhile, Sharon was also committed to a movie (Thirteen Chairs) in Italy that Spring. So Roman asked Wojciech if he and his girlfriend would come stay at the house, while he and Sharon were away. It was during the failed Bradley campaign that the couple came to Cielo Drive.

During the spring of 1969, Wojciech and Gibbie lived at Cielo Drive and rented their Woodstock house to a friend. The plan was initially for them to leave once Sharon returned home, but Roman asked them to stay a little while longer. He didn’t want his wife alone, pregnant, without him. He’d be home in mid-August. Gibbie and Wojciech agreed.

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Abigail and Wojciech

On August 1st, Sharon Tate was nearly eight months pregnant. She not only had Wojciech and Abigail staying with her, but artist Witold Kaczanowski (another Polish friend of Roman’s) was there on and off as well that summer…

In an interview with Rolling Stone, Roman spoke about his wife and their friends. “Gibby Folger and Wojciech were staying in the house with Sharon to keep her company, we’d agreed on this… Gibby was working very hard as a social worker, getting up at dawn every day to go work in Watts and studying speed-reading at night… We’d had some nice times in that L.A. house, Sharon would cook dinner for friends and after we’d all sit outside and look at the sky, the constellations, and talk about everything…” [1]

Sometimes though, in Roman’s absence, it was too much for Sharon. She enjoyed Gibbie’s company, but Wojciech wasn’t the best houseguest. He could be selfish and careless. On the 14th of July, he accidentally drove over Saperstein, Sharon’s Yorkie terrier.

But still, Sharon’s houseguests eased her loneliness. Roman was due back in mid-August, from London where he was writing Day of the Dolphin. Sharon asked Gibbie and Wojciech to stay until he returned…

Debra Tate remembered, “… Abigail Folger loved to read; she always had her nose buried in a book. Wojciech liked to fly kites in the front yard, and we would swim. They had a young Dalmatian puppy, and Sharon had a Yorkie puppy, Tom and Prudence.”[2] (Sharon adopted Prudence to replace Saperstein.)

…Abigail was financially supporting Wojciech. She donated her time as a volunteer social worker which, in urban areas of Los Angeles County, couldn’t have been more taxing. She spent several months that year volunteering for the unsuccessful campaign of Tom Bradley for mayor. That summer, she also agreed to invest in Jay Sebring’s upcoming product line.

…Gibbie wasn’t a complainer. Her stress turned inward. It resulted in a heavier dependency of the recreational drugs readily available to the young heiress. It is tragic that she didn’t wake up mid-summer and make drastic changes to her life. She had opportunities. Gibbie saw a psychiatrist each week. She was very close, almost co-dependent with her mother whom she spoke to every day and saw at least once a month. Ines was there to remind Abigail of her potential.

  • The Manson Family: More to the Story by H. Allegra Lansing ©2019 Swann Publications including the following quotes: [1] Roman Polanski quoted in “The Restoration of Roman Polanski” by Tom Burke ©July 1974 Rolling Stone magazine; [2] Debra Tate quoted in “My Sister’s Murder: 45 Years after Manson” by Elaine Aradillas ©September 2014 People magazine
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During college Abigail modeled for Vanity Fair magazine

oman was due to return to the states on August 16th. Wojciech and Abigail would return to their Woodstock home in anticipation of Polanski’s return. The heat that summer was unbearable, and both Sharon and Gibbie were somewhat irritable.

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.

…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.

…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… 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.

  • The Manson Family: More to the Story by H. Allegra Lansing ©2019 Swann Publications
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Abigail Folger

hortly after midnight, four members of the Manson Family scaled the fence at Cielo Drive and began to slaughter the five people they found there: 18-year old Stephen Parent (a guest of the caretaker, who lived in a guest cottage behind the main house), Jay Sebring, Wojciech Frykowski, Sharon Tate, and Abigail Folger.

Abigail died on the lawn, near the pool. She was stabbed to death numerous times. In the years since her murder, her mother and father have both passed away. Her brother is alive, and a younger-half sister. Abigail Anne Folger is remembered by family and friends as a compassionate, caring, intelligent young lady. The word ‘heiress’ cannot begin to describe this unique young woman, lost so many years ago.

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Abigail’s resting place at Holy Cross Catholic Cemetery, Colma, California

Abigail was neither a saint nor a sinner. She was all too human — blessed with riches and appealing looks, formed by the best education that money could buy but doomed to fall in love with someone who expected her to take care of him, rather than the other way around. She had a very big heart and was woefully meek about protecting it. Sharon Tate naturally has this big white spotlight around her persona and memory — the beautiful actress who should have been a star, the expectant young wife who should have had the chance to be a mother — but sadly, that means that the spotlight rarely shines on Abigail Folger, who was also beautiful, kind and deserving of a better life than her untimely end afforded her.

  • The Manson Family: More to the Story by H. Allegra Lansing ©2019 Swann Publications

You can learn more about Sharon and her friendships here:

And more about Manson here:

Written by

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

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