The Teen Who Escaped Helter Skelter

the mystery of the caretaker at Cielo Drive

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Four members of the infamous Manson Family who came to Cielo Drive to commit murder

Just after midnight on August 9th, 1969, four members of the Manson Family approached the property at 10050 Cielo Drive in Benedict Canyon. They drove there with the explicit intention of killing as many people as they found there, stealing their money, and staging the scene to look as though black people had committed the murders. This was at the urging of 34-year old ex-con Charles Manson, who believed that this would be the tipping point of a race war that was inspired by The Beatles’ White Album.

Sharon Tate was living at Cielo Drive. The 26-year old actress was married to Polish film director Roman Polanski, and expecting her first child. The couple moved to the residence in February 1969. Previously, it had been rented by Columbia Records producer Terry Melcher, who Manson knew.

Polanski was in Europe that summer, working on pre-production for the science fiction film Day of the Dolphin. His wife remained at home, along with two houseguests — Polanski’s friend Wojciech Frykowski and his American girlfriend, coffee heiress and social worker Abigail Folger.

On Friday, August 8th, Tate, Folger and Frykowski enjoyed a late dinner at Mexican restaurant El Coyote in Los Angeles, along with Sharon’s friend and former boyfriend, famed hairstylist Jay Sebring. After dinner, the four returned together to Cielo Drive to relax.

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Sharon Tate cuddles with a puppy, while Wojciech Frykowski takes photos on a hot day, just before the murders

The following is excerpted from The Manson Family: More to the Story by H. Allegra Lansing, published June 2019 from Swann Publications:

There was one other person living on the property at 10050 Cielo, that summer. William Garretson was 19, from Ohio and lived in the guesthouse. He met property owner Rudy Altobelli the previous spring and Altobelli invited Garretson to stay in the guesthouse and work as the caretaker. For his services he was paid $35 weekly and his responsibilities included caring for Altobelli’s three dogs: two poodles and a Weimaraner.

According to Garretson’s polygraph, he explained that,

“Well, I met Mr. Altobelli on — in Hollywood. And he, you know, he wanted — he just got back from Europe, and he let some woman stay there before that he knew for twenty years, and, you know, she partied every night and everything and the place was torn up and he — and just, you know, he told me if I wanted a job, I could come up and clean his house, and I was going to go back to Ohio in March, and I was picked up for Possession of Marijuana, and it was lowered to Visitation. And so, you know, after that I was going to go back to Ohio, but he was going to Europe and he wanted to — he said the dogs liked me and everything, and he wanted to know if I would stay on while he went to Europe, then he would be back, you know, and he asked me, you know, he’d give me an airline ticket home and everything.” — Polygraph Examination of William Garretson, August 10, 1969 at LAPD headquarters

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William ‘Bill’ Garretson

Bill initially told police that he knew nothing and heard nothing that fateful evening, but in later years admitted that he did hear a few things and had hidden in the cottage, in fear for his life. In interviews, Garretson comes across as a very naïve, somewhat dense young man. He explained to the polygrapher that the people in the main house liked to party and used drugs and he didn’t care for that. Sure, he’d been arrested once for possession of marijuana and also used LSD and Benzedrine and was known to drink four beers in one sitting, but he didn’t use that stuff.

Garretson also let friends stay at the guest house. His buddy Darrell, home from Vietnam, visited but Garretson kicked him out when he saw Darrell take bottles of champagne during one of the Polanski’s house parties that summer. Sometimes he and Darrell double-dated and Garretson even let those two women (one Debbie T. and a Patty Montgomery) crash at the guesthouse. He also let a Marine from Pendleton named Roy stay with him sometimes. Roy later went AWOL and wound up in the brig.

The name Patty Montgomery bears exploration.

Some people think that Patty Montgomery may actually be Patricia Krenwinkel (one of the Manson Family killers). The name ‘Montgomery’ is a clue — it was the maiden name of Tex’s (Charles ‘Tex’ Watson — another Manson Family killer) mother, and he frequently used it as his own alias (Charles Montgomery). The Family were known to swap names and Katie might have heard Tex use the name when questioned by police. Might she have been the ‘Patty Montgomery’ that visited Garretson and stayed briefly at the guesthouse on Cielo Drive?

A photo of Bill Garretson beside the pool at Cielo Drive

On Friday, Garretson was at home alone. The night before, Darrell and Debbie visited for a couple hours… but the next day he was on his own. He wasn’t feeling too well, frankly. Bill drank a lot of beer on Thursday and on Friday, he was hungover. He managed to clean the guest house and washed dishes then at 8:30pm he hitchhiked down to the Sunset Strip. He purchased a TV dinner from Turner’s Drug Store plus a Coke and a pack of cigarettes. He walked around for a while, then started back toward Benedict Canyon. He was picked up hitch-hiking by a group of female hippies who dropped him off at the gate to 10050 Cielo Drive around 10:00pm.

Garretson popped the TV dinner into the oven and turned on the television. He sat and watched TV and ate some potato chips while waiting for his dinner to cook. Around 11:30pm, there was a knock at the door. An acquaintance, Steven Parent came by, carrying a clock radio. Steve was 18-years old, a recent graduate from Arroyo High School in El Monte.

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Steven Parent

Steve had just gotten off work from his second job at a stereo shop on Wilshire Boulevard… He needed extra cash and hoped to sell a Sony AM-FM Digimatic clock/radio. Steve brought it with him when he stopped by to see Garretson, hoping the 19-year old would be interested. He did a quick demonstration of the clock and radio’s capabilities, including setting the time at 12:00 midnight while the radio was plugged in to the wall socket.

Bill declined to buy the radio. They sat, talking and sharing a beer.

“He asked me if I had been living by myself… and I said, ‘Yeah’ and he asked me who the two girls were inside the main house, and I told him… Mrs. Polanski and Abigail Folger. And he went into a big thing, you know, who are they… I had to explain to him.” — Polygraph Examination of William Garretson, August 10, 1969 at LAPD headquarters

Then Parent borrowed Bill’s phone to call another friend (a UCLA student) still hoping to unload the radio. According to Garretson, after the call Steve unplugged the radio, said goodbye to Bill and left the caretaker’s cottage. He walked out to his car, his father’s 1966 AMC Rambler.

As Steve drove down the driveway, Garretson heard the dogs barking outside. Then he heard several popping noises. It sounded like fireworks.

(end of excerpt)

Tex Watson, Katie, Sadie and Linda Kasabian approached the property at Cielo Drive just before Steve got to his car. They parked their vehicle up the street, and then scaled the fence to enter the property. Susan ‘Sadie’ Atkins was the first to drop over, tossing over a bundle of clothing that the killers planned to change into, after the murders.

As they walked toward the driveway, Steve Parent’s Rambler was driving toward them. The teen did not immediately see the killers lying in wait, but as he approached the gate to push the button, Tex Watson approached the car.

Tex had both a knife and a gun in his hands. The teen begged for Watson not to hurt him, but Tex slashed at Steve with a knife and then shot him four times. The 18-year old slumped over in his car. Watson and the three women then pushed the car to the side, and began walking toward the main house.

Watson, Krenwinkel and Atkins entered the home at 10050 Cielo. They rounded up Sharon, Abigail, Wojciech and Jay. Jay was killed immediately. Wojciech and Abigail tried to run, and Watson and Krenwinkel chased them out onto the lawn. After Tex stabbed Frykowski several times and shot him once, he assisted Katie in killing Abigail Folger out near the pool.

Then, Tex told Katie to go to the guest cottage:

“At this time Tex ordered Katie to go to the back of the property, where the guest cottage was, to see if anyone was there and, if so, to kill them.” — Linda Kasabian from the documentary “Manson” ©2009 The History Channel

“When I looked around at the caretaker’s cottage I knew this… this is wrong. It was like an echo from way back that said “wait a minute”. This had gone into total madness. But you’re a part of this horrendous dance and it was like, no matter what or anywhere I turned it wasn’t going to stop. “— Patricia Krenwinkel from the program “Turning Point” ©1994 American Broadcast Company (ABC)

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The victims from Cielo Drive: Wojciech Frykowski, Sharon Tate, Steven Parent (in middle), Jay Sebring and Abigail Folger

Again, excerpted from The Manson Family: More to the Story:

Katie was only at the caretaker’s cottage for a few seconds, before reporting to Tex that she found nobody there. But if she was the reputed ‘Patty Montgomery’ that I eluded to earlier, might she have decided to spare someone she considered her friend? Or was it simply a matter of being able to kill when in the presence of Watson, and unable to do so when she was alone? The mystery of ‘Patty Montgomery’ remains unsolved and inconclusive as to her connection with anyone in the Manson Family.

(end of excerpt)

While Katie was checking out the guest cottage, Linda Kasabian went to the car to await the killers. She was the only one of the four who did not commit murder that night. Susan Atkins was inside the house with a terrified Sharon Tate. Tex joined her, where he stabbed Sharon to death.

The four then departed.

The next morning, Sharon’s housekeeper arrived at Cielo Drive and walked into the house from a back entrance, and saw Sharon and Jay both lying dead in the living room. She ran to a neighbor’s house, who called the police.

When the police arrived, the neighbor told them what he knew of the property, its’ owner and tenants, and mentioned that a young man was working there that summer, living in the guest cottage just beyond the pool.

Again, excerpted from The Manson Family: More to the Story

Whisenhunt and Burbridge met up with DeRosa (the three police officers) in the living room, who entered through the front door and the three continued their search of the home. They exited out the master bedroom toward the back lawn and pool. There, they spied the corner of the guest house, past the hedges. With revolvers drawn, the three crept toward the cottage.

They heard a dog bark, followed by a man’s voice shushing the dog. The cops circled the small residence, creeping around to a screened-in porch facing the back of the property. There, they found Bill Garretson. They yelled ‘freeze!’ and kicked in the door.

Altobelli’s Weimaraner charged at Whisenhunt, trying to protect the caretaker but the officer was able to trap the dog through the door.

Garretson was grabbed, handcuffed, dragged outside to the lawn where he was held by the officers. He kept asking what was going on and two of the cops dragged him along the flagstone path, past the bodies of Abigail and Wojciech. In fact, the cops dragged Garretson all the way to the Rambler, where he was asked to identify the body of the man inside. It had been less than ten hours since he saw Steven Parent but in his shock and confusion, Garretson did not recognize the red-headed youth.

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.

Initially, during questioning, Garretson feigned ignorance about the murders. But later, he admitted that during the night he noticed that the door handle inside the cottage had been turned. In the intervening years, Garretson altered his version of events a number of times. In 1997 he told author Bill Nelson,

“I did hear a scream. I walked down the hall and into the closet. It had a window facing the pool area and there was a curtain over the window. All the windows in the house were closed that night and the doors were locked. I had lights on everywhere. The whole house was lit up… Then I walked down toward the living room because the three dogs were at the front door barking loudly. I stopped at the bathroom door… I heard footsteps running the other way. Something impressed me again not to move. They could not see me because I was in the hall and there was no window right there. When I saw the front door, I saw the handle… it was turned.” — William Garretson quoted in Sharon Tate and the Manson Murders by Greg King ©2000 Barricade Books

The person who turned the handle was Katie, sent to investigate the cottage. Patricia Krenwinkel, or Patty Montgomery?

And in a 1999 interview on E! (Entertainment Television), Garretson admitted that he heard the sound of gunshots and he heard Abigail scream, ‘Stop! I’m already dead…’ He also told them that he saw Patricia try to open the door to the cottage and then turn around and run away.

Even more explosive, he claimed in that 1999 interview that when he hitchhiked down to Sunset Boulevard earlier to get dinner, the man he rode with warned him not to go back to the property! Garretson rode back with a group of female hippies who took him all the way home despite that warning. He tried to get the women to drop him off at other stops along the way, he said, but they insisted on driving him home.

Who was the man who warned Garretson not to go back to Cielo?

Who were the hippies who gave Bill a ride back?

Why did the women Garretson hitched a ride back with, insist on taking him home when he repeatedly asked them to let him out sooner?

Other than Garretson, nobody has corroborated these tales and he suffered from years of PTSD and drug/alcohol abuse after the murders. In the 2000s he also fell prey to a charlatan who claimed she was Sharon and Roman’s baby, taken from her mother’s womb after the killers were there! This ‘Rosie Polanski’ convinced poor, traumatized Garretson that mysterious ‘men in black’ showed up at Cielo Drive, delivered Sharon’s baby post-mortem, let Bill hold her for a few seconds, then wiped his memory clean. She also ran up his phone bill for thousands of dollars in long distance charges, This con artist (who was actually born in New York State) also tried to sink her hooks into the Tate family, who didn’t fall for it. But Garretson did, and that speaks to his credibility.

William ‘Bill’ Garretson was held for several days by LAPD but eventually released after it was clear that he had not committed the murders and did not know who did.

He died in 2016 of cancer.

You can learn more about the murders at Cielo Drive by visiting MansonFamily.net or you can read about the history of Cielo Drive here:

Written by

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

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