This Boy Scout Was Smarter Than The Police

Steven Weiss found the gun used by the Manson Family for murder

Steven Weiss speaks to reporters in the summer of 1970

Just after midnight on August 9, 1969, four members of the Manson Family scaled the fence at 10050 Cielo Drive in Benedict Canyon in the Hollywood Hills. They had been sent there by Charles Manson, an ex-convict with a long rap sheet who had attracted several dozen young people with his anti-establishment propaganda. That evening, Charlie was desperate — a member of his so-called Family (really, a cult) had recently been arrested for murder and might implicate Manson, and two women he sent to buy supplies (with stolen credit cards) so that he could escape, also were arrested. He needed a diversion. A distraction. Something that would save him, at the risk of his most ardent followers.

On August 9th, Charles ‘Tex’ Watson, Susan ‘Sadie’ Atkins and Patricia ‘Katie’ Krenwinkel murdered five innocent people. A fourth participant, Linda Kasabian, witnessed some of the murders but did not actively take part.

The first murder was that of 18-year old Stephen Parent, a guest of the property caretaker who was departing the residence just as the killers approached. He was slashed several time with a knife by Watson, and then shot with a .22 Buntline longhorn revolver.

Later taken into evidence, the .22 Buntline longhorn revolver used by Tex Watson to kill three of the Cielo Drive victims

The killers then entered the property, gathered the four people present there (Sharon Tate, Jay Sebring, Abigail Folger, and Wojciech Frykowski) and proceeded to tie them up, using a long rope suspended over a beam in the living room.

Jay Sebring protested the treatment, particularly of Sharon Tate who was 8-months pregnant at the time. Watson then immediately shot Sebring, using the Buntline.

Atkins began wrestling with Frykowski, attempting to stab him and managing to do so only in the legs. He was very strong, and managed to fight her until Watson came over and beat Wojciech on the head several times with the revolver, breaking off pieces of the gun grip in the process. Still, Frykowski managed to fight off his attackers, running out the front door.

Krenwinkel began to chase Folger, who ran out a side door of the property. Watson, while outside stabbing and shooting Frykowski, saw Krenwinkel running with a knife in her hand, and came over to help kill Abigail.

The last left to die was Sharon Tate, who was being held near the couch by Susan Atkins. Watkins came inside, and using his knife, slashed her cheek and then stabbed her in the torso.

The killers left a bloody message on the front door which read “PIG” and departed the scene, with Linda Kasabian driving. They had brought changes of clothes, and they removed their bloody clothing during the drive. Linda threw the clothes out the window, and later, all of the weapons.

For three months, law enforcement had no idea who had committed the brutal Cielo Drive murders, nor that of a married couple the following night just a few miles away. But they had ample opportunity to connect the two crimes scenes, which had numerous similarities, and they failed to do so.

They also missed a key piece of evidence when, on September 1st, 1969, an 11-year old in Van Nuys California, called police to report he’d found a gun.

11-year old Steven Weiss found the .22 longhorn behind his home. A boyscout, the sixth grader knew not to touch the gun by its handle (he held it by the end of the barrel instead). The gun was missing the right butt grip, following Tex’s beating of Wojciech Frykowski. Weiss’s father called Van Nuys police and investigators assigned to the Cielo Drive murders arrived at the Weiss home. Those investigators weren’t as diligent as the scout. They manhandled the weapon, putting their own finger prints all over it while the boy watched. The police, who admitted to Weiss’ father that they didn’t even know how to open the revolver, obscured the fingerprints left by Watson three weeks earlier. Steven and his father told the officers that they believed the gun might be linked to the Tate killings in nearby Benedict Canyon.

Police had sent out circulars to the region’s law enforcement offices, with pictures of a similar gun and even mentioned the missing handle grip. But the investigators at the Weiss residence that day didn’t remember those circulars. They had no idea that a Good Samaritan had just turned in the very weapon they were supposed to be looking for.

Seven shell casings, plus two live bullets were still in the revolver when it was booked into evidence in Van Nuys. Long after the culprits were in jail and under investigation, still nobody linked the gun found by Steven Weiss to the crimes in Benedict Canyon. When Susan Atkins went before the grand jury in December, three months later, Mr. Weiss called police to remind them of the weapon in their possession.

Steven Weiss testified during the 1970 trial of Charles Manson (the mastermind of the murders), Susan Atkins, Patricia Krenwinkel and Leslie Van Houten (who participated in the following night’s murder — Watson was tried separately since he fled to Texas and fought extradition for several months).

A sketch artist rendering of Steven Weiss’ testimony during the September 1970 trial of the Manson Family: image by Dahl Taylor

Weiss remembered being rather nervous, ahead of his testimony. He had heard that Charles Manson could hypnotize you with his eyes, and he did witness the defendant smile at him. But he held his own in that courtroom, and spoke the truth. That gun was not only implicated in the murders but had been seen by several other witnesses in Charles Manson’s hand. It was used to connect Manson — who was not present for either the Cielo Drive murders nor those of the following nights — to the crimes, and for that Steven Weiss’s discovery was critical.

For weeks after his courtroom debut, the Weiss family received hundreds of phone calls and visits from neighbors, friends and family, all curious about what young Steven had done. But in time, the hubbub went away.

A reward of $25,000 had been raised by friends of Sharon Tate’s (including actors Yul Brynner and Warren Beatty) but Steven never received any of that reward money, despite providing one of the most significant pieces of evidence needed to convict the Manson Family of murder. The reward was, instead, collected by three adults who testified against Manson including a biker who was involved in the July 1969 murder of a musician, Gary Hinman.

Steven still lives in the Van Nuys area. He is 62 years old now.

Author of the “More to the Story” true crime nonfiction series.

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