The forgotten Manson Family victim

Steven Parent’s 1968 high school senior photo

Warning: disturbing crime scene images are included in this article…

Ohioan William Garretson, 19-years old, was living at 10050 Cielo Drive in posh Benedict Canyon, Bel Air, in the summer of 1969. He was hired to work as the property caretaker, and lived in small one-bedroom guest house at the rear of the property, behind the pool. Property owner Rudy Altobelli, a talent agent, had hired Bill Garretson that spring. For his services he was paid $35 weekly and his responsibilities included caring for Altobelli’s three dogs: two poodles and a Weimaraner.

On Friday, August 8, 1969, Garretson was at home alone. 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.

Bill Garretson, photographed at the Cielo Drive swimming pool

Garretson popped the TV dinner into the oven and turned on the television. He watched a show and ate potato chips while waiting for his dinner to cook. Around 11:30pm, there was a knock at the door. It was Steven Parent, carrying a clock radio.

Steve was 18-years old, a recent graduate from Arroyo High School in El Monte. Born February 12, 1951, Steve had one sister and two brothers, and their dad worked in construction. Parent was well-liked in school and had several girlfriends throughout his teen years. He had gingery red hair, wore glasses and possessed a winning smile. He also played the guitar and had a keen interest in electronics.

Steven, pictured as a toddler with his mother, Juanita

“Steve was fascinated by electronics and mechanics and he stole several radios, bringing them home and tearing them apart to understand how they worked.” — Official Court Transcript: July 1970 trial testimony of Janet Parent, Steve’s younger sister

Steve actually spent time at a juvenile correction facility for petty crimes during his teens, mainly theft of electronics. But his troublesome days seemed to be behind him and that fall, he was planning to register for community college.

Steve had just gotten off work from his second job at a stereo shop on Wilshire Boulevard. He first visited a friend, John LeFebreve, who worked at a nearby grocery store. Steve had dated John’s younger sister. He tried to get John to go driving with him but LeFebreve begged off. Steve left without him.

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.” — Polygraph Examination of William Garretson, August 10, 1969 at LAPD headquarters

‘Mrs. Polanski’ was 26-year old actress Sharon Tate. Sharon was 8-months pregnant with her first child that August, awaiting the return of her husband (Polish director Roman Polanski) who was in Europe on a film project. Abigail Folger was a 25-year old social worker, originally from San Francisco, and heir to the Folgers’ coffee fortune. Abigail and her boyfriend, Wojciech Frykowski, had been asked by Polanski to stay at Cielo Drive until his return, due a week later. Roman didn’t want Sharon alone in the house during that last month of her pregnancy.

Steven at his junior year prom

Then Parent borrowed Bill’s phone to call a 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.

Some have insinuated that Steve and Bill must have had a sexual encounter that night (given the late hour of Parent’s visit) but this is unlikely. Steve met Garretson only a few days earlier, giving the older boy a ride hitch-hiking and dropping him off at Cielo. When Steve was looking to sell the radio, he thought of Garretson and stopped by. It seems as innocent as it likely was, and Steve’s autopsy report later showed no evidence of sexual activity.

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

The friend that Steve telephoned while visiting Garretson places the call at approximately 11:45pm. The killers would have left Spahn Ranch (in Chatsworth, California, where the Manson Family was living) after 10:00pm. The drive from Spahn Ranch to 10050 Cielo would have been approximately 31 miles if driven directly, perhaps 45 minutes. The killers did not, however, drive directly.

Steve set the clock at midnight, although it might have been shortly before or after midnight. He simply knew it had been approximately an hour since he left work (at 11:00pm) and midnight was a safe guess as to time. He was only setting the time to demonstrate it to Garretson. He wasn’t relying upon that time, as accurate. Parent probably left the caretaker’s cottage fifteen minutes after he set the clock, positioning the time he unplugged the radio at ‘12:15am’ when it was unplugged. It is unclear how close to the actual time he set it for and therefore exactly what time the Manson Family killers approached the property.

Charles ‘Tex’ Watson was driving an old 1959 Ford that belonged to one of the Spahn Ranch hands. Beside him, in the front seat, sat 20-year old Linda Kasabian, a young hippie mother from New Hampshire.

The back seat had been removed from the vehicle so that the Manson Women could load up boxes of groceries they acquired during dumpster diving, the primary source of food for the Family that summer. But on the floorboards, two more women sat in the back: Susan ‘Sadie’ Atkins and Patricia ‘Katie’ Krenwinkel. Both women in the back were 21-years old.

They had been sent that night at the command of Charles Manson, a 34-year old musician, ex-convict, pimp and cult leader. Charlie gave orders to Watson to go to the former home of Columbia Records producer Terry Melcher and kill everyone there. Manson knew that Melcher no longer lived at Cielo Drive and had, in fact, once visited the property after Sharon Tate had moved there. On that visit, looking for Melcher, he had been ordered off the property by owner Rudy Altobelli.

Cielo Drive represented, for Manson, all of the riches he could not have. It was a symbol of the establishment, the elite, and the opportunities he felt he’d been snubbed of.

That evening, Charlie was also enraged and in a panic because three members of his commune/cult had been arrested — one for murder. He needed to create a distraction, a diversion, so that police would release the man in jail on murder charges. If not, that man (Bobby Beausoleil) just might implicate Manson himself in the July 1969 murder of musician/chemist Gary Hinman in nearby Topanga Canyon.

So, Charlie sent his chief assassin, Tex Watson, and told three women to accompany Watson and do whatever he told them.

“I missed a turnoff and we ended up going all the way into Hollywood, then back west on Santa Monica Boulevard through West Hollywood and the edges of Beverly Hills. We cut up past the landscaped mansions, most of them dark now, to Sunset Boulevard, then to Benedict Canyon, then finally turned left onto Cielo Drive. I pulled up to the big gate at the end of the private drive, directly under a power pole.” — Will You Die For Me? by Charles Watson and Chaplain Ray ©1978 Fleming H. Revell

Midnight struck: it was now the first moments of Saturday, August 9th. Watson parked on the street away from 10050, between the power pole and the next-door neighbor’s house.

“I climbed onto the hood of the car and shinnied up the pole, cutting the telephone line with the bolt cutters… I had no uncertainty about which wires were which. It was as though Charlie’s instructions were tape-recorded in my mind and being played back, step by step, as I needed them. After the wires had fallen, I backed the car down the driveway to the street below and parked. We gathered up our clothes and weapons and quietly slipped back up the driveway. I carried the white rope over my shoulder.” — Will You Die For Me? by Charles Watson and Chaplain Ray ©1978 Fleming H. Revell

The four intruders stood outside the fence, looking in. The lights were on at the home, in the driveway, and a string of colored Christmas lights had been left from the previous winter, strung along a section of fence.

“(Tex) told us to get our changes of clothes and we all walked back up the hill… We walked up to the gate, but we didn’t want to touch it or go over it because we thought there may be an alarm… We walked up the side of the hill and could see that we could get over the fence easier there than getting over the fence… I was told to go over first so I threw my changes of clothes over the fence and held the knife between my teeth and climbed over and got my pants caught on part of the fence and had to kind of boost myself up… I was caught off of the fence and fell into bushes… I was followed by the other three people.” — Official Court Transcript: December 1969 Grand Jury Testimony of Susan Atkins

One by one, starting with Susan Atkins, the killers tossed their clothes over the fence and hopped over. They crouched low, into beds of ivy and brush, and slunk quietly toward the home.

Suddenly, a light appeared.

“We had barely gotten over the gate when there was the sound of a car, and headlights loomed at the top of the driveway, heading toward us. I told the girls to get into the bushes, lie down, and be quiet.” — Will You Die For Me? by Charles Watson and Chaplain Ray ©1978 Fleming H. Revell

Tex hissed at the women to get down, shut up.

“Tex leaped forward with a gun in his hand.” — Official Court Transcript: July 1970 trial testimony of Linda Kasabian

The driver of the approaching car was Steven Parent. As he left Garretson’s cottage and prepared to drive away, he had the unfortunate luck to encounter the killers.

“The driver of the car had to stop and roll down his window to push the button for the automatic gate, and as he did so I stepped forward out of the shadows, gun in right hand, knife in left, commanding him to halt. A terrified teenage boy looked up at me, his glasses flashing… As I lunged forward the boy cried out: “Please don’t hurt me. I’m your friend…I won’t tell.” I shot him four times and at some point struck out with the knife, slashing at the left arm he raised to shield his face.” — Will You Die For Me? by Charles Watson and Chaplain Ray ©1978 Fleming H. Revell

Inside the house, four people did not apparently react to the sound of the shots. Tex then reached into the car, quickly cutting both the motor and the lights. He gestured to the crouching women to follow him, toward the house.

Steven was discovered the morning after the Cielo Drive murders

Watson, Atkins and Krenwinkel stealthily entered the home, while Tex ordered Linda to go back to the car and wait. Inside the home, the carnage continued. Jay Sebring, another guest of Sharon Tate’s, was the first to die, followed by Abigail Folger, Wojciech Frykowski and the pregnant Sharon Tate.

Abigail and Wojciech lay dead on the lawn. Sharon and Jay’s bodies were laying in the living room.

Then the killers slunk away…

Just before eight-thirty the next morning, Saturday, August 9th, housekeeper Winifred Chapman arrived at Cielo Drive. As she approached the gate, 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. Steve was slumped over onto the passenger side of the seat and perhaps, in shadow. Plus, it was not uncommon for guests to stay over at the Tate/Polanski residence. 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.

As Ms. Chapman entered the home from a rear entrance, she continued to the kitchen where she picked up the phone and sure enough, discovered the phone was dead.

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. 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’.

Police stand next to Wilfred Parent’s car on the morning of the murders. He had loaned his 18-year old son Steven the car to go to his job the day before.

A neighbor called police, and returned with her to Cielo Drive. When law enforcement arrived, the neighbor told him the names of the occupants and mentioned that there was a caretaker’s house with a young man named Bill staying there.

Out past the pool, the three officers first on the scene 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.

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.

It took several hours to identify the bodies in the house and on the lawn. It took longer to identify the young victim in the car. Initially, he was named by law enforcement as “John Doe #85”

In the interim, LAPD discovered the identity of the youth through a print and license check. Shortly after the parents returned home, an El Monte policeman appeared at the door and handed Wilfred Parent a card with a number on it and told him to call it. He left without saying anything else.

Parent dialed the number.

“County Coroner’s Office,” a man answered.

Confused, Parent identified himself and explained about the policeman and the card.

The call was transferred to a deputy coroner, who told him, “Your son has apparently been involved in a shooting.”

“Is he dead?” Parent asked, stunned. His wife, hearing the question, became hysterical.

“We have a body down here,” the deputy coroner replied, “and we believe it’s your son.” He then went on to describe physical characteristics. They matched.

Parent hung up the phone and began sobbing. Later, understandably bitter, he’d remark, “All I can say is that it was a hell of a way to tell somebody that there boy was dead.” — Helter Skelter: The True Story of the Manson Murders by Vincent Bugliosi with Curt Gentry ©1974 W.W. Norton & Company

The Parents’ parish priest identified the body of Stephen on behalf of his family.

“It was 5 A.M. before the Parents went to bed. ‘The wife and I finally just put the kids in bed with us and the five of us just held onto each other and cried until we went to sleep’.” — Helter Skelter: The True Story of the Manson Murders by Vincent Bugliosi with Curt Gentry ©1974 W.W. Norton & Company

Steven’s mother Juanita, sister Janet and father Wilfred during the 1970 Manson Family murder trials

Steven was the eldest child of Wilfred Elmer Parent (born 1925 in Wisconsin) and Juanita DeLee Jones (born 1924 in Springfield, Illinois). After Steven, Wilfred and Juanita had three more children (Janet in ’53, Gregory in ’56 and Dale in ‘58).

After the murder of their son, the Parents struggled to understand how something so tragic could have happened. Within a decade, they decided to relocate to Texas, where they had family.

Wilfred and Juanita divorced and each remarried by the early ’80s. Juanita died in February 1984 at the age of 59 — just over fourteen years after her son’s tragic death.

Janet has married five times. Gregory has been married since 1977. Dale, the youngest of the Parent children who was just ten years old when he lost his big brother Steve, was married at age 19 in Texas. He and his wife were expecting at the time they wed. Sadly, their son Daniel lived just nine days. Dale and his wife divorced and he has since remarried.

Wilfred remarried a woman named Helen, who has passed away now. But Wilfred, Steven’s father, is still alive today at the age of 95. He lives in Hill County, Texas, north of Waco.

He has outlived Steven by more than 51 years.

Steven’s funeral in 1969

When a child is murdered, a family is destroyed. The Parents have been resilient in their survival and yet, they each bear a terrible weight for the loss of their loved one, 18-year old high school graduate and electronics enthusiast, Steven Earl Parent — the forgotten victim of the Tate/LaBianca murders.

Beloved son and brother: Steven E. Parent 1951–1969

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

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