The big story in Los Angeles on August 12, 1969 was the release of nineteen-year-old William Garretson, the caretaker at the Cielo Drive estate where five people and the unborn son of Sharon Tate and Roman Polanski murdered a few days before.
William Garretson (center)
William was the only survivor of the slaughter which made him suspect number one. Police arrested William at the point of a shotgun and grilled him for hours. He agreed to take a polygraph test and passed. Inspector Harold Yarnell said: “There is not sufficient evidence to hold Garretson. There is no reason to suspect him.”
Wearing a deer-in-the-headlights expression, William’s attorney, Barry Tarlow, escorted him through the lobby of LAPD’s administration building. The nineteen-year-old, who appeared on the verge of tears, declined to answer any of the barrage of questions called out to him by eager news reporters. He let his lawyer do the talking.
Tarlow told reporters his client said goodnight to Steven Parent at 11:30 p.m. Friday, then went back inside the guesthouse to listen to his stereo. He wasn’t aware of anything until LAPD officers kicked in his door and took him away on Saturday morning.
William shared an address with Sharon Tate and Roman Polanski, but they lived on different planets. Sharon and Roman were in the movie industry; they were among the “beautiful people.” Roman’s big break came in June 1968 with the release of “Rosemary’s Baby.” His career as an A-list director was underway.
Still a teenager, William wasn’t sure what he wanted out of life. He spoke to his mother of an interest in acting, but his aspiration was as common as a cold and easier to catch when living in L.A. Thousands of young people flock to the city seeking stardom – they have been coming here since the 1910s. Far from hanging out with the beautiful people, William had more in common with “Hollywood Blvd drifters, hitchhikers, and drugstore cowboys,” many of whom he brought home with him when they needed a place to crash.
Police wanted to speak to members of both groups – killers defy social strata. William offered names of people he knew, but he didn’t believe any of them capable of the murders.
William’s release featured prominently on the front page of the Los Angeles Times, but there was another intriguing and disturbing story on page 3. The double murder in Los Feliz of Leno and Rosemary LaBianca.
Leno, 44, and Rosemary, 37, were stabbed to death Sunday in their home at 3301 Waverly Drive. The killing of the couple was similar in many to ways to the murders of Sharon Tate and her friends on Saturday. Police Sergeant Bryce Houchin said, “There is a similarity in the slayings. But whether it’s the same suspect or a copycat, we just don’t know.”
Sgt. Houchin appeared open to the idea that the murders could be connected, but in their official statements LAPD wouldn’t go that far.
On August 12, 1969, reporter Bruce Russell wrote:
Whispers that a psychotic killer was after wealthy resident of isolated homes in the Hollywood hills continued after the murder of Miss Tate and the four others was followed a day later by that of a rich supermarket owner and his wife in a plush home 12 miles away.
IN BOTH SETS of slayings the word “Pig” was smeared in blood at the murder scene, hoods covered the heads of males slain and women had cords around their throats.
Police have showed that the two bloodbaths were unconnected. They said the more recent murders of a grocery chain owner Leno La Bianca, 44, and his wife Rosemary, 37, were those of a psychotic cashing in on the publicity of the so-called Tate murders.
But fear-stricken Hollywood residents rushed to buy guns yesterday for self-protection.
Hollywood glitterati panicked. They ripped the names and numbers of their drug dealers out of their little black books and waited for the killer’s arrest so life could return to normal.
No one, except some Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department homicide investigators, gave a thought to the gruesome killing that pre-dated the August rampage, the murder of Gary Hinman.
It was a few minutes into August 9, 1969, and Mrs. Seymour Kott of 10170 Cielo Drive heard a series of claps. She couldn’t identify the source or location of the noise and so she went back to sleep.
Winifred Chapman, maid for director Roman Polanski and his wife actress Sharon Tate, arrived at their home at the far end of Cielo Drive at 8:30 a.m. to begin work. The quiet street is a cul-de-sac between Beverly Glen and Benedict Canyon. Birds chirping, a dog barking or the occasional coyote call are about the only sounds you hear; but there was an unnatural quality to the stillness that morning.
Winifred saw a white two-door Rambler sedan in the driveway. She didn’t recognize the car and approached it with caution. She saw a young man behind the wheel slumped over toward the passenger seat. There was blood on his shirt and his left arm.
As she continued toward the sprawling home she found the body of Voytek Frykowski on the front lawn.
Under a fir tree, about 20 yards away, she found Abigail Folger’s bloody body.
The horror followed Winifred into the living room. Sharon Tate, 8 ½ months pregnant and dressed in her bra and bikini bottom, had a bloody nylon cord wrapped around her neck. The cord looped around a beam in the ceiling. Someone tied the other end of the cord around Jay Sebring’s neck and placed a black hood on his head.
Terrified, Winifred ran to a neighbor’s home for help. Fifteen-year-old Jim Asim was preparing to leave when she stopped him screaming, “there’s bodies and blood all over the place!”
Victims being transported to morgue
Asim, a member of Law Enforcement Troop 800 of the Boy Scouts, called the police. Moments later six LAPD black and whites roared up Cielo Drive to its end where there is a wire gate outside the Polanski residence. Guns drawn; the officers entered the property. They heard a dog howling behind a guest house and a man’s voice shouted for it to be quiet.
Wire gate outside Polanski residence.
In the guest house, nineteen-year-old William Etson Garretson looked up to see his doorway crowded with police. They had shotguns trained on him. He was still half asleep, dressed only in pin-striped bell-bottoms. He did not understand why the cops were there.
After several hours of questioning, they took Garretson into custody and arrested him on suspicion of murder. As the only living person on the premises he was the obvious suspect. Yet there was no physical evidence tying him to the deaths.
Police in Garretson’s hometown of Lancaster, Ohio, told LAPD investigators the kid had committed one offense of little consequence. He received a two-year suspended jail sentence in 1967 for contributing to the delinquency of a minor. Mary Garretson, his 42-year-old mother, told police her son left home in October 1968 “without saying goodbye but had written saying he hoped to return home soon.”
William Garretson (center)
Garretson was a quiet kid and lacked the personality to take control of five adults and viciously murder them.
Garretson didn’t even work for the Polanski’s and had only a vague notion of who they were. He lived in the guest house and kept to himself. The property owner, Rudy Altabelli employed him as a caretaker
In Europe when he received the news of the slayings, Altabelli offered no reason for the murders.
Someone cut the telephone lines into the home, which suggested a plan. There was no weapon at the scene except for pieces of a pistol grip.
It was 1969, so it was no surprise that all the victims wore “hippie type” clothes – their mode of dress was enough for the police to search for drugs. They found none. As far investigators could tell nothing appeared to be missing – which ruled out robbery as a motive.
They found evidence of a struggle and wondered; why had not one of the five victims escaped the carnage?
As LAPD detectives followed scant leads to dead-ends, talk on the street was of the upcoming Aquarian Exposition in White Lake, New York. Many people from L.A. planned to make the trek. Billed as three days of peace and music, the festival promised to be amazing. The younger generation had a chip on its shoulder and something to prove. Sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll. Fuck Nixon. Fuck the War. Life is beautiful, man.
Welcome! The lobby of the Deranged L.A. Crimes theater is open. Grab a bucket of popcorn, some Milk Duds and a Coke and find a seat.
Who doesn’t love Sherlock Holmes? The character is irresistible. That’s why tonight’s feature is THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES starring Basil Rathbone, Nigel Bruce, and Wendy Barrie.
Enjoy the movie!
ROTTEN TOMATOES says:
Though it takes a few liberties with the Arthur Conan Doyle original, this film ranks as one of the best screen versions of this oft-told tale. After learning the history of the Baskerville curse, Sherlock Holmes decides to protect heir Henry Baskerville from suffering the same fate as his ancestors.