Summer of ’69: August 12th — Rosemary & Leno LaBianca

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 on his face, 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 live 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 on Cielo Drive.

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.

 

 

Death of a Co-ed, Part 3

Sheriff’s detectives couldn’t catch a break. Marina’s case went cold.

In August 1969, the news that five (*see NOTE below) victims were slaughtered at the Cielo Drive home of actress Sharon Tate and her husband, director Roman Polanski shook Angelenos worse than a 9-point earthquake. The brutal, some thought ritualistic, slayings of Tate, Abigail Folger, Voytek Frykowski, Jay Sebring, and Stephen Parent terrified everyone. Rumors that the murders were drug-related caused a panic among Hollywood celebrities.  It wasn’t only the glitterati who felt their lives were in danger, average citizen flocked to gun shops and dog kennels seeking to protect themselves against an unknown evil.

Sharon Tate and Roman Polanski

People over 40 saw every long hair as a potential mass killer, and even hippies were paranoid of one another. The murders drove a stake through the heart of the Summer of Love. Was it only two years ago that baby boomers believed they could change the course of the world with beads and flowers?

The level of fear in the city ratcheted up several notches when Los Feliz residents Rosemary and Leno LaBianca were murdered. Eerie similarities between the Tate and LaBianca slayings gave the cops cause to believe they could be linked.

Who committed the cruel murders? Charles Manson, an ex-con conversant with the basic tenets of Scientology and an avid student of Dale Carnegie’s “How to Win Friends and Influence People” had a gift for convincing rootless teenagers to follow him. He lured them  into the desert. He painted mind pictures of free love and great dope. Had he convinced his followers to murder for him?

Charles Manson

As investigators scrutinized the “Savage Mystic Cult” who lived in squalor in the desert, they considered the possibility that the Manson Family committed over seven murders.

What about Marina Habe? Someone stabbed the teenager to death. The killer, or killers, used a knife to butcher several of the victims at Cielo drive.  Another link?

The unsolved homicide of a young woman, Jane Doe #59, whose body was found close to where Marina was found might the Family’s grisly handiwork.

On November 16, 1969, a teenager who was bird watching on Mulholland Drive discovered Jane Doe’s remains. The young man was gazing through binoculars, checking out the various species of birds that populated the area, when his eyes came to rest on the nude body of a woman.

Police arrived at the scene. The victim was young.  She was pretty despite the 157 stab wounds to her neck and upper body.  Defensive wounds on her hands and arms meant she fought hard for her life. She was dead about two days.  Overkill suggested to detectives that the murder was personal. A spurned lover might be capable of such rage; or the killer could be a madman.

Los Angeles Police Department detectives investigated the murder of Jane Doe #59, with the same zeal as their counterparts in the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department had done in Marina’s case. Both agencies hit a wall.

NEXT TIME: Who killed Marina Habe and Jane Doe #59?

*NOTE: Thanks to Cheryl, a reader who reminded me of a very important fact. There were six victims on Cielo Drive. We should remember Sharon’s and Roman’s son, Paul Richard Polanski.