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.

 

 

Summer of ’69: August 9th — Murder on Cielo Drive

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 Chapman

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.

Telephone line

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.

The dream was already dead.

NEXT TIME:  Two more murders.

Death of a Latin Lover, Part 3

Ramon Novarro’s funeral. [Photo courtesy Los Angeles Public Library]

LAPD Detective Lauritzen played it cagey with the press when they asked for details regarding the arrests of Paul and Thomas Ferguson. He said only that they had “physical evidence” of the brothers’ involvement in Ramon’s murder. The reporters interpreted Lauritzen’s comments to mean they found fingerprints at the crime scene. The County Grand Jury indicted the Fergusons and they arraigned the brothers in a Van Nuys courtroom.

Attorney Cletus Hanifin (second from left) confers with murder suspect Paul Ferguson (left) while another attorney talks with Ferguson’s brother and fellow suspect Thomas (second from right). [Photo courtesy Los Angeles Public Library]

Busted in early November, the brothers awaited trail in county lockup. Early in December new drama in the case erupted with a report that Paul attempted to gouge out his own eyes.  At first he told jailers other inmates attacked him, but they proved he injured himself. If he hoped to eradicate the vision Ramon’s murder from his memory, he should have plunged a knife into his heart. The general feeling was that Paul’s self-inflicted injuries were an attempt to garner sympathy.

The police found more than fingerprints at Ramon’s home. While Paul beat Ramon in another room, Thomas was on the telephone with his girlfriend of six months, Brenda Lee Metcalf. Brenda flew out to Los Angeles on the county’s dime to testify before the Grand Jury. She was a wealth of information about the night of the murder.

She testified that Thomas told her he and Paul were at Ramon’s house because the actor was going to get him into the movies—then he said no, it was Paul who Ramon was going to get into pictures. While he chain-smoked cigarettes and drank beer, Thomas told Brenda, “… he knew there was $5,000 somewhere in the house behind a picture.” Thomas and Paul had plans for Ramon’s money. Brenda said, “They would tie him up to find out where the money was.”  Brenda told Thomas not to get into trouble.  Brenda said, “He said no matter what happened, he wasn’t going to have nothing to do with it because he didn’t want to get in any trouble.”  The screams she heard in the background sound like trouble to her.  “He (Thomas) said he (Paul) was just probably trying to scare him or hit him with something.”

As the phone called neared an end, Thomas said, “Well, I better go now because I’m going to see what’s happening. . . I don’t want Paul to hurt Ramon.”

Another woman surfaced in the case, Paul’s estranged wife, Mary.  Mary identified the mysterious “Larry” – the name scrawled several places at the murder scene.  Larry was Paul’s brother-in-law, the person Paul blamed for his problems with Mary. Paul’s attempt to frame his brother-in-law was amateur hour, but then nothing about the crime was a stroke of genius.

Brenda received one last telephone call from Tom during his stay in Los Angeles. He telephoned her on November 2.  He said, “Well you know about Novarro.  He is dead.  When I bent down over him I saw he was dead and that if we have enough money, we’ll fly back.  Otherwise, we will have to hitchhike back.  Before they could leave Los Angeles County, they were in police custody.

On August 5, 1969, four days before the murders of Sharon Tate, Jay Sebring, Abigail Folger, Voytek Frykowski and Steven Parent at Tate’s rented home on Cielo Drive, Paul and Thomas were on trial for Ramon’s murder.

The jury of seven men and five women heard Deputy District Attorney James Ideman outline the State’s case in his opening statement. He said he would prove that the brothers tortured Ramon to death on October 30 while trying to discover a hidden cache of money.

Paul and Thomas did not differ from any of the other idiot criminals who murdered people they believed kept large amounts of cash at home.

Defendants Jack Santo (left), Emmett Perkins (center) and Barbara Graham (right) in court for the murder of Mabel Monohan.  [Photo courtesy Los Angeles Public Library]

On March 9, 1953, in Burbank, California, Barbara Graham, Emmett Perkins, Jack Santo, John True and Baxter Shorter invaded the home of Mabel Monohan, a widow. The gang believed she kept a large amount of cash in a safe for her former son-in-law, a professional gambler and local mob affiliate,  Tutor Scherer. The gang walked away with nothing but a ticket to the “green room” (San Quentin’s gas chamber).

Richard Hickock and Perry Smith, two ex-cons, made the same mistake in 1959 in Holcomb, Kansas.  They believed a cellmate when he told them one of his former employers, a farmer named Herb Clutter, was rich and kept his money in a home safe.  It was a tall tale, told by an idiot, to two other morons who believed it. Hickock and Smith executed Herb, his wife Bonnie Mae, and the couple’s two teenage children, Kenyon and Nancy. The killers walked away with fifty dollars in cash, a pair of binoculars and a transistor radio.  Hickock and Smith went to the gallows on April 14, 1965 on the grounds of Leavenworth prison.

Truman Capote with his bestseller, In Cold Blood. [Photo courtesy Los Angeles Public Library]

Truman Capote turned the sordid murders into a brilliant narrative in the mostly true account of the case, In Cold Blood.

Paul and Thomas made the same mistake as their predecessors, but would they pay the same price?

NEXT TIME: Paul and Thomas Ferguson pay for Ramon’s murder.

Peace. Love. Murder.

The argument has been made that 1968 was the most tumultuous years in modern U.S. history. It is tough to disagree. The year marked seismic shift in American life and nothing would ever be the same

The changes didn’t occur overnight, although it seemed that way. It was no accident that the changes coincided with the first wave of Baby Boomers hitting their teen years. The music of the late 1960s was as eclectic and schizophrenic as the time. A pseudo-group called the Archies had a smash hit with Sugar, Sugar, but the music that would come to define the era was flying under the radar of the Billboard Top 100. Woodstock changed that. A couple of notes into Jimi Hendrix’s version of the Star Spangled Banner and you knew the Earth had shifted on its axis.

The assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy in 1968 lit the fuse of the bomb that would blow society apart in what remained of the decade. The smoke and ash rained down throughout the 1970s and ripples from the initial explosion are felt today.

January 1969 gave subtle hints of things to come. Richard M. Nixon was sworn in as the 37th President of the United States on January 20, 1969. His election meant more young men would die in the jungles of Southeast Asia.  Elvis Presley recorded “Long Black Limousine” in Memphis, Tennessee which kicked off his comeback. Jimi Hendrix appeared on a BBC1 show, “Happening for Lulu” and Led Zeppelin released their debut album.  The BEATLES performed for the last time in public on the roof of the Apple building at 3 Saville Row in London.

Reflecting on 1969 is mind bending. Consider a year in which the U.S. put a man on the moon, and the era later dubbed the “Golden Age of Porn” (1969-1984)  began.  Sexuality explicit films shown in public on the big screen instead of on a bedsheet in someone’s dingy basement became reality with Andy Warhol’s 1969 film “Blue Movie.”  The only X-rated film to win an Oscar®, “Midnight Cowboy” was released. At the time the X-rating didn’t mean the film was hardcore porn, all it meant was that the subject matter was unsuitable for underage people.

No retrospective of the 1960s is complete without addressing the Hippie aka Flower Power movement which reached a zenith during the summer of 1967 in San Francisco. The Human Be-In at Golden Gate Park on January 14, 1967  paved the way for the Summer of Love. The local underground newspaper, the San Francisco Oracle, offered the following description of the Be-In:  “A new concept of celebrations beneath the human underground must emerge, become conscious, and be shared, so a revolution can be formed with a renaissance of compassion, awareness, and love, and the revelation of unity for all mankind.”  A beautiful sentiment. It was an illusion.

The people who wandered the streets of San Francisco during the summer of 1967 smoking dope, dropping acid, tucking flowers into their hair and anointing themselves with Patchouli oil didn’t know that the Hippie movement was already on life support and about to flatline.

The cancer of drug dealers, pimps and others preying on the naivete of lost children looking for love and acceptance in Haight/Ashbury grew into an inoperable tumor. One cell of the malignancy had a name which, in two years’ time would become infamous, Charles Manson.

Charles Manson in court. [Photo courtesy LAPL]

The summer of 1969 had a few of the trappings of the Summer of Love, and it turned into a nightmare of violence and terror when word of  murders of Sharon Tate, Abigail Folger, Jay Sebring, Wojciech Frykowski, Steven Parent, Rosemary and Leno LaBianca hit newsstands in mid-August.

For the next few months, as we approach the 50th anniversary of the brutal Tate/LaBianca murders, Deranged L.A. Crimes will intermittently look at some of the crimes that made news during 1969.

So, put on your love beads, memorize the lyrics to “Fixin’ to Die Rag,” and don’t bogart that joint.   See you in the ’60s.

The Devil in Orange County, Part 2

BLOOD TRAIL

A trail of blood led from the late 1960s into the new decade of the 1970s: the 1968 assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy; the stabbing death of Meredith Hunter at a December 1969 rock concert in Altamont, California; the August 1969 bizarre and brutal slayings of Sharon Tate, Abigail Folger, Wojciech Frykowski, Jay Sebring, Steven Parent, Leno and Rosemary LaBianca; the November 1969 revelation of the My Lai Massacre by American troops of hundreds of civilians in a Vietnamese village; and the killing of 4 unarmed students at Kent State University by the Ohio National Guard during a protest of the U.S. government incursion into Cambodia.

John Filo's Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph of Mary Ann Vecchio, a 14-year-old runaway kneeling over the body of Jeffrey Miller minutes after he was shot by the Ohio National Guard.

John Filo’s Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph of Mary Ann Vecchio, a 14-year-old runaway kneeling over the body of Jeffrey Miller minutes after he was shot by the Ohio National Guard.

It seemed as though the world was on fire and everyone and everything was about to be consumed in a massive conflagration.

Columnist Art Seidenbaum wrote an editorial, The Wind of Fear, for the L.A. Times in which he described the summer of 1970:

“It (fear) swirls and grows around multiple murders. It whistles in the wake of terrorist bombings. It gusts along the roads for hitchhikers and drivers alike.”

In his annual report for the year 1969 J. Edgar Hoover, Director of the FBI, stated that while the population of the U.S. had increased only 13% during the previous nine years, the crime rate had increased by 148%. It was a terrifying statistic.

Despite the crime and chaos all around, life appeared to be quiet and safe in Garden Grove, California during the first half of 1970 — but appearances can be deceiving.

JERRY CARLIN

carlin beating deathAt approximately 2 a.m. on June 2, 1970, the body of Jerry W. Carlin was found beaten to death in the restroom of the Richfield Service Station at 3724 Westminster Avenue. The murder was discovered by David Miller, a driver for Southland Ambulance Service. Miller had made a routine stop at the gas station when he found Carlin face down on the blood smeared floor of the restroom. It was the third time Jerry Carlin had been robbed that month. Carlin was only 20 years old, a newly-wed, and he died not knowing that he was going to become a father.

A reward in the amount of $2,000 (approximately $12,000 in current dollars) for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person or persons who murdered Carlin was offered by someone who asked to remain anonymous.

FLORENCE NANCY BROWN

Two weeks after she’d gone missing, the body of thirty-one year old El Toro School teacher, Mrs. Florence Nancy Brown, was discovered by a hiker in a shallow grave 50 feet off Ortega Highway near El Cariso, about 19 miles southwest of Elsinore.body found

Mrs. Brown had been reported missing on June 4th by her husband, Ralph, after she had failed to return home following a routine errand. It was clear to investigators that Mrs. Brown had been killed elsewhere before being buried off of the Ortega Highway. The Riverside County coroner’s report disclosed Mrs. Brown had died of multiple stab wounds in the chest. The weapon used by her killer was believed to have been a large hunting knife or bayonet, and the victim’s right arm had been severed and her heart and lungs removed. Her wedding and engagement rings, a wristwatch and a number of oil company credit cards had been taken.

Cops didn’t yet know that the two killings were connected, but they would soon get a tip that would reveal the names of the possible killers.

THE KILLERS

craig_photoBy the 1st of July 1970 arrests had been made in connection with the murders of Jerry Carlin and Florence Brown. One of the alleged perpetrators was a 20 year-old transient, Steven Hurd — the other person who was arrested was an old acquaintance of my brother’s, 16 year-old Arthur Craig Hulse, the boy who had my brother’s back in junior high school, and the same the guy that my brother’s best friend and I had picked up hitchhiking shortly before we heard about the murders!

I had never thought of Craig as anything but a kid with an unhappy home life. He wasn’t the brightest of the assorted misfits and oddballs who hung out at our home while my brother and I were growing up, but that had never mattered to any of us. All you had to do to be accepted in our circle of friends was simply be yourself, contribute to the conversations if you wished, be able to take a joke at your expense and respect our home.

In our short lives my brother and I had known people who went had gone down a bad road. Some of the people we had known had died of drug ODs and suicide, others had survived minor brushes with the law, but no one and nothing had prepared us for the summer of 1970.

At first it was impossible to conceive of Craig as someone capable of killing, but then the tale of the two slayings started to unfold; and it was grotesque.

NEXT TIME:  Jerry Carlin, Florence Brown and their killers.