Sharon Tate: Are Her Killers Behind Bars Today?
It's been over 50 years since the dreadful Tate—LaBianca murders that left seven dead, notably including actress Sharon Tate. She was 26 years old and pregnant when followers of Charles Manson invaded her home, killing her and four others on Aug. 9, 1969, the first of a two-night spree of violence. Four cult members were later convicted of the murders in the Tate home. What was their punishment and are they still behind bars today?
The Tate—LaBianca murders occurred over 50 years ago, but they're no less shocking or deplorable now than they were in 1969.
Across the nights of Aug. 9-10, members of the "Manson Family" killed five people in the home of actress Sharon Tate and another two in the home of executive Leno LaBianca. They executed the killings on orders from cult leader Charles Manson, who sent them first to the Tate home seeking vengeance on a music producer, who in reality no longer lived there.
The death of Sharon Tate in 1969
Sharon Tate, eight-months pregnant at the time, was stabbed to death when three of Manson's followers invaded the Los Angeles home she rented with director Roman Polanski—who was away filming in Europe. Abigail Folger, Wojciech Frykowski, Steve Parent, and Jay Sebring were the other victims of the gruesome event, which involved shooting and stabbing deaths and the word "pig" being written in blood on a door.
The next night, Manson directed his followers in another killing, resulting in the deaths of Leno and Rosemary LaBianca at their home on Aug. 10. The Manson Family was implicated following an unrelated investigation next month, when their involvement in the two-night murder spree was uncovered.
Who killed Sharon Tate? Are the murderers in jail today?
For the Tate—LaBianca murders, Manson and four followers—Tex Watson, Susan Atkins, Patricia Krenwinkel, and Leslie Van Houten—were convicted and sentenced to death in 1971. However, the sentence changed to life imprisonment the next year, when the state of California determined its death-penalty law was unconstitutional.
The Tate home murders were committed by Watson, Atkins, and Krenwinkel, on orders from Manson. A fourth follower, Linda Kasabian, accompanied the trio but never entered the home. She acted as the key witness for the prosecution against the cult members. Atkins testified that she was the killer of Tate, but it's believed Watson alone inflicted the deadly stab wounds on the pregnant actress.
Of the three Tate-home murderers and Manson, two are still alive today, as is Kasabian. Manson and Atkins spent their lives in prison, both dying somewhat recently: Manson in 2017 and Atkins in 2009. Today, Watson is 75 and Krenwinkel is 73 and both remain in prison. According to The LA Times, Watson has been denied parole 17 times, while Krenwinkel can next apply for parole in 2022.
But life imprisonment may not have been a reality had it not been for the work of Sharon Tate's mother, Doris. She became a victims' rights activist in the 1980s when Van Houten, convicted in the LaBianca murders, was gaining support for parole. Tate's efforts helped get the petition rejected, and she continued campaigning against parole for the murderers in the 1980s. Van Houten still remains in prison today.
The murders and—more importantly—the legacies of the victims continue to receive attention today, over 50 years later. Tate's sister, Debra, continues work opposing the parole efforts of the murderers today. The story and those affected by it were also revisited in 2019 with Quentin Tarantino's revisionist Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, where Tate was portrayed affectionately by actress Margot Robbie.