Brought together for the production of the horror-comedy The Fearless Vampire Hunters (1967), the two disliked one another at first before their time on set together sparked a romance. They married in January 1969 and, with Tate pregnant, rented a home at 10050 Cielo Drive in Beverly Hills, overlooking the studios.
Meanwhile, a career criminal named Charles Manson was also gaining notoriety as an underground figure. A pied piper with a guitar, Manson fascinated the young and aimless who drifted to California, mesmerizing them with his charisma and apparent wisdom gleaned from years of hard living.
This wisdom included some destructive notions of race, and Manson told his followers, who became known as the Family, that African Americans would soon engage in wide-scale violence against their white counterparts. A huge Beatles fan, he termed the race war "Helter Skelter," after a track from the Fab Four's White Album.
Manson sent members of his 'Family' to Tate's house - he did not kill her himself
The worlds of Hollywood glamor and the counterculture underbelly converged on August 8, 1969, when Manson declared that Helter Skelter was imminent and instructed several followers to kill everyone on the premises of 10050 Cielo Drive, the former home of a record producer who had rejected him.
With Polanski in London for work on another film, an 8 1/2-month pregnant Tate was being entertained at home by three friends: hairstylist Jay Sebring, longtime Polanski buddy Voytek Frykowski and Frykowski's girlfriend, Abigail Folger.
At around midnight, three members of the Family arrived at 10050 Cielo Drive and got out of a car while a fourth, Linda Kasabian, remained behind the wheel as a lookout. After cutting the telephone line, Manson confidant Charles "Tex" Watson shot 18-year-old delivery boy Steven Parent, who had the misfortune of being out front in his car, before slipping inside with Susan Atkins and Patricia Krenwinkel.
After rounding up Tate, Sebring, Frykowski, and Folger, the threesome engaged in the brutal act of hacking them to bits. Tate begged for the life of her unborn son, only to have Atkins stab her 16 times. Afterward, Tate's blood was used to write "Pig" – likely a reference to another White Album track, "Piggies" – on the front door.
The 'Family' killed two more people the following night
The following evening, with police and a rattled Hollywood community still wrapping their heads around the slayings, the Family struck again at the Los Feliz home of grocer Leno LaBianca and his wife, Rosemary. With Kasabian again playing lookout, Manson found his way inside, tied up the couple, and had Watson, Atkins, Krenwinkel, and Leslie Van Houten finish things off with their knives. This time, "Death to Pigs" and "Rise" were written on the walls, with "Helter Skelter" spelled out on the refrigerator.
Manson and his followers were arrested, but because they were driving stolen vehicles
Manson and several followers were arrested shortly afterward for being in possession of stolen vehicles, but this was before authorities knew the extent of their crimes, and they were released. However, police soon zeroed in on them again, with more stolen vehicles found at their Barker Ranch hideout in Death Valley, and by mid-October, many Family members were in custody.
Police still didn't realize they had the Tate-LaBianca killers, but things came together after Atkins spilled the beans to other inmates. She agreed to cooperate before abruptly changing course, though authorities got another lifeline when Kasabian emerged from hiding and received immunity as the star witness.
Manson and his 'Family' were originally sentenced to death
The People v. Charles Manson, Susan Atkins, Patricia Krenwinkel, and Leslie Van Houten began on July 24, 1970 – Watson was tried separately later – and was a circus from the start. Manson had carved an "x" into his forehead the night before, with other Family members following suit, and at one point during the trial, he tried to stab the judge with a pencil.
For all the bizarre behavior, the case against Manson was hardly a slam dunk, as he didn't actually kill anybody. However, prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi convinced the jury of Manson's powerful sway over his followers, his argument backed by Kasabian's testimony. On March 29, 1971, all four defendants were sentenced to death, their fates commuted to life imprisonment when the California Supreme Court overturned the death penalty the following year.
In 1974, Polanski opened up to Rolling Stone about his side of the story, reliving his attempts to help the police investigation and his anger at the press for printing salacious stories about his wife and friends. He has since said little on the subject, in part because attention shifted to his sexual relations with an underage girl that has left him a fugitive of the U.S. since 1977. In late 2017, after Manson died in a prison hospital at age 83, the director said the experience was still too painful to address and lamented not being able to return to L.A. to visit Tate's grave.