The body of Valley of the Dolls actress Sharon Tate was discovered on August 9, 1969, at the home of her husband, director Roman Polanski. At the time of Sharon Tate’s death, the 26-year-old was eight-and-a-half months pregnant with her and Polanski’s first child. Then, the murder of such a famous woman-who was stabbed and hanged at the hands of a then-unknown cult leader Charles Manson and his followers-shook Los Angeles to its core. Now, it’s being reexamined in Quentin Tarantino’s latest film, Once Upon A Time in Hollywood, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, and Margot Robbie playing Tate.
Perhaps one of the reasons why the actress’s gruesome death still fascinates the public is the seemingly arbitrary nature of her victimhood. The motive wasn’t personal-and Tate wasn’t the only victim. Writer Wojciech Frykowski, coffee heiress Abigail Folger, celebrity hair stylist Jay Sebring, and Steven Parent, a friend of the family’s gardener, were all murdered by Manson Family members Susan Atkins, Tex Watson, and Patricia Krenwinkel.
The Manson family murdered Sharon Tate simply to make a statement.
Atkins, when charged with another murder, reportedly told her prison inmate, Virginia Castro, she murdered Tate, “Because we wanted to do a crime that would shock the world, that the world would have to stand up and take notice,” according to CNN. From that account, Manson’s choice in Tate appears to have less to do with her as an individual and much more to do with what she represented in Hollywood at that time.
In fact, the only thing connecting Tate and her husband to the Manson Family was that they happened to move into the Benedict Canyon home previously owned by record producer Terry Melcher (the son of actress Doris Day). Melcher was originally interested in Manson’s music, but eventually declined to work with him.
Tate’s husband, Roman Polanski, may know more about her death than he’s let on.
The Hollywood couple’s living situation might not have been merely an unfortunate coincidence. In an upcoming book, Chaos: Charles Manson, the CIA, and the Secret History of the Sixties, veteran journalist Tom ONeill details his 20 years of research into the Manson Family and the Tate murders. He believes Polanski (featured in the book via anecdotes about his behavior following the crime and apparent connections to the LAPD) may not just another innocent bystander.
“I am suspicious of [Polanski] having prior, I shouldn’t say relationships, but some type of involvement,”
ONeill recently told entertainment weekly; “He’s been keeping secrets for years.” (Soon after Tate’s death, rumors surfaced about the “sex, drug and witchcraft cults” that some believed had ties to the “offbeat”.
Others close to Tate could be hiding something, too.
To make matters worse, the investigation into Tate’s death was a mess.
According to O’Neill’s book description, “he unearthed shocking evidence of a cover-up behind the ‘official’ story, including police carelessness, legal misconduct, and potential surveillance by intelligence agents.” That may explain (at least partially) why even well-known media outlets like TIME got key facts of the murder wrong during their original reporting.
For example, Tate’s death was originally attributed to stabbing, and that the rope found around her neck served no real purpose other than tying her to fellow victim Jay Sebring. Later, however, a coroner testified that she was hanged as well.
More importantly, TIME first reported that “[one] of Miss Tates breasts had been cut off, apparently as a result of indiscriminate slashing… and there was an X cut on her stomach.” Again, that was corrected: the “slashing” did not fully removal one of Tate’s breasts, and there was no evidence of an “X” carved on her stomach in any crime scene photos.
The real story behind Sharon Tate’s death may never be known, but at least it is some small consolation that, even half a century later, her memory lives on.