Discussion: Charles Manson Family Murders

Summary of the Case

Charles Manson was an ex-con and aspiring musician who moved to California. Manson was charismatic and expert manipulator, but they also adopted strange practices such as polygamy. He quickly formed a social circle around himself that consisted mostly of women. The group began to form a cult-like personality around Manson while also engaging in violence, drugs, sexual deviance, and various other illegal activities. Manson also adopted the ideology of white supremacy, and believed that the black population would overthrow white people in positions of power and influence. His circle of trusted servants and confidants became known as the Manson Family (Bauer, 2022).

In the late evening of August 8, 1969, Manson orders four members of the Manson Family to go to 10050 Cielo Drive and kill everyone as gruesomely as possible. The occupants of the house had just come back from dinner and were enjoying a social evening. As the family arrived at the property, they climbed over an embarkment to enter the grounds. A car began approaching, and Tex Watson leading the group, approached the car and, after a short conversation, shot the driver multiple times with.22 caliber revolver. This was Steven Parent, who was visiting the ground’s temporary caretaker living in the guess house at the time (Bauer, 2022).

The family then entered the house and rounded up Tate and her guests in the living room. They first attempted to hang Sharon Tate and her friend Sebring. Sebring protested, being shot and then stabbed seven times. Folger ran to the bedroom and got money out of her purse in the attempt to bribe the intruders, whom she assumed were robbers. This did not succeed, and after attempting to escape through the back pool area, she was tackled and stabbed 28 times to death. Meanwhile, Frykowski, who was beaten and tied earlier, also managed to break free and ensued a struggle, making his way to the porch. He was shot twice, hit in the head with a gun multiple times, and eventually stabbed 51 times. The remaining alive Tate begged to be taken hostage long enough to give birth and save the life of her unborn child, The perpetrators then stabbed her 16 times, killing her and the fetus. One of the women in the group then wrote “pig” on the front door with Tate’s blood, copying something that was done at a previous single murder of Hinman in order to lift suspicion from another family member Bobby Beausoleil who was arrested as a suspect (Waxman, 2019). The group then fled the scene, disposing of the weapons and clothing used during the murders.

No clear motives are still known to this day and there are many conspiracies. In the aftermath of the trial, a theory was created by the main prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi about a so-called Hetler Sketler scenario, where the members committed the muders to convict Charles Manson himself. That is the version most widely believed because Manson continued to state his innocence till death in 2017 (Waxman, 2019). Other versions are that Manson wanted to exact vengeance on the music producer whom he believed still lived at the address or that the Manson family wanted to frame the Black Panthers for gruesome killings in order to turn public opinion increasingly against African Americans.


Suspects Charles Manson (ordered the killings)
Susan Atkins
Patricia Krenwinkel
Tex Watson (all three committed the actual murders)
Linda Kasabian – involved in the group but stood watch outside, not knowing that such brutal murders were going to be committed. Later given pardon for key witness testimony helping to charge all the other involved members.
Victims Sharon Tate, Jay Sebring, Abigail Folger, Wojciech Frykowski, and Steven Parent
Investigators Sergeants Paul Whiteley and Charles Guenther of the LAPD as primary detectives but more than 40 investigators worked on the case.
Prosecutors Vincent Bugliosi – Los Angeles Country District Attorney’s Office

Method of Investigation

Despite the highly similar LaBianca murders occurring just a day later, the investigators did not connect the two at first. There were no suspects or rational motive originally. The temporary caretaker Garetson whom Parent was visiting, was originally arrested but passed the polygraph and was released. The investigation quickly hit a dead end because of police incompetence and missed clues. Later, a 10-year-old boy found a.22 caliber revolver which was submitted into evidence but investigated until much later. A local tv news crew found discarded bloody clothes in the vicinity (Papparella & Valiente, 2017). Meanwhile, members of the Manson Family, including Charles Manson himself, were arrested on separate charges of car thefts ongoing in the rural LA areas around Spahn Ranch that the Family was occupying.

At the same time, detectives on the LaBianca case began to see some connection, particularly with the involvement of the Manson family in the Hinman murder earlier in the year, the Tate murders, and the LaBianca murders. Eventually, a cellmate of Atkins, who was being held for the separate charges, came forward suggested that Atkins admitted involvement in the Tate murders. The LaBianca investigators also interviewed a biker gang that Manson involved in guarding his ranch, that also provided supportive accounts of the Family’s involvement in the murders. Atkins admitted to the Hinman murder, which began to rapidly make connections of the involvement of the Manson Family in all three murders. The police eventually investigated the gun given to them months prior, confirming with ballistics that it was used in the murder of Parent. Fingerprint evidence from the scene finally tied Watson and Krienwinkel to the murders (Bauer, 2022).

Outcome of Investigation and Trial

Atkins was offered a plea deal of testifying before the grand jury in exchange of avoiding the death sentence, but this was withdrawn. Given that the Kasabian had no direct participation in any of the actual killings, she was given immunity in exchange for detailed testimony. The investigation clearly demonstrated forensic and physical evidence and witness testimony to support that the Manson Family was guilty. The trial was a highly publicized event, with Charles Manson in particular creating many disruptions and manipulations of the court. Manson attempted to take responsibility off him by influencing thing the other Family to testify that their actions were self-driven without his involvement. To prevent this, the defense rested without calling a single witness. Charles Manson and the three members on trial for the Tate murders were found guilty on all counts and sentenced to receive the death penalty. However, in 1972, the California Supreme Court abolished capital punishment, automatically shifting the death sentence penalties to life in prison (Papparella & Valiente, 2017). Atkins and Manson have since died in prison.

First Person Perspective

Upon arrival the scene, I would evaluate it and establish the focal points, which in this case would be the bodies of the victims. It is necessary to secure the scene immediately, to avoid both tempering with evidence and contamination risks. I would set the perimeter around the whole property and several hundred feet on the street in either direction. I would develop a plan with the forensic team, determine what resources and equipment are needed to communicate with everyone involved. At first, I would conduct a primary survey of the scene, including taking photographs of the bodies and surrounding areas from different angles, any potential evidence, and potentially unusual elements. Detailed notes should be taken at this time. I would examine the position of each victim’s body, noting their wounds, positioning, location on the scene, and their clothing and accessories.

The next step would be to document and process the scene as planned. I would mark all evidence and objects of interest on the scene. Forensic analysis is conducted at the scene if appropriate, including sample collection, fingerprints on potentially immovable objects, analysis of footprints and an examination of the potential path that the victims took. Then the evidence is collected in a safe manner, submitted into collection, and carefully documented to keep track. It is imperative to follow procedures for collection of evidence so that nothing is contaminated.

After evidence is collected and bodies are removed, I would conduct a secondary survey of the scene to ensure that all has been processed. At this time, I would begin a search of the perimeter and an extended radius for any other potential objects of evidence or clues. I will also interview any potential witnesses and neighbors to receive a full picture of the events that occurred. In the aftermath, evidence will also be carefully analyzed for fingerprints, temperance, ballistic analysis and other key forensics. I will then seek to draw connections between each victim and each piece of evidence available, seeking to determine how they were murdered, at what time and in what order, whether there was a struggle and others. Eventually, some clues are likely to generate knowledge or suggestions towards next steps in the process.


Bauer, P. (2022). Tate murders. Web.

Papparella, A., & Valiente, A. (2017). How a KABC News crew and a 10-year-old boy helped with the Charles Manson family murder investigation. ABC News. Web.

Waxman, O.B. (2019). Why did the Manson family kill Sharon Tate? here’s the story Charles Manson told the last man who interviewed him. Time. Web.

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1. LawBirdie. "Discussion: Charles Manson Family Murders." April 17, 2023. https://lawbirdie.com/discussion-charles-manson-family-murders/.


LawBirdie. "Discussion: Charles Manson Family Murders." April 17, 2023. https://lawbirdie.com/discussion-charles-manson-family-murders/.