Sharon Tate’s Sister Says She Narrowly Avoided Death in Manson Murders

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Fifty years ago, Charles Manson’s cult murdered five people, including actress Sharon Tate, who was pregnant at the time. 

The Manson Family murders, as they became known, shook the country to its core as the slayings occurred in a posh section of Los Angeles where Tate and her husband, filmmaker Roman Polanski, lived. Tate, who was 26 at the time and eight months pregnant,and four friends were killed in the massacre in the early morning hours of Aug. 9, 1969.

Deborah Tate, Sharon’s younger sister, was 16 at the time of the murders and was supposed to be at home with her sibling, but fate had other plans. 

Something in the Way She Moves

Sharon Tate was an actress and model who captivated Hollywood in the 1960s. 

Born in Dallas, Texas, on Jan. 24, 1943, Sharon was the eldest of three daughters. The family routinely moved around the world thanks to her father's job in the Army. 

While doing so, Sharon entered beauty pageants and even appeared on the cover of the military newspaper “Stars and Stripes” in a swimsuit. 

In 1960, the family relocated to Verona, Italy. While there, she was cast as an extra in the Paul Newman film “Hemingway’s Adventures of a Young Man,” which was being filmed in the city. 

She caught the eye of actor Jack Palance, who believed she could be a star and set up for auditions for her in Rome. 

“There was much more to Sharon than Hollywood saw, they only saw the physical beauty. She was extremely loving, nurturing,” Deborah Tate told Inside Edition in 2004. “When she was a young woman, she would take me with her everywhere, include me in everything she did.” 

Sharon eventually moved to Los Angeles, where she worked in TV, took up modeling and became the talk of Hollywood. 

Her style was “very eclectic, free-spirited, a combination between very sexy and childlike innocence,” Deborah told Inside Edition in a 2008 interview.

Sharon appeared in films including “The Cincinnati Kid” with Steve McQueen and “The Eye of the Devil” with Donald Pleasence. As her star rose, she met Polish filmmaker Roman Polanski, who cast her in his film “The Fearless Vampire Killers.” 

While filming, Polanski and Sharon became romantically involved, and eventually they married.

Helter Skelter

In the spring of 1969, Tate and Polanski rented a home on Cielo Drive in Los Angeles that was the former residence of record producer Terry Melcher. Tate was expecting the couple’s first child. 

Meanwhile, Charles Manson, an aspiring musician, had formed the Manson Family in mid-1967. Manson told his followers that he was the manifestation of Jesus and they should follow his orders. 

On Aug. 9, 1969, Manson ordered members of his “family” to go to the home once occupied by Melcher, who had snubbed Manson’s music career, and kill everyone inside. 

Manson Family members Susan Atkins, Linda Kasabian, Tex Watson and Patricia Krenwinkel entered the home on Cielo Drive. Tate was home that evening with four friends, while Polanski was in Europe filming a movie.

Just after midnight, they began torturing and killing the occupants inside the home. Sharon was stabbed 16 times, and begged for her life and the life of her unborn child. 

“She was one of the last to go, she was pleading for her baby’s life,” Deborah told Inside Edition in 2004. 

The night of the murders, Deborah said she had planned to visit her older sister, but her plans changed at the last minute in an intervention that may have saved her life.

“I could have been killed,” told Inside Edition in 2004. 

Carry the Weight

In January 1971, the four Manson Family members were found guilty of murder. In April of that year, Manson himself was also found guilty for orchestrating the killings.

Watson and Manson were sentenced to death. The three other members were sentenced to life in prison. In 1972, however, California abolished the death penalty, and Watson's and Manson’s sentences were changed to life without the possibility of parole. 

While in prison, Manson became a celebrity, with many writing him letters and even offering marriage proposals. 

The more Manson spoke out from behind bars, though, the more Sharon’s sister gave a voice to the victims to remind people he was evil. 

“People who commit heinous crimes are not icons, they are not superstars,” she told Inside Edition in 2004. “I just want to look in his eyes, believe it or not, I don’t think he is crazy as a loon, I think everything he does is calculated.”

Atkins died of cancer in 2009, while Krenwinkel and Van Houten have had multiple parole requests denied. Watson has since become a minister behind bars. 

Manson died behind bars in 2017 at 83 of natural causes. 

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