Episode 1: “Beep, Beep”

Episode 1: “Beep, Beep”

Listen Here: “Manson said I want you to go out and kill these people, to go up to this place and kill everyone that is there…here I was, a naïve Texas boy without a conscience, of right and wrong, thinking the world is going to come to the end tomorrow.”1Charles Tex Watson, 700 Club Interview available here on YouTube. The Title of This Show comes Prosecutor Vince Bugliosi in his opening statements to jurors in Charles Tex Watson’s Trial on August 16th, 1971: “Charles Watson was Manson’s Chief Lieutenant and principal instrument by which Manson intended to carry out his bizarre motive.”

My name is Brandon Birmingham and I’m the presiding judge of a Felony Trial Court in Dallas, Texas. Before that, I was a chief felony prosecutor focusing exclusively on murder and capital murder trials. I was also the chief of the Cold Case Unit. Some people study music or sports or history. I’m in to those things, too, but I’ve always been fascinated with murder trials and the way that the trial lawyers from both sides of the case analyzed the clues from the crime scene. 

Throughout my career, I’ve gotten a chance to work with and learn from some of the greatest criminal minds: prosecutors, criminal defense attorneys, homicide detectives, forensic scientists and I’m so proud and eager to pass all of that information along to you. How do these great minds think, and how do they use circumstantial evidence in their search and quest for the truth? This podcast isn’t about one side or the other winning. It’s about how circumstantial evidence is used to uncover the identity and the motive of the killer. 

For this show, I’ve collected authentic transcripts, crime scene pictures, diagrams and forensic reports. I’ve read some of the books written about these cases. I’ve talked to some of the lawyers and the investigators, and seen original documents and notes. First, we’ll study the Tate/LaBianca killings from Southern California perpetrated by Charles “Tex” Watson of the Charlie Manson Family; we’ll tell you about a serial killer from Dallas named Charles Albright whose also known as “The Eyeball Killer;” and we’ll study the Trinity River Massacre from Dallas, Texas as well. We’ll study these cases like the real-life prosecutors and investigators did: one piece of evidence at a time, taking the case from the crime scene all the way through to the trial.

Motive

What is Motive? “That which moves the mind, a passion, emotion or desire which impels action…The object or end that tempts the mind to indulge the criminal desire.”2Burrill, Alexander M., “A Treatise on the Nature, Principles and Rules of Circumstantial Evidence.” (1868)(Page 283). Motive is an internal mental desire that develops into a design or plan, that turns into an outward act. This out outward act, of course, is the killing itself. Thus, there can be no murder without a motive. Sometimes you don’t uncover what the motive is, and sometimes it’s hard to discern the true motive. Certainly, the law doesn’t require that a motive be proven beyond a reasonable doubt in any Court in the country.

Still, there is no such thing as a murder without a motive.

Motive can be divided into two parts: one for unlawful gain or one for unlawful passion. Unlawful gain – we’ve heard about that before. There’s an object that’s inherently valuable to the person or the perpetrator, the one who’s going to commit this crime. If not an object, it could be a position, or avoiding a perceived loss, or getting in line for some pecuniary gain like an inheritance. There’s also the type of motive called unlawful passion. For example hatred of a person, ill-will, or maybe revenge.

A unique subset of unlawful passion motive is that which springs from a radical mind. We’ll see that in our first case.

How can motive be used to identify a particular perpetrator? What is the object or status that is attractive to that particular person? Does that motive reveal itself in the crime scene? We’re not talking here about a gas station robbery where money is taken because that type of motive – the desire to become richer – may not be sufficiently unique enough to identify the perpetrator. Lots of people want to get rich quick, there’s nothing unique about it. But a motive that is so unique to a singular person or group of persons, that by their very nature, you can identify and discern the motive from the the crime scene. If you can discover who obsessed over, practiced or believed in that particular motive, you will go a long way to matching the motive to the man, and therefore, the man to the crime.

The manner, time and place of the crime also reveal motive, including the secrecy of the location of the crime. Criminals most often take great caution and strenuous efforts to exclude the crime from all human observation. The secrecy created by the killer reveals a contemplated success, first of all, that he wants to be far away from human contact, outside of eyesight and outside of earshot. That reveals that he knows ahead of time that there is either something to be seen or something to be heard.

And sometimes killers leave a mark, a calling card, as if they want the whole public to hear what they have to say, without betraying their own identities.

It is with all of these things that we turn to Los Angeles in 1969 for the Tate-LaBianca killings by Charles “Tex” Watson and the Charlie Manson Family. This is a prime example of how a unique motive, an idiosyncratic one, was obvious from the crime scene and ultimately led to the identity of the killers. 

The Lay of the Land

1969 was the “Summer of Love.” That was the year after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy. In Los Angeles in 1969, that was also a few years after the Watts Riots riots that were sparked by police brutality, racial tension. 

For those of you who have never been to Los Angeles before I’m going to give you a lay of the land, so to speak; the relative positions of the crime scenes. One of them was off of Cielo Drive and one of them was on Waverly Drive. There was another place, the home of Beach Boy Dennis Wilson. Finally, there was an old movie ranch where Watson and the Manson Family lived off and on during that time called Spahn Ranch. Downtown Los Angeles away from the beach to Pacific Ocean if you headed north about two miles from Los Angeles to the Justice Center where some of the biggest trials in California history were held, you’d be at the Waverly Drive address that we’ll get to in just a little while. 10 miles to the East is 10050 Cielo Drive in Beverly Hills; probably 10 more miles to the East of that is Dennis Wilson’s house. As in Dennis Wilson the “Beach Boy.” If you drew a line between those two and you went up to a point, almost like a triangle 20 miles from Cielo Drive, and 25 miles from Waverly Drive, you’d be a place called Spahn Ranch.

The significant locations for the case are pictured in yellow above. Click here for an interactive Google Earth Map.

10050 Cielo Drive was a very long and narrow house, a beautiful house that was owned by Doris Day. Now, Doris Day was Calamity Jane, she was an Academy Award nominated actress and musician, and a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award winner. She had a son named Terry Melcher who lived with Candice Bergen and up until January of 1969. Candice Bergen was the actress who later became to people like me, “Murphy Brown.” Terry Melcher was a record producer, musician and TV producer. He was a friend of Dennis Wilson of “The Beach Boys.” They moved out of Cielo Drive in January of 1969.

The house itself sat at the top of the hill. When you come in the gate you’ve got to push a button to get through the gate. You’ll come up to the narrow driveway a little ways and you’ll be at the right side of the house. The house is long and narrow. You don’t come up to the front of the house like normally would; you come up to the side of the house. If you were to walk from the driveway all the way through the house, you would begin by going through one of the bedrooms, to the kitchen to dining room all in a line, then you’d go to a living room. The living room has a loft over it. You’d go past the living room and into two bedrooms, and if you left the house through an exit in the bedrooms, you would be at the pool. Along the walls in the front of the house there’s a number of windows, some of which have screens and shrubbery. It was very well taken care of and beautiful, and it overlooked Los Angeles. 

Overhead view of 10050 Cielo Drive from the original police file, taken from a helicopter (notice the landing gear in the bottom left of the image). Photo Courtesy of CieloDrive.com.

On August the 9th of 1969, housekeeper Winifred Chapman was came to work at 8:00 AM. She got off the bus, caught a ride to Cielo Drive, and walked up the long driveway when she noticed that there was a long wire on the ground that was “hanging out.” She thought it was a wire for the electricity. She was wrong though – she was able to use the electric gate by pushing the button. As she walked into the house, she noticed a car that was out of place. It was a Rambler, a white Dodge Rambler. She didn’t really pay much attention to it because people came in and out of that house all the time. There were frequent guests, frequent overnight guests, so she continued to the back porch through the bedroom that was closest to where the car was. 

Overhead view of 10050 Cielo Drive; People’s Exhibit 100 at Tex Watson’s Trial. The blue line under the “D” in the LADA watermark indicates the position of the door in which Winifred Chapman entered. Photo obtained via an open records request from the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office.

She walked into the service area by the kitchen when she started noticing some things that were out of place. There was blood, blood red spots; there was a bloody towel; there was blood everywhere that she looked. She walked into the dining room a little bit further and noticed that the front door was wide open. She hadn’t noticed it before but by standing in the dining room where she noted the front door was open and there was something outside in the front lawn. She saw a body, an obviously deceased and bloody human. She didn’t know who it was. It obviously shook and startled her. She ran back out exactly the way that she came.

She ran to a neighbor’s house and called the Los Angeles Police Department at approximately 8:33 in the morning. Obviously, a lot of police officers responded. They discovered a number of killings and took note of this crime scene. There were 5 in total. If you were to walk first up through the front path, you would look on the ground at the body that Winifred Chapman saw. He was subsequently identified as an adult male is named Voytek Frykowski. Mister Frykowski was lying in the front lawn. He was obviously deceased.

Original Crime Scene Photograph of the front of 10050 Cielo Drive. The initials V.F. indicate the approximate location of victim Voytek Frykowski. The blue “A” and adjacent blue line indicate the approximate location of victim Abigail Folger. Obtained via an open records request from the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office.

Police walked into the living room where they discover the body of who would later become identified as Jay Sebring. They saw a rope tied around his neck and that was tied to Sharon Marie Polanski or better known as Sharon Tate. The two were in the living room; they were in front of a brown couch cushion couch on the back of which was an American flag. There was a fluffy blanket just to the right of that. Sharon lay stabbed to death in a bloody mess in front of the couch. Around her neck was a rope that was tied and draped over a big support beam that ran over the living room. The rope was tied from her neck to that of Mr. Sebring. Blood was covering Mr. Sebring, covering his clothes. Mrs. Tate was dressed in a bikini, and very obviously pregnant. Both were laying on their side, Mr. Sebring, maybe five to seven feet away from Mrs. Tate in the living room. 

Police officers noticed a trail of blood going through the house, down a hallway to the bedroom and out of the bedroom to the pool, on the way around the pool, and back towards the front of the house.  Imagine beginning where the car was parked. The scene made a big “U” from the kitchen, to where Sharon Tate and Mr. Sebring were, out of the bedroom, to the body of a female he was later identified as Abigail Folger. Abigail Folger was lying in the grass in the front yard, in a blood-soaked nightgown. She was some 30 to 50 feet away from Mr. Frykowski. 

Investigators didn’t know what to make of this scene, so they began to process it, meaning they are documenting it, and collecting evidence. They’re taking pictures, they’re taking note of things that look out of place, there collecting physical evidence like blood, a piece of cord, and the piece of rope that was tied around their necks. They were looking for weapons, they’re looking for all those things. In addition to that, they’re collecting fingerprints from any place that they can, a point of entry maybe, and from that they can try to determine a probable path. 

Those 4 weren’t the only four bodies that they found. When they looked inside of the car the Rambler, they noticed the body of a young man who appeared to be less than 20. He had been shot four times he was obviously deceased. He was slumped over in the driver’s seat of the car in the driveway. 

In all, two were dead in the living room, two in the yard, and one in the Rambler. 

Identifying the Victims

The first thing that you have to do when you’re doing any investigation, if you can, is to identify the bodies, the victims, to see if you can learn from their identity whether or not there’s any reason why somebody would want them to be killed. 

Sharon Marie Polanski or Sharon Tate was born in Dallas, Texas in 1943. She was Miss Tiny Tot of Dallas in 1943. Her father was a Colonel in the US Army. She eventually became an actor and a model, and appeared on TV shows like Mr. Ed and The Beverly Hillbillies. She met a hair stylist sometime in the early sixties named Jay Sebring and they became very close friends. A couple years later she met Roman Polanski when he Directed one of her movies. They were married and they moved his Cielo Drive house, as I said in January of 1969. Miss Chapman was their house keeper. She became pregnant for the very first time. This was her opportunity to settle and to nest. This is where she wanted to raise her very first born child. In July 1969, she came back from Europe just in time to see Neil Armstrong land on the Moon on July 20th of 1969, with her father, Colonel Paul Tate. She was tied to Jay Sebring, she lay dead in front of her couch as we said. She weighed 135 pounds, she had blond hair, hazel eyes and she was stunningly beautiful. She was 2 weeks away from delivering her first baby. She died from multiple stab wounds of her chest and of her back. They penetrated her heart, lungs and her liver. She was stabbed 16 times 5 of which would have been fatal all by themselves. 

Tied to her was Jay Sebring. His real name was Jay Comer. He was born in Dallas, served in the Korean War where he learned to cut hair. He opened one of the first male hair salons, and it became quite famous. He did the hair of Warren Beatty, Steve McQueen,  Paul Newman, and Kirk Douglas. He took karate from Bruce Lee. He appeared in Batman.3He appeared in the episode titled, “The Bat’s Kow Tow.” His character was called “Mr. Oceanbring,” an “atrocious pun” on his name. Click here for the information from the Internet Movie Database. He was building his hair business and he was getting into the business of hair products when he was killed there on Cielo Drive. He was 35 years old, 5 feet 6 inches, 120 pounds, black hair, brown eyes, stabbed seven times, three of which were fatal and he was shot. 

Voytek Frykowski4He was born Wojciech Frykowski, and is listed as such in the indictments against Watson. Mr. Frykowski went by “Voytek.” was a friend of Roman Polanski. He was the boyfriend of Abigail Folger. Mr. Frykowski was the one that was found in the front lawn probably forty feet away from her. If you follow the blood trail, it’s obvious the two were running away from what was happening to them. He had met Abigail a few years earlier in New York. He didn’t speak much English, she didn’t speak much Polish, but they both spoke French. He was 32 years old, 5 feet 10 inches, 165 pounds, with blonde hair, blue eyes. He was asleep on the couch when he was awoken by one of the intruders. He was shot twice and struck over the head some 13 times with a blunt-force object. He was also stabbed 51 times all over his body.

Abigail Folger was his girlfriend at the time. She was nicknamed “Gibby.” August 9th was 2 days before her twenty-sixth birthday. She was an heiress to the Folger Coffee Company Throne, started in San Francisco and Southern California in 1850 or 60. She was related to them, she was a Folger. She was a graduate, she got our history degree, she was a graduate from Harvard School of Art History, I believe. She moved to New York after that, where she met Mr. Frykowski. She moved to California where she did volunteer work at the Haight-Ashbury Medical Center, which is in San Francisco. As we’ll see later, she might have treated some of the hippies that were around San Francisco at the time, some of which may cross our path later. She moved to LA. She was convinced by Roman Polanski to live on this Cielo Drive address while he was away with Sharon in Europe, so Abigail and Voytek moved into the house in April. When Sharon Tate came back, they were all there together. Sharon Tate, Jay Sebring, Voytek Frykowski and Abigail Folger grabbed dinner that night, they came back and that was why they were together. They were all good friends. She was five feet five inches tall, 120-pounds. Gibby was stabbed 23 times, and had a massive slashing type wound to the left side of her face.

Steven Parent was identified as the 18-year-old boy in the white Rambler that was in the driveway coming up to, leading to the house. He was a guitarist and a high school graduate. William Garretson lived in a guest house on the Cielo Drive property, in a house there and he was friends with Steven Parent. The guest house was at the rear of the property. Garretson called him over that night, the night of the killing. He was the caretaker there for the Cielo Drive house. He came around the pool house and saw his friend Garretson, and left around midnight As he was apparently driving towards the gate in his Rambler, Parent was shot four times through the window on the driver’s side of his car; and he was cut, exhibiting a defensive slashing type wound on his arm. He was feet away from where the telephone wires hung around the telephone pole, and he was slumped over in the driver’s side, obviously dead. He was 18-years-old, he was 6 feet tall, 175 pounds, red hair, brown eyes, one defensive slashing type wound, he was shot and killed by a firearm, shot 4 times.

One of the most unique and specific pieces of evidence that would drive this investigation and proved to be extraordinarily valuable in uncovering motive was the word “PIG” written in 10-inch letters on the front door, apparently written in blood. The police would later find out that it was Sharon Tate’s blood. Apparently it was wiped on the front door there with a towel. 

The killings were big news in LA in part because of the gruesome nature, but also because Sharon Tate was one of the victims. The entire city was enthralled with all of the news about the crime scene and the manner in which these people were killed. There were many unknowns, and many rumors.

LA was taken aback by the crime.

As LA was gripped by the news of the killing off Cielo Drive, and the murder of Sharon Tate and the others, Rosemary and Leno LaBianca were out of a family vacation on Lake Isabella. They were on their way back to Los Angeles, back to their home on Waverly Drive. As they drove in sometime after midnight, they stopped at a newsstand around 2 in the morning. Rosemary had a conversation with the news man. The conversation was about Sharon Tate’s murder. According to the newsman, she was very shaken, she was very distraught, she couldn’t believe that something like that could have happened. It visibly touched her in a way that he remembered sometime later.

Off they went back to their home. 

3301 Waverly Drive is about 10 miles away from Cielo Drive house is. This is where Leno LaBianca had grown up. Mr. and Mrs. LaBianca had recently moved out of their house (formerly owned by Walt Disney) into Waverly Drive while they were looking for another home. He bought the place from his mother; it was the house in which he grew up. Mr. LaBianca was a World War II veteran and made his money in the grocery business.

The next day, Rosemary’s son Frank Struthers walked into the house at around 8:00 AM, and noticed that the doors were locked. He couldn’t get in. He went to a phone booth and called his sister. She came, and they went in through the back door. That’s when he discovered Leno, his stepfather, lying on his back, dead. The lights were off and the shades were drawn in the house. He and his sister left, and called the police. That is how the Los Angeles Police Department found out about the seemingly ritualistic killing at 3301 Waverly Drive.

What police discovered when they arrived was shocking and horrendous, just as they found the scene at Cielo Drive address shocking and horrendous. Mr. LaBianca was lying on his back, there was a pillowcase covering his head, and the word “WAR” was carved into his stomach. The word “WAR” was scratched in there by a sharp object. It covered from the little bit below his belly button almost all the way up to his chest; that “W” was really two inverted “V’s,” crisscrossed to make the word War. A Fork was stuck into his belly. The fork had two tongs. It was later Identified as belonging to the LaBianca’s.

Leno LaBianca’s hands were tied behind his back by some leather straps. . He was 44 years old, 6 feet tall, 220 pounds, and had brown hair. There were 12 stab wounds, 14 puncture wounds made by this double tined fork, 26 total wounds, 6 of which would have been fatal. At the autopsy, doctors discovered a steak knife lodged in his neck.

Rosemary LaBianca grew up in an Arizona orphanage after her parents both died. She opened up and was growing a very successful dress and gift shop. She was also very good at investing money. She died a millionaire. She was 38 years old, 5 feet 5 inches tall, 125 pounds with brown hair, brown eyes, stabbed 41 times, 6 of which by themselves could have been fatal. 

When she talked with the newsmen about the horrific killings on Cielo Drive, she couldn’t have realized that she will be walking into one herself.

The case is ultimately assigned to Vince Bugliosi. Bugliosi at the time was 35-years-old. This evidence was collected, and he suspected early on that there might have been a connection. In particular, it was because of the nature of the physical evidence, the word war being carved on Leno LaBianca’s stomach, and there was a very important clue just over their bodies, where they were found in the living room. It was in blood that was written on the walls “DEATH TO PIGS.” It was obvious that the perpetrators, the killer or killers, had taken off the picture frame, a long picture frame that was probably some 5 feet long, like a rectangle, and had written the words, “DEATH TO PIGS.” Those were written ostensibly in blood, what appeared to be blood. On the refrigerator in the LaBianca’s house, again in the blood very similar to what was written in blood in the living room, were the words Helter Skelter. Helter was spelled “H-E-A-L-T-E-R,” and the word “SKELTER” was written below that. Helter Skelter, Death To Pigs and war. Vince Bugliosi at the time he was assigned these cases was 35-years-old. He was a five-year prosecutor, born in Minnesota, went to Miami undergrad and played tennis there. He went to UCLA Law School, and was the president of the graduating class. He had been assigned the case sometime in the fall of 1969 and worked on it from the very beginning, and very hard on it. He was very proud of the fact that he was a prosecutor, and hung up a sign and wrote in his book, that the primary obligation of the prosecution is not to convict, but to see that Justice is done. 

Loose lips and healthy egos often break cases. Susan Atkins was in jail on an unrelated murder charge. She liked to talk, especially during work assignments and at night. She told her friend Virginia Graham that there’s “another case out there, a different murder case” than the one that she was on, and that the “police didn’t even know what was happening on it.” Susan told Virginia that this case was about Sharon Tate. She became visibly excited, and told Virginia how she was the one who “did it,” mentioning certain facts that only the killer would know: that  Sharon Tate had on a bikini, and the manner and means of killing. She implicated somebody named Charles. What Virginia did not know is that there were two Charles: one was Charles Manson and the other one was a Charles “Tex” Montgomery. Police began searching to determine who Charles “Tex” Montgomery was. Their investigation led them to Greg Jakobson.

Greg Jakobson was good friends with Terry Melcher. Jakobson did know “Charles,” but his name was not Charles “Tex” “Montgomery,” it was Charles “Tex” Watson. The police and investigators now had the true name of a suspect. They ran his criminal history. It turns out that on April 23rd of 1969 in Van Nuys California, a Charles Denton Watson, was arrested for public intoxication and drugs. He was high as a kite, crawling around on the sidewalk in broad daylight going “beep, beep” on the sidewalk. Upon arrest, he was fingerprinted. Investigators retrieved the fingerprint card from Van Nuys. 

A Los Angeles investigator named Jerome Boen was able to match one fingerprint recovered from the front door of Cielo Drive house with the fingerprint of Charles Denton Watson. 

That was the state of the case when police sought out to try to put their hands on Charles “Tex” Denton Watson. They found out that he lived in McKinney, Texas just some 35 miles North of Dallas. 

And they set about to try to get him.

End of Episode 1–