The followers of hippie cult leader Charles Manson killed five of their victims on Aug. 9, 1969: actress Sharon Tate, who was 8 1/2 months pregnant, coffee heiress Abigail Folger, celebrity hairdresser Jay Sebring, Polish movie director Voityck Frykowski and Steven Parent, a friend of the property’s caretakers. The murders took place at Tate’s home while her husband, director Roman Polanski, was out of the country.
The next night, a wealthy grocer and his wife, Leno and Rosemary LaBianca, were stabbed to death in their home across town. The killers scrawled such phrases as “Pigs” and a misspelled “Healter Skelter” in blood at the crime scenes.
The anniversary of the murders has sparked several films, including “The Haunting of Sharon Tate” with Hilary Duff; “Charlie Says” with Matt Smith – of “Doctor Who” fame – as Manson; “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” directed by Quentin Tarantino and starring Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio; and “Tate,” starring Kate Bosworth as the ’60s starlet, which has no set release date at the moment.
Sebring’s niece, Mishele DiMaria, has a vivid memory from the summer of 2009 when she went to see her favorite band perform in Las Vegas. Her excitement disappeared when she saw the lead singer appear on stage wearing a t-shirt featuring an image of Manson, along with three of his female followers.
“I felt like I got kicked in the gut,” DiMaria told People magazine on Wednesday. “The happiness ripped out of me. To know that I had unknowingly supported someone who supports the killers of my uncle Jay made me physically ill. The scar was ripped open.”
Debra Tate has dedicated her life to keeping her older sister's memory alive, fighting to keep the killers behind bars. The 66-year-old told the outlet she has attempted to stay out of the spotlight, but strangers fascinated with the case come knocking on her door unannounced.
Shortly before the 50th anniversary of the deaths, a man walked up to Debra’s front door in southern California and asked if she was related to Tate, the outlet reported. The mystery man said he had a message from Manson. Debra said she immediately grabbed her shotgun and let the man know she was armed. The stranger left — but the incident left her rattled.
“I have death threats on Facebook, I have people breaching my gate, I’ve got weirdos on my own personal site,” Debra explained. “It’s very alarming and I would be a fool if I didn’t pay attention to it and treat it as credible.”
Still, the encounter has not stopped Debra from attending every parole hearing to speak out on behalf of loved ones who can’t attend.
As for Sebring’s nephew Anthony DiMaria, he is preparing to release a documentary about his uncle’s life as a businessman and celebrity hairstylist. He wants to make sure his uncle isn’t just remembered for the way he died.
“Unless every one of the victims gets out of their graves and lives the 50 years they should have lived with us and all of their friends who love them, there is no closure,” said DiMaria.
In 2018, Debra told Fox News the relationship she shared with Tate was magical, one that resulted in a lifetime of memories she still cherishes today.
“Sharon was a special human being,” Debra explained. “She was 10 years older than me, which meant there was no sibling rivalry involved. She was so loving and nurturing. People actually thought Sharon was my mother because she looked very mature at age 16 and she’s always leading this 5-year-old by the hand. I was like her personal American Girl doll at 10 years old.
“We continued to have a very strong bond as I got older. Her friends were my friends. I socialized in her social circle… I have memories of us walking down Melrose and playing dress-up… We made each other complete.”
Even as Tate’s career blossomed in Hollywood, Debra insisted she was there for her to provide much-needed sisterly advice.
“I’m very critical of myself,” she explained. "I’ve always been. As a child, my mother would tell me over and over again, ‘Debra, you’re your own worst enemy. I was always very critical and hard on myself. But Sharon was always telling me not to sweat the little stuff. She was really loving and nurturing of who I was. She would tell me that I was extremely bright and talented and that I could do anything in the world that I put my mind to.”
Over the years, Tate was sought after by both filmmakers and photographers for her head-turning beauty. But Debra said Tate was more interested in captivating audiences with her talent.
“She didn’t take herself seriously at all,” said Debra. “[But]… she took her craft very seriously. She worked hard to develop the craft. She knew that was her persona, but she also knew that’s not who she was. What was important to her was maintaining her heart, her spirit and all of the things that made Sharon. She just wanted to be herself.
“And she had a fantastic sense of humor,” she added. “And the most important thing in life to her was the ability to make people laugh, and laughing at herself. We did that a lot.”
“She had a work ethic that was unbelievable,” continued Debra. “Here was a woman who had the confidence to go after her dreams. I want to keep her alive… I want people to remember her for what she could have done had she lived.”
Since Tate’s death, Debra has also devoted much of her life to counseling victims of violent crimes. She said there are lessons that can still be learned from Tate.
“Americans have a knack at not observing their history,” she explained. “History is circular. It comes back around again. And currently in the world, especially here in the United States, we are seeing things come back around again. And they are not necessarily all good. So I try to be the voice of reason.
"Really the only thing that counts is love, not hate… We have far too many killings, shootings, hate crimes… It’s all coming back around again. Sharon’s legacy must be realized because she’s an example of what the worst can come from things like this."