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Charles Manson: 40 years after the fear

August 4, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
The Summer of Love in Los Angeles came to a bloody and frightening halt about 40 years ago. A band of serial killers changed the city forever.Their high profile murders were followed by four months of confusion and fear as investigators desperately tried to crack the case. Eyewitness News even had a hand in finding key evidence.

The hot morning on August 9, 1969 did more than warm the city of Los Angeles, the sunrise cast a light on one of the darkest chapters in the city's history.

"We were the first television crew on the scene. We had no idea what we were walking into," said Al Wiman, who, at that time, was an ambitious 29-year-old reporter for ABC7 Eyewitness News. "We got a call from the assignment desk telling us to go to a house in Beverly Hills at 10050 Cielo Drive."

The four decades since that August day haven't seemed to fog Wiman's memory one bit. He can still see the vivid details.

"This was a driveway that led to a dead end ... and the dead end was that address that we were sent to and there was a gate that was closed," said Wiman. "There was a chain link fence and you could see all the way through the chain link fence. And there was an automobile inside with the body of Steven Parent."

As Wiman spoke, each word was like a footstep, taking him back up that driveway.

"Rona Barrett showed up and I wondered what was she doing because she did a gossip segment on Eyewitness News at the time," said Wiman.

Wiman said that when he asked Rona why she was there she replied, "Don't you know who lives here? This is Roman Polanski's house."

As he stood at the gate of Polanski's Beverly Hills home, he counted the dead, including Sharon Tate, the pregnant wife of Roman Polanski. Each victim was brutally shot or stabbed multiple times. The killers used Tate's blood to write "pig" on the front door; a macabre message that shocked and confused the city.

The very next night, in Silver Lake, Rosemary and Leno LaBianca were random and horribly unlucky victims. They too were killed in a brutal manner. "Death to pigs" was written in blood on the wall. "Helter Skelter" marked the refrigerator.

"When all word came out or news came out about what was inside, how they were killed, there was an element of fear. Yes," said Eyewitness New Inland Empire Bureau Chief Bob Banfield.

Banfield said the city was petrified, but thirsty for information. He canvassed the Silver Lake neighborhood the day after the murders.

"People back then were willing to talk because they were wondering, you know, give me some information. What's going on here?" said Banfield.

"There was a lot of fear in L.A. The sale of guard dogs and guns rose dramatically overnight. And the use of security services, dramatically," said Vincent Bugliosi, the Deputy District Attorney who eventually sent the murderers to prison. "Particularly in the movie colony ... they were just terrified."

It was hard to calm anyone's fears in the weeks immediately after the crimes because there were no suspects and evidence was hard to come by. But 40 years later, the evidence is locked away in a storage closet in the D.A.'s office. There are 37 boxes of now infamous, even iconic, items that came to symbolize the brutality. Among the items is a long barrel 22 revolver used in the Polanski house murders and a blood-stained rope, which was used to tie Sharon Tate and Jay Seibring. Seibring was a close friend of Tate and Polanski.

"The rope had been thrown over the rafter, and then each end of the rope was kind of looped around the victim's necks," said Sandi Gibbons, a former reporter.

A fork used on Leno LaBianca is also among the evidence, along with Rosemary LaBianca's wallet, which was stolen the night she was killed. It still holds her driver's license.

The bloody clothes worn by the murderers from the Polanski scene were taken as evidence as well.

"The clothing was actually found near the scene of the Tate murders by a film crew, I believe it was channel seven film crew," said Gibbons.

That film crew was Al Wiman. His team found the items four months after the murders.

"We came here and we actually stood right here in this spot and said, 'OK, if we had just killed these people, we are covered with blood, where would we go and where would we throw the clothes,'" said Wiman.

Wiman and his crew got into their news vehicle and started driving down Benedict Canyon, estimating the murderer's escape.

"'Let's time how long it takes me to undress and redress.' And I put the stop watch on and ran it for six minutes and 20 seconds ... When it hit 6:20 I said "OK, where are we?'" said Wiman. "We stopped and got out and looked over and I said 'My God those have to be the clothes.'"

It turns out the spot Wiman had come across had no guardrail at the time, leaving it the only place someone could pull off the road. When the LAPD arrived on the scene, detectives were not happy the media figured it out before they did.

"We were notified by my boss, Lt. Robert Helder, who received a phone call from what I believe is channel seven news," said Sgt. Michael McGann, Los Angeles Police Department in 1969.

"They came up and found the clothing, which we introduced at the trial," said Bugliosi.

The evidence would lead Bugliosi to a man who stood only 5'2", but wielded a manipulative power that turned a group of hippie followers into some of the most ruthless, cold blooded killers, in American history. Charles Manson.

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