One of Charles Mason’s enemies used to live in actress Sharon Tate’s home at 10050 Cielo Drive, north of Beverly Hills in California.
Manson had visited the location before. Record producer Terry Melcher had lived there, and Manson had hoped Melcher, who had auditioned him, was going to sign him to a record deal. But he didn’t.
“Manson was mad about that,” Michael McGann, a detective at the time, recalled in a Los Angeles Magazine oral history. “It’s no accident he sent his group to Cielo.”
He told his followers: “Go to the former home of Terry Melcher and kill everyone on the premises,” according to prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi.
Sharon Tate now lived in that home, and she was due to give birth to a son in two weeks. Her husband, director Roman Polanski, was out of town.
Then, Charles “Tex” Watson stabbed the actress 16 times. With a towel dipped in her blood, he wrote “PIG” on her front door.
Watson had recruited Susan Atkins, Patricia Krenwinkel and Linda Kasabian to help with the task. Four other people died that night in Tate’s home on Aug. 9, 1969.
Fifteen years later, at a 1984 parole hearing for Watson, he faced Sharon Tate’s mother.
“What mercy, sir, did you show my daughter when she was begging for her life?” Doris Tate asked Watson during the hearing. “When will I come up for parole? Can you tell me that? Will the seven victims and possibly more walk out of their graves if you get parole?”
The moment was powerful not only because of the words Tate chose, but because of what they represented: the first victim impact statement in California.
Cult leader Charles Manson died on Sunday, and he will be remembered for many things: his ability to manipulate, his failed musical aspirations and his capacity for evil.
But his legacy will also include an unintended, positive consequence that has benefited countless people in the decades since Tate’s death: victims’ rights.
Because of the work Sharon Tate’s mother began and her sisters continued, victims’ voices carry a weight in the nation’s legal system. None of Manson’s minions, including Watson, have seen freedom.
Doris Tate helped get the Victims’ Bill of Rights, which allowed for victim impact statements, passed in California in 1982. All 50 states now allow victims to speak either written or orally at certain phases of the legal process, according to the National Center for Victims of Crime.
Doris Tate spent more than a decade after her oldest daughter’s brutal death devastated by grief. She came forward only after she learned that one of Manson’s devotees, Leslie Van Houten, had gathered 900 signatures in support of her obtaining parole. Doris Tate gathered 350,000 signatures against Van Houten’s parole.
Doris Tate later founded the Coalition on Victims’ Equal Rights and worked the rest of her life toward victims’ rights. In 1992, before her death that year at 68, President George H.W. Bush honored her as one of his “thousand points of light.”
“You can’t make sense out of the innocent slaughter of Sharon and the other victims,” Doris Tate once said. “The most that I, or any person touched by violence, can hope for is acceptance of the pain. You never forget it, not even with the passage of time. But, if, in my work, I can help transform Sharon’s legacy from murder victim to a symbol for victims’ rights, I will have accomplished what I set out to do.”
After her mother’s death, Patti Tate continued to fight for victims and to keep the Manson family in prison. When Patti died of breast cancer in 2000, her sister Debra Tate took on that role.
Shortly after Manson died, Debra Tate received a phone call from prison officials with the news, she told the NY Daily News.
“I said a prayer,” she told the paper, “shed a tear, stuck a flower under my cross in my bedroom and emailed Roman (Polanksi).”