On the night of August 9, 1969, four car thieves murdered a school teacher in Los Angeles. Armed with a .22 caliber pistol, they killed her, her boy friend, a barber, a man who had come to sell a clock radio, and the woman who rented the house. The next night they killed a seamstress and her gambler husband.
Murder is a crime. I supposed it is always an atrocity to the survivors, but to the wider world, most murders are not significant, any more than most car thefts. As you can tell from the descriptions above, there is no real reason to suppose the seven victims were that important.
Their names were Abigail "Gibby" Folger, the school teacher, Wojtek Frykowski, her boy friend, Jay Sebring, the barber, Steven Parent, who came to sell a clock-radio, and Sharon Tate, the lady who rented the house. Rosemary La Bianca was the seamstress, and her gambler husband was Leno La Bianca.
The four car thieves were (alphabetically) Susan Atkins, Patricia Krenwinkle, Leslie Van Houten and Charles Watson.
Now considering that several murders committed in New York in 1976 and 1977 in New York were called the .44 Caliber Murders, these could easily have been called the .22 Caliber Murders. Or, perhaps the Charles Watson murders, because he was the one who used the gun in the murders. Or perhaps the first victim, Steven Parent, could have provided the name for the Steven Parent Murders.
But they were not.
The biggest pretence about these murders of seven people is that it was somehow self-evident, that the crime was so horrible by itself that it deserved endless publicity, followed by the CBS Television mini-series Helter Skelter. That this is was an act of evil is unquestionable. So were all the other murders committed in 1969.
The difference is the value attached to the murder by the mass media, and by the society at large. Abigail Folger was a school teacher. She was also a "Coffee Heiress" who inherited money from the Folgers' Coffee fortune. Charles Watson was a car thief. He also was a cultist who took part in a mass killing intended to trigger an Apocalypse. The murders were committed with a .22 caliber revolver. They were also committed with knives and blunt objects, and the murders, which could have been done cleanly with a shot to the back of the neck each, were done in as gory a manner as possible.
By shifting the emphasis on the details, the press coverage of the murders played out different dramas. In August of 1969, press coverage focused in on Tate's husband, Roman Polanski as the director of the horror movie Rosemary's Baby. By mid-December 1969, the press coverage was focused on the killers, and Polanski was forgotten. In August 1969 Tate was portrayed as some kind of decadent sex goddess in much of the sensationalistic coverage. But by early December Newsweek portrayed Tate as beautiful pregnant mother, something the editors and reporters had known she was all along. Leno La Bianca, Rosemary La Bianca and Steven Parent were never more than stick figures in press coverage. Rosemary La Bianca was actually richer than Abigail Folger was, but she was never anymore than the wife of Leno La Bianca in the press coverage.
The August 1969 press coverage of Sebring, Folger and Frykowski emphasized Sebrings' sex life and Folgers and Frykowski's use of illegal drugs. All of this was forgotten by mid-December of 1969.
In fact, when President Richard Nixon made his public remarks in August of 1970, "Manson is Guilty," he did not mention the seven people killed at all. By this time the idea Nixon was playing on was the idea of Charles Manson as an embodiment of the threat of anarchy and chaos. When Atkins, Krenwinkle, Manson and Van Houten were convicted, the New York Times editorial ignored the seven people and emphasized fear of anarchy.
Since 1974, after the social and political turmoil of the early 1970's faded, the killings of seven people have been viewed through the lens provided by prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi's book and TV miniseries Helter Skelter. I felt I should write this article about Abigail Folger, Wojtek Frykowski, Leno La Bianca, Rosemary La Bianca, Steven Parent, and Sharon Tate, because they were killed in a horrible crime. A crime that by itself should be the news story, not the "news stories" written by reporters based on the crime.
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