The 50th anniversary of the most horrific night of Manson family murders is Aug. 9—the night actress Sharon Tate, her unborn child and four friends were gruesomely killed in her home just north of Beverly Hills. In a kind of memoriam, a new book, written by former Malibu resident and acclaimed author/journalist Ivor Davis, was just released July 24—“Manson Exposed: A Reporter’s 50-Year Journey into Madness and Murder.”
At the time the Manson family committed the murders, Davis was based in Los Angeles as a foreign correspondent for the London Daily Express. He covered the murders and then the trials from day one, providing almost daily coverage for several years.
Because Davis was on the front lines of the story for so long, he became known as an expert on the case. The book offers his personal accounts of the trials, as well as previously unpublished interviews with key players and the real motivation behind the Tate murders.
“I wanted to do something for a new generation,” Davis said in a recent interview. “I thought I could bring an unusual eyewitness account to the story, because I saw Manson in the courthouse every day for a year.”
A brief review of the facts of the story: Indiana native Charles Manson ended up in LA at age 33, after spending nearly half his life in jail. He was a wannabe recording artist, and developed a cult of ardent followers that became known as the Manson “family”—about 30 people, including 22 women, many of whom were underage girls. They mainly stayed at a decrepit ranch near Chatsworth.
The first Manson family murder took place only a quarter-mile from the Malibu Feed Bin at the corner of PCH and Topanga Canyon. The victim was Gary Hinman, a friend of the Manson family—who was tortured and then killed in an attempt to get money.
Bobby Beausoleil, who committed the murder, was jailed only three days later and Manson wanted him released. He sent a group of “disciples” to commit the grisly Tate murders about two weeks later; he wrongly thought the police would tie those murders to the Hinman killing and then free Beausoleil, believing they had the wrong man.
“I discovered that was the real reason the Tate murders took place,” Davis said. “It was not what the LA district attorney said during the trial—that it was inspired by Beatles music like ‘Helter Skelter,’ ‘Piggies,’ ‘Blackbird’ and ‘Revolution.’”
Two more Manson family murders took place the night after the Tate murders—supermarket executive Leno LaBianca and his wife Rosemary were randomly and brutally killed in their home near Griffith Park.
There are several Malibu threads in the book: Record producer Terry Melcher escaped Manson’s clutches by moving to his mother Doris Day’s house in Malibu. Roman Polanski, Sharon Tate’s husband, escaped the media by hiding out in the Malibu Colony. Beach Boy Dennis Wilson fled his mansion in Pacific Palisades—which the Manson family had crashed—to stay with friends in Malibu.
“I was told by some of the principals that famous English fashion designer Tanya Sarne and her film director husband Michael Sarne, along with John Phillips of The Mamas & The Papas, left their Malibu Colony abode to visit Sharon Tate on the night of the murders—but got too drunk to go to her house on Cielo Drive—thus avoiding the massacres!” Davis wrote in an email.
While covering the Manson trial, Davis was threatened by follower Lyn “Squeaky” Fromme, who talked about putting a knife down his throat. She was later arrested for attempting to assassinate President Gerald Ford. “She was sitting outside the courthouse on the sidewalk with a shaved head and a swastika,” Davis said. He moved his residence for a month as a precaution.
Whenever Manson was interviewed on TV, “He performed; he played the lunatic, the crazy guy—he was a great actor,” Davis observed. “He exploited the media. He was the star of primetime whenever the cameras went to Folsom or San Quentin. In the Diane Sawyer interviews, all our wildest fears about Manson invading our living rooms came true.”
Davis had no desire to interview Manson personally, because, “He never gave a straight answer about anything. He’d just say crazy things like, ‘We’re all dead.’”
During the trials, it wasn’t always easy listening to the coroner talk about the gory details of a body being stabbed 18 times, or about Sharon Tate being eight months pregnant and all the blood, Davis acknowledged: “If you try too hard to visualize it, it’s just too contemptible. You have to deflect the horror and go home to your wife and family.”