Saturday, May 23, 2020

Cielo Part One: Waking Up To A Nightmare

As the housekeeper got off the bus, she was in a hurry. The city’s notoriously unreliable bus system had, yet again, caused her to be late. It was a warm, soon to be hot, Saturday morning in August and the housekeeper knew it would be a very busy day. Normally she didn’t work on Saturdays, but she needed a day off during the week and her employer needed her to help prepare for a baby shower that would take place that afternoon. They agreed that the housekeeper could switch work days that week; it was a perfect trade off. Due to the heat and limited Saturday morning transit options, her employer had offered the opportunity to spend the night at the mansion, an offer she rejected. Though she currently regretted that decision, she would soon discover how lucky it was that she had turned the offer down.

Winifred Chapman

As she struggled to walk up the hill to her employer’s expensive hillside estate, a familiar face appeared in a work truck. She had worked with the driver before and he graciously offered her a ride up the hill to her employer’s house, which she quickly accepted. After thanking her friend, she soon found herself walking up the narrow cul-de-Sac that led to her employer’s mansion. She could see that the phone line appeared to be down and made a note to let her employer know about it. With a gaggle of ladies expected later that day, she knew that they’d have to call the phone company to get the line fixed immediately. 

She pressed the gate button, which was not locked, and stood back as the gate swung open. She saw a car that she didn’t recognize, but it could have been an early arrival or an overnight guest. She picked up the newspaper and walked around to the kitchen entrance, finding the hidden key where it always was. She let herself into the house, which seemed unusually quiet. Lifting the receiver on the kitchen phone, she verified that the phone line was indeed inoperable. She began putting some of the previous night’s glasses and dishes into the sink and noticed one of her employer’s dogs acting erratically. It was then that a sense of foreboding fear began to take hold of her. The unusual quiet; the dead phone line; the bizarre behavior of the dog- whereas before things seemed normal, she was beginning to realize that things were wrong- very wrong.

She slowly started walking towards the living room when she saw that the front door was ajar and there were splashes of red all around. As the door creaked open, unjarred by the breeze, she saw a body on the front lawn. Her circuitous path to the kitchen had spared her the gruesome sight earlier. She screamed, running out of the house the way she came in. Her survival instincts triggered, she desperately wanted to get out of there. This time she noticed that there was a body in the unfamiliar car, which further frightened her. She ran down the street, finally finding someone who was at home. They tried calming her down to figure out what was wrong but could only get a chilling comment out of her- “Murder! Death! Bodies! Blood!” The date? August 9, 1969. The housekeeper? Winifred Chapman. The victims? Sharon Tate and her friends. Helter Skelter had begun.

Or had it? While there is no doubt that this gruesome crime was committed by the Manson Family, their actual motive remains a mystery. The ‘Helter Skelter’ theory, as posited by state prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi, scared a lot of people and sold a lot of books, but was far from a solid, provable idea. The drug addled perpetrators never really agreed on their motive and the Helter Skelter theory seems to fall apart after a closer look. In our first deep dive look at a horrific crime, we’ll try to make sense of these senseless murders. We’ll also take a more detailed look at the victims, who sadly get forgotten in most discussions of this crime. (Even Vincent Bugliosi, who professed an eagerness to get justice for the victims, seems to gloss over their lives in his book.) Our intent is to not just recount a well told story, but to tell it in a way that humanizes the victims and separates the facts from oft repeated fiction. Along the way, we’ll put a historical perspective on the crimes, explaining how these bizarre murders could only have occurred at that time and place. Join us, won’t you?