Saturday, May 23, 2020

Cielo Part Two: A Horrific Morning

As Southern California began waking up on what seemed like a normal morning, the biggest news was the opening of Disneyland’s newest attraction- the Haunted Mansion, a ride that was many years in the making. The ride’s grand opening would be so well attended that the park would have to close its gates due to a capacity crowd for the very first time ever. Unbeknownst to the throngs of tourists and locals alike who braved the crowds, a real house of horrors would be uncovered about 40 miles north.

At the end of our last chapter, Winifred Chapman had discovered the grisly murder scene and fled from Sharon Tate’s estate. She found some neighbors who lived down the street and frantically asked them to call the police. After the neighbors got enough information from Ms. Chapman, they called the police, whose wires got crossed; the first officer on the scene seemed to think that there was a fire or landslide. Ms. Chapman, who was still in shock, was of little help. The first responder was able to ascertain that there were dead people in the house at the end of the road and that he should probably wait for backup. After his backup arrived, they asked Ms. Chapman to help open the gate, which she did. The two officers quickly saw the body in the car. This wasn’t just a hysterical exaggeration; something horrible happened on this property.

They went up towards the front of the house, guns drawn, and saw two more victims laying out on the lawn- a man and a woman. The sight was more horrific than the first, since the bodies were badly injured. The man had been beaten so badly that his face was practically unrecognizable. The woman appeared to be wearing a red nightgown, but a closer looked showed it to be white and stained red from the woman’s bloody wounds.

They approached the front door, noting that it was ajar and had ‘pig’ scrawled on it in blood. As they carefully went into the house, a gruesome discovery awaited them in the living room. A young woman lay in front of the couch, covered in blood and obviously very pregnant. A few feet away was another victim- a man wearing mod-ish clothing, his head covered with what appeared to be a hood. After clearing the remaining rooms of the house, the officers knew that they would need to call this in and ask for all available hands. 

As they walked out of the house, they noticed a small cottage in the back of the property. Could the cottage have more victims in it? Approaching it with caution, they heard dogs barking within and heard a voice yelling at the dogs to be quiet. Guns drawn again, they burst through the cottage door and saw a young man inside. Assuming that the only living person on the property must have been the murderer, they violently subdued the young man and cuffed him. The young man turned out to be William Garretson, the caretaker who looked after the property while its owner was out of town.

What happened next was disputed by both sides, but Garretson insists that he was roughed up and accused of being the killer. He claims that he was violently dragged around the property, forced to identify the bodies and, according to the police officers, look at what he’d done. He claimed that he didn’t know the young man in the car. (This was actually not true.) He mis-identified the dead woman as Winifred Chapman and the man on the lawn as the “younger” Polanski. He correctly identified the victims in the house. At that point, he was escorted past the growing crowd of reporters and taken downtown for questioning.

Initial media reports incorrectly reported the original LAPD assumption that a landslide or fire had occurred. It wouldn’t take long for them to realize that something far more sinister had taken place in that house. Once word got out about the gruesome murders, Hollywood- and the world- would never be the same.