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LAPD probing 12 homicides linked to Manson family

There are open investigations on a dozen unsolved homicides committed near places the Manson family operated, Los Angeles police reveal.

October 19, 2012|By Richard Winton and Andrew Blankstein, Los Angeles Times
  • Charles “Tex” Watson, right, was a follower of Charles Manson. Los Angeles police say audio tapes of Watson and his attorney in 1969 might shed light on unsolved homicides.
Charles “Tex” Watson, right, was a follower of Charles Manson.… (Los Angeles Times )

The Los Angeles Police Department disclosed Thursday that it has open investigations on a dozen unsolved homicides that took place near locations where the Manson family operated during its spate of murders four decades ago.

The department made the revelation amid a legal battle to obtain hours of audiotapes recorded in 1969 between Charles Manson follower Charles "Tex" Watson and his attorney. The LAPD has said detectives believe the tapes could shed more light on the activities of Manson and his followers.

But Watson has been fighting to limit police access to the tapes. This month, a federal judge in Texas granted an emergency order preventing the LAPD from executing a search warrant at an office where the tapes are kept.

PHOTOS: The Manson murders

LAPD officials did not disclose details of the cases and said the department was examining the homicides because they occurred near Manson family hangouts around the city.

"These cases have circumstances that are similar to some of the Manson killings," Cmdr. Andy Smith said. "We are hoping that these Tex Watson tapes can provide us further clues on these cases.... We are doing this for the families of these victims."

Manson and his followers were convicted of killing eight people in a notorious plot to incite a race war that he believed was prophesied in the Beatles song "Helter Skelter."

Sharon Tate, the wife of director Roman Polanski, was 8 1/2 months pregnant when she was killed at the couple's hilltop home in Benedict Canyon on Aug. 9, 1969. Polanski was out of the country working on a film. Besides Tate, four others were stabbed and shot to death at the home: Jay Sebring, 35; Voytek Frykowski, 32; coffee heiress Abigail Folger, 25; and Steven Parent, 18, a friend of Tate's caretaker. The word "pig" was written on the front door in blood.

The next night, Manson rode with his cohorts to the Los Feliz home of Leno and Rosemary LaBianca, then left three of them to commit the murders. "Death to pigs" was written on a wall, and "Healter Skelter," which was misspelled, was written on the refrigerator door.

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Manson family members also were convicted in the killings of musician Gary Hinman, 34, and Donald "Shorty" Shea, a hand at the Chatsworth ranch where the "family" lived.

Some authors and former prosecutors who studied the case have long suspected that the Manson family was responsible for more killings.

Last spring, a U.S. Bankruptcy Court judge in Texas granted the LAPD's request to review eight cassette tapes containing hours of conversations between Watson and his late attorney. But Watson's attorney appealed, and the case was stalled.

The LAPD tried to obtain the tapes using a search warrant. But on Oct. 9, U.S. District Judge Richard A. Schell issued an order forbidding the LAPD and Texas authorities from taking the tapes until the Bankruptcy Court resolves Watson's appeal.

"This court understands and respects the desire of the LAPD to seek access to the 42-year old tapes," Schell wrote. "However, the LAPD has provided no explanation as to why this court should shortcut the usual procedure for determining a bankruptcy appeal of a previous ruling in Bankruptcy Court."

Smith said the Police Department is frustrated with the delays.

"The civil courts here are blocking a criminal investigation," he said. "We don't even have a date for when this will be resolved."

Watson is serving a life sentence for his role in killings.

richard.winton@latimes.com

andrew.blankstein@latimes.com

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