Court Told of LaBiancas’ Interest in Tate Case News
Friday, August 28th, 1970
LOS ANGELES, Aug. 28 – Leno and Rosemary LaBianca, as thousands of other persons, were curious about the murders of actress Sharon Tate and four others, and discussed the slayings with a news vendor in the early morning hours of Aug. 10, 1969.
A short time later, the couple was stabbed to death at their Los Feliz home, allegedly by the same killers who murdered the actress and visitors to her Benedict Canyon estate.
This was the testimony given yesterday at the Charles Manson murder trial by John Fokianos, a news vendor who described the LaBiancas both as “friends” and customers.
Fokianos, testifying at the trial of Charles Manson and three female followers, said he spoke with the couple between 1 and 2 a.m. the Sunday they were killed.
The witness, probably the last person to see the LaBiancas alive outside of their killers, said the market owner and his wife stopped by the news stand which Fokianos has operated in the Los Feliz area since 1945.
Fokianos said the couple, driving in LaBianca’s 1968 Thunderbird with a trailer attached, chatted with him for a few minutes about the Tate murders.
“It was the event of the day,” he said. “It was the big news. They seemed quite interested in it.”
He said the LaBiancas purchased a Sunday newspaper and drove away in the direction of their home, where shortly afterwards the killers entered and they were slain.
The couple had just returned from Lake Isabella, where their son and friends were water skiing.
They apparently made the one stop to purchase the newspaper before they went home to 3301 Waverly Drive.
Police officers testified the body of LaBianca — with a pearl-handled carving fork protruding from his stomach — was found lying by a living room sofa. He was clad in blue pajamas.
The 44-year-old owner of the Gateway chain of markets had a bloody pillowcase over his head and a white electrical cord wrapped around his neck. The cord was attached to a large lamp which was standing upright.
LaBianca’s hands were tied behind his back with leather thongs. Police Sgt. Danny Galindo testified that the word “War” was carved in the man’s stomach.
The body of the dark-haired Mrs. LaBianca 38, was discovered lying face down in the master bedroom.
She also had a bloody white pillowcase over her head and an electrical cord, attached to a bedside lamp, was wrapped around one arm and her neck.
The lamp appeared as if it had been dragged by the body movement of the woman, wearing a nightgown and bathrobe.
Galindo said, however, “in my opinion there was no struggle” by the couple when they faced their killers.
Both the LaBianca’s had been stabbed numerous times and Galindo said the blood in the wounds appeared to be dry.
He also said “many items of value” were found in the home, including diamond rings and a coin collection, but there was “no signs” of ransacking.
Police Sgt. Edward L. Cline said the words “Death to Pigs” and “Rise” were written in blood on the walls of the living room.
He said the words “Helter Skelter” were scrawled in blood, “which appeared to be dry” — on the door of the refrigerator in the kitchen.
The homicide was first discovered by 16-year-old Frank L. Struthers, Mrs. LaBianca’s son by a previous marriage.
Struthers testified Wednesday that he first planned to return to Los Angeles with his mother and stepfather, but later decided to extend his vacation another day. He came back with friends.
Officer William Rodriguez, the first policeman on the scene, said when he entered the home, the LaBiancas’ two dogs were running around in the living room.
Young Struthers said the dogs, a Labrador retriever and a miniature poodle, would bark at strangers, but would not bite.
The prosecution contends that Manson, 35-year-old leader of a nomadic cult group, ordered both the Tate murders and the LaBianca slayings.
Manson, the prosecution admits, did not go to the Tate residence but it is claimed he entered the LaBianca home before the slayings and tied the couple.
A star prosecution witness, former co-defendant Linda Kasabian, has testified Manson was in the LaBianca home for a few minutes, but left, apparently before the actual murders were committed.
Mrs. Kasabian has been given freedom in exchange for her testimony. She was an eyewitness to two of five Tate murders, but denied actual participation in any of the slayings.
On trial with Manson are Susan Atkins and Patricia Krenwinkel, both 22, and Leslie Van Houten 20.
Deputy County Coroner David L. Katsuyama, who performed the autopsy on LaBianca Aug. 11, 1969, said it was only after the body was taken to the morgue that a knife was found protruding from the market owner’s throat.
Katsuyama said the brown-handled kitchen knife, with a blade not quite five inches long, was hidden by the bloody pillow which covered LaBianca’s face and neck.
The deputy coroner said the cause of death was massive hemorrhaging due to the 12 stab wounds LaBianca received in the neck, chest, abdomen and back.
Six of the wounds, two in the neck and the rest in the abdomen, were fatal, he added.
Katsuyama also pointed out the knife left sticking in LaBianca’s throat caused one of the fatal wounds.
The coroner said that in addition to the stab wounds, there were seven pairs of puncture wounds caused by the tines of the carving fork.
These wounds, by themselves non-fatal, were around the word “War” etched on LaBianca’s stomach.
Katsuyama testified he believed the word could have been etched by the metal prongs of the electric cord wrapped around the victim’s neck.
The deputy coroner said there were “skin slippage” marks around LaBianca’s wrists, apparently caused by the leather thongs which bound him.
However, Katsuyama added, there were no “defense wounds,” those incurred by victims trying to fight off their attackers.
Three of the victims at the Tate home showed evidence of “defense wounds,” according to earlier testimony by County Coroner Thomas T. Noguchi.
Katsuyama also testified that apparently two knives were used to stab LaBianca, the one found in his throat and another.
The other knife, he estimated, was a double-edged instrument with a five inch blade.
The knife which Katsuyama described was similar to the one which Dr. Noguchi said could have caused the stab wounds of the victims at the Tate home.
The deputy coroner also noted the word “War,” and the tine marks apparently were made on LaBianca as he was dying or dead. He based this opinion on the fact the wounds showed little bleeding.
By SANDI METTETAL