LaBianca Talked of Tate Case Before His Slaying, Trial Told
Thursday, August 27th, 1970
Frank Struthers, Jr., 16, and his father, Frank Struthers, leaving the Tate murder trial following Frank Jr.’s testimony that he found the body of his stepfather, Leno LaBianca
LOS ANGELES, Aug. 27 – Market owner Leno LaBianca, one of the seven victims hippie leader Charles Manson and three of his “girls” are accused of murdering, apparently was reading newspaper accounts of the slayings at the home of actress Sharon Tate when he was similarly butchered.
News vender John Fokianos testified in Los Angeles Superior Court today that he sold the market owner and his wife a newspaper shortly before 2 a.m., Aug. 10, 1969, apparently only a few moments before they were killed.
“We talked for three or four minutes,” Fokianos said, “mainly about the Tate thing — that was the big news.”
The news vendor said both “seemed quite interested in it” and bought one edition of a Los Angeles newspaper carrying the story. He gave them an insert from another newspaper in which the five murders at the actress’ Benedict Canyon home — only 24 hours earlier — were described.
In subsequent testimony by police officer William Rodriguez, it was disclosed that the papers, together with a can of beer and eyeglasses, were found near LaBianca’s body.
Rodriguez, first police officer at the LaBianca home, said he walked through an unlocked front door and discovered the market owner’s body, clad in blue pajamas and a sofa pillow over his head, lying beside the sofa.
“There were two dogs running around the living room,” Rodriguez testified. “The body had numerous lacerations — cuts into the stomach and chest portions, and stab wounds all over the body.”
Rodriguez said he ran out of the house to call an ambulance and more police assistance. A second officer, Sgt. Edward L. Cline, answering Rodriguez’s call, discovered Mrs. Rosemary LaBianca’s body lying face down in a bedroom.
Wednesday, Mrs. LaBianca’s 16-year-old son, Frank Lynn Struthers, a 10th grader at Marshall High School in Los Angeles, took the witness stand to describe how he discovered the body of his stepfather.
“I went to Lake Isabella with some friends of the family, and my mother and stepfather came up to drop off our ski boat,” the youth related calmly.
“They came back to pick up the boat and take it back Saturday, Aug. 9, 1969, and I intended to return with them, but the family I was staying with wanted me to stay with them an extra day.”
The last time he saw his parents alive, he said, was when they left the recreation area with his sister, Susan, about 9 p.m. the night of the murders.
“I left for home the next day…They (the family friends) dropped me off about 8 p.m. I noticed that the boat was still hitched to the car, but I opened the garage and put some of my gear away.
“I went to the back door — we never used the front door — and I knocked, but nobody answered. I noticed the lights were off and the shades drawn, so I knocked on the den window and called but nobody answered.”
The boy said he went to a nearby hamburger stand and telephoned the house, but received no answer. He then got in touch with his sister, who was living in an apartment. She arrived about 20 minutes later with a friend, Joe Dorgan, and the three went back to the house.
“We got the keys out out of mom’s Thunderbird and opened the back door. We walked into the kitchen and turned on the lights. My sister stayed in the kitchen, and Joe and I walked through the dining room. When we got to the living room we saw Leno — my stepfather.
“He was in a crouched position. We could tell right away…” the boy didn’t finish the sentence.
“We turned around right away and headed out. Joe picked up the phone, but dropped it. We got in the car and went to a neighbor’s house to call police.”
The youth, fought for composure as he identified his mother’s wallet, which police say they found in a service station rest room. Star prosecution witness Linda Kasabian testified she had placed the wallet there on instructions from Manson, who had taken it from the La Bianca home.
Young Struthers also identified his mother’s watch and a “graduation picture of me” found in his mother’s wallet.
Mrs. La Bianca owned and operated a dress shop. His stepfather was the major stockholder in a chain of four markets.
The family kept three dogs, the youth said, who “barked when strangers arrived at the door” but because of them a side door was always kept open to allow them entrance and exit from the home. Under cross examination by defense attorney Paul Fitzgerald, the boy said before the murders the home had been entered “on several occasions” by persons without permission.
Earlier Wednesday, police criminalist M. Joseph Granado clarified how the actress and her former fiance, Hollywood hairstylist Jay Sebring had been tied together with a 43-foot three-strand nylon rope.
“The rope was looped a couple of times around Sharon Tate’s neck,” Granado said, “and one end, went toward Sebring and the other went to a ceiling beam. The part around Sebring’s neck went around twice, securing a towel-hood which had been placed over his face.”
He testified that the rope around Miss Tate’s neck, stained with her blood, was wound twice and was “snug” but did not form any sort of a tie, such as on Sebring.
He theorized that if a person had pulled the rope taut over the beam it would suspend the actress’ body but not Sebring’s. County coroner Dr. Thomas T. Noguchi testified Tuesday that the actress had been hanged by the neck as she was dying.
Two of seven pieces of clothing found by a television crew and which the prosecution charges were worn by the Tate killers, Granado said, contained human blood. One, a black velour shirt was covered with Type 0 blood — which could have belonged to either Miss Tate or Sebring. A white T-shirt contained type B blood, which could have belonged to any of the other three victims — coffee heiress Abigail Folger, Polish Playboy Voitcyk Frykowski or Steven Parent, the 18-year-old friend of the Tate caretaker.
By MARY NEISWENDER