Tate Neighbor Heard Shots, Screams in Murder House About 2 in Morning
Wednesday, August 27th, 1969
LOS ANGELES, Aug. 27 – The slaughter of actress Sharon Tate and four others at her secluded Benedict Canyon home took place at “2 or 2:30 – no earlier,” a neighbor who heard the shots and the screams of one of the victims said Tuesday in an exclusive interview.
The neighbor, from whose home you “can overhear normal conversation” on the grounds of the murder house, asked anonymity because of “possible problems.”
Miss Tate, wife of movie director Roman Polanski and one of the stars in “Valley of the Dolls,” was slain along with three of her jet-set friends — coffee heiress Abigail Folger, Hollywood hair stylist Jay Sebring, Polish would-be film maker Voityck Frokowski — and 18-year-old Steven Parent of El Monte, who had been visiting the caretaker of the estate, William Garretson.
On the night of the murder, Aug. 8-9, there were two parties going on in the exclusive section of Cielo Drive, the neighbor recalled.
One was at the home next door to the murder house, where a foursome — similar to the ill-fated gathering — had been invited.
“I stayed up late that night,” the ear-witness said “I was in bed reading and had snapped off the light and just dozed off. Something woke me almost immediately. I reached over and had just turned the light on when I heard a loud shot, a woman’s scream, then another shot.”
The second shot, he said seemed more muffled than the first — “the first seemed louder.”
“At first I thought I was dreaming, but then I heard other noises, so I figured the party was still going on. I paid no attention…what the noises were didn’t register. I know all I thought was that the party was still on.
“There’s a lot of screaming and yelling in this neighborhood on weekends,” he said. You get sort of used to it. It’s like living near a freeway — pretty soon you don’t hear the cars driving by.”
What woke him up, he doesn’t know, but he stayed awake long enough after the shots and screams to hear cars driving down the road.
“Where they were coming from, I don’t know,” he said. “There was a lot of traffic that night — like every weekend night.”
The next morning the screaming of the maid at the murder scene brought the previous night’s sounds into perspective.
“If I had looked out the window,” he said, “I could have seen the murderers cutting the phone wires.”
(The telephone wires leading to the home had been cut at the pole just outside the electronic gates of the estate. Police have said that the wires could have been cut either before or after the murders.)
Ever since the Polish-born film director moved into the home “maybe seven or eight months ago,” the neighbor said; there was a lot of traffic — both on foot and in cars — going to the home.
“There was a lot of liquor delivered and a lot of air freight — and scripts from the studios, too. Reason I know,” he said, “is that they’d always stop at our place to ask how you get into the estate, and I’d always have to show them the way.”
The last vehicle he noticed going to the house before the murders, he claimed, was a white delivery truck, whose driver asked directions about 6:30 that evening.
From his home, he said, “you can’t miss anything that is done” at the Polanski home.
“I overheard the conversation between the detective and the telephone man as they were trying to get some clues from the way the wires were cut. But that’s not the case,” he said, “as far as the guest house is concerned – where the caretaker lived. You can’t hear anything that’s happening in front when you’re in the guest house.”
This, he said he determined from previous visits with the caretaker and the house’s owner, Rudy Altabelli, who both lived in the guest house. At the time of the murder Altabelli was in Europe.
But from his home he said, if you listen closely you can hear the chatter of guests, the music and “even the tinkle of cocktail glasses.”
Although he admits he never met the blonde actress personally, they would wave “as neighbors” when she would drive by.
The home, in which he has been an occasional visitor, he described as “looking like a remodeled New England barn.”
Since the murder no one but police and a few personal friends of the movie director have been allowed entrance.
A guard stands at the electronic gate leading to the house, taking down names of visitors, but allowing no one inside. The belongings of the Polanskis, the neighbor said, have been removed, but otherwise the house remains as it was found the day following the killings.
“Except,” the guard adds, “the blood has dried.”
By MARY NEISWENDER