It has been half a century since the deaths of seven people during a two-day killing spree in Los Angeles terrorized a nation, but the loved ones left behind have been unable to leave their pain in the past.
Murder victim Jay Sebring’s niece Mishele DiMaria has a vivid memory from the summer of 2009 when she saw her favorite band perform in Las Vegas. But when the band’s lead singer emerged onstage wearing a “Charlie’s Angels” T-shirt emblazoned with the image of infamous cult leader Charles Manson and three of his female followers, her excitement disappeared.
“I felt like I got kicked in the gut,” she says. “The happiness ripped right out of me. To know that I had unknowingly supported someone who supports the killers of my uncle Jay made me physically ill. The scar was ripped open.”
Sebring was among seven people murdered by Manson Family members. On Aug. 9, 1969, police discovered the bodies of Sebring, 8-months-pregnant actress Sharon Tate, Abigail Folger, Voytek Frykowski and Steven Parent at Tate’s house in Benedict Canyon.
The next day, the slain bodies of Los Angeles grocer Leno LaBianca and his wife Rosemary were found in their Los Feliz home, about nine miles away.
The murders have inspired books, television shows, such as the recent Netflix series Mindhunter, and movies, including the summer hit Once Upon a Time in … Hollywood, which features actors Margot Robbie as Sharon Tate and Emile Hirsch as Jay Sebring. And with every mention and new portrayal, the families of the victims are forced to grieve all over again.
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Debra Tate, Sharon’s younger sister, has spent her life keeping Sharon’s memory alive while fighting to keep the killers in prison. Although Debra has tried to stay out of the spotlight, she says strangers fascinated with the case inevitably come knocking on her door.
Shortly before the 50th anniversary, a man walked up to her front door in Southern California and asked if she was related to Sharon. He said he had a message from Manson. She immediately grabbed her shotgun and let the stranger know she was armed. The stranger left — but the incident left her shaken.
“I have death threats on Facebook, I have people breaching my gate, I’ve got weirdos on my own personal site,” she says. “It’s very alarming and I would be a fool if I didn’t pay attention to it and treat it as credible.”
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Despite the risks, Debra attends every parole hearing and speaks on behalf of family members who can’t attend (she submits signatures from her website, No Parole for Manson Family). Meanwhile, Sebring’s nephew Anthony DiMaria is preparing to release a documentary about his uncle’s life as a businessman and celebrity hairstylist. They are determined to make sure the lives of the victims are not forgotten.
“Unless every one of the victims get out of their graves and live the 50 years they should have lived with us and all of their friends who loved them, there is no closure,” DiMaria says.