More than any other piece of investigative work, done by either the cops on the ground or by the District Attorney’s Office, an accurate timeline must be formulated of the actions of both the perpetrators and the victims in any murder investigation.
Surviving witnesses can be useful in this exercise when their recollections are documented close to the event and are not hampered by trauma or by undue influence. But if one or both is at play, often what the investigators are left with are bits and pieces of the Truth as the witness sees it, not in order, some details real, some manufactured. It’s not that witnesses want to purposely throw out red herrings to the investigators, it’s just that when a human being has suffered through and survived an horrific event, much can be warped and morphed into the unreal.
If you couple that with a witness who might already possess cognitive issues that may have been unfairly exploited by outsiders, then, sadly, what you can end up with is the result in this Part Two (A) of the Star City Radio Podcast of surviving Tate murder witness, Bill Garretson.
I know I have been EONS getting this out to you here but quite honestly, this section of the interview of Bill maybe the singular most difficult analysis I have ever done, basically for me, the Mount Everest in the Tate murder timeline.
We always knew, or rather, I always knew, there was more to Bill’s initial re-telling and polygraph statement, made at the Parker Centre in the two days following the slaughter up at Cielo, but up until now, there really hadn’t been an opportunity to get Bill to sit for an in-depth re-telling, when time and tides at least have lessened the trauma and where he could be in a non-threatening state to state what he really did, saw and heard. I give Brian and Cats on this a Thumbs Up in their attempt to get the “whole story” but, honestly, in many ways, they dropped the ball by allowing Bill to run rampant through the Podcast, Directing himself rather than being Directed by Brian, where the interview would go and when it would go there, often negatively affecting the factual data that could have made up one of the most detailed and accurate timeline accounts of those hours between midnight August 8th and the wee hours of August 9th, 1969.
I have listened and re-listened to Part Two, almost to the point of memorization. I have made countless notes on said, some, hardly legible for the arrows and circles made in an attempt to cull together the real facts in his statement. Then, I would take major “cookie breaks” and let my subconscious mull over what was said. Why, you ask? Simply because there are colonels of Truth in Bill’s re-telling but you have to separate the Truth “wheat” from the fantastical and supernatural “chaff”, without adding in one’s own biases; hence, the sheer difficulty of it all.
It would be very easy and very irresponsible of me to just poo-poo away his statement, citing “Bill has lost his mind.”; thereby, throwing the baby out with the bathwater on this re-telling. But when you have a first-hand account available to you, in as much detail as Bill offers, regardless of the years gone by, the effort to garner the whole Truth from him has to be well worth the work.
In my honest opinion, Bill has NOT lost his mind at all, he is NOT purposely lying nor making things up but he does have an inability to properly place into order some of the actions of himself and the others there that night. And, beyond that, Bill has allowed certain undesirables to influence his experience for the sake of garnering more notoriety with the possibility of further money from that notoriety.
So, while people, hither and yon, have expressed impatience with me at my snail’s pace in spewing forth Part Two, let me just say I have been hashing this out in my mind since Part One was in the bag. To be honest, sometimes, I wish I was the type to just hack a few lines out everyday on these murders and be done with it like so many of my learned colleagues. No real analysis involved, no angst, no agony. Sadly, this is not me. But more importantly, this Podcast in my mind, is the most important piece of recent evidence we all have, so to gloss over said and move on does no one any good. You, the reader, may not agree with my take on Bill’s recent take but I do think it very necessary to put a magnifying glass on his memory in hopes that those minutes of slaughter can be better seen and understood by all who care.
For me personally, any detailed re-telling of those events in the early morning hours up at Cielo often throw my emotions back there as if it were happening all over again. I have to fight the feelings of fear and horror as the little girl I was then and keep an objective mature stance now on what was done, said, heard and felt by Bill, the victims and the killers. It’s not an easy feat for me but one I know has to be done because there is gold in Bill’s story, you just have to be patient and keep digging for it.
In Part Two, Bill continues his story at the point where he says these guys who gave him a lift up to Tate in that mysterious “van” get out and decide to play a trick on the owner of the Porsche (Sebring), who they claim is a friend of theirs.
Bill states he found it odd that they did not recognize Gibby’s Firebird, if, as they claim, they had been up to Cielo before, as Gibby’s car was always parked in the parking lot out front of the Main House.
When he sees the one guy has a gun, he begins to get worried that he, Bill, might be in trouble, so to his thinking, to head up to the front of the Main House, beyond the fact that one of these guys asked if he would see if anyone was around, was a safe bet, for if they had taken pot shots at Bill, maybe then he’d attract some help from the people inside.
Bill says, “I hear this click, click, click, that sonofabitch is trying to shoot me and there’s no bullets in the gun!” – This is a subtle reference to Manson’s Buntline, as we well know that particular .22 had had a habit of jamming when fired, first with the Crowe drug burn/attempted murder, then, as we would find out later, with Tex as he attempted to shoot Voytek after shooting Jay.
This admission never comes up in any published documented statements made previously by Bill so one wonders why it’s mentioned now. IF this is a wholly independent experience that Bill witnessed, it does look very incriminating and offers either an incredible coincidence (I, as often the police, do not believe in coincidences), or an exaggerated description and/or performance of the gun, or a connection to the Manson Family being up at Cielo just hours before the slaughter.
I, like all people looking for the “smoking guns” in this story would like to buy into this scenario lock, stock and barrel but without any associated corroboration, the odds are not on the side of a connection. IF this scenario did play out, the gun this guy held that Bill said was built like a “lighter” (reference to the upper trigger mount of a Buntline), was most likely either empty of bullets or jammed similar to Manson’s Buntline. If I were placing a bet, I’d say the gun wasn’t even loaded, that these two characters were “packing heat” for the intimidation factor but never meant to use the weapon, especially while connecting with the Beautiful People up in Benedict Canyon.
There is, of course, always the third possibility that this scenario never even played out and that Bill later found out that Manson’s Buntline had the habit of jamming and the entire re-telling of this incident was invented out of thin air for the hype factor it surely would have. I am NOT a proponent of that assessment as Bill does not have the habit of outright lying. He often just takes real events but forgets the details and what he does remember becomes fused with outsider influence and/or timeline confusion.
Whether or not these “guys” were the mysterious “van” guys and whether or not they had given Bill a lift back up to Cielo and whether or not they had connections to Manson is anyone’s guess but I do feel Bill did have a run-in with strange men up there at Tate and all evidence suggests it may have been the drug dealers Jay and Voytek dealt with from time to time. We know these guys had been up to the Tate house on previous occasions to deliver MDA, cocaine and various other drugs to those men (possibly as late as August 7th) and I think Bill has had a run-in with them but doubtful in my mind it was the day of August 8th, merely because if it had been, there is no doubt in my mind that Bill would have easily admitted said to the LAPD in the hours after the murders when he was first taken into custody. No mention of such “guys” was ever made in his polygraph examination or in any other witness statement made by him in those early days and no other interview done since, but before this Podcast, has ever had this event mentioned.
Of course, Brian and Cats respond with a “WOW”…just in case we, the listeners, miss the boat on the “scoop”…uh-huh.
He mentions that when he gets up to the Main House, “I see the girls running.” We have NO idea who this is in reference to – Gibby and Sharon, inside, or the girls Bill had mentioned in the “van” – so because there is not enough information on this, there is nothing anyone can do to decipher this incident.
Bill is surprised there are lights on in the Guest House but then admits he himself had left one light on before heading down to Sunset. Again, another attempt to create mountains out of moles hills.
Bill mentions at least twice that he indeed wrote down the license plate numbers of the “van” and that other “car” he had received rides from but he also admits, “I can’t put certain events exactly how they happened…” I do believe he may have had cause for concern with the people in some of his hitchhike rides but it does seem odd that the police report no such license plate numbered piece of paper ever being found by them in the Guest House. This action of recording the plate numbers could have taken place well before August 8th (making said not linked to Manson at all) and that piece of paper just got waylaid or thrown out well before the LAPD had reason to do a search on the Guest House.
To Bill’s credit though, his time up at Cielo prior to these murders had obviously been fraught with apprehension, with the people he encountered up on the property and with the people from whom he received rides. To my mind, there is nothing sinister in that as this had been a very busy place when Gibby and Voytek had baby-sat 10050 while Roman and Sharon were in Europe; and because they were so close to the Sunset Strip, in those days, if you did catch a ride, you were most likely being driven by hippie-types in vans…what’s not to be apprehensive about, especially if you’re a simple, small town boy from the innocent wilds of Ohio.
We have no idea why Bill chose to seek attention in the passive way as opposed to actually knocking on doors to get help. I believe he was fairly intimidated by the Main House residents and never wanted to cause trouble nor place too much attention on the fact that he was sharing the property with people, he felt, were far more lofty than himself. I think to choose to up the volume of his stereo was a typical immature action a teenage boy might make but the fact that the police found his stereo on between levels 4 and 5 suggests, at least during the last time he had it on, no such “stereo on full blast” had occurred in his attempt to seek assistance. It may have occurred but we have Bill’s own admission that he did “turn the stereo down” when Steve Parent knocked on the Guest House door, and I imagine the stereo stayed that way until Bill turned it off in the later hours fright he endured.
When Steve arrives with that clock radio in hand, Bill asks him, “Do you see anybody out in the lot, the parking lot and he [Steve] said No.”
Bill claims it was at this time that he had a conversation with Steve about the downed lines at the gate and that Steve had said it was probably the phone line as they are known to snap. It’s this conversation that Bill points to as proof why Steve did NOT make a phone call to his stereo client, Jerry Friedman, yet we know from the phone records the LAPD obtained that indeed a call was placed from the Guest House to Jerry’s residence somewhere around 11:45pm. These records have never been made public so we can only go by the police reports that claim such a call was made but because I know the LAPD would have automatically ordered copies of those records, SOP - standard operating procedure - in any murder investigation, we can safely assume said call was placed from the Guest House, discounting Bill’s latest version that he had noticed the lines down BEFORE arriving back that night. This is a perfect example of how Bill skews the timeline and in so doing he creates a more “new and shocking” version of events to fit that skew. If corroborating facts do not exist for an event then it’s fairly safe to assume that event either never took place or took place at a different moment in time.
Cats continually tries in her not-so-subtle way to dig something out of Bill regarding some sexual attraction Bill might have had with Steve and visa versa, but thankfully because Bill really doesn’t know how to lie, he thwarts her attempts on this at every turn. Cats offers, “Do you think he [Steve] just came up because he knew where you lived and he wanted to hang out?” Bill quite honestly and quite plainly responds, “To me when he came there he was wanting to sell me a radio.” Simple and to the point.
Bill even admits that he has doubts as to his own timeline version (re: the gun mis-firing, the lights on in the GH, the downing of the lines) when he offers, “Well maybe I am exaggerating too much at this point. Maybe nothings wrong.”
This sentence basically negates his new version that he and Steve could have seen the lines down before the killers arrived. I will say this though…I do think something un-nerved Bill upon his return that night, whether it was simply seeing the Main House residents being active or seeing the return of Voytek’s and Jay’s drug dealers, or something else altogether. The reason I will admit this is because he was obviously agitated enough upon his return that he still feels, after all these years, that something was the cause of that tension. He knows he cannot put his finger on what it was so he skews the timeline to “fit” what is known. Whatever it was and if it was that very evening such personal apprehension was felt, we will probably never know, but it is certain events up at Cielo had disturbed him enough at some point close to the date of the murders.
Basically, I think the apprehension all boils down to Bill living so close to quasi-celebrities and maybe the wild parties Gibby and Voytek had prior to Sharon’s return were enough to keep him on edge as well. I do NOT feel that these feelings were in any way linked to something sinister well in advance of the killers’ arrival, just an overall feeling that he, Bill, didn’t belong, first, at that Tate property, and second, probably any where near Sunset Boulevard. He was a small town Ohio teenager and this league was certainly not his. The sentence that he attributes to those unknown guys with the “lighter” gun, “If the party's not so good over here, we’ll want to come over there and party with you!”, I believe may have just been said by guests arriving at Cielo for one of Gibby and Voytek’s soirees and that one evening when Bill was coming back from Sunset he just bumped into some of these guests arriving who saw and talked with him.
When Cats can't get Bill to cough up any homosexual slant in any of her Question fishing expeditions, she flat out states to Bill, “Rumour through the years that you two had a sexual encounter up there that night?” Bill emphatically states, “Flat didn’t happen. As far as his sexual preference, you know, that’s his deal.” Bill even offers that if a couple of girls were to come over to party at the Guest house that would mean two for him and he’d not have to share with Steve, also stating, “Maybe that’s why he [Steve] left.”
Bill’s tone of voice, the complete lack of hesitation - People, all who read this, please, end the speculation that Bill was or is somehow homosexual! He may have cognitive issues but the kid then and the man now is as manly-man as any Ohioan can be. Period, end of story.
Shortly after Steve leaves, Bill states he heard a “pop”/”noise” and that he was prepared to “give him hell” for either back-firing his car on purpose or lighting off fire crackers. It’s obvious to Bill that the report he heard wasn’t loud enough, he thought, to be anything else. But we do know a .22 has a very weak report and quite frankly I think it’s amazing Bill heard anything at all given that the LAPD sound tests up at Cielo came up negative as far as the sound of a report even reaching the Guest House. I do know that sounds in those canyons can vary widely even depending on the prevailing winds. Brian asks, “Do you continue to hear pops?” to with Bill says “No, no.”, so obviously the gunshot inflicted on Jay in the Main House living Room wasn’t heard by Bill.
Bill jumps from that “pop” to, “[At] one particular point, I hear screams.” This is a curious statement as he puts scream in the plural. Does he hear the screams of Sharon and Gibby when Jay gets shot or does he hear Voytek screaming for help when he manages to escape through the Front Door? The reason I do NOT include Gibby once she is stabbed by Tex in the Living Room is because I think that lower abdominal wound #8 (to later be considered a fatal blow by the Coroner) was so painful the ability to scream was no longer possible for Gibby. She used whatever strength she had to try and escape to the yard. None of the killers mention her screaming after she is stabbed in the Living Room. On the other hand, Voytek (we are led to believe by the killers and by the ear witnesses down and across the Canyon from the Tate property) was heard yelling for help. I tend to think Bill heard those initial screams by Sharon and Gibby, possibly loud and high pitched enough to escape as an audible to the Guest House. After all, all the windows were open in both residences, I’m sure, because of the sweltering heat, so I can buy that Bill managed to hear the women.
Stopping here for a second, as I must, one wonders what any of us would have done, if after hearing a “pop”, we shortly then hear “screams”? With hindsight we know what was afoot but if we had been in Bill’s shoes, would we have reacted any differently, and if we would have, would we have managed to stay alive in doing so? Knowing me, outside I would have went as I have done that countless times in similar circumstances, investigating night-time situations where my neighbours never have dared. In the Tate scenario, that would undoubtedly make me dead. Plain and Simple. But could there have been a way TO alter the outcome if Bill had been more pro-active? I realize this is not a fair exercise but my curiosity goes there anyways, a decision to look out and see what visually matches the auditory I have just heard, would I have seen the actions as menacing and if so, could I have shimmied down the slope to the other four homes just below the Tate property to seek help? Maybe yes, but would it have been enough of an effort to save the lives of those five people, already so brutally beaten and stabbed? I know, an exercise in futility but one continues to wonder.
In this most recent recount, Bill goes a little bit further with the details,
“Then I hear some more screams and then I go, okay, that’s it. I go back to the walk-in closet, I open the window, take a little peek out the window. What appears to be a man straddled over another man by the Main House.”
This admission, to me, is very astounding, as it puts Bill hearing AND seeing actions well BEFORE the outside Gibby attack which was the closest to the Guest House. Is this visual experience even possible from where Bill is standing? As a ballpark guess, the distance from the Front Door of the Guest House (GHFD in Aerial Photo) to where Voytek (V in Aerial Photo) was assaulted on the front grass would be approximately 100 to 175 feet, which really isn’t very far at all, but at night, with really no decent lighting, save for those yellowish glowing Front Door side lanterns and whatever lighting was shining through the picture windows from Gibby’s Bedroom and the Living Room, one wonders if that would have been enough lighting for Bill to see what he claims now he saw?
I can more than sympathize that if Bill did indeed see Tex assaulting Voytek on the front lawn that Bill would have kept mum on that with the LAPD for fear he too would eventually be sought out and killed as well by the unknown perpetrators at large at the time. Bill, like so many others, could have thought this was a deliberate “hit” for reasons yet unknown, so to admit to such a direct eye and ear witness experience could have easily sealed Bill’s fate as he saw it.
IF this experience is true, then the “scream” and “screams” Bill heard would assuredly be, first, the in-unison screams of Gibby and Sharon when Jay was shot, stabbed and kicked, then second, the yelling for help we know Voytek did when he managed to escape through the Front Door. IF all this is accurate, we have Bill basically eye and ear witnessing the entire event!
I still hold fast to the idea that Bill needs to be put under hypnosis on this to separate fact from acquired information, to at least confirm as best as possible what he actually experienced, first-hand, in the order all occurred, versus what others have “told” him he experienced. Bill, as can be assumed, is very easily affected by outside influences but I must say again that if this most recent admission is accurate – Bill’s first-hand account of the events as they occurred up at Cielo on August 8th and 9th, 1969 – then we have in him as a virtual start-to-finish witness…amazing.
Bill goes on to say,
“And it looks like two girls running toward my house. What the hell’s this, I’m not looking no more out the window but I’m there. And I hear, ‘Stop, stop, I’m already dead.” Brian responds, “You actually heard that?” Bill replies, “Yeah, yeah!”
A true test of the veracity of a statement is always if that statement never waivers, even over time and re-stating, and Bill has never waivered over what he claimed Gibby said on the lawn as she was being stabbed by Tex, which then by association and his own habit of telling the truth, albeit it a bit skewed, can suggest he is telling the truth as per these other ear and eye witness experiences as well. To be able to make out that the first lawn attack was with a man over a man and that the two people running towards the Guest House were both female suggests Bill may well have been able to identify the killers to a certain degree, possibly not a detailed facial ident but maybe as per colour and length of hair, clothing, shoes, weapons being used or carried, etc. I can only imagine the fright Bill must have felt in those first few days if he did know more than he was telling.
It’s strange though, the cultural and personal differences between people. Many Americans, compared to Canadians, then as now, do NOT trust Law Enforcement, do NOT see them as their first line of defence, protection. I would have spilled the beans to the cops AFTER ensuring 24/7 police protection because to do what Bill did and say nothing, and then be released without protection, to me, spells danger far more than admitting all I knew. When Bill was released two days later, he was walking out on his own, save for his lawyer, IF this had been a “hit”, Bill could have so easily been targeted then.
It’s odd that when the cops saw there was no retribution made on Bill in those early days, that they didn’t think that possibly this was NOT a drug burn nor “hit” and that some other motive was at play here. If McGann and Buckles had some doubts at this point as to motive they made no public hint of such to anyone at Parker Center or the media.
Bill’s choice to stay “there” – i.e. the walk-in closet – is an odd one to me. If one has heard screams and seen two men fighting on the lawn, then two women running toward the Guest House, if one is all alone, wouldn’t the prudent choice be to escape, run towards the back door of the GH, rather than staying put in a room with no escape? To stay put, especially in that door-less closet, is to put yourself in an impossible position if this mysterious “attack” now comes to you. Is this the work of shock now, playing havoc on reasoned choices Bill would have made prior to going into shock OR is this Bill’s cognitive inabilities making better choices impossible? And if the choice is to stay put, do you decide not to look anymore? One could assume that these “girls” would eventually make their way into the GH and, of course, find Bill, as the GH was not large at all, so if that’s assumed, would you not try and see more, detail more, so you could ident your attackers?
Maybe readers of my analysis can chime in on this but Bill’s instinct to react or not when he does leaves me somewhat at a loss.
“I’m gonna take another peek, you know. Don’t. I hear this heavy breathing, like somebody else is running toward, you know, toward the Guest House. I hear some whispering, like somebody getting ready to walk around to the front door. Oh, okay, I’m going back toward the front door. I got to the bathroom, bathroom on my left hand side, the dogs start barking at the door, something tells me to STOP! And I stop. And I stop there for a few seconds and all of a sudden I hear something running back, going the opposite direction, you know, going back toward the Main House. And I, well, I, walk to the door and it looked like the knob was turned.”
Here is where the story diverges for Bill and for Katie. Bill never states that he heard nor felt that anyone had actually entered the Guest House but Katie has stated in subsequent Parole Hearings and psychiatric interviews that she did indeed enter the Guest House, turned the corner from the galley kitchen left into the living room area, saw lights on but no one inside, so she then decided to leave the premises. Tex only instructed her to look for other residents and kill whoever she found, she found no one, so her need to be inside the Guest House was now moot. Bill only ever states that he did notice that the elongated door handle was in the downward position, suggesting that it had been turned down as if to be opened. Bill, to my knowledge, never accurately remembers if the door was locked after Steve left so we have no way of knowing if what Katie said – that she indeed entered the Guest House – is true. Because to admit to illegally entering another building to kill more souls on the Tate property would in no way help her chances at parole, I am inclined to believe Pat Krenwinkel in this admission; although I will readily admit that with a drug-addled memory and the risk of being bitten by Christopher – Altobelli’s dog – and Sharon’s dogs, it doesn’t make good sense that Katie would have entered the premises, except for the fact that Katie was the most programmed of Charlie’s Girls and what Tex said she most certainly would have obeyed, well beyond reason and thought to her own safety.
I will stand by my original assessment on this and continue to assert that Katie did indeed enter the Guest House, saw no one in the Living Room and proceeded to leave forthwith, the handle, upon turning to open, remained in the downward position, the lock never having been set on the handle by Bill upon his closing it after Steve left.
This moment, to me, is the most pivotal of the entire night of killing, that by sheer luck or Providence, Bill was spared the same fate as the rest by his gut instinct to remain in that small hallway across from the bathroom. Had he have done what most of us would have done and approached the Living Room or daresay, approached the Front Door upon hearing those Girls run towards the Guest House, we would most assuredly have six dead and no one to tell any tale of woe from Tate. However Bill’s mind works, however odd we may think his decisions and actions or inactions were that night, it was his way and not ours, that kept him alive. It’s just very disconcerting to think that Katie and her broken Buck 110 were only mere feet away from the still untouched torso of Bill. It’s amazing to me that they didn’t hear one another's breathing at that point. No movie plot could be as chilling.
Bill finishes this scene thusly,
“And basically, you know, it’s like, I get like chills. Nobody’s at the door, don’t know what to think of it. So I go back to writing my letters.”
Cats chimes in, ever fishing for more Shock and Awe, like there isn’t enough in this story already,
“At this point in time, did it ever cross your mind that these weirdoes, that you saw earlier, were back, or that they ever left?
Bill gives a quick, unscripted, instinctive, “No!” He then tries to qualify that response with a tale teaser, saying that the “real” information is held in the letters he was writing, “Well, this is basically where allot of information is in the letters which mysteriously came up missing.”
Brian asks, “To this day?”
Bill responds, “Well, I’ll get back to that later. This is what happens at this point.”
As with Charlie, Bill gives away verbal clues when he diverges from what is the real truth to the made-up or exaggerated part of his story. This ability to throw out “teasers” has obviously been taught to him by outside influences, to keep the limelight on Bill, to add to the sustained and future worth of his overall story, in the hopes that he could continue to garner more income from the re-telling of it. In Bill’s quick and unrehearsed responses you find the unvarnished Truth. In the after-the-fact hyped-up add-ons, the truth is sadly whitewashed, there is no doubt about that.
Analysis of Part Two (B) of the Star City Radio Bill Garretson podcast to come…