We always say Rest In Peace for the Dead…but I wonder sometimes if it’s the Living who need the peace…
Such has been the on and off fate of William “Bill” Eston Garretson, now aged 62, the only surviving witness of the Tate-Labianca two nights of Manson horror.
Researchers have often cited the LAPD as having conducted shoddy investigative procedures in this case but by and large, for that era, for the technology available and for the fact that this set of crimes basically eclipsed all others in Los Angeles as the most gruesome ever perpetrated on persons of affluence in that town, I basically give the police a pass. My feelings are that we should be lucky we have the evidence we do have in this case for it could have been much less and much more compromised…
But the one investigative tool the detectives never chose to use, that to this day I believe could have been one of the most initially useful, was to submit Bill Garretson to hypnosis. When the investigators realized that for whatever reason, Bill’s ability to respond to direct questioning was hampered, most likely due to shock and emotional trauma, the use of this forensic tool should have been seriously considered in order to glean any and all visual and/or auditory evidence from the loan survivor of the massacre up at Cielo Drive, especially when any conscious recollection from Bill was ending up to be sketchy at best.
At the time, no one knew to what extent Bill’s cognitive issues might affect his ability to accurately recollect the hours and minutes leading up to the murders, the murders themselves or the description of the killers, what they said and did, in chronological order. But whatever Bill could provide, whether gleaned consciously or sub-consciously, the LAPD knew would be their only initial lead to find the perpetrators and solve this crime.
For whatever reason, the LAPD chose not to use hypnosis so what we are left with is Bill’s Lie Detector Test responses and his testimony statements in the two subsequent trials as the public record for what he saw and/or heard and/or did on August 8th and 9th 1969.
I hold fast to the belief in any crime that original/initial statements are the closest to the whole truth a witness can provide but because we have so little to go on with Bill, I, like so many other researchers, have to at least listen to his subsequent interviews in the hopes that some additional facts will come to light in Bill’s re-telling of the story.
Garretson has not given any public statement since his appearance on the 1999 episode of the E! True Hollywood Story, where some agree his demeanour and ability to tell what he knew seemed to be in question. *However, I will state for the record that the interview was less than comprehensive in terms of Bill’s contribution to the show and people who claim Bill was somehow intoxicated in that interview are dead wrong. In my opinion, Bill was completely sober and alert and that it was more his cognitive issues and inability to enunciate stemming from those issues that resulted in the public coming to a rushed judgement on his demeanour. To say anything else is garrulous and highly irresponsible.*
Since then, Catscraddle77 (Administrator of the online Forum called Truth on the Tate-LaBianca Murders), partnered up with Brian Davis (on-air personality and Head Programmer of Star City Radio - a podcast radio station which covers all topics of interest under the series title, “The Truth” *Click this Star City <<< pic to go to Brian’s Podcasts with Bill*), to interview Bill Garretson. The Goal: in at least Brian Davis’ head, I believe, was to uncover what Bill really experienced regarding those hours leading up to and including the Cielo Drive murders.
The podcast is set in four Parts, covering all aspects of Bill’s time leading up to and including his stay in the Guest House on the then leased property of Roman and Sharon (Tate) Polanski and is delivered in a very casual if not impromptu fashion. Sadly, Cats often asked extremely leading questions of Bill and if Bill didn’t answer questions promptly, Cats would interject her own answers to those questions, thereby preventing the listener from hearing what Bill might have said if only he hadn’t been swayed by her interjections. In addition, Bill, on several occasions, directed the flow and purpose of the entire interview by being allowed to defray answers to pointed questions, offering instead teasers of revelations later to be announced in the show. The Achilles Heel of this entire podcast was in the temptation to emphasize the more scandalous parts of Bill’s story when the goal should have been to glean the whole truth out of the only surviving witness who had never had a chance previous to tell all he knew.
In Part One, Cats and Brian haphazardly lead Bill through the months, days and hours that preceded the murders and his subsequent detainment as a suspect for those murders. Sadly, as in the case of the E! True Hollywood show, scandal and hype were the watchwords over what Garretson might have actually experienced by allowing Bill to repeat unsubstantiated rumour and innuendo as facts in the re-telling of his story for, I imagine, increased ratings for Star City Radio and readership for Cats’ Forum website. In my opinion, if Bill had been questioned well in advance of this interview to state ONLY what he had experienced himself and not what others claimed he had experienced, the truth would have been monumental enough to soar the popularity of both Brian and Cats. But because Bill was allowed to wander into the fantastical, the credibility of all was jeopardized.
The vagueness in Bill to offer concrete answers to questions, that the LAPD in ‘69 labelled as “unresponsive” , all these years later, is still very evident in Garretson in this podcast, even today. One comes to a conclusion that his ability to answer, then as now, was and is more hampered by cognitive issues than just by the shock and trauma he must have felt on the morning of the 9th; and therefore, to Cats’ and Brian’s credit, I am sure Bill made for a very difficult interviewee, which then begged for a greater than normal pre-planning for this once-in-a-lifetime interview. Conversely, and to Bill’s credit, one does get a sense that Catscraddle77 and Brian may have encouraged Bill to re-tell the more sensational aspects of his more recent version of events. If anything, we who have closely followed this case and know the background on Bill, know that he is extremely susceptible to the views and beliefs of others so to sway him into a re-telling of the highly incredible aspects of his story seems highly irresponsible. I am not sure how much Brian Davis researched this case, he may have just been trying to garner a “scoop” as all broadcasters will do but in my opinion, Cats knew better. Bill has a story to be told, to be sure, but it seems like the accompanying fame associated with interviewing a principal in this case is worth more to some online researchers than offering a protective environment to tell his real story, not the story of Enquirer headlines…and mores the pity.
In Part One, as an example of interjections made with Bill before he even has a chance to respond to questions asked of him, he was asked about the Cielo dogs it is Cats and not Bill who gives the answers of Saperstein and Christopher for Sharon's and Rudy’s respective pet names . Even Brian feels the need to say, “You would think Cats was living on the estate with you guys.” , to which Bill says, “Right.” I’m sure this may have been Brian’s too-subtle way of trying to tell Cats to let Bill respond for himself.
When the question came up as to what Bill had access to on the Cielo grounds, the pool being one, Bill states, “Nobody used it that much.” which is puzzling to me, considering that in the weeks, days leading up to August 8th, Sharon’s sister Debra said that Sharon often used the pool in order to cool off and get more comfortable in her advanced state of pregnancy, especially taking time to float in the inner tube Debra had given her. However, Bill may have just been referring to the timespan when Gibby and Voytek resided in Cielo prior to Sharon arriving back from Europe. We, of course, will never know, as that was not made clear in this interview. Often issues that should have been clarified (because they were directly germane to the movements of the principals before the murders ) were over-looked while the unsubstantiated and fantastical Shock & Awe tidbits were milked to the Nth degree.
What is painfully obvious though is Cats’ need to get at the still unproven hypothesis that the reason Bill was living at Cielo was because he was Rudy Altobelli’s gay lover. This oft repeated insinuation to me I think is ludicrous and completely unfounded; yet, Cats asks the leading question, “If Rudy would come back to town, would you stay in the Guest Cottage, would he [Rudy] stay in the Guest Cottage?”, to wit Bill came back with, “He never came back! My duties were until he got back and then I got a plane ticket home. I wasn’t hitch-hiking home.” , which, of course, is correct. There has never been any evidence that Rudy did anything but pick up this Sunset Strip hitch-hiker (Bill) and plainly ask him if he was looking for work, to wit, Rudy hired him and took off to Europe thereafter. Rudy, as a high-end publicist, had access to many people and believe me, I doubt very much that if he was looking for a gay lover, he had to set his sights on the meagre Bill Garretson. It never would have happened, didn’t happen and yet, to all of those who keep TRYING to insinuate that it it did, have NEVER come up with any evidence to back up their claim…gee, wonder why? Because it NEVER HAPPENED, that’s why.
And throughout this interview there are another FOUR statements Bill makes, given very off-hand and not rehearsed in any way, it seems, where he states his sexual focus was and is on women, not on men.
- Part One – Bill talks on having a friend of his come out to visit him in Los Angeles, who then meets his future wife there, and then a second friend who had just got out of the military introducing Bill to a “…couple of very attractive young ladies”;
- Part One – “I noticed this van, it turned around and there was two women in the van. Maybe I’m gonna get lucky.”
- Part One – “…guy that was in the back [of the van], he got out, they are talking, to these two guys. Maybe I’m in a bit of trouble. Maybe they’re thinking I’m trying to pick up one of their ladies, so I could be in trouble.”
- Part Four – when referencing Rosie – “if she used me, I used her as well.”
NOT the offhand statements a person makes if he is bent towards men. My opinion, for what it’s worth, is Bill was a typical small-town/country Ohio guy who has girls on his mind as most guys do at the age of eighteen and especially if they know they’ll be drafted to fight in a war. To have one experimental sexual liaison at a party where you’re high on something in 1969 Los Angeles does not a gay boy make!
He has never been known to frequent gay bars, then or now, has never had a live-in male companion, then or now, and has never admitted to being anything but heterosexual, then or now; yet, because Rudy Altobelli may have been bi or gay and Bill admits in that Lie Detector Test to have had one gay experience, the combination - for people who need to sensationalize an already over-the-top case - is like catnip to kitties…mores the pity to truth and the reputation of Bill Garretson.
Bill’s ability to discern what generally occurred at Cielo Drive before he arrived is clear enough. He easily denies that any of the Manson clan ever were on that property when he was there BUT his ability to discern details is somewhat hampered, confusing The Beach Boys for Terry Melcher as the previous Main House resident.
He again becomes confused when Cats offers another leading question, “So he [Steven Parent] picks you up, drops you off, does he come in the property at that point?” Bill answers, “What do you mean?” and then Bill uses a phrase he will often repeat throughout this interview at times when I believe he has been fed information he knows may not be the truth but has no intelligent way of countering what he has been fed,
“…something was going on that shouldn’t be going on…”
Bill will alter this sentence to, “something’s not right here” or “something’s definitely not right here” but the same pattern of response will pop up when Bill is confused as to what was occurring at a certain moment in time. And although the obvious assessment is that he’s referring to the supposed mysterious event in his story, I see it more as a Freudian Slip to indicate his own memory has been compromised by outside forces.
Cats doesn’t wait for Bill to describe in his own words what kind of vehicle stopped to pick him up, she interjects with, “The white van…” to wit Bill responds, “Yeah, the van, it was a VW I believe…the van.” One gets the feeling that it wouldn’t take much interrogation to break down these newer versions of his story to ascertain that they were either made out of whole cloth and/or he was fed these factoids to hype-up his experience for the media.
Yet, very interestingly, when Bill is allowed to recite his story, his own way, that “van” morphs into a car, “There was a…a group of people there…basically when I got down to Bella…I got picked up that was a, two people that were in a car…” And his self-described “group” of people now become only two.
It takes very little for Bill to change his story when I believe he is just reciting what others have told him to say but he holds fast to the points in his story that he knows to be true, what he actually experienced.
Of course, the sensational lynchpin of this new and improved tale is when he retells what one of these people in that car say, “something about, ‘I shouldn’t be going back up there.”
The “I” is ambiguous, you have no idea if it is referring to the person who is talking or to Bill and since Bill does tell us that these two guys in the car were talking on their own “sob story”, this “I” could be the one guy talking to the other about issues having only to do with them. Bill admits he wanted nothing to do with their conversation at the time, he just wanted a ride, but in later years, probably at the insistence of others around Bill to make something out of nothing, that “I” has now morphed into a “You”, and that innocent sentence becomes infamous,
“I wouldn’t be going back up there if I were you.”
Notice too, that Bill only voluntarily mentions a “van” once he gets down to Sunset Blvd., he does NOT mention a van at all anywhere near Cielo Drive or the Tate property.
“I noticed this van, it turned around and there was two women in the van….There’s other people in the van, I guess…little crowded.” Bill says the girl in the passenger’s side said, “Oh, no, no get in. I’ll make room.” to wit Bill said, “I got in the passenger side. The conversation was going on, everyone was introducing themselves…”
To wit Cats asks, “Do you remember names?”
To wit Bill decides to direct the flow of this interview by offering up the teaser, “well, you’ll find out…it’s later.”
To my mind, this is NOT the Bill Garretson that we knew prior to him becoming famous and being coached by others to hype up his story in the hopes of further fame and fortune. Bill was far too naive to ever offer a teaser line to anyone as he had never done so in any of his post-murder interviews or trial testimonies. This is a LEARNED response for Bill and for anyone decoding his psyche, you realize it surfaces when he has no more valid information to offer. He offers up this response as well when he has no personal experience to have information on how to respond yet he wants to keep the conversation going. It also shows that there was no real assessing Bill’s story prior to going to air because if there had been, I’m sure Brian would never have wanted to lose control of his own interview. You do that and you risk losing credibility with your listeners if the guest ends up saying completely outlandish statements. Bill would have been asked those questions ahead of time and if he didn’t have proper answers it is doubtful that a DJ with eighteen years experience in radio would then ask those same questions once they were live.
Continuing with the van story, where Bill describes the group heading back up to Cielo, Bill says, “I’m thinking they’re going to a party at the Main House. What’s going on? They don’t know how to get in? Because they passed the [gate] button on the left hand side!” Bill is definitely clear about this scene but we have no way of knowing if this was the same day or the same people, no further questions to clarify are forthcoming. So again, that could make this group of people not in any way connected to the 8th or to the murders. My guess now is that Bill has moved on from the “van” people, which could have been on any day, now to the day of the murders because he then states, “As I’m walking in I see these lines down. What the hell, you get something into your mind and its not going to leave.” To me, another clue that he has been fed this version, to have the lines down before the murders, and he’s basically telling us it’s now locked in his mind but he himself can’t make sense of it.
Whether this is all the doing from his stint with Rosie - the self-professed surviving child of Sharon Tate – you obviously get a sense that his original story has been purposely altered to be more dramatic, more conspiratorial, more outlandish and far more improbable. There is NO evidence to suggest that any lines, whether electrical or phone, were ever down at the Cielo property prior to the morning of the murders because no witnesses from that area ever come forward with said; yet, we have the Polanski’s paper boy and their next-door neighbour, Mr. Kott, readily admitting to seeing lines down in the early morning hours of the 9th.
Bill claims that E! True Hollywood Story people knew of his story about the lines being down before the murders and that they were supposed to send him a tape recording of said but that they never did. Both Cats and Brian agree, as I do, that such an inflammatory statement must never have been made because if it had, E! True Hollywood would have insisted it hit the air and in this 1999 interview, Bill makes no mention of this at all. I do think is not coincidental at all when Bills states, “When I started remembering what happened, was close to 30 years.”, which makes the year 1999, and who enters Stage Right, right after the airing of the E! True Hollywood program but this Rosie “Tate-Polanski” into Bill’s life. A complete and utter fraud of a woman all researchers of this case will agree, I’m sure.
It’s my opinion that his experience of seeing the lines being down came only when the LAPD escorted him off the property the morning of the 9th.
What is more interesting is Bill’s memory of a group of strangers going on to the Cielo property with him, doing and saying things that to me are distinct enough not to be made out of whole cloth. But I don’t believe this group showed up hours before the murders but quite possibly the day before – the 7th – when it was believed that one Joel Rostau – the supposed “candy man” for Jay Sebring and Voytek Frykowski, showed up at the Polanski residence to drop off cocaine and mescaline for the pair. It is never determined when this meeting actually took place or even if it took place at all. All we have to go on is information supplied in the 2nd Police Report from a statement made by the then Sebring Inc. receptionist, one Karlene Ann McCaffrey, that on the 7th of August, Jay complained to her about being burned on $2,000.00 worth of cocaine. This could put Joel’s visit to Cielo even before the 7th and of course, this could be the strange people Bill encounters at the gate, most likely on his way back up the Canyon from one of his many forays into Beverly hills to do shopping.
I am of the opinion that this scene did occur but that it was not in the hours leading up to the murders and that these persons had nothing to do with the murders but were merely the drug dealer connections Jay and Voytek had. We know from the reports that Jay did visit Sharon fairly regularly up at Cielo while Roman was in Europe so his Porsche would have been there on more than one occasion yet Bill remembers this as not so. Yet we know that Joel was known to Jay and Voytek so what Bill says now, in this context, makes perfect sense,
“There was a Porsche there…which normally wasn’t there. I’m getting ready to go down the path. They’re a little bit behind me, he’s got his hand behind his back and he says, ‘Oh, well, that’s a friend of ours Porsche. I’m going to play a trick on him or something.’ and he gets into the vehicle and I’m there and I see a gun in the back of his pants. I’m completely stupid at this point. ‘I see you got one of those guns that work like a lighter?” (an obvious inference to the type of gun Manson gave Tex on the night of the murders – a .22 Buntline – a statement solely to further sensationalize these murders. Then according to Bill, this man asks, “Do you mind going in front of the house and see if there’s any people there?” and adds, “Whose yellow Firebird is that?” to wit Bill thinks and states in this interview, “If you don’t know…they’re up here, up to no good. They don’t belong here.”
I can only imagine that if you’re a smart drug dealer, you’re “packing heat”, then or now, and the fact that this stranger had a gun similar to that of a Buntline makes it not one nor if it was one does it make it the exact one used in the murders. I am no gun expert but I do believe many revolvers are made with the safety on the top of the gun and I imagine in 1969, such weapons were more readily carried then than they are now.
The fact that Brian then whispers in response, “Wow”, shows how people will buy into the fact that such an inference can mean something when in actual fact and after careful dissecting of the context of the statement it can mean nothing at all. I talked with an avid gun collector who told me (when I thought, with my little to no knowledge of guns, I should obtain rudimentary lessons on said), having 2000 Buntlines in the US in 1969 made that revolver not rare. In actual fact, I was told that was quite a large amount most likely produced because of the popular American interest in the western cowboy movies at that time, and I’m sure that made them even more available around Los Angeles. It could have been very “chic” back then to carry a western revolver over a more modern 60s hand gun.
When asked by Cats, “Didn’t Steve Parent make a call from the Guest House?”, Bill replies, “No. No he didn’t. There’s phone records from that house, that he [Steve] made a call. That’s wrong, he didn’t because when Steve Parent came to the house, I said, ‘There’s lines down out there and I can’t understand what they are.’ and I tried to call, I was gonna call, uh, the police or anything. Something’s going on up there. The line was dead!”
When finally asked by Cats, “What brought it [his memories of the night] back to you?” Bill replies, “I guess, faith in God.” Not to be too harsh here but that’s like a teacher asking why you haven’t finished your homework and the student replies, “Cuz my dog ate it.” Not exactly the answer you want to take to the bank.
We have Bill’s own words in the Lie Detector Test that make what he says now about Steve making not a phone call during his time in the Guest House, about the phone being dead before dawn, making the lines down before the murders, and about his attempt to call out not at dawn but before that time frame, simply untrue:
“And about a quarter of twelve or something like that, Steve came up and, you know, he brought his radio with him. He had a radio, clock radio; and I didn't expect him or anything, and he came up and asked me how I've been and everything, you know, and I told him all right. And he asked me if I had been living by myself and everything; and I said, "Yeah," and he asked me who the two girls were inside the main house, and I told him, you know, there was Mrs. Polanski and Abigail Folger. And he went into a big thing, you know, who are they and all that bit, and I had to explain to him. And so he called somebody. I gave him a beer--a can of Budweiser. I asked him if he wanted a beer and he drank it, and then--then he called somebody--and somebody on Santa Monica and Doheny, and he said that he would be going there, and so then he left and, you know, that's when--after I ate my TV dinner afterwards and everything after he was gone, and then that's, the last time I saw him.”
“And that was it. Well, I just--I just stayed inside the house and everything; and I was kind of scared that night. I don't know why, you know, I was kind of scared, and I stayed in the house and everything, and I started to write letters, you know. I started to write some letters to Darrell Kistler and ask him when he was going to come down and visit me and everything. And I--I tried to call--I wanted to know what time it was because, you know, I had quite--you know, Christopher had barked that night and everything else, and I wanted to know what time it was. And just before, you know, it got daylight, I called the time and then, you know, I found out the phone was dead and then I went to the room and got another phone, and I plugged it into the wall, and then, you know, to--and there was nothing, and so then I really got kind of worried then, you know, what happened and wasn't giving it too much thought. It wasn't daylight yet because, you know, it was still dark. But it was just beginning to get daylight. And I got kind of, you know, I really got kind of scared then, and then I stayed up until it did get daylight; and when it did get daylight, then I went to sleep and the next thing I knew I woke up and there was an officer pointing a gun at me.”
Is Bill purposely lying to us or is he just confused now, the timeline and what happened, when, becoming fuzzy with the passing years? This is why I say that a witness’s first or original statements MUST be given far more weigh than subsequent ones and that if we are to believe any of what Bill now says as the whole truth, something as psychologically invasive as the use of hypnosis or the administering of a truth serum would be the only option I see at my accepting a more recent re-telling of his story.
As I am no expert in the administering of said, I cannot know how well Bill would take to either as there is a well documented correlation between the failure rate of the use of hypnosis or a truth serum on a person with lower functioning cognitive ability. It may very well be that the police thought to put Bill under hypnosis but were told with his “unresponsive” demeanour that such attempt at gleaning further information from Bill was improbable.
Analysis of Part Two of the Star City Radio Bill Garretson podcast to come…