What Sharon Tate's Neighbors Actually Did When The Manson Family Attacked

"Once Upon A Time In Hollywood" follows fictional actor Rick Dalton (played by Leo DiCaprio) who lives next door to real-life movie star and murder victim Sharon Tate.

By Becca van Sambeck
Digital Original
The Manson Family, Explained: Who Were The Members Involved With The Murders?

Warning: Spoilers for "Once Upon A Time In Hollywood" below

Whenever a tragedy strikes, it's natural to wonder how things might have gone if the timing was different, if someone was simply in the right place at the right time. In Quentin Tarantino's new film, "Once Upon A Time In Hollywood," he does just that and answers what may have happened if the right person prevented the Manson Family's grisly murders at Sharon Tate's home in August 1969.

In the film, Leo DiCaprio plays Rick Dalton, a fading Western star who lives next door to actress-on-the-rise Sharon Tate and her famous director husband, Roman Polanski. When the Manson Family inevitably creeps up on Tate's Los Angeles abode at the end of the film, they're not-so-inevitably thwarted by neighbors: a margarita-chugging Dalton and his stunt double/best friend, Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt). It's a surprisingly happy ending (as happy as an ending where a girl is barbecued alive in a swimming pool can be): Tate and her three friends, Jay Sebring, Voityck Frokowski, and Abigail Folger, get to live, unaware of their close brush with death, while the three Manson Family killers meet spectacularly gruesome ends.

But this begs the question: Where were Sharon Tate's actual neighbors the night of the murders, and did they see or hear anything? Could they have stopped it?

Well, on the night of August 9, 1969, when pregnant Tate and her three friends were butchered to death, a neighbor did, in fact, hear something. But apparently, unlike in the film, their nearest neighbors weren't close, about a hundred yards away, according to the book "Helter Skelter." That home belonged to a married couple, the Kotts — and like the neighbors in the movie, they did hear a disturbance that night. Mrs. Kott would admit she heard three or four gunshots in the middle of the night, but when she didn't hear anything further, she simply went back to sleep, according to the book.

Once Upon A Time In Hollywood

And she wasn't the only one who heard something eerie that night. Nearby, a group of about 35 kids were on a campout. One of the counselors, Tim Ireland, heard a man screaming in the night, "Oh god, no, please don't!" Ireland quickly woke up his supervisor and asked for permission to drive around and see if anyone needed help; he saw nothing, although he heard an unusual number of dogs barking, "Helter Skelter" explains.

So, no neighbors reported actually seeing the Manson Family or intervened in the death, as in "Once Upon A Time In Hollywood." But one neighbor did eventually play a pivotal role:

It was a neighbor who ended up calling the police to inform them of the killings. Winifred Chapman, the maid, discovered the bodies when she went to work at the Tate-Polanski residence the next morning. She quickly fled to seek help and went to neighbor Jim Asim's home.

"There’s bodies and blood all over the place!” she told the 15-year-old boy, according to a Los Angeles Times article written soon after the murders. It was Asim who would contact police about the deaths.

Tarantino's version of the killings also diverged from reality before the Manson Family ever encountered drunken hero Rick Dalton: In the movie, Linda Kasabian (Maya Hawke) is visibly nervous about the murders, and in a moment played as comic relief, pretends to forget her knife so she can go for the car and make a getaway.

In real life, Kasabian stuck around for the murders, although she didn't actively participate. Instead, she was the group's lookout. The apprehension may have been genuine though: Kasabian worked with the prosecution and was one of its star witnesses in the Manson Family trial, pivotal in putting them behind bars for life. 

Curious to learn more about the real-life story of the Manson Family? Tune into “Manson: The Women,” Saturday, Aug. 10 at 7 p.m. ET/PT only on Oxygen

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