Would you want to live in a house that was once the site of an appalling crime? That was the question posed by the listing of 3311 Waverly Drive, Los Angeles, in July 2019. It was quickly answered, too, as a buyer snapped up the infamous abode within weeks of it hitting the market – and five decades after the Manson Family paid the house a fatal visit.
Yes, while the property has been described as a “quintessential LA home,” few typical Los Angeles houses share the dark history of 3311 Waverly Drive. Famously, in August 1969 its residents were brutally slayed by members of Charles Manson’s cult. And while 3311 Waverly Drive is still standing 50 years on from those callous killings, its owners are finally moving on.
The murders themselves still loom large in the American consciousness, of course. And the orchestrator of those horrific crimes was Manson – a man who by the age of 32 had spent more than half his life incarcerated for offences including rape and armed robbery. During one of his periods of freedom in 1967, however, the ex-con established a desert commune in California, where he would be joined by members of what would be called the “Manson Family.”
And before long, Manson’s cult had grown to include around 100 followers. Most were young, middle-class women who had been radicalized by Manson and enticed by the commune’s living structure and hippie culture. Members of the Family regularly used hallucinogenic drugs and took part in orgies at Manson’s behest, and they believed that their leader was in fact a manifestation of Jesus.
Later, Manson would become obsessed with The Beatles after hearing the group’s 1968 self-titled release. And on December 31 that year, he told members of the clan that the record – popularly known as The White Album – predicted an upcoming race war. Manson himself had previously discussed this impending event at length, claiming that racial tensions were set to explode across the U.S.
That said, Manson’s obsession with The Beatles manifested itself in various ways. In January 1969, for instance, the Family moved into a yellow home that would come to be dubbed the “Yellow Submarine.” The cult leader also named the upcoming apocalypse “Helter Skelter” after another of the band’s songs. Finally, Manson decided that the Family would produce their own album. This release was intended to spark the race war that he had predicted – and from which he seemingly believed the Family would emerge as victors.
To realize this vision, then, Manson turned to music producer Terry Melcher, whom he had previously met through Beach Boys member Dennis Wilson. Melcher never visited the Family to hear their material, however, leading Manson to travel to the house where he had first encountered the producer. But upon Manson’s visit on March 23, 1969, he found that Melcher had since moved out. Instead, the home was now occupied by film director Roman Polanski and his wife, actress Sharon Tate.
According to the book Helter Skelter: The True Story of the Manson Murders, five months later Manson directed Family member Tex Watson to go to “that house where Melcher used to live” and “totally destroy everyone in [it], as gruesome as you can.” On that fateful evening, four people were at the house on Cielo Drive: Tate, her ex-boyfriend Jay Sebring, Polanski’s friend Wojciech Frykowski and Frykowski’s partner Abigail Folger. Polanski himself was away in Europe, working on a movie.
So, Watson duly arrived at the house with three other Family members: Linda Kasabian, Patricia Krenwinkel, and Susan Atkins. Manson, for his part, had apparently instructed the women to do as Watson told them. As the group approached, though, a car came down the driveway. Behind the wheel was 18-year-old student Steven Parent, who was leaving after a visit to the property’s caretaker.
Watson then halted Parent’s car before shooting and killing the terrified teenager. After that, the clan – minus Kasabian, who kept watch – made their way into the house, where they found Frykowski asleep on the couch. And according to Helter Skelter: The True Story of the Manson Murders, Watson awoke the man with a kick to the head, exclaiming, “I’m the devil, and I’m here to do the devil’s business.”
Watson, Atkins and Krenwinkel then proceeded to brutally murder the inhabitants of the house by beating, shooting and stabbing them. Tate, who was eight and a half months’ pregnant, was stabbed 16 times, with the killers ignoring her pleas to be kept alive long enough to give birth. And before leaving the house, Atkins daubed the word “pig” on the front door using Tate’s blood.
The following night, Manson accompanied the four – plus two other Family members – in the search for more victims. And after considering several potential venues, the group finally ended up at 3311 Waverly Drive. According to a 1970 account published in Rolling Stone, Manson had used to hang out with Harold True, who had lived next door.
By now, though, True had moved out. This led Manson and the Family members to instead head for the neighboring house, which was occupied by Leno and Rosemary LaBianca – a supermarket executive and co-owner of a boutique, respectively. According to Manson historian Jeff Guinn, the unassuming, self-made couple were “the kind of people who had no enemies.”
Guinn’s recounting of the night of August 10, 1969, claims that Manson headed into the house with Watson, where they discovered Leno asleep on the couch. The pair of interlopers then apparently roused Leno and assured him that they were just robbing the place before tying both him and Rosemary up. After that, Manson left, although he ordered two other Family members – Krenwinkel and Leslie Van Houten – to kill the couple.
Watson subsequently sent the women into the bedroom, where Rosemary was tied up with a pillowcase over her head. He then began to stab Leno with a bayonet. After Watson heard a commotion in the bedroom, however, he headed in and subdued a resisting Rosemary with his bayonet before returning to Leno. Between them, the two victims were stabbed dozens of times by all three perpetrators.
Before leaving the property, Watson took a shower, while Krenwinkel used the couple’s blood to scrawl on the walls. As well as “rise” and “death to pigs,” she wrote “Healter Skelter,” in a misspelled reference to the Beatles song. She then impaled Leno’s throat with a steak knife and left a carving fork in his stomach.
And according to University of South Florida criminology professor Bryanna Fox, the intention behind the LaBianca murders was to “set the city on fire.” Of the doomed couple, Fox told The Guardian in July 2019, “They were literally in the wrong place at the wrong time, which speaks to everybody. Now, everybody has to be afraid – because we can all be in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
With those responsible for the murders apparently still on the loose, then, paranoia and suspicion began to run rampant throughout Los Angeles. Stars including Frank Sinatra, Mia Farrow and Steve McQueen reportedly either went into hiding or began carrying guns to protect themselves. Farrow even refused to attend Tate’s funeral, fearing that she could be the next target.
Gun sales in Beverly Hills went through the roof at the time, in fact, while savvy salesmen ramped up the price of guard dogs. Terrified celebrities hired off-duty police officers to patrol their estates, too, and security firms boomed. And in 1994 Vincent Bugliosi, the prosecutor in the Manson case, described the febrile atmosphere of the period to the Los Angeles Times.
In his conversation with the newspaper, Bugliosi claimed, “There was a lot of fear. People were canceling parties [and] canceling people from guest lists.” He added, “When you talk about the Manson case, you’re talking about perhaps the most bizarre murder case in the annals of crime. The words printed in blood made it especially frightening for the Hollywood crowd.”
But while police didn’t initially believe that the Tate and LaBianca killings were connected, a lengthy investigation eventually turned up the link between both incidents: the Manson Family. And the trial that then followed was full of bizarre incidents. It was revealed in court, for instance, that Manson and the women had carved crosses into their foreheads, while the cult leader went so far as to attack a judge with a pencil. Rather amazingly, then-President Richard Nixon even declared Manson guilty while the trial was still ongoing.
Eventually, Manson and his four followers were indeed found guilty, with each sentenced to death. This verdict was affected, however, when the Supreme Court overturned the death penalty in 1972, with the result being that the group were handed life sentences instead. And Manson did indeed spend the rest of his life behind bars before dying from cardiac arrest in November 2017 at the age of 83.
In the years since, moreover, the Manson Family have become a pop-cultural obsession, with dozens of movies made about their infamous killings. In 2019 alone – 50 years since the harrowing events took place – three films based on the murders made it into theaters: The Haunting of Sharon Tate, The Manson Family Massacre and Charlie Says.
Quentin Tarantino’s ninth film, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, also debuted in August 2019. And while the drama primarily focuses on a washed-up movie star played by Leonardo DiCaprio, the events that transpire on screen are set against the backdrop of the Tate murders. Margot Robbie plays Sharon Tate in the movie, which also features footage of the real actress.
But the Tate house is not the only property involved to have been sold. Yes, the former home of the LaBiancas has also changed hands several times over the past five decades. And any work done to the building has only really been cosmetic, as it’s barely changed since that fateful night in 1969.
By contrast, the location on Cielo Drive where Tate, Sebring, Folger and Frykowski were murdered is long gone. In 1994 then-owner Alvin Weintraub demolished the house; he even changed the street address to keep people away. Weintraub told Los Angeles magazine in 1998, “There’s no house, no dirt [and] no blade of grass remotely connected to Sharon Tate.”
The two-bedroom LaBianca house, meanwhile, is 1,600 square feet in size and sits on a 31,000-square-foot lot. That feature gives the home plenty of privacy, according to real estate agent Robert Giambalvo. And inside, original details abound, including the pink tiles in the bathroom. The house is also surrounded by greenery, while the backyard boasts a pool, a hot tub and a sauna.
The previous owners of the LaBianca house had bought the property in the late 1990s before deciding to put it on the market in July 2019. That’s nearly 50 years to the day since its former residents were brutally murdered under its roof. But the timing is apparently just a coincidence; apparently, the owners had been looking to sell the home for around a year ahead of their retirement.
“[The owners]’ve lived there for 20 years. They’ve never rented it out, and they’ve just enjoyed it,” Giambalvo told Rolling Stone in July 2019. And he added that despite the house’s disturbing history, “there have been no [Manson-]related issues whatsoever.” In fact, to the unassuming viewer, the internal photos simply give the impression of any other ornate Hollywood Hills home.
What’s more, Giambalvo listed the house for just under market value at $1.98 million. This was an intentional move, as the real estate agent told the Los Angeles Times in July 2019. He said, “The event that happened 50 years ago is going to eliminate some of the market. And also, it’s a good strategy to market all homes a little bit below market value to get increased interest.”
In the first week of the house being on the market, then, Giambalvo showed it to around 20 different potential buyers. Given the home’s location in Hollywood, too, it’s perhaps no surprise to learn that many of the prospective owners were people “whose name you would recognize,” as the realtor told The Guardian. Giambalvo rejected another 50 or so requests to view the property, however.
Owing to the history of the home, Giambalvo also implemented a strict pre-approval process for any interested parties. In effect, any hopeful viewers had to supply both the correct paperwork and proof of funds. And this was a seemingly successful strategy, as none of the early visitors asked a single question about the LaBiancas. Yet this doesn’t mean that Giambalvo was shying away from the gruesome story.
In fact, the realtor actively disclosed the house’s history in its listing and advised agents and buyers to do their research. That’s despite California civil code not requiring him to do so; only deaths within the last three years have to be reported. But Giambalvo felt the need to be upfront, and he later told the Los Angeles Times, “We just wanted people to make offers with their eyes wide open.”
Before the Tate abode was razed to the ground, meanwhile, it was twice sold by Westside Estate Agency. And of the home, the company’s chairman, Stephen Shapiro, told The Guardian, “In my experience, iffy people buy those kinds of houses.” Certainly in one case he was correct, as an investor who purchased the Cielo Drive property in 1988 went to jail a year later for financial fraud.
At the time, most people pulled out of viewing the Tate house after Shapiro’s agents told them what had happened there; even Shapiro himself couldn’t enter the property. But Giambalvo had the opposite experience with the LaBianca house. He apparently joked with the owners that every time he visited, he had to be left alone to enjoy the view in silence.
“I really think that — and I’m not trying to overplay this — the place is truly magical,” he told Rolling Stone. “This is one of those quintessential LA homes.” Of course, it’s hoped that, for the right owner, it won’t matter that the house was the site of some of America’s most infamous murders.
Now, though, 3311 Waverly Drive has found a buyer: Zak Bagans, paranormal investigator and host of Travel Channel series Ghost Adventures. And Bagans’ career has revolved around the supernatural ever since he allegedly encountered – in his own words – “the spirit of a suicidal woman.” In 2017 the TV star even opened the Haunted Museum in Las Vegas, which boasts exhibits including Bela Lugosi’s mirror.
And Bagans told The Guardian that he had been looking for a house in the neighborhood for a while. He explained to the newspaper, “There was a very, very strong energy in the [LaBianca] house. I love to investigate spirits and places. This is a beautiful place with a very dark history.”
Then, of course, there’s the fact that Ghost Adventures involves the investigation of supposedly haunted locations. And although Bagans hasn’t revealed any plans for his new purchase, he told The Guardian, “If I’m spending time there and come into contact with anything, that’s the world I live in.”
But if you’re finding it difficult to imagine living in a house where the residents were once grotesquely murdered, you’re not alone. In fact, Fox told The Guardian that she was surprised the property hadn’t met the same fate as 10050 Cielo Drive. She added, “I could not imagine hanging a TV on the wall where [words] were written in someone else’s blood.”