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Murders 50 years ago attracted worldwide attention

By DAVID RISLEY - drisley@thecouriertimes.com

Fifty years ago today (Aug. 9, 1969), the Chicago Cubs were in Los Angeles to play a weekend baseball series with the Dodgers.

At that time, the Cubs were in first place in the National League Central Division on their way to building a 9.5 game lead in the division eight days later only to see it disintegrate in the final month and a half of the season by a Cubs collapse and a New York Mets tear that enabled the Mets to win the division by eight full games and, eventually, the World Series.

A few miles from Dodger Stadium where the Cubs and Dodgers were playing, two nights of back-to-back human slaughter were taking place that came to be known as “the Charles Manson murders.”

Actress Sharon Tate, hair stylist Jay Sebring, coffee heiress Abigail Folger, everyday guy Steven Parent, and another dude with a non-English name were murdered on the night of Aug. 8 by the “Manson family,” and the same thing happened to grocery store chain owners Leo and Rosemary LaBianca the next night (Aug. 9).

Those of you readers who were living back then and were old enough probably remember the fear that gripped LA (and the nation, too) after these murders.

Manson, who was born “No Name” Maddox, actually was not present to commit the murders, but ordered his followers to do so, and actually went to the LaBianca residence, but left before the murders took place.

“Don’t put fear into these people,” Manson reportedly told his followers. “Don’t let them know you’re going to kill them.”

Anyway, the crime, the aftermath, and the trial, which didn’t end until late January 1971 with a death verdict for all those charged with the crime, captured the nation’s attention. 

It was a circus both before and during the trial with delays, judges stepping down, shenanigans in the courtroom, and other stuff, much more so than the O.J. Simpson trial that occurred 25 years later.

Cameras and recorders were not allowed in the courtroom, but an artist made several sketches each day of the trial that were shown on the national TV nightly news and testimony was read on the nightly TV news reports, and it was riveting television.

How different we are today in coverage of trials like this. There are so many outlets for news today, that the audience is splintered and not everyone hears or sees the same things as others see and hear.

Perhaps that’s one thing wrong with our country today. We’re not as together as we once were and we don’t have the same exposures or experiences.

But baseball still is a nine-inning game with an ultimate winner or loser. Enjoy yourself this weekend.

David Risley is sports editor of The Courier-Times.