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The Sharon Tate murders were some of the most gruesome crimes in California history. Infamous cult leader Charles Manson was the mastermind behind the massacre at the Cielo Drive Home, sending four devoted followers to murder the occupants on Aug. 9, 1969. However, most of the dirty work — the relentless stabbing and shooting — was done by one man: Charles “Tex” Watson, then 23.
In 1971, Manson’s self-described right-hand man was found guilty of the Sharon Tate murders and the murder of the LaBiancas, the Los Angeles couple whose home was randomly selected by the Manson Family to raid the night after the Tate killings.
Before Watson became a member of the Family and participated in the Los Angeles killing spree, it’s likely no one would have guessed he would one day become an infamous murderer.
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Charles “Tex” Watson was born Dec. 2, 1945, in Dallas, Texas, and described having a rather peaceful childhood. In Watson’s online book, “Will You Die For Me?” Watson wrote that he grew up with two older siblings, attended church, made honor roll and participated in sports throughout high school.
While attending college in Texas, his priorities shifted and he started experimenting with drugs. After a trip to California, Watson told his parents that he was moving to the Golden State. He dropped out of school and worked as a wig salesman.
In 1969, Watson picked up Beach Boy Dennis Wilson, who was hitchhiking. Wilson invited Watson back to his home, where Charles Manson and his followers had visited in the past.
Watson described his first encounter with Manson on his website, AboundingLove.org. “There he [Manson] was — surrounded by ﬁve or six girls — on the ﬂoor next to the huge coffee table with a guitar in his hands. He looked up, and the ﬁrst thing I felt was a sort of gentleness, an embracing kind of acceptance and love.”
Watson eventually joined the Family and, shortly after, spearheaded the Tate murders under Manson’s instructions. Former Charles Manson prosecutor Stephen Kay told producers of Oxygen’s documentary special “Manson: The Women” that Watson was the one telling the others what to do and when. Watson drove the Manson women to the Cielo Drive home and climbed a telephone pole to cut the wires.
“If you’ve watched the phone men work, they usually have spiked shoes,” Kay said. “Well, Watson had tennis shoes. Not only did he get up the pole, but he got up the pole carrying 30-pound bolt cutters.”
Watson killed the first victim that night, Steven Parent, Kay said. Parent was a teenager, who happened to be visiting the caretaker of the home; he had no personal connection to Tate and her Hollywood friends inside. Watson shot the young man to death in the driveway as Parent was leaving the residence before he and Linda Kasabian, Susan Atkins and Patricia Krenwinkel invaded the house.
“I am the devil; I am here to do the devil’s business,” Watson told the victims at Cielo Drive, according to the Los Angeles Times.
The remaining victims were herded into the living room, Kay said. Pregnant actress Sharon Tate, celebrity hair stylist Jay Sebring, writer Wojciech Frykowski and his girlfriend, the coffee heiress Abigail Folger. They were all brutally murdered by Watson and the other Manson followers. Frykowski’s body and Folger’s body were found outside in the front yard and back yard respectively because the two tried to escape. The men were both stabbed and shot, while Tate and Folger were stabbed to death.
In Manson’s absence, Watson was the women’s “pseudo-leader,” Lis Wiehl, the author of “Hunting Charles Manson,” told the producers of “Manson: The Women.”
“They had Tex telling them, ‘Follow through with this. Follow me and do what Charlie said to do and I’ll be there to help make sure you get it done,’” Wiehl said.
Watson didn’t face trial at the same time as Manson and the other Family members, Rolling Stone reported, because he had fled to Texas, where he fought extradition back to California, with the help of his attorneys, for nine months.
Tex Watson was found guilty of seven counts of first-degree murder and one count of conspiracy to commit murder for the Tate and LaBianca killings. Initially, Watson was sentenced to death by gas chamber, but the state of California ruled the death penalty unconstitutional in 1972. Today, Watson, now 73, is still serving a life sentence. He has been denied parole 17 times.
Debra Tate, Sharon’s sister and last surviving immediate family member, publicly protested parole for any of the Manson Family murderers, including that of Tex Watson. After Watson’s 17th parole hearing, in October 2016, Debra called Watson a “sociopath,” incapable of empathy, according to an Associated Press news report at the time.
“It’s all about him,” Debra Tate said. “He didn’t have it then, and he doesn’t have it now.”
While in prison, Watson has made public efforts toward reform. Watson married Kristin Joan Svege, a woman he initially met through mail correspondence after he published his autobiography, “Will You Die For Me?” The two had a prison ceremony in September 1979, the United Press International reported, and they were able to have four children through conjugal visits, which were later banned for those serving life sentences in California. Svege and Watson divorced in 2003.
Watson founded Abounding Love Ministries in 1981, and became an ordained minister in 1981. He developed a website for his prison outreach ministry in 1997 and runs it with several volunteers. He received his B.S. in business management in 2009 and continues to share his testimonies through his website. His online platform also features testimonies from his fans and followers of Abounding Love, as well as Watson’s art pieces, books, and monthly blog posts.
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