The actress Sharon Tate first made news as the star of movies like The Fearless Vampire Killers, which TIME mocked as “blood on the soapsuds” fare. But her name went down in history for a different reason when, 46 years ago, she was the victim of one of the grisliest murders imaginable.
Shortly after Tate’s body was discovered on Aug. 9, 1969, TIME reported that five bodies had been found at the home of director Roman Polanski—who wasn’t there at the time—and that the count included Polanski’s pregnant wife, Tate, “clad in a bikini nightgown.” A cord around her neck joined her body to another victim’s, though they had not been hanged.
“The brutality of the killings shocked even homicide-squad detectives,” TIME noted. Shocked Hollywood denizens began to hire extra body guards. Their terror only increased when the full extent of the horrific scene came to light.
It turns out the crime was “far bloodier and grimmer” than the police had initially admitted, TIME reported in the following week’s issue. Even decades later, the description is not for the faint. Tate and the victim to which she was tied, Jay Sebring, had been repeatedly slashed. Bullets filled the ceilings and blood covered the floors. Tate was found naked, and “[one] of Miss Tate’s breasts had been cut off, apparently as a result of indiscriminate slashing,” TIME added. “She was nine months pregnant, and there was an X cut on her stomach.”
Rumors swirled, first about a caretaker for the property and then about the “sex, drug and witchcraft cults” that had some reported ties to the “offbeat” Hollywood crowd of which Tate and Polanski were part. Within days, two more bodies turned up at a “carbon copy” crime scene, thought to be the work of a copycat killer. By the end of the year, however, the rumors coalesced into a real case. Los Angeles police were able to pin the crimes on “a mystical, semi-religious hippie drug-and-murder cult led by a bearded, demonic Mahdi able to dispatch his zombie-like followers.” That cult leader was Charles Manson.
Though Tate has since regained some of the fame she once had in her own right—as the subject of a Mad Men conspiracy theory that failed to pan out, for example—her name and Manson’s would forever be linked.
Read the first story from 1969, here in the TIME Vault: “Nothing but Bodies”