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Cashing in on interest in Hollywood murders

US director Quentin Tarantino among those signing up for macabre tours

LOS ANGELES:  As a tour guide specialising in notorious Hollywood deaths, Mr Scott Michaels is well aware of America's morbid fascination with the dark side of Tinseltown.

But on the 50th anniversary of the murders of Hollywood actress Sharon Tate and four of her house guests at the hands of Charles Manson's apocalyptic cult, he has never seen anything like it.

"It's unprecedented really. I've never seen this attention," he said, at his museum in Los Angeles.

Mr Michaels drives his customers up to Cielo Drive, the leafy and winding road above exclusive Beverly Hills where Tate, French-Polish director Roman Polanski's 26-year-old 8½-months pregnant wife, was stabbed to death in the early hours of Aug 9, 1969.

One of those customers last year was US director Quentin Tarantino, undertaking research for his new movie Once Upon A Time In Hollywood, which takes the killings as its backdrop.

The deaths terrorised Hollywood and made headlines around the world.

Manson, portrayed at his trial as a drug-crazed loner with mesmerising powers of persuasion, ordered devotees to carry out killings in wealthy white neighbourhoods in an effort to trigger a race war.

Currently showing here, the film stars Margot Robbie as an innocent and carefree Tate, and has intensified interest in a tragedy often described as a seminal moment in US history - the end of the 1960s era of peace and love.

"Sharon was beautiful... She's become this sort of true crime symbol of absolute good, whereas Manson is the opposite," said Mr Michaels, who is credited as a technical consultant on the film.

Manson died in a California prison in 2017, but the gruesome details of the murders he ordered live on.

While Mr Michaels' Dearly Departed museum in Los Angeles serves up a range of macabre mementos and grisly guided tours of deaths ranging from Janis Joplin to the Black Dahlia, the Manson murders stand apart.

Ms Peggy Miles, 56, who grew up close to the killings in west Los Angeles and is similarly fascinated, is taking the Helter Skelter tour, named after Manson's crazed plan to spark a race war in the US - itself named after the Beatles song.

Also on the bus is 28-year-old Ms Lauren Kershner, who became obsessed with Manson's cult as a young teenager and has read prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi's bestselling book on the case five times.

Mr Michaels said such fascination with details is common, extending even to Mr Tarantino who contacted him ahead of shooting Once Upon A Time In Hollywood for assistance with research and location scouting.

The director asked Mr Michaels endless questions ranging from the Cielo Drive house's previous occupants to which book coffee heiress Abigail Folger, who was one of the victims at Tate's house, was reading when she died. - AFP

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