A Philanthropist Lost: Abigail Folger’s Tragic Death

In the summer of 1969, the magical glamour of Hollywood was interrupted by a series of some of the most famous murders of the 20th century. The victims included actress Sharon Tate and four others, among them the heir to a coffee fortune Abigail Folger.

The Tate-LaBianca murders, orchestrated by Charles Manson and his followers. They marked a dark chapter in American history and have become a prime example of the dangers of cult activity.

A portrait of Abigail Folger

Who Was Abigail Folger?

Abigail Folger was the great-great-granddaughter of J.A. Folger, who founded Folgers Coffee. Her parents were the CEO of Folgers Coffee at the time.

They were a prominent member of a California land grant family, so she grew up in a life of privilege and comfort. She grew up in the bubble of elite society in San Francisco, becoming a talented young artist and musician.

After excelling in school and fully entering San Francisco high society, Folger attended Harvard and graduated with a degree in Art History. She used her knowledge to become the publicity director of the University of California Art Museum in Berkeley where she excelled for a few months. 

She soon decided to experience the world outside of her bubble of wealth and moved to New York in the fall of 1967. It was during her time in New York that she was introduced to Wojciech Frykowski, an aspiring writer who had recently moved to the United States.

A romance budded between the two. Just over a year later, the couple decided to move to Los Angeles for Frykowski to pursue a career in film writing, while Folger immersed herself in volunteer work in the region.

Abigail Moves to Los Angeles

It was in Los Angeles that they were reacclimated to celebrity circles. They became fast friends with rock singer Cass Elliot, director Roman Polanski and his wife Sharon Tate, and their friend Jay Sebring. 

The group of five spent plenty of time together. They posted parties and spent time with each other in their extravagant homes, although their time was cut short on August 9, 1969.

Not long before, Polanski had flown to Europe to work on a film which left his 8.5-month pregnant wife to spend time with Folger and other friends. On August 8, Tate, Sebring, Frykowski, and Folger went to dinner and then returned to the Tate house.

It was early the next morning that tragedy would strike. The four friends would be killed, along with Steven Parent, a man who was visiting the Polanski’s housekeeper William Garretson who lived in a cottage on the property. 

The Manson Family

At the same time that Folger was establishing a new life in Los Angeles, a disturbing cult was being founded in the region. Charles Manson was a charismatic but deranged cult leader who had assembled a group of followers known as the Manson Family in California in the late 1960s.

He attracted a following of over 100 people over several years, who all came to see Manson as a Christ figure who prophesied an impending race war. Many of his followers were middle-class white women who were attracted to hippie culture and communes and became enamored with Mason and his beliefs.

Manson was able to manipulate these women and led them to do drugs regularly, including LSD and amphetamines. He also convinced them to commit atrocious acts. 

In March of 1969, Manson had stumbled onto the now Polanski-owned property, claiming he was looking for a previous tenant, Terry Melcher. Melcher was a music producer who had snubbed Manson’s musical talent and refused to take him on as a client despite multiple auditions.

While the property owner, who recognized Manson, was suspicious of him stopping by, he told Manson that Melcher no longer lived there. No further action was taken to ensure Manson could not return.

Then, on the night of August 8, Manson ordered four of his followers – Charles “Tex” Watson, Susan Atkins, Patricia Krenwinkel, and Linda Kasabian – to carry out a series of gruesome murders. The Manson Family targeted the residents of 10050 Cielo Drive.

Their goal was to strike fear into the hearts of Hollywood’s elite and enact revenge on Manson’s behalf. 

The Home Invasion

The motley crew broke into the Polanski estate. They cut the phone lines and hopped fences to avoid setting off any alarms.

They killed young Steven Parent in his car in the driveway to avoid detection. Then, they entered the home and killed everyone inside according to Manson’s orders. Garretson, who lived on the property, survived the attack and claimed he heard nothing of the events in the house.

It is unclear why the followers attacked Folger and her friends specifically. Some believe Manson just wanted to strike out at Hollywood elites in general, targeting some of the most popular faces at the time.

Others assume it was a mistaken attempt to take revenge on Melcher specifically. Regardless, Manson was able to exact revenge on Hollywood elites and strike fear into high society. 

Voytek Frykowski, Sharon Tate, Steven Parent, Jay Sebring, and Abigail Folger

Investigation and Trial: Unraveling the Manson Family’s Web

The trial that followed was a spectacle that riveted the nation. Charles Manson and several of his followers faced charges of first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder, not just for the Tate murders but a string of other violent crimes over the past several years.

The trial exposed the dark underbelly of the counterculture movement of the 1960s and the vulnerabilities that allowed Manson to manipulate his followers into committing unspeakable acts. Manson and several of his followers were sentenced to life in prison.

However, Manson continued to remain a mysterious and popular figure in the public eye until he died in 2017. 

Although the event is regularly remembered for the violence of the Manson family, Folger’s legacy is one of kindness, philanthropy, and political activism. Her life was cut short for seemingly no reason and she could have accomplished so much more good with her life and fortune, both of which she gave for those less fortunate. 


“Abigail Folger… (Victim).” CharlesManson.com, 2020. https://www.charlesmanson.com/victims/abigail-folger/

Lansing, H. Allegra. “So much more than an heiress.” Medium, August 24, 2020. https://themansonfamily-mtts.medium.com/so-much-more-than-an-heiress-9eca9977372a

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