The original home, built in 1942, became the residence of a lot of Hollywood celebrities over the years: Cary Grant and Dyan Cannon, Henry Fonda, and “West Side Story” star George Chakiris among them.
The final resident of the original home was musician Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails, who had a recording studio built in there. Reznor moved out of the house in December 1993, later claiming “There was too much history in that house for me to handle.”
History, indeed — and not from the celebrities who once called it home. What made the house famous — or infamous, you might say — was what happened there on Aug. 9, 1969. The tenants at the time were film director Roman Polanski and his wife, actress Sharon Tate. Polanski was in England working on a film, and Tate was in the home with several friends, and she was eight months pregnant.
That night, Tate, Wojciech Frykowski, Abigail Folger, Jay Sebring and Steven Parent were slaughtered at the hands of the Charles Manson “Family.”
In the two decades since then, the home seemed to attract a weird cult of people who wanted to see the spot where those horrific murders had been committed. Ghoulish Hollywood “death tours” would drive tourists to the places where gruesome murders and celebrity suicides or deaths had occurred — including the “Helter Skelter” tours that traced the locations of the Manson killings, including Cielo drive.
Hopping on the Dumbo ride at Walt Disney World is one thing, but for some, getting a chance to see the home where Sharon Tate was savagely knifed to death is a thrill of a different kind.
This is a distinguishable, I think, from something like a local ghost tour, where tour operations take guests on a walk through urban neighborhoods in Orlando or Kissimmee to show the houses and buildings purported to be haunted. I actually enjoy those tours.
Tours of places where truly horrific murders were committed is not quite the same thing — they appeal to those folks who stop to check out bloody car accidents on the highway, if you will. And frankly, these days I wonder if Orlando is about to gain its own notorious “death walk” at a pathway known simply as Cady Way Trail in Winter Park — and what tourism officials will think if that happens. My guess: no brochures advertising Cady Way Trail to the masses.
I began to suspect this might be the case on July 27, when I was driving under the bridge that is a part of Cady Way Trail, and my passenger in the car, my Freeline Media contributor and friend “Alpha Male” Ryan, spotted the sign above us and insisted we check it out. He made no secret of why he wanted to walk on that outdoor trail on a day when the summer heat and humidity made it feel like 100 degrees or higher. He wanted to find the spot where police had discovered the bodies. He acted like a kid making his first trip to Disney.
Now known locally as the Cady Way Trail murders, two men — Hector Rodriguez and Jesse Davis — have been charged with shooting teens Nicholas Presha and Jeremy Stewart, then setting their bodies on fire along the Cady Way Trail last April.
Investigators have claimed the murders happened when the teens tried selling stolen guns to Rodriguez and Davis.
Rodriguez and Davis are accused of tying the teens up, shooting them “execution style” and leaving their burning bodies on Cady Way Trail.
Stopping in the parking lot of a nearby shopping center, Ryan and I walked to the stairs that lead up to the bridge, then headed out along the trail. Despite the notoriety of those high-profile and brutal murders, it remains a popular pathway; we passed plenty of joggers, walkers and bicyclists on that Friday afternoon, even as the sweltering heat made me long for an indoor spot with heavy air conditioning.
Along the way, Ryan stopped as many people as he could, repeatedly asking the same question.
“Y’all know where them two kids got killed?” he would ask.
A few people shrugged, one woman had no clue what we were talking about, and several said they wished they knew the exact spot, too.
Finally we came to a middle-aged man walking with two young children. Ryan asked him the same question, and the man responded by grinning broadly. Oh yes, he said, he knew exactly where the spot was, and he directed us to it: a small bridge over a river, and a section of grass right off it. Ryan instantly knew this was the spot: he took me to two sections of the field where there was no longer any grass, and where the singed grass had obviously been taken for evidence, and in its place was sod that hadn’t taken hold yet. All there was at this point was two sections of dirt amidst the otherwise green grass of that field.
Camera in hand, Ryan clicked several photos.
Since the trial of the two suspects is still a long way off, there’s a lot of time for Cady Way Trail to fade from the headlines — or to build further public interest as the location of a horrendous double murder. For a city that likes to pride itself on family-friendly entertainment, from swans in Lake Eola Park to Downtown Disney close by, this is probably a highly unwelcome addition to the so-called tourist trade.
But as Benedict Canyon residents unfortunately discovered, not everybody wanted shopping on Rodeo Drive or a look at the home of a G-rated celebrity.
Cielo Drive demonstrated there’s a big market for morbidity, and like a lot of other unpleasant things in our society, it sells, big time.
Contact us at FreelineOrlando@Gmail.com.