Monday, June 5, 2017

Witold K.

Sometimes you just can’t get away from it.

Recently I was at a large organized estate sale held to benefit the Music Academy of the West in Santa Barbara, California. Among the offerings in the Art section was a print by an artist named Witold K. The name rang a bell, of course, and examination of K’s Wikipedia entry printed and attached to the print confirmed the reason why, because a highlight of the short entry was “In 1969 he relocated to California and briefly occupied the home of Abigail Folger and Wojciech Frykowski (both later murdered at 10050 Cielo Drive by the followers of Charles Manson), and opened his first studio/gallery in Beverly Hills.”

The print on sale at the estate sale

The name Witold K should be familiar to any serious student of TLB. He was, in fact, Witold Kaczanowski, a Polish artist who moved in the Cielo Drive circle in the summer before the murders there, and he appears in the case literature not only in books about the case but also in the official law enforcement files.

In the earliest stages of the police investigation into the homicides committed at the Roman Polanski residence officers were checking all possibilities, including whether the killers might have been among Polanski’s social and business circles. One possibly relevant incident within those circles was an altercation that occurred at 10050 Cielo Drive just before spring of 1969. According to the First Tate Homicide Investigation Progress Report:

“In mid March of this year, the Polanskis had a large catered party which included over 100 invited guests. The persons invited included actors, actresses, film directors and producers, business agents for the above-described people, and the Polanskis’ attorneys. Most of the people invited came to the party along with several people who were uninvited. The list of uninvited guests included William Doyle, Thomas Harrigan, and Harrison Pickens Dawson. They came to the party accompanied by an uninvited guest, Ben Carruthers and an uninvited male.

“During the party, a verbal altercation ensued involving William Tennant, Roman Polanski’s business agent, and William Doyle. Doyle apparently stepped on Tennant’s foot during this altercation. Dawson and Harrigan joined in the verbal altercation, siding with Doyle. Roman Polanski became very irritated and ordered Doyle, Harrigan, and Dawson ejected from the party. Ben Caruthers and the unidentified male that had accompanied him to the party escorted the three men from the property.”  (First Tate Homicide Investigation Progress Report, page 8)

Vincent Bugliosi recalled this party incident in Helter Skelter (using pseudonyms for some of the individuals involved; thus does the real life Harrison Pickens Dawson become “Jeffrey Pickett”), and this is where Witold K. enters the picture:

“From William Tennant, Roman Polanski’s business manager, LAPD learned that in mid-March the Polanskis had given a catered party at Cielo with over a hundred guests. As at any large Hollywood gathering, there were crashers, among them Herb Wilson, Larry Madigan, and Jeffrey Pickett, nicknamed “Pic.” The trio, all in their late twenties, were reputedly dope dealers. During the party Wilson apparently stepped on Tennant’s foot. An argument ensued, Madigan and Pickett taking Wilson’s side. Irritated, Roman Polanski had the three men evicted.

“It was a minor incident, in and of itself hardly cause for five savage murders, but Tennant had heard something else: ‘Pic’ had once threatened to kill [Voytek] Frykowski. This information had come to him through a friend of Voytek’s, Witold Kaczanowski, an artist professionally known as Witold K.

“Not unmindful or the similarity between ‘Pic’ and the bloody-lettered PIG on the front door of the Tate residence, detectives interviewed Witold K. From him they learned that after the Polanskis had left for Europe, Wilson, Pickett, Madigan, and a fourth man, Gerald Jones [pseudonym], were frequent visitors to the Cielo residence, Wilson and Madigan, according to Witold, supplying Voytek and Gibby [Abigail Folger] with most of their drugs, including the MDA they had taken before they died. As for Jeffrey Pickett, when Gibby and Voytek took over Cielo, he moved into their Woodstock residence. Witold was staying there also. Once, during an argument, Pickett tried to strangle the artist. When Voytek learned of this, he told Pickett to get out. Enraged, Pic swore, ‘I’ll kill them all and Voytek will be the first.’”  (Helter Skelter, pages 65-66, Bantam paperback edition)

A bit more information about Witold K. can be found in Ed Sanders’ The Family:

“A Polish artist named Witold Kaczanowski aka Witold K. had been brought to the United States through the kindness of Roman Polanski. He naturally came to live in Los Angeles where he cultivated the Polanski’s circle of friends. He was staying, during the summer of murder, at the Woodstock Road home of Abigail Folger and Wojtek Frykowski. He was a frequent house guest at 10050 Cielo Drive during the spring and summer of 1969.” (The Family, revised and updated edition, page 200)

Witold K. on August 27, 1969

The “First Tate Homicide Investigation Report” further elaborated on K. and his relationship to the Cielo Drive circle: “When Frykowski and Folger moved into the Polanski home, they invited Witold Kaczanowski to live at their house on Woodstock Road. Kaczanowski accepted their invitation as he was an artist and at that time was unemployed. Kaczanowski was a friend of Frykowski. They had met in New York some years prior.

“During April, May, June and the first part of July, Frykowski and Folger had many impromptu parties. And open invitation policy existed at the house. Drug use was prevalent. They used hashish, marijuana, mescaline, cocaine, and MDA.

“William Doyle, Tom Harrigan, Pic Dawson, John Deturo, Charles Tacot, Ben Caruthers, Cass Elliot, Witold Kaczanowski, along with several other narcotics users, were frequent visitors and party goers at the Polanski residence.”  (First Tate Homicide Investigation Progress Report, page 9)

A later investigative report also included some information from Harrison Pickens “Pic” Dawson as to his recollections of his experiences in the summer of 1969:

“Dawson admitted drug use since a teenager and stated that his worst experience with drugs was during the period he spent in Los Angeles. At that time he was on heroin and “was out of it” most of the time. He indicated that this was the reason he was unable to recall some incidents. Dawson stated the Cielo address was always full with people who were under the influence of narcotics. He gave a videotape to investigators, indicating the tape pictured Abigail Folger, Witold Kaczanowski, Wojiciech Frykowski and an unknown female under the influence of narcotics. (This tape was reviewed at Scientific Investigation Division and does in fact show the above-mentioned people smoking marijuana. The tape is in Evidence, item No. 74).” (Second Tate Homicide Investigation Report, page 14)

(And as an aside, isn’t it interesting how many different ways there are to render the first name of the male Polish victim of the Cielo Drive homicides?)

More information from the official police investigation:

“Kaczanowski was present at the Polanski home in the early part of July and overheard Doyle and Harrigan tell Frykowski they were going to get him the drug known as MDA. Kaczanowski did not see Doyle and Harrington after this meeting.” (First Tate Homicide Investigation Progress Report, page 10)

The following official summary of Voytek Frykowski’s activities on the afternoon of the day he was murdered shows just how tightly Witold K. was entwined with the Cielo crowd:

“Investigation disclosed that when Frykowski departed from the Polanski residence at approximately 1505 [on August 8, 1969] he drove directly to the Jay Sebring residence. At that location he picked up Miss Suzan Peterson, who had been Sebring’s companion for the preceding night. Frykowski drove Suzan to the art gallery operated by Kaczanowski at 9406 Wilshire Boulevard. The purpose of this trip was to obtain a key for the Woodstock house; Abigail Folger had Frykowski’s key at the time.

“At the gallery there was a short conversation between Frykowski and Kaczanowski and Kaczanowski was invited by Frykowski to come up to the Polanski residence that night. It was ascertained that Kaczanowski did not have the key to the Woodstock house in his immediate possession, but the key was at his girl friend’s, Christina Lerewska’s, house.

“While Frykowski and Kaczanowski were conversing at the gallery, Suzan Peterson was browsing in a dress shop adjacent to and connected with the gallery…. [Then] Kaczanowski and Suzan were driven to Christina’s house by Frykowski. The key to the Woodstock house was obtained from Christina and Kaczanowski was returned to the gallery.

"[At the Woodstock house] Frykowski [explained] to Suzan that Kaczanowski was an artist but not a businessman and there were some disparaging statements made by Frykowski as to the key to the house not being readily available….

“At a time (estimated about midnight) Friday night, Frykowski called, presumably from the Polanski residence, to Kaczanowski’s art gallery and asked Kaczanowski why he was not up to the house. Frykowski in the conversation admonished Kaczanowski that he was spending too much time at the gallery, working too hard, etc. Kaczanowski declined the second invitation and stayed on at the gallery.  He returned to the Woodstock house at approximately 0300 hours, 8-9-69.” (First Tate Homicide Investigation Progress Report, pages 13-14)

Many people have claimed that they were planning to be at the Polanski house on the night of the murders there, but Witold Kaczanowski might be one person whose claim was actually grounded in more than just a desire to bask in a macabre limelight. As such, he became involved in the case after the murders as both a potential target for further violence and as an assistant to the police. Again, from The Family:

“Around this time [just after the murders], artist Witold K., speaking nervously in Polish, called a friend in New York from a phone booth in Los Angeles. He claimed that he knew who the killers were and that he was afraid.

“Friends in New York then called a New York Times reporter in Los Angeles and related the development. The reporter thereupon called the Los Angeles police.

“Since Witold K. expressed fear for his life, the police promised him twenty-four hour protection if he would talk. Then his friends called Witold K. back at the phone booth where he was waiting and he agreed to the guard. Three police cars picked up Witold K. and took him to the apartment at Paramount Studios where Roman Polanski was in seclusion.

“Witold K. told police that Frykowski was offered an exclusive dealership to sell the drug MDA, evidently in the Los Angeles area. Subsequent friction developed, he claimed, and one of the suppliers threatened Frykowski’s life. Witold K. claimed not to know the names of the possible killers but to know them by face only. And that they were Canadian. One close friend claims that Witold K. went around, escorted by police, to many prestigious addresses in Frykowski’s notebooks to try to locate the killer — always leaving behind his business card. Witold K. claimed that the identity of the killers was contained perhaps in these notes and diaries but he seems to have said that ‘it would take two weeks’ for him to decipher the killers’ identities from Frykowski’s notebooks….

“Witold K.’s painting career was enhanced by his revelation. One newspaper account showed a picture of Witold K. posing with several of his paintings on the Polanski front lawn. A friend has claimed that Witold K. even sold a couple of his paintings to two policemen investigating the case.” (The Family, pages 288-289)

From the Los Angeles Times, August 28, 1969

During this tour of duty K. volunteered some evidence he believed might be relevant to the case:

"Officers were working a security detail for homicide division at 2774 Woodstock Lane for Kaczanowski, Witold, who lived at the residence. At approximately 1300 hours 8-15-69, Kaczanowski walked into the living room and handed officer Newell [badge number]11529 the below described brown bag and narco. Kaczanowski stated he found the the bag behind a dresser in the right rear (s/w) bedroom of the house. Kaczanowski further stated that he had never seen the bag before and he did not know who owned it or put it there.
"The bedroom in which the narco was found was formerly occupied by Miss Folger, Abigail, who was a victim of a 187 P.C. under DR# 69-059-593.
"There is an additional property report under the same DR# 69-059-593.
1 Bag, paper, brown, containing item # 2
2 Bag, clear plastic, containing a brn/grn leafy substance resembling marijuana.
Above items were marked “R.D. N. 11529” for ID.”

The police report wherein Witold surrenders a pot stash

Of course none of the information provided by K. was any help in determining the identities of the Cielo Drive killers. Still, it is interesting to examine this aspect of the police investigation into the homicides if for nothing else than that it gives the student of the case a more thorough view of the comings and goings at 10050 Cielo Drive in the months preceding the murders there.

After his exciting brush with “Manson Family” fame Witold K. closed his Beverly Hills gallery and moved to New Mexico where he settled in the Santa Fe area and kept working on his art. Eventually he relocated again to Denver, Colorado where he resides today.

Witold K. in 2013

Back at the estate sale, just as it was closing up I took a friend over the the Art section to show her the print. The price had been reduced by over half, into the affordable range, so I got it. And why not? It was for a good cause. And it was also a good reminder to have of the infinitely layered and complex nature of TLB, a case that is so intertwined with the American experience that even today you can find some kind of link to it just about anywhere.

Signed print, # 46 out of 60, Witold K. 1973, Tesuque, New Mexico 

Witold K.’s web site is here.

Witold K.’s Wikipedia entry is here.

In a 2012 interview K. did not mention his TLB connection.