Heiress' Search Leads To Tragedy
by Dusty Harvey
Dallas Morning News
August 17, 1969
Coffee heiress Abigail Folger seemed to have everything - money, good looks and intelligence.
But she was searching for something more - a search that led her to Southern California and death with four others at the Bel Air mansion of actress Sharon Tate.
In Los Angeles, she found "something real to live for" by working in the Watts ghetto as a social worker and a taste of show business glamour through acquaintances in the television and motion picture world.
She died in the company of three of those Hollywood acquaintances August 8, when killers went on a shooting and stabbing rampage that left five dead at the secluded mansion.
Her father, board chairman Peter Folger of J. A. Folger Coffee Company, said she had "more or less commuted" between Southern California and the family mansion in Woodside during the last six months. He said she worked first in Watts and then on the mayoralty campaign last spring of Thomas Bradley, the Negro ex-policeman defeated by Mayor Sam Yorty.
"She always led a class life," the grief-stricken father said.
But police investigating the bizarre slayings described her as a "rich hippie" roaming with a drug-using crowd known for its "freak out" parties and discotheque night-life. Acquaintances said she attended a séance with actress Mia Farrow.
She apparently gained entree into the show business scene through men's hair stylist Jay Sebring after she invested in his chain of salons. Miss Folger was also described as a "longtime close friend" of Voityck Frokowsky, a Polish film director and compatriot of Miss Tate's husband Roman Polanski.
Both Sebring, 35, and Frokowsky, 37, died in the Bel Air massacre. Both were later described as members of a "pot oriented" Hollywood crowd. Police found marijuana and other drugs in Sebring's car outside the Bel Air mansion.
Miss Folger's wealthy family in the San Franciso Bay area were unaware of many of her Hollywood friends.
Her stepmother, Beverly Folger, said they didn't know of her association with Miss Tate until after the killings.
But her mother, Ines Mejia Folger, had joined her last May at the champagne opening of Sebring's new San Francisco salon.
Miss Folger's interest in show business wasn't new. At Radcliff College in Cambridge, Mass., where she graduated with honors, she was a member of the Gilbert and Sullivan players.
The slain heiress was the great-granddaughter of James Ahearne Folger, who founded the San Francisco coffee firm in 1850 after leaving Nantucket, Mass., in hopes of striking it rich in the California gold fields.
He struck it rich instead by importing and roasting coffee beans. His grandsons, James III and Peter Folger, built the family firm into the third largest coffee wholesaler in the United States before selling it in 1963 to Proctor and Gamble for 1,650,000 shares of P&G common stock. The family members still operate Folgers as a P&G subsidiary.
Miss Folger's Catholic parents divorced in 1952 when her mother, member of a prestigious California land grant family, divorced Peter Folger on the grounds of extreme cruelty. Folger, a onetime Yale football, polo and track performer and a World War II Marine Major, married again in 1960. His bride was his 34-year-old private secretary.
Abigail Folger, who would have celebrated her 26th birthday two days after her death, was raised in wealthy "social register" style. She attended the private Santa Catalina school for girls near Carmel and had a big "coming out" party as a 1961 debutante.
But after graduating from Radcliffe, she took a 40-hour a week job at the University of California art museum in Berkeley.
"She was very outgoing, very enthusiastic and did a beautiful job organizing the fine art museum council," said her former boss, UC professor Peter Selz. "She may not have lived the most traditional type of existence, but she wasn't a hippie type at all. She didn't look, dress or act like a hippie."
She quit her job last year because she wanted to live in New York City. She got a job there at the Gotham Book Mart, but returned to the West Coast a few months later.
Andrea Brown, her employer at the book mart, said she was unhappy in New York and still searching for something more in life.
"When she began working in Watts," she told me, 'I've never been involved in anything so exciting in my life - I finally have something real to live for,' " Brown said.
She was stabbed to death a few months later on a Bel Air front lawn.