DENVER — The brutal July slaying of a Denver woman has again made headlines this week after she was publicly identified as the granddaughter of Rosemary LaBianca, one of seven people killed in the Manson family’s infamous two-day killing spree in 1969 Los Angeles.
Ariana Jean Wolk, 40, was found dead July 3 in her Oneida Street apartment, the Denver District Attorney’s Office said. Jose Sandoval-Romero, 24, has been charged with first-degree murder in Wolk’s death.
“Denver police officers and paramedics responded to a 911 call, and in an apartment in the 1500 block of Oneida Street, (they) found the victim in a pool of blood in her bed, having suffered sharp force injuries to her neck,” according to a news release from the district attorney. “She was pronounced dead at the scene and the medical examiner later ruled her death a homicide.”
Wolk is the daughter of Suzan Struthers La Berge, one of two children of Rosemary LaBianca.
According to the Mercury News, La Berge was 21 years old when she, her teenage brother Frank Struthers Jr., and her boyfriend discovered the bodies of LaBianca, 38, and her husband, grocer Leno La Bianca, 44, inside their Los Feliz home.
The couple was killed Aug. 9, 1969, the night after followers of cult leader Charles Manson went to the home of pregnant actress Sharon Tate and killed her, hairstylist Jay Sebring, Folgers coffee heiress Abigail Folger, Folger’s boyfriend, Wojciech Frykowski, and teenager Steven Parent.
Manson and three of his followers, Patricia Krenwinkel, Leslie Van Houten and Charles “Tex” Watson, were later convicted of killing the LaBiancas.
The Mercury News reported that Wolk’s link to the Manson family murders was noted in July on websites devoted to the infamous case. The story went mainstream Wednesday after it was picked up by the Daily Mail.
The arrest affidavit in the Wolk case alleges that a neighbor of Wolk’s called 911 around 9:27 p.m. that night. The woman told the dispatcher that a man had knocked on the door and told her the woman who lived upstairs was dead.
When first responders arrived, they found Wolk in a pool of blood with multiple stab wounds to her neck, as well as defensive wounds to her arms and hands.
Detectives learned that Wolk had been the victim of domestic violence, and the alleged abuser had been ordered to stay away from her and fitted with a GPS ankle monitor, the affidavit stated.
A detective also observed blood on the floor in the living room and kitchen, as well as on the kitchen faucet. A bloody folding knife was in the kitchen sink.
No knives were found near Wolk’s body.
A downstairs neighbor told investigators that she heard Wolk fall or get pushed down a half-flight of stairs shared by both apartments, according to the court documents. When she looked out at the stairwell, she saw a man she didn’t recognize standing in the doorway.
The man fit the description of Sandoval-Romero.
Multiple neighbors helped Wolk up and back to her apartment while the man stood nearby, the affidavit states. Wolk and the man returned to her apartment.
A short time later, Wolk’s guest went to the neighbor’s apartment and asked if she wanted to smoke some marijuana. He also told the woman that Wolk was “threatening to hurt herself,” according to the documents.
The neighbor declined the offer and the man left. Several hours later, the woman saw the shirtless man walking in the backyard. About 30 to 45 minutes later, the male friend of Wolk’s knocked on her door to say he thought Wolk was dead.
The man told police he had known Wolk for a couple of weeks and that he’d stayed overnight for a few days to “help Ariana battle her alcohol addiction,” the court documents state. He went home to “clean up” on July 3 and later returned to find Wolk unresponsive.
According to the affidavit, the man said that “in his short time with Ariana, he observed she would become intoxicated and invite random transients to come to the house.”
The man accused of abusing Wolk was also interviewed. He confirmed his ankle monitor and said he’d been living in his car since he could not live with Wolk.
He said he met up with Wolk at a Walgreens the day she died. She was in the company of the same young Hispanic man Wolk’s neighbors reported seeing with her that day.
Court officials were able to confirm through his GPS monitor that Wolk’s alleged abuser was not at her home that day, investigators said.
Detectives obtained video from the night of Wolk’s killing that showed her with Sandoval-Romero, who was seen holding a “clear (Starbucks) cup with pink liquid,” prosecutors said.
“The cup was found in Ms. Wolk’s yard and fingerprints allegedly tied it back to Jose Sandoval-Romero, who was arrested in Colorado Springs on July 7,” the news release from prosecutors said.
The man also had a distinctive reddish tattoo on his left forearm, court records show. Sandoval-Romero was later identified as having a tattoo consistent with the one seen on the footage.
When he was arrested four days after the killing, Sandoval-Romero had healing cuts on his hands.
“In your affiant’s experience, suspects frequently cut themselves in the course of stabbing a victim,” a detective wrote in the affidavit. “This type of injury is consistent with a knife slipping in an assailant’s hand as he makes repeated stabbing motions.”
Read the arrest affidavit below.
Sandoval-Romero was interviewed July 7 at the Colorado Springs Police Department, where he allegedly confessed to his involvement in Wolk’s death.
“During his interview with law enforcement, Sandoval-Romero admitted that he had stabbed Ms. Wolk, fled the scene and discarded his bloody clothes before fleeing to Colorado Springs,” prosecutors said.
The motive for Wolk’s slaying is unclear.
The similarities between Wolk’s violent death and that of her grandmother are chilling.
The night after the Tate murders on Cielo Drive, Manson, Watson, Krenwinkel, Van Houten and two other followers, Susan Atkins and Linda Kasabian, drove to the LaBianca home at 3301 Waverly Drive in the Los Feliz neighborhood. Inside the LaBiancas, who had just returned home from a trip.
As the group waited in the car, Manson went to the house. When he returned, he told Krenwinkel and Van Houten to go with Watson.
“He said, ‘Tex, Katie, Leslie, go into the house. I have the people tied up. They are very calm,’” Atkins testified, according to “Helter Skelter,” a book written by Manson family prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi.
Manson told the group he reassured the LaBiancas they would not be harmed to keep them from panicking like the victims did the night before, Atkins later told authorities.
She said Manson instructed the group to kill the couple and to “paint a picture more gruesome than anybody had ever seen.”
Manson left the trio on Waverly Drive, and taking Rosemary LaBianca’s wallet with him, he drove with Atkins and Kasabian into a predominantly African-American part of town and planted the wallet in a gas station bathroom, hoping the murders would be blamed on Black assailants.
Meanwhile, Watson, Krenwinkel and Van Houten separated the LaBiancas, placing Rosemary in the master bedroom and Leno in the living room. Both had pillowcases secured over their heads with lamp cords.
The couple was then stabbed to death, with Watson attacking Leno LaBianca with a bayonet. Rosemary LaBianca, who tried to fight off her attackers with the lamp secured to her neck, was stabbed 41 times, many of the wounds inflicted after she was already dead.
When Rosemary LaBianca’s children, including her 15-year-old son, found their parents’ bodies the next day, a carving fork protruding from Leno LaBianca’s stomach.
The word “WAR” was cut into his flesh.
Krenwinkel had used the victims’ blood to write the words “RISE” and “DEATH TO PIGS” on the walls. She wrote the misspelled “HEALTER SKELTER” on the refrigerator door.
The trio then showered and raided their victims’ kitchen, helping themselves to the dead couple’s food, Bugliosi wrote.
Wolk, who grew up in northern California, was described by her sister, Rommi Wolk, as a “very happy, sweet, kind, loving child (who) gifted her family with many fond memories.” She wrote on a GoFundMe page set up to bring her sister’s body home that, even though Ariana Wolk lived in Colorado, her heart was always in California.
“Ariana was a single mom with one son who was the joy of her life,” Rommi Wolk wrote. “We are bringing him here from Colorado for her burial and memorial gathering. We want to bury Ariana at Purissima, a natural green burial preserve near Half Moon Bay.”
As of Friday, the memorial fund had raised just over $7,800.
A trust fund for her son, Xander, had raised nearly $4,000.