The first time my dad recommend this book to me, I'm pretty sure the conversation went something like this:
Me: I have nothing to read, do you have any recommendations at the top of your list?
Dad: Did you ever read Helter Skelter?
Me: No, what is that?
Dad: It's the book about the Charles Manson murders. It's one of those books that will make you get up and lock all the doors and windows in your house.
Me: Gosh, no thanks.
And that was the end of it. Then I really got into a rut because I was out of books to read by my regular authors. So again I asked my dad, and again he recommended Helter Skelter. I already have an imagination that runs on high, so really the last thing I needed was a story like this, a TRUE STORY no less, to really get my mind racing. Despite my initial refusal to read this book, I looked it up and did some research. One of the co-authors, Vincent Bugliosi, was one of the prosecutors of the Tate and LaBianca cases. Talk about some insider information! The book is 680 pages. No, that's not a typo. I just passed the 400 page mark, so I thought I would write down some thoughts.
This is a true crime book. I really don't need to say anything beyond that because I think we are all aware of who Charles Manson is, along with The Family (his loyal pack of followers). Bugliosi does a fantastic job of recapping the investigation, arrests, grand jury indictments, and trials surrounding the numerous murders committed (and those which didn't come to fruition - scary!) by Manson and his Family. He also does a great job of capturing the complete ineptitude of various police departments involved in the investigation. As a criminal justice major, I just cringe at some of the bonehead moves made not only by the police officers, but the crime scene techs, coroners, and other various entities involved. I had to really remind myself, numerous times, of the time difference. This all takes place in the late 1960s. Obviously these police departments are different than what we have now. Resources were more limited, for sure. But the glaring contrast is the blatant lack of communication between the separate police departments involved. There were numerous agencies all working these investigations together, and no voluntary sharing of information, discoveries, tips, leads, interrogation notes, confessions, etc. These guys were tripping up other agencies' investigations, sometimes on purpose. It almost seemed like a competition to see who could delay the other's investigation more. So much for speedy justice!
I like that we got a really detailed background on Manson, dating back to his early childhood where he was, sometimes, raised by his very young mother who was a drunk, druggie, partier, prostitute (not entirely sure who his father is), and in and out of jail for the majority of his youth. Sometimes Manson was passed on to family members, other times he was in some sort of boarding/reform school. His introduction to crime was also at a very early age (I believe he was 12 or 13 when he committed an armed robbery). By the time he was in his 30s, he had spent half of his life in jail - not shocking.
Bugliosi really dives into Manson's motive when trying to put together his case for trial. Manson was obsessed with a couple of ideas, stemming from various sources. One was Revelation 9 and the other was the White Album by the Beatles. He truly believes the Beatles were speaking directly to him, via their music, and directing him to act. He believed there would be a world-wide race war, with the blacks killing off all of the whites. Due to this, Manson started building his "Family" of followers in the hopes of reaching 144,000 (a number mentioned in the bible). He centered this Family in Death Valley, where he sought a bottomless pit (Revelation 9) where the Family was to hide during this race war. It was his belief that after the race war was over, these 144,000 white people would emerge from the bottomless pit and rule the world. And he convinced each of his followers of this. The Family consisted of men, women, and children (naturally there were children since most of Manson's initial contact with the followers began at LSD parties that turned into orgies). Manson had a hatred for "the establishment" and anyone who belonged. He would give the followers LSD (or other drugs) and then talk to them about life, love, world order, how they had to respect the earth, and apparently kill anyone associated with the establishment in preparation for this race war. When the race war never really "took off" on its own, that's when Manson decided he had to go show the blacks how to get it started. Hence, the Tate and LaBianca murders. There were several other planned murders, which were unsuccessful for various reasons. Many very close encounters with some very lucky people (in the sense that they are still alive).
Bugliosi also talked a lot about the "power" that Manson had over the followers. Whether you call it brainwashing or something else, Manson had all of these people convinced that he was Jesus Christ. The followers completed every task asked of them, whether it was running to get supplies, doing something on the compound, or stabbing someone 52 times. Didn't matter, it was done if Manson directed it. And reading the quotes from some of these people, especially the meek women who fell into this "trap" is just sickening...their nonchalant descriptions of the murders, as if they were describing picking out a brand of soap. It just meant nothing to them. It was all done in the name of love, and Charlie, and Jesus Christ.
In the book, I am just now getting to the beginning of the trials, and what a shit show! I feel so bad for Bugliosi for having to deal with the games and completely asinine behavior of Manson and the others on trial, including some of the defense attorneys.
I will have a Part 2 once I finish the book to share some closing thoughts, not only on the book itself, but some of the independent research I have done to dive deeper into some of the topics.