Sunday, October 30, 2011

Helter Skelter: The True Story of the Manson Murders by Vincent Bugliosi and Curt Gentry

I’m not entirely sure why I chose to re-read Helter Skelter (published in 1995) other than the fact that the sensational 1969 “Tate-LaBianca” murders left such an indelible mark on my memory. Having read my share of true crime, I have a peculiar curiosity about how and why people seem to get away with murder. For every person convicted, there are many more never caught.  And, if you believe those convicted, they didn’t do it either, which means that lots of people are getting away with murder. I find this extremely annoying since I can’t even get away with driving five miles over the speed limit.

At seven hundred pages, Helter Skelter is not a beach read, and the story is so disturbing as to have retained its fascination for forty-two years.  Here’s the 50-cent tour of this true-life murder mystery:  Sharon Tate is a beautiful but talentless actress in her 20’s who is eight months pregnant by famous movie director Roman Polanski. One night, while Polanski is in Europe, Tate and a number of friends congregate at the Tate/Polanski Los Angeles home, including coffee heiress Abigail Folger, her boyfriend Wojciech Frykowski, and hair stylist to the stars Jay Sebring (Tate and Sebring are pictured above). The next morning, the Tate/Polanski housekeeper arrives to find the four of them, and a young guy who made an ill-timed stop at the house, all murdered in horribly macabre ways. That same night an older Los Angeles couple, the LaBiancas, are similarly slaughtered and I do mean slaughtered – Rosemary LaBianca was stabbed 41 times. Click on Read More Below...


In Helter Skelter, author Bugliosi, the lead Los Angeles prosecutor in the case, tells in explicit and self-aggrandizing detail, his version of the story of the murders and the eventual conviction of Charles Manson for “master-minding” and ordering the murders.

Aside from the fact that the story of those murders is more bizarre then fiction, what fascinated me was the relationships of the people referred to as “the Manson family,” the rag-tag bunch of misfits, hippies, criminals, bikers, prostitutes, runaways, etc., that congregated communally on an old abandoned and isolated movie set close to Los Angeles. The leader of the pack, Charles Manson, who at that time had spent 17 of his 24 years in jail for a series of crimes, is not unlike many other charismatics who sucker people into doing stupid things. He comes up with a goofy “meaning of life” scenario involving The Beatles, an uprising of the Black race against “whitey,” a plan to kill Liz Taylor and Steve McQueen, and a heaven-ish “bottomless pit” in the desert where he will lead his people.

His followers were mostly women. Manson claimed women were good only for one thing, but they demonstrated they were also good at something else: killing.  And this is what I found mesmerizing. These women, and some of the men, saw Manson as Jesus, a savior, when actually he was just an illiterate criminal with amazing powers of persuasion. It just goes to show you that when people’s heads are vacant, some really stupid stuff can move in. Manson recruited women and men who had zero self-esteem, or who were not particularly physically attractive, by telling them they were beautiful and wonderful and smart, but not as smart of he. Then he told them to kill, and they did. That level of power over people certainly isn’t uncommon as demonstrated by history, but it is always disturbing and fascinating.

If you’ve a freakish curiosity and appetite for crime, criminal minds, crime investigation, and criminal conviction minutia, it doesn’t get much better then the super creepy Helter Skelter

1 comment:

  1. Charlie M. (really!...)January 25, 2012 at 5:10 PM

    Thanks for the review. I think you mean "17 of his 34 (not 24) years in jail". He would have to have gone to jail at age 6 for that to be possible! ;)

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