Nicole’s Reviews – Helter Skelter Vincent Bugliosi
*Caution: controversial (and contains spoilers, but … uh … it’s history so … spoiler alert?!)
tell me, tell me, tell me the answer
you may be a lover but you ain’t no dancer
Helter Skelter by Vincent Bugliosi
Release date: 1974
Reviewed by Nicole
Rating: 5 stars
Find it/buy it here: Helter Skelter
In August 1969 I was approaching my 6th birthday and I lived less than an hour south of Los Angeles. I got most of my news sitting in the back seat of my parents car driving down the street, and I remember hearing snippets of the Tate-LaBianca murders and being petrified. It was a gigantic deal. Naturally I didn’t understand it, but it was in the air and it didn’t matter how old you were, everybody felt it.
I read this book in my teens but I don’t remember it at all, and even if I had remembered it I certainly would have reacted to it as I did this time. I’m less trusting of the “establishment” (DNC anybody?) and have finely honed my life motto “Question everything.”
Before I say anything else, I will say this – Bugliosi was a brilliant prosecutor. His job was convictions for the murders, and he got them. I also felt like he was quite frank in his recounting of the trial of Charles Manson and the “family.” Often noting when he made a mistake, or when opposing council scored a point.
The investigation was botched on numerous levels by the police, and it was up to VB (easier than typing Bugliosi every time) to not only build his case with evidence, but also to find a motive. In speaking with Susan Atkins she mentioned the start of “Helter Skelter” which she defined as “the last war on the face of the earth. It would be all the wars that had ever been fought built one on top of the other … ” “The karma is turning, it’s blackie’s turn to be on top.” Danny DeCarlo said Manson preached this incessantly.
VB’s conclusion: “That Manson foresaw a war between the blacks and the whites was not fantastic. Many people believe that such a war may someday occur. What was fantastic was that he was convinced he could personally start that war himself-that by making it look as if blacks had murdered the seven Caucasian victims he could turn the white community against the black community.”
Birth of a motive.
The book is fascinating and the story is well laid out. You definitely felt the vibe of the time, sex, drugs and rock and roll. VB often talking about how he and Charlie would “rap.” (This was really something I felt was missing in the recent release The Girls.) There are countless avenues for discussion should a group wish to really dig into this book. Here’s a few takeaways for me:
- The justice system – fair trials and the insanity defense.
- Jail – life in, and what kind of rehabilitation are they talking about exactly?
- The black/white war – has it finally arrived?
- Did VB construct a fictional case against Manson?
- Cults vs. religions – what’s the difference?
- The White Album – The best record of all time? (Yes, yes it is. )
Indulge me while I have a conversation with myself –
The Justice System
The girls had the fairly incompetent legal representation if this book is to be believed (and frankly, I think they’d been brainwashed, and why that’s not considered mental illness is kind of beyond me.) But that’s not the biggest issue; the biggest issue is that Charles Manson is batshit lunatic crazy. He’s smart, really smart – no doubt about that, but he’s cripplingly mentally ill. He also didn’t commit the murders. They got him on conspiracy and apparently that is just as bad because he got the same penalty as those who did the actual killing. I don’t wish Charles Mason was free on the streets, don’t get me wrong, but he should be in an mental institution not jail, and don’t even ask me if I think that’s better, because I honestly can’t imagine it is.
During sentencing VB asked for the death penalty stating that is the sentence you give when you don’t believe people can be rehabilitated. He got it. But because of a change to the death penalty in CA all death sentences were commuted leaving Manson and the girls to serve life sentences.
With the benefit of knowing the future since we are living in it, we can now see if the women have been rehabilitated. I just listened to hours of interviews with them, and you know what? I think they are rehabilitated. They are remorseful, articulate and can look at and examine that time and explain as best they can what happened. It doesn’t change the crime, and again I’m not saying that they should be free, but what does it mean exactly to rehabilitate a prisoner?
It also goes without saying, we need prison reform, but that’s a great big topic for another blog.
The Black-White War
I wonder what Manson thinks about everything that’s happening now. I wonder what VB would have thought. My opinion is, we’d better get it together pretty quickly. Conservatives are completely brainwashed by their cult leaders Fox News, to think that Black Lives Matter are a bunch of murdering thugs. This simply is not the case. These people want to be able to work with an autistic person and not get shot in the leg.
A Fictional Case Against Manson?
It’s possible. And I don’t necessarily think it was intentional. I think VB really believed his theory. One of those things we will probably never know, and it doesn’t really matter because clearly they were guilty so the end result is no different (except Manson should be in a mental ward not prison). There is a 1994 afterward in this version of the book where I really felt like VB was trying to justify his position. He also gave “where are they now” updates on the other imprisoned family members, and unsurprisingly most of them are devout Christians.
Cults vs. Religions?
This is such a perfect example of people who need to believe in something. They needed to believe in Charles Manson, and now they believe in Christianity. In my mind, it’s basically the same thing. Brainwashing.
The White Album
when I get to the bottom I go back to the top of the slide
where I stop and I turn and I go for a ride
The actual Helter Skelter
Loved this book!
I’ve been afraid to read this book (or watch any documentaries on the Manson “family”), because when I was a child, images of Manson were all over the news. Even in Iowa we felt that fear you spoke of, and to this day, my worst nightmares are of Charles Manson and what he represents. Someday I may be brave enough…but even thinking of those crazy eyes terrifies me!
oh no Tracy! I think if you read this you might feel better … I think the prosecutor and the media really created the fear. Manson is mentally ill, and probably a bit scary … but he’s just a guy.
As long as you are mentioning the DNC, and in keeping with your theme, here is my response to the RNC and their candidate,
“You say you got a real solution
Well, you know
We’d all love to see the plan
You ask me for a contribution
Well, you know
We’re all doing what we can
But if you want money for people with minds that hate
All I can tell you is brother you have to wait”
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p.s. I’m totally with you …
I’ve never looked closely at this case to know what it was all about. Interesting to find it was meant to be a cover for starting conflict between racial groups.
Great review! A thoroughly engrossing detective story and courtroom drama. Very well written. Eerie and un-put-down-able.