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Helter Skelter: The True Story of the Manson Murders Paperback – December 17, 2001
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“One of the best crime stories ever written.”
- Chicago Sun-Times
“[A] social document of rare importance.”
- The New Republic
About the Author
Vincent Bugliosi (1934―2015), was the prosecutor of Charles Manson and author of Helter Skelter, Outrage, and other #1 bestselling books.
Curt Gentry (1931-2014), an Edgar winner, was the author of J. Edgar Hoover: The Man and the Secrets, Frame-Up: The Incredible Case of Tom Mooney and Warren Billings, and co-author of Helter Skelter with Vincent Bugliosi.
Top customer reviews
The other reason this book isn't quite as informative as Bugliosi's other true crime accounts is that he doesn't provide as many legal insights as he did in his other works. There is a lot of insider information about the legal maneuvering involved in bringing Manson and three female co-defendents to trial. But Bugliosi doesn't delve sufficiently into such points as why Manson was deemed to be the most guilty of all the perpetrators, even though Manson himself didn't personally commit any of the Tate/LaBianca murders.
It's not that Manson shouldn't have been held ultimately responsible. But I'd like to have read more about the legal theory backing such an assignment of guilt. Bugliosi does devote a few paragraphs to the topic, mentioning the care he took as prosecutor to emphasize the rules of conspiracy to the jurors. He didn't want any juror holding out to exonerate Manson just because Manson didn't physically stab or shoot any of the victims. However, I'd like to have read an in-depth discussion of this point because it touches on so much of the high crimes that have characterized the last 100 hundred years - from the crimes adjudicated at the Nuremberg Trials to several of the more sensational matricides and patricides committed by teens recently. In several of the latter cases, the juvenile partner who did the actual killing was deemed to be much more responsible than the instigating youngster who merely provided access to the house and who stood by while the slaughter occurred. In view of the conspiracy rules applied in the Manson case, why would this be so?
This book nonetheless provides a valuable demonstration of the often tragic consequences of carelessness. The blurb on the back cover cites the "meticulous detective work" involved. This would lead you to believe that members of the various police departments really exerted themselves gathering evidence. However, that's not true. The detective work referred to is probably that done by Bugliosi himself and his staff. Bugliosi stepped outside his role as prosecutor to become chief homicide investigator as well - a real Perry Mason generalist. He showed exemplary determination in his efforts to leave no stone unturned - literally - in order to locate evidence and testimony.
Meanwhile, many members of the different police and sheriffs' offices were notable for their failure to follow through with leads, and for their failure to communicate with each other. Inter-departmental competition and just plain indifference was often to blame. It becomes apparent that if various individuals, from Manson's parole officers, to a whole hierarchy of officers and investigators had earnestly and intelligently done their jobs, at least some of the murders could have been averted.
So this book provides a lesson in how things in law enforcement could be improved, but probably haven't been since this book was first published in 1974.
Bugliosi goes beyond exploring "just the facts, ma'am." He devotes pages to an explanation of Manson's motivating philosophy, a roiling stew of such disparate ingredients as songs from The Beatles' "White Album" and quotes from the Book of Revelation. Bugliosi further spends the better part of a chapter examining how Manson could have gained such a devoted following. He covers some of the elements that make any successful cult leader, but then is left with some X-factor that he believed Manson must have possessed in order to have had such influence. Sometimes the reader might feel that Bugliosi goes too far in admiration of Manson, characterizing him as having such qualities as "Intelligence...searing insights... mental deftness."
There are also several extensive sections of photographs (albeit rather grainy ones) reproduced here. Some have key elements whitened out to avoid personalizing the gore too much.
Finally, there's an "Afterward" in this edition that updates (as of 1994) readers on the lives of both the guilty and the innocent involved in this shocking saga.
Over 600+ pages, Bugliosi lays out the case against Manson and his gang, who acted seemingly at random in their homicidal spree over an August weekend in Los Angeles. Bugliosi is meticulous in detailing the facts. He was a lawyer by trade, and while he became a successful author following the success of Helter Skelter, his prose does tend to be on the dry side. The book can drag in parts just because there are so many characters involved -- both at the heart of the story and on the periphery -- that at times, it's hard to keep all the names straight.
Despite those shortcomings, this is still the go-to book on the subject of Manson if the subject fancies you. Before reading this text, I was quite familiar with the mythical status of Manson and the fact that one of the victims of these killings was actress Sharon Tate. But aside from that, I really didn't know much more. I assure you that this book will provide you with all the knowledge you wanted to know on the topic -- and then some.
Most recent customer reviews
Or even of Manson. I enjoyed this book.