I've enjoyed reading just about anything written by Vincent Bugliosi, and "Helter Skelter" is certainly no exception. Within these pages, Mr. Bugliosi paints an excruciatingly-detailed account of this unique and compelling murder case. You're able to almost get inside Vince's head and see up close how he successfully prosecuted this famous Hollywood case.
Hollywood seemed to be a fitting backdrop for the Manson trial too, because the whole case sounds like something directly from a screenwriter's notebook instead of a real-life tragedy. I guess that's what made the case and the trial so compelling -- it sounds too freaky to be real. I mean, lyrics from a "Beatles" record album becoming a major focus at the trial??
And the tremendous overkill tactics employed by the killers, as they obey their "master" with zombie-like precision. Just simply unbelievable! And yet it happened just the same.
"Helter Skelter: The True Story Of The Manson Murders", originally published in 1974, is "the #1 best-selling true-crime book in publishing history" (per the blurb printed on the cover of the 528-page "25th Anniversary Edition" of the book that I own, which came out in 1994 via W.W. Norton & Co., Inc.).
That '94 "Anniversary" edition is highly recommended by this reviewer due to its original 1974 content plus the inclusion of a new 26-page "Afterword" by author Vince Bugliosi, which was written in June 1994.
"Helter Skelter" tells the fascinatingly-bizarre tale of how a crazy man by the name of Charles Milles Manson ordered several of his seemingly-brainwashed followers (aka "The Family") to arm themselves with knives, ropes, and a gun and break into two Los Angeles-area homes on two consecutive nights in early August of 1969.
Manson's additional orders to his robot-like "family" members were to "kill everyone" who happened to be in those two houses. It didn't make any difference who they were or how many were there -- everyone in those two homes was to die, simply because Charles Manson wanted them to die.
At the end of those two senseless evenings of murder and mayhem, seven innocent people (who had never even met Charles Milles Manson) were brutally slaughtered. The seven vicious killings, known collectively thereafter as the "Tate-LaBianca Murders" or "The Manson Murders", sent Hollywood into a panic for many weeks afterward.
Three months after the killings, 35-year-old Los Angeles Deputy District Attorney Vincent T. Bugliosi was assigned as the lead prosecutor for the State of California in the case against Manson and three of his "family" members (Susan Atkins, Patricia Krenwinkel, and Leslie Van Houten).
Charlie Manson, himself, initially wanted to serve as his own attorney at his murder trial. Manson finally relented, however, and hired Irving Kanarek as his main attorney. Per Vince Bugliosi's comments in this book, Kanarek could easily have been identified by another name -- "Mr. Obfuscation" -- due to his continual frivolous objections and delay tactics utilized in the courtroom.
Kanarek, as pointed out in this volume, is a lawyer who once took 1.5 years on jury selection and pre-trial motions during a case where he ended up being fired by his client before the first witness was even called to the stand.
I took note of a laugh-out-loud passage placed in the book by Mr. Bugliosi regarding Mr. Kanarek -- "Kanarek once objected to a prosecution witness's stating his own name because, having first heard his name from his mother, it was 'hearsay'." <LOL>
Mr. Bugliosi, even within the grim subject matter that the reader encounters in a book like "Helter Skelter", which revolves around seven grisly murders, has the ability to interject a little bit of humor into his publications as well -- with the above Kanarek example probably being the best such instance of humor that I found in this book.
Turning an about-face now from that humorous anecdote mentioned above to the more serious nature of "Helter Skelter" --- As a result of Charles Manson's warped mind, these seven people died in August 1969 in California:
1.) Sharon Tate-Polanski (age 26). .... Sharon was eight-months pregnant when she was stabbed 16 times in the early morning hours of August 9, 1969. It's always been my personal belief that Sharon's killers should have been charged with eight total murders, instead of just seven....with #8 being the murder of the soon-to-be-born baby inside the womb of Mrs. Polanski.
2.) Abigail Folger (age 25). .... "Gibby", as she was affectionately known, was stabbed 28 times.
3.) Voytek Frykowski (age 32). .... Mr. Frykowski suffered the most wounds at the hands of Manson's relentless inhuman killing machines -- being stabbed a total of 51 times, shot twice, and repeatedly beaten over the head 13 times with a blunt object. The savagery of it is still mind-boggling today.
4.) Jay Sebring (age 35). .... Jay was shot once with Manson's very own "Buntline" revolver and received seven knife wounds.
5.) Steven Parent (age 18). .... Steven was the first to die at 10050 Cielo Drive in Hollywood's Benedict Canyon. The teenager was shot four times in his car as he was trying to leave the Tate property.
6.) Leno LaBianca (age 44). .... After Charlie Manson had personally tied up Mr. and Mrs. LaBianca with rope inside their home at 3301 Waverly Drive in the Los Feliz district of Los Angeles, Manson sent his murderous monsters into the LaBianca house to kill them both. Leno was stabbed 12 times with a knife and was stabbed another 7 times with a fork. A knife was found lodged in Mr. LaBianca's throat, and the word "war" had been physically carved into Leno's stomach by his bloodthirsty murderers, while the double-tined fork used to create that word in the flesh of the victim was left protruding from Mr. LaBianca's abdomen following the grisly act.
7.) Rosemary LaBianca (age 38). .... Mrs. LaBianca was stabbed with a knife a total of 41 separate times. Both of the LaBiancas were found with pillowcases over their heads.
RELATED "MANSON" TOPICS:
Mr. Bugliosi's best-selling book "Helter Skelter" has also been made into two television movies, produced in 1976 and 2004 (both of which have been made available on DVD; links below).
I highly recommend each of those film adaptions of "Skelter" too, with the original 1976 movie (starring George DiCenzo as Vincent Bugliosi and Steve Railsback as Charles Manson) being my favorite of the two versions.
Unlike the first film, the 2004 remake concentrates less on the actual court trial, spending more time on the activities of Manson and "Family" in the weeks and months leading up to the morbid events of August '69.
Both versions are worthy additions to the DVD-Video library, in my opinion. Mr. Bugliosi himself is credited as one of the three "Executive Producers" of the 2004 movie.
I often wonder what would have happened if Charlie Manson and Family had heard the words "Not Guilty" when the verdict was announced in Los Angeles on January 25, 1971. Thankfully, though, they did not hear those two words spoken by the court clerk that day, due in great part to Mr. Bugliosi's fine work in piecing together the potential (albeit crazy-sounding) motive for the Tate-LaBianca murders.
But if Manson and his faithful gang of unfeeling killers had walked out of court free and clear, I wonder if other innocent people might have ended up like Sharon and Jay and Voytek, et al. It's a chilling thought....to be sure.
I'm just glad Mr. Bugliosi was ultimately successful in his prosecutorial efforts, and got the killers off the streets and behind bars where each of them belongs.
Anyone who reads the disturbing and chilling first chapter of "Helter Skelter" will no doubt want to keep turning these pages till the end.