Helter Skelter–Vincent Bugliosi


This book is a true crime classic, written by the prosecutor in the Manson trial.

You probably know the broad strokes of the Manson crimes, because they are so famous and so much a part of our shared past.

But if you don’t, this is the basic story. In the 1960s, Charles Manson gathered around himself a bunch of young people, mostly young women, and created a cult where he convinced them he was God.

He did this by keeping them pretty heavily drugged, mostly on LSD, and breaking down their moral boundaries by insisting that nothing was wrong and pushing them to do things that violated their initial taboos. It was basically a continuous drug-fueled orgy over there.

Eventually they take up residence at a ranch that was used for Western movies filming back in the day, and they would scavenge for food in town and rob people.

They also did a thing he called “creepy crawling” where they would break into homes at night and move around, stealing things or moving things around, to prove they could do it without waking up the people in the house.

He had this theory that there was going to be a race war in the near future and that African-Americans would win but then ultimately be unable to rule, so they would come looking for him. He and his followers would be living in an underground world, the entrance to which was hidden somewhere in the desert around the ranch.

Eventually he decides that the race war is taking too long to start, so he decided to kick-start it by killing some rich people, which would somehow be attributed to the Black Panthers? I still don’t really see how he was going to shift blame that way.

Regardless, he sent a bunch of people out to Roman Polanski’s house, and they killed everyone in the house. That was Polanski’s wife, Sharon Tate, who was 8.5 months pregnant, plus three of her friends, and a guy that was there to see the caretaker that lived in the guest house.

The next night they broke into a home in a different neighborhood and killed the couple they found in there.

Eventually they caught some of the people that committed the crime, but the real trick was bringing it home to Manson. He had, as far as anyone could tell, not explicitly told them to kill those people. He was never in the house.

They were convicted, Manson and the three girls who were on trial for the murders with him, and they were sentenced to death. But then California abolished the death penalty so they had their sentences commuted.

This is an excellent book about the Manson crimes. If you want more information than the book can provide, I highly recommend the “You Must Remember This” podcast. One of their seasons was Manson’s Hollywood, which explained Manson’s connections with Hollywood people prior to the murders and really gave a lot more context for the crimes and Manson’s state of mind.