Full disclosure: I love the true crime genre. Morbid and dark, I know…but it just fascinates me. What goes on in the mind of the killer? What makes them different from the rest of us? My favorite podcast, Sword and Scale, is an incredible true crime podcast and I’ve listened to all 54 episodes twice haha. After Sword and Scale the only other podcasts I’ve ever gotten into were Serial (duh) and consequently Undisclosed. I actually prefer Undisclosed; I just love the technical talk, the pure cut and dry facts, the clues you can extract from things like the autopsy report. (Does anyone else listen to any of these podcasts too? Let me know, let’s bond over them and discuss!)
So when I got Vincent Bugliosi’s Helter Skelter for Christmas last year, I was beyond excited to read it. And let me tell you…this book is gripping, intense, and not for the faint of heart.
To give you a quick background of the case featured in Helter Skelter: In early August 1969, a string of murders made headlines across the country. Beautiful actress Sharon Tate, eight months pregnant, had been brutally stabbed to death in her home along with her friends, celebrity hairstylist Jay Sebring, coffee heiress Abigail Folger, and writer Voytek Frykowski. 18-year-old Stephen Parent, who had been visiting the tenant of another residence on the property, was murdered in his car as he was leaving. The following night, supermarket executive Leno LaBianca and his wife Rosemary were also killed in their home. I won’t go into the details in case you have a weak stomach, but the murders were extremely gruesome and messages had been written on the walls at each crime scenes in the victims’ blood. Super creepy.
In June 1970, the nation was captivated when trial began for four of the accused perpetrators of those terrible crimes. According to the prosecution, cult leader Charles Manson had commanded four of his followers (Susan Atkins, Patricia Krenwinkel, Leslie Van Houten and Charles Watson, who was tried separately) to kill…and they had obeyed. All of those accused were found guilty as charged.
Vincent Bugliosi, the author of Helter Skelter, was the prosecutor for the case. Because he was so intimately related with this case from start to finish, his testimony is especially intriguing. You aren’t simply reading an account of the crime and the proceedings; you are hearing it first hand, in first person, from someone who was there. And it isn’t just the fact that the writing is phenomenal that makes this book so good…the whole tale behind it is beyond creepy! Manson’s cult (his “family”) lived in the desert doing tons of drugs (Atkins said she dropped acid over 200 times over the course of her stay the the Family ranch…what?!) to “deprogram themselves,” Manson claimed to be Jesus and that the Beatles were sending him messages via their White Album…just totally batshit crazy stuff.
Oh, and the trial itself was something of a spectacle with the women randomly breaking into song, laughing and giggling when the crime scenes were described, carving X’s into their foreheads after Manson had done the same to himself, and more. This whole thing is completely goosebumps-inducing, right? Thinking that these three young women had brutally stabbed innocent people to death and were sitting in court giggling at the crime scene photos is highly disturbing. See the picture below…I just find it so unsettling.
Considering the density of this book, I finished it remarkably quickly. It’s just too suspenseful to put down! And it isn’t just the story it tells that’s interesting; it’s a quite in-depth account of the crime itself, the investigation, how the prosecution prepped for trial, and the trial proceedings. I found myself eager for more information about the case both during and after reading it, and I love books that make you hungry for more. Fun fact, I couldn’t fall asleep one night after I thoroughly crept myself out watching a bunch of YouTube videos about the Manson Family.
Bref, there’s a reason this case continues to spark interest in so many people. I would recommend this book even to those who aren’t true crime junkies, and if you ARE then Helter Skelter absolutely cannot be missed. This book takes true crime to another level…the story is so intriguing, disturbing, and engrossing that you won’t be able to put it down.
Have you read Helter Skelter? What do you think of the convictions? I would love to discuss!