Helter Skelter by Vincent Bugliosi – Reviewed by Guy Portman
In one of the most infamous mass murders in history, Sharon Tate, the Hollywood actress and pregnant wife of film director Roman Polanski, is brutally slain in her home, along with coffee heiress Abigail Folger, her boyfriend Voytek Frykowski, hair stylist to the stars Jay Sebring, and teenager Steven Parent, an acquaintance of the property’s caretaker. The victims, with the exception of Parent, have been stabbed multiple times, and the word ‘PIG’ has been scrawled on a door in Tate’s own blood. The following night Leno and Rosemary LaBianca are brutally knifed to death in their home, and various words, including ‘Death To Pigs’, are found scrawled in the victims’ blood. Bungling police not only fail to link the murders, they also mislay and inadvertently destroy evidence.
Eventually Charles Manson, the charismatic, manipulative and diminutive leader of a cult known as ‘The Family’, along with three female cult members, accused of having carried out the killings at his request, are charged with the murders. Prosecutor and author Vincent Bugliosi outlines in intricate detail the murders, the investigation and resulting court case that at the time was the longest murder trial in American history, and at a cost of $1m, the most expensive. This was a unique and horrifying case that entailed a race war theory based on a bizarre interpretation of The Beatles’ ‘White Album’, and a cult member turned star witness.
After a nine month trial Charles Manson, Susan Atkins, Leslie Van Houton and Patricia Krenwinkel were found guilty and sentenced to death, only for the death penalty to be abolished in California shortly thereafter, resulting in their sentences being commuted to life imprisonment.
Helter Skelter is a very detailed, six hundred and sixty page true crime classic, complete with photographs, that leaves the reader feeling that they have lived through the murder trial. The book provides an insight into the mind of a cult leader, his followers and the workings of the California legal system of the time. This reader was left wondering whether this is exactly what occurred, or rather what Bugliosi succeeded in making the jurors believe.