Helter Skelter; Whether we are talking about disorderly haste or confusion, a Beatles song, or a true crime non-fiction book, the term itself always gives off a feeling that something incredibly chaotic is imminent. Helter Skelter: the true story of the Manson murders by Vincent Bugliosi, was just the opposite. The book slowly brings us the facts in a calm, collected, interesting way and filled with shocking information. Even though most of us are at least aware of the general event, reading in detail the horrific crime, attitude of the killers and cult mentality is shocking to say the least. I thought I knew what to expect having seen tv shows or movies, but I didn’t know the half of it. Having the perspective of someone who has a credible opinion and was up close and personal, the defense lawyer, is even more chilling and surprising.

Each was, in their own way, a pretty girl…. Same expressions, same patterned responses, same tone of voice, same lack of distinct personality. The realization came with a shock: they reminded me less of human beings than Barbie dolls.

Helter Skelter: A truly horrific event

Helter Skelter: Inside book photo with art by ToleNart

The author wrote the book as a chronological series of events: the murders, the investigation, the trial and the sentencing. First the Tate murders, the the LaBianca which followed a few days later. What was intriguing is that the investigations were done separately for the murders during this time period, and due to this links between the crimes were not made, which led to mistakes with severe repercussions.

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The investigation section was the most lengthy section and most revealing, especially the time it took the detectives before the clues led to the Family. In addition, being the defense lawyer, Bugliosi really dug deep and found out disturbing facts about the Manson family as he interviewed every member, seeing different facets of them on each occasion. He was able to understand the logic behind Manson’s beliefs, even though he obviously did not believe himself.

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To Charles Manson, Helter Skelter, the title of one of their songs, meant the black man rising up and destroying the entire white race; that is, with the exception of Charles Manson and his chosen followers…

He really got invested in the cult mentality and the interviews, with the Manson girls especially, and their reactions and loyalty to their leader seemed as astounding to the lawyer as to the readers. The trials themselves were quite long (lasted over a year) and had so many witnesses, scared or life-threatened, which was record-breaking. The sentencing was the last section, which involved a lot of court jargon and brought closure to the whole case.

Helter Skelter: A shocking Review

In Bugliosi’s Helter Skelter, the author arranged the book in chronological order of events: Murders first, the investigation, the trial, then sentencing. What was great about this order is that the reader is immediately captivated by the first few pages which explain the gruesome murders in detail, the media involvement and terror that spread in the industry and the neighbourhood. Without a doubt, Bugliosi was able to capture our interest and then leave us wanting details on the who, what and why? The investigation itself was frustrating although quite interesting.

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Helter Skelter spine image and art by ToleNart

Reading about detectives whom disregarded clues or overlooked obvious details was infuriating, especially since they could have avoided several deaths. I loved the way the clues were slowly brought about, the suspects, interviews, speculations of the sequence of the crimes etc, reminded me of a great mystery novel or detective show, and then I was shocked all over again when I remembered it was real. It was also really surprising to read how Manson was convinced of The Beatles White Album hidden messages, and based most of his beliefs and obsessions on that fact, especially the song Helter Skelter. Manson’s following, his impact as a leader, and his hypnotic effect on people was intriguing.

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Manson the nobody. Manson the martyr. Manson the teacher. Manson the prophet. He became all these, and more, the metamorphosis often occurring mid sentence…. He rambled, he digressed, he repeated himself, but there was something hypnotic about the whole performance. 

The trial section was also captivating, but could have been a little shorter. There was some court jargon that was dull at times, but all in all, it was mostly exhilarating to be a part of one of the biggest and longest trials to date.

The sentencing or closing section was the least enticing. I would have liked to have a clear idea of who was sentenced to what, rather than what I felt was random notes on a bunch of individuals linked to the the events. Apart from that, if Bugliosi would have cut out a few pages in the end, it was a generally a thrilling read from beginning to end.

Final verdict

The book was all in all extremely captivating, well-structured and well-written, with its only flaw being a little less enticing near the end. Even though I had previously watched Aquarius, a tv show on the Manson family and other media, I learned a lot on the murders and investigation through the book and was able to visualize certain aspects that the tv show or movies could not capture.

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8.5
Score

Pros

  • Captivating topic
  • Well-structured facts
  • Shocking interviews

Cons

  • Lawyer jargon
  • Extensive information
Structured topic
8.5/10
Captivating read
8/10
Shock factor
9/10
Factual interest
9/10

Final Verdict

Captivating interviews and topic brought forth in a well-structured manner with only downside being slightly dull in the end with lawyer jargon.