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Book Review: Helter Skelter

I’m not sure that I could say anything more about Helter Skelter that hasn’t been said since it was first published in 1974. It tells the story of the Manson Family and how Charles Manson orchestrated the murder of actress Sharon Tate, four of her friends, and the LaBiancas, a seemingly innocuous, if well-to-do, couple.

Instead, I’m going to talk about a criticism that was brought to me by a friend. I mentioned that I was reading Helter Skelter and his response was something to the effect of “Bugliosi is an asshole. Brilliant, but an asshole.” My gut reaction to this was “Alright, I’m not seeing it, but whatever,” so I started trying to look for something that would give me that feeling. The closest I got was that sometimes, while describing the actual Manson trial, he’ll make comments about how he felt that he had made a good argument or explain why he argued a point the way he did and that it worked. I suppose both of those could be indications that he thinks highly of himself, but it didn’t strike me as especially asshole-ish.

When reading the book, one has to remember that it was written right after the Manson trial and that while it’s easy for we of 2013 to think it’s ridiculous that anyone could ever have thought to acquit Manson, there was a real chance for that to happen–if there’s one thing Court TV has taught me, it’s that the jury doesn’t always get all the facts. Of course Bugliosi is going to insist that he made all the right calls just in case someone still doesn’t believe in the verdict.

Now, however, the idea of letting Manson or the three Family members tried with him–Patricia Krenwinkel, Leslie van Houten, and Susan Atkins–is almost laughable.

Charles Manson was last up for parole in 2012 which he was obviously denied after he told the prison psychologist, “I am a very dangerous man.” He didn’t attend the parole hearing, as he usually does.

Patricia Krenwinkel’s last hearing was in 2011. It was denied, but part of the reason was because the LA DA’s office “suggested that if Krenwinkel was remorseful she would waive her parole hearings and accept her punishment.” So…in order to get paroled, she would need to stop wanting to be paroled? That reminds me of a certain Joseph Heller novel…

Leslie Van Houten was denied parole again in 2010 for the 17th time, much of the reason being that Sharon Tate’s sister is continuously fighting against any of the incarcerated Mason Family members from ever getting out of jail. She apparently still receives threats from Family members three or four times a year.

Susan Atkins, whose testimony bothered me the most with its horror (she confessed her involvement with great glee to a fellow inmate when she was being held for something else) was denied parole on September 2, 2009, then died of cancer only twenty-two days later, the first of those convicted of the Tate-LaBianca murders to do so. I was a little shocked to find out that she ended up marrying her attorney, which I feel exhibits a lack of judgement on his part.

Editor’s note: I originally stated that Rosemary LaBianca was the mother of Suzanne Struthers, which was the product of my brain seeing an S-name and Struthers and thinking of Sally Struthers. This was pointed out to me by a commenter who needs a lesson in tact and diplomacy.

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  1. April 25, 2013 at 7:15 am

    Umm, mother of Suzanne Struthers…not. You’re obviously a doofus.

    • April 25, 2013 at 12:05 pm

      While I certainly appreciate your enthusiasm, there’s probably a different way to tell met hat I mixed up Sally Struthers and Suzan Struthers, who was Rosemary LaBianca’s daughter.

  2. April 25, 2013 at 3:03 pm

    Yes, you’re right about that. I really don’t mean you any ill will and I probably overreacted, but it was kind of funny. And there is so much mis-information out there that it pains me to ever see any more.

    Dear editor, I strongly suggest that if you are going to become an internet blogger or some such thing, that you grow a much thicker skin as it is only going to get rougher for you out there. Especially when dealing with content such as the Manson Murders. if moderating comments is something you like to do, you’ll be doing alot of it.

    There are many many problems with Vincent Bugliosi, and not just with the motive he used to convince a jury to convict Charles Manson and the others. if you are not familiar with this but are still interested, there are many websites to peruse which will blow your mind.

    The word doofus is actually a pretty strong word for someone like myself to use in your case. i actually am one of the kinder gentler bloggers in the Manson milieu. I can assure you, there are many more out there who would not have been as kind to you as I.

    Best wishes, and good luck.

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