Helter Skelter Book Report

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The year was 1969, and in early August seven people were brutally murdered; words like “Pig,” “Healter Skelter” and “Rise” were found printed in blood at the crime scenes. Eventually it is discovered that the perpetrators of these horrific crimes are cult members living on the outskirts of society, led by a man named Charles Manson. But who is Charles Manson? Charles Manson is a monster, certainly, but as a monster he offers us a unique look into the human mind. This semester we have learned about the many different types of people who may engage in individual forms of interpersonal violence. Charles Manson however, provides us the case study of a man whose life revolved around interpersonal violence in all its manifestations. There was nothing this man wouldn’t do to reach his goals – he would rape, murder, manipulate, and lie - all in the name of his personal ambitions. In Vincent Bugliosi’s book, Helter Skelter: The True Story of the Manson Murders, the reader is provided a thorough explanation of how Manson developed his criminal lifestyle though the focus is on the famous murders he helped to commit as the leader of The Family and the process used to convict him. After a brief comment about the book as a whole and its writing style and content, Manson’s connections to the subject of interpersonal violence will be examined. These connections include the subjects of child neglect, rape, domestic violence, and spiritual abuse. This book offers a huge amount of detail regarding how the Manson Family murders were committed, how the investigation proceeded and how the trial against Manson was won. To bring this history to life, Bugliosi organized his book into chapters ranging from one month to five month increments which serve to place the reader back in the summer of ’69 right after the Tate murders were committed, and take him or her all the way to the conclusion of the trial and its aftermath. While this level of detail and careful organization is very good at informing the reader of the details of Manson’s crimes and how he got convicted, I believe that most important is the analysis of Manson’s life in regards to interpersonal violence. Therefore, I will focus only on the summary of Manson’s life provided in the book, as well as his methods for building and controlling his Family.

Since this book was written by a lawyer (Mr. Bugliosi was the prosecuting attorney in the Manson case), one might think that Helter Skelter might be rather boring i.e. totally fact driven and concerned with the technical aspects of the Manson trial as Mr. Bugliosi experienced them. This book is certainly very concerned with the facts, and Bugliosi even provides the time that many events took place. The police investigation is especially explicit in this regard. For example, “about 1:30 that afternoon Lieutenant Burdick interviewed a girl who had been booked under the name Leslie Sankston,” (p. 121). This aspect of the book can be hard to get through at times, as there is a large cast of characters including suspects, law enforcement officials, witnesses and other ancillary characters whose actions and influences on the case are laid out in careful detail. It can be difficult to keep track of who provided what evidence or which Manson family member was or wasn’t involved in the group’s actions (to make matters worse many of the Family have multiple aliases and nicknames). However, despite some factual overload, Bugliosi does add some comments which add flavor and help the reader to understand what the murders meant for people living around Los Angeles at the time. For example, Bugliosi talks quite about how the general public and the media react to the murders, including details such as, “one Beverly Hills sporting goods store sold 200 firearms; prior to the murders, they averaged three or four a day,” (p. 73). This color commentary lifts the reader’s head out of the world of the murder investigation to remind them that outside of all this...
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