Book Review #4

An Exclusive Look Into the Crimes and Trial of Charles Manson:

The Motive Helter Skelter

By: Shauna Onofrietti

A healthy human mind is considered intricate and intriguing, so it is only natural that menacing sociopaths such as Charles Manson in the novel “Helter Skelter” provide readers with an obsessive interest.

“Helter Skelter” was written in 1974 by Vincent Bugliosi, the prosecutor from Manson’s trial, and Curt Gentry. This 600 paged piece of literature is the most detailed, affluent works of true crime I have ever read.

True crime is one of my absolute favorite genres, because I’m just your typical, average young adult – dangerously fascinated with sociopaths, psychopaths and all things serial killer related.


Manson sticking his tongue out at photographers.

In 1969, Manson and his “family” took the reign of terror in Los Angeles, California. Manson proved himself extraordinarily manipulative, powerful and essentially insane.

On Friday, August 9, 1969, Manson told the members of the Family: “Now is the time for Helter Skelter.”

If you’re a Beatles fan unfamiliar with the mind of Manson, let me just say that yes, “Helter Skelter” is a direct reference to The Beatles’ song. And believe me, you will not want to frolic in the strawberry fields forever when you discover why.

Helter Skelter is fundamentally a term for a race war in Manson’s mind. He whole-heartedly believes he is Jesus Christ resurrected, and he convinces the Family that this is indeed true. He also claims that when the “black man seizes power” most of the world will come to its demise – except him and the Family, who will survive by living in dark caves in the middle of a California desert.

Once this situation occurs, Manson would eventually be given full reign of the world and be in complete control of everyone and everything. So why not follow him now?

On the warm summer night of August 8, 1969, pregnant actress Sharon Tate was holding a small party with several of her closest friends. And this party ended in a human slaughterhouse being discovered the following morning.


Image of aspiring actress and victim, Sharon Tate.

Sharon Tate

Sharon Tate was due to give birth in two weeks when she was murdered on August 8.

Victims at Sharon Tate’s house 10050 Cielo Drive in Bel Air included Tate and the unborn yet fully formed baby in her belly, Jay Sebring, Voytek Frykowski and Abigail Folger. One victim, Steven Parent, was difficult for the police to identify at first.

The police investigation faced various obstacles during the hours following the discovery of the bodies. Meanwhile, on the following night, more murders were committed in another county.

On August 10, 1969, two additional victims were discovered dead at 3301 Waverly Drive. Married couple Leno and Rosemary LaBianca had been brutally killed, in a relatively similar way to those at Cielo Drive. Despite the obvious similarities, the police failed to find any connections for months. And even then, they were skeptical.


Three prominent female members of Manson’s Family carved x’s in their foreheads to signify their support for Manson who carved his own forehead a few days prior.

In regards to the eventual trial, members of the Family attempted to deter the prosecution, Manson himself endlessly complained and the months that followed were astoundingly brutal. With three women charged with crimes and forced to combine into one trial, along with several other Family members on trial for unrelated crimes, they mainly viewed it as an entertaining game of sorts.

“Helter Skelter” can be gruesome with intense detailing of the crimes. If you are not into true crime, nor have a strong stomach, I would not suggest divulging into the crimes and trial of Manson and the Family. This is coming from someone who has strong experience with the genre: I usually do not experience a stomach churning quite as often as I would if I were not immune to this amount of substantial detailing, but the motions inflicted upon Sharon Tate and her baby by Family member Susan Atkins genuinely made me sick.

Otherwise, Bugliosi creates a perfect timeline of events and allows readers to feel like investigators – we learn facts as the police discover new leads, evidence and build a case against Manson and his Family who are living in squalor on an abandoned movie ranch.

“Helter Skelter” can get repetitious when the situation demands for it, but it is not over-bearing. It is usually a nice summary to remind viewers of imperative details. Meanwhile, the crimes committed by Manson and the Family were grizzly and horrendous. There are heavy descriptions on the subject, so I once again warn those with a faint heart. Every brutality is spread before readers in graphic detail.

On another note, I will never be able to listen to the Beatles’ songs without Manson’s interpretations puncturing their way into my brain.

I would overall rate this novel a 10/10. I thought I thoroughly understood the Manson case. Oh man, was I wrong. I completed “Helter Skelter” several months ago and still find myself thinking about the case and recollecting the smallest details about people mentioned in the book. It is even more frightening to think that these things really happened. 

I am lucky enough to own an original copy and luckily in this day and age, finding a vintage copy could be done relatively cheap if you do enough research.

Movie trailer from 1976 film edition of Bugliosi’s “Helter Skelter.”

    Female Manson supporters/Family members sing on the corner during his trial.


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