Anyone who was old enough to watch TV in the late 1960s will recognize the hippies, Weathermen, SDS, Black Panthers and other lowlifes who inhabit this unusually thorough biography of Charles Manson, the man who programmed 20-some young women to obey his every command, including murdering people, and dying for him if necessary. Xan Brooks in The Guardian describes him as: " . . . a career criminal, one-part pimp to one-part imp; the bespoke vermin of the American counterculture. He crawled inside and built a nest."
Until now Vincent Bugliosi's book about the crime and trials, Helter Skelter, has been the most comprehensive description of the Sharon Tate-La Bianca murders of 1969. And that is still the place to go for the story of the trial and Bugliosi's part in it as an LA assistant district attorney. But now we have Jeff Guinn's Manson: The Life and Times of Charles Manson.
Guinn's book gives us much more detail about Manson's youth (he was incorrigible at age 5, wielding a sharpened scythe in an attempt to attack a cousin.) The author has interviewed many people who were involved with Manson and much information has come to light since Helter Skelter was published in 1974. Guinn is able to describe in detail life as a member of Manson's "Family," including the indoctrination, LSD, sex, misogyny, demand for total and unthinking obedience to Manson (who claimed at times to be Jesus), and the horrific results of the man's psychopathic mania.
Helter Skelter was a song on the Beatles' White Album and Manson convinced his cult followers that it was a message from the rock band to him and to them. He taught them that blacks in America were going to start a world-wide riot which would kill all white people that he called Helter Skelter. Afterwards Charlie and his Family would rule the world. When Helter Skelter didn't begin soon enough, Manson decided to kill some people and set the murder scene to convince blacks to begin Helter Skelter.
To understand this is impossible, but to get an inkling of why it worked Guinn describes the late 1960s: Haight Ashbury in San Francisco, the Summer of Love, Woodstock, the People's Park in Berkeley, the riots of leftists at the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago, the shootings at Kent State, the riots that leveled black neighborhoods in many US cities, the weekly (at times almost daily) bombings by disaffected young people in SDS and the Weathermen.
The Los Angeles police were not very sophisticated about crime scene investigation at that time. A young boy found a .22 caliber Hi Standard Longhorn with a missing right hand grip near the site of one of the crimes and turned it in to the LAPD Valley Services Division.
" . . . based on the broken pieces of a handgrip found at the Cielo (Tate) murder site, the Tate investigators sent out a series of flyers to law enforcement officials asking for information on any .22 Hi Standard Longhorn revolver that might have been recently discovered or turned in. In all they sent some three hundred, including to police officials as far away as Canada. But they failed to send a notice to the Valley Services Division in Van Nuys."
The police were simply unable to see that the two murders were related. One Sunday about a month after the Tate and La Bianca crimes,
" . . . the [LA] Times local news section led with a retrospective: 'Anatomy of a Mass Murder in Hollywood.' Far less prominent was a one-column article, 'La Bianca Couple, Victims of Slayer, Given Final Rites.' An even smaller story told readers that "Police Raid Ranch, Arrest 26 Suspects in Auto-Theft Ring.' Unwittingly, the Times had the seven victims and their killers together on the same page."
But still no one made the connection. Admittedly, the police were overwhelmed with work, the homicide rate having risen 9% between 1968 and 1969.
Guinn's book is extraordinary reading.