Saturday, August 9, 1969 was to become the date of one of the most infamous murder sprees in US history. 10050 Cielo Drive was too isolated and too secluded when Charles ‘Tex’ Watson, Susan Atkins, Patricia Krenwinkel, and Linda Kasabian were sent upon a mission by Charles Manson to begin what the self-proclaimed Jesus Christ would call ‘Helter Skelter.’ They were to murder the inhabitants within and start a race war that eventually would elevate Charles Manson to the level of ‘white savior.’ The trio, while a terrified Linda waited outside, shot, stabbed, and bludgeoned to death five innocent victims; the most famous of which was Roman Polanski’s heavily pregnant wife, actress Sharon Tate. A young man named Steven Parent, visiting the wrong place at the wrong time became the first victim, and later, coffee heiress Abigail Folger, Polanski’s Polish friend, Voytek Frykowksi, and hair stylist Jay Sebring all succumbed to the heinous murders which would terrify all Los Angeles and its surrounds. But that wasn’t enough. 48 hours later, two more victims suffered similar fates; Rosemary and Leno LaBianca who were stabbed continually, even after their deaths, by the same killers with the addition of Leslie Van Houten who’d joined the murder spree that night. It was to take over 4 months before Charles Manson and his ‘Family’ was apprehended.
A case like this proves difficult to prosecute. Compounding the always sensitive issue of race, the fact that the chief architect of the crimes apparently did not actually murder any of the seven victims could doom the prosecution. Worse yet-what was the real motive? It would take a skilled and unceasingly devoted prosecutor to convict Manson and his family, and that man, Vincent Bugliosi, proved up to the task.
There may have been no break in the case if a spacey Susan Atkins, aka Sexy Sadie, hadn’t relayed her gruesome tale to Ronnie Howard, a fellow inmate at Sybil Brand detention center. After some soul searching she called the police, but it was to be months before the two murder cases were connected. The Manson family, consisting mostly of women, lived at the sprawling Spahn Ranch in the desert. There, Charles Manson, using sex, drugs, and his own special interpretation of music, coerced his ‘Family’ into believing he was Jesus Christ. Short and wiry and conversely capable of both extreme gentleness and violence, the ex-con managed to convince his followers that the Beatles spoke to him in their songs. Helter Skelter, Piggies, Sexy Sadie, and Revolution #9 urged Manson to begin a race war in which ‘Blackie’, would seemingly win, but later, after failing to monopolize on his victory, would have to turn to Manson and ‘Whitie’ to rule.
This bizarre motive seemed like it had only a chance in hell to sway the jury when trial finally began in June, 1970. Susan Atkins had made a deal with Bugliosi months before, but after instructions from Manson, refused to testify for the prosecution.
This turned out to be a stroke of luck. This left the non-killer and witness, Linda Kasabian, to strike a deal—one much more palatable to Bugliosi who disliked making pacts with the she-devil murderer, Susan Atkins. ‘Tex’ Watson was to be tried at a later date and the long trial for the three girls and Manson became a media circus. After Manson’s lunges at Judge Older, synchronized chanting by the girls, and all four defendants carving X’s on their foreheads, it soon became apparent that any rational court had to isolate them from the weary jury, who were sequestered for the duration of the trial which lasted until the end of December. On December 28th, 1970, Bugliosi gave his closing statement, reiterating the sheer butchery of the murders, the lack of remorse on the killers’ part, and the insane logic of the murderers’ motive which could be proved by the bloody words Pig, Rise, Death to Pigs, and the misspelled Healter Skelter written on the murder scenes’ walls. He concluded by stating that the mastermind andbrainwasher Charles Manson had dispatched three killers out to the Tate resident, but had miscalculated by also sending one ‘human being,’ in the form of Linda Kasabian.
On April 19th, 1971, after nearly 9 and ½ months of trial, Manson and the three girls were convicted of murder and sentenced to death. On October 12, 1971, ‘Tex’ Watson was found guilty of 7 counts of murder in the first degree and a week later, the jury also returned the death sentence. Ironically, all the convicted killers were to be spared as California abolished the death penalty in February, 1972, citing that it was ‘cruel an unusual punishment.’ The five’s sentences were commuted to death and because of the abolishment; it meant that all the killers would be eligible to apply for parole within seven years.
Helter Skelter is written in the unswerving natural style typical of Vincent Bugliosi’s straightforward manner. As a #1 True Crime bestseller, its gripping content is easy to absorb and difficult to put down. As a final footnote, the entire Manson family still serves time in California Prisons, having been denied parole each and every time they’ve applied. “Tex” Watson is a born-again Christian and the three women have all repented of their crimes. Only Charles Manson remains unchanged, perpetually arrogant in his belief that ‘Helter Skelter’ was justified and sadly, in his mind, unfulfilled.