Helter Skelter is the epitome of what a true crime book should be, in my eyes. Since the story is told by the prosecuting attorney on the Manson case, the reader gets an inside look at the events and emotions that arose throughout the case, really allowing him or her to live out the story as it unfolds. This is an equally fascinating and horrifying experience.
In the summer of 1969, in Los Angeles, a series of brutal, seemingly random murders captured headlines across America. A famous actress (and her unborn child), an heiress to a coffee fortune, a supermarket owner and his wife were among the seven victims. A thin trail of circumstances eventually tied the Tate-LeBianca murders to Charles Manson, a would-be pop singer of small talent living in the desert with his "family" of devoted young women and men. What was his hold over them? And what was the motivation behind such savagery? In the public imagination, over time, the case assumed the proportions of myth. The murders marked the end of the sixties and became an immediate symbol of the dark underside of that era.
To set the scene for the novel, Bugliosi lays out exactly what happened the nights that the murders take place using information from interviews, evidence, and the trial. The reader is taken day-by-day through the murders and the events leading up to them, and all in graphic detail. Next, he creates a profile of the cast of characters, including the killers and Mansion Family as a whole.
Maybe it’s because I work in the legal field, but what comes next is my favorite part. Bugliosi goes into great detail describing the investigation, the harrowing hunt for motive, and the duration of the trial. This is such a cool point of view because it isn’t gathered from someone watching the trial on TV or reading court records; Bugliosi lived and breathed this case for years. He is incredibly brilliant and candid in describing every thought and detail that transpired those years.
But don’t let the legal nature of this book dissuade you. Bugliosi’s writing is so entirely captivating and fast-paced. Even if you know a bit about this case from the media or documentaries, you’ll be in shock and awe at the amount of detail that is revealed - from the strategies used to pick the jury to insight into the protection detail that had to be given to those surrounding the case.
I grew up on true crime television, and never in my wildest dreams could I imagine a true crime account with such meticulous detail and candor. If you are at all interested in getting into the genre, Helter Skelter by Vincent Bugliosi is a must read.