Helter Skelter: The True Story of the Manson Murders

Helter Skelter: The True Story of the Manson Murders

by Vincent Bugliosi, Curt Gentry


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The #1 True Crime Bestseller of All Time—7 Million Copies Sold

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.

Vincent Bugliosi was the prosecuting attorney in the Manson trial, and this book is his enthralling account of how he built his case from what a defense attorney dismissed as only "two fingerprints and Vince Bugliosi." The meticulous detective work with which the story begins, the prosecutor's view of a complex murder trial, the reconstruction of the philosophy Manson inculcated in his fervent followers…these elements make for a true crime classic. Helter Skelter is not merely a spellbinding murder case and courtroom drama but also, in the words of The New Republic, a "social document of rare importance."

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780393322231
Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
Publication date: 12/28/2001
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 736
Sales rank: 1,466
Product dimensions: 5.58(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.15(d)

About the Author

Vincent Bugliosi (1934—2015), was the prosecutor of Charles Manson and author of Helter Skelter, Outrage, and other #1 bestselling books.

Curt Gentry (1931-2014), an Edgar winner, was the author of J. Edgar Hoover: The Man and the Secrets, Frame-Up: The Incredible Case of Tom Mooney and Warren Billings, and co-author of Helter Skelter with Vincent Bugliosi.

Date of Birth:

August 14, 1934

Date of Death:

June 6, 2015

Place of Birth:

Hibbing, MN

Place of Death:

Los Angeles, CA


University of Miami (1956); UCLA Law School (1964)

Read an Excerpt

Saturday, August 9, 1969

It was so quiet, one of the killers would later say, you could almost hear the sound of ice rattling in cocktail shakers in the homes way down the canyon.

The canyons above Hollywood and Beverly Hills play tricks with sounds. A noise clearly audible a mile away may be indistinguishable at a few hundred feet.

It was hot that night, but not as hot as the night before, when the temperature hadn't dropped below 92 degrees. The three-day heat wave had begun to break a couple of hours before, about 10 P.M. on Friday - to the psychological as well as the physical relief of those Angelenos who recalled that on such a night, just four years ago, Watts had exploded in violence. Though the coastal fog was now rolling in from the Pacific Ocean, Los Angeles itself remained hot and muggy, sweltering in its own emissions, but here, high above most of the city, and usually even above the smog, it was at least 10 degrees cooler. Still, it remained warm enough so that many residents of the area slept with their windows open, in hopes of catching a vagrant breeze.

All things considered, it's surprising that more people didn't hear something.

But then it was late, just after midnight, and 10050 Cielo Drive was secluded.

Being secluded, it was also vulnerable.

Cielo Drive is a narrow street that abruptly winds upward from Benedict Canyon Road. One of its cul-de-sacs, easily missed though directly opposite Bella Drive, comes to a dead end at the high gate of 10050. Looking through the gate, you could see neither the main residence nor the guest house some distance beyond it, but you could see, toward the end of the paved parking area, a corner of the garage and, a little farther on, a split-rail fence which, though it was only August, was strung with Christmas-tree lights.

The lights, which could be seen most of the way from the Sunset Strip, had been put up by actress Candice Bergen when she was living with the previous tenant of 10050 Cielo Drive, TV and record producer Terry Melcher. When Melcher, the son of Doris Day, moved to his mother's beach house in Malibu, the new tenants left the lights up. They were on this night, as they were every night, adding a year-round holiday touch to Benedict Canyon.

From the front door of the main house to the gate was over a hundred feet. From the gate to the nearest neighbor on Cielo, 10070, was almost a hundred yards.

At 10070 Cielo, Mr. and Mrs. Seymour Kott had already gone to bed, their dinner guests having left about midnight, when Mrs. Kott heard, in close sequence, what sounded like three or four gunshots. They seemed to have come from the direction of the gate of 10050. She did not check the time but later guessed it to be between 12:30 and 1 A.M. Hearing nothing further, Mrs. Kott went to sleep.

About three-quarters of a mile directly south and downhill from 10050 Cielo Drive, Tim Ireland was one of five counselors supervising an overnight camp-out for some thirty-five children at the Westlake School for Girls. The other counselors had gone to sleep, but Ireland had volunteered to stay up through the night. At approximately 12:40 A.M. he heard from what seemed a long distance away, to the north or northeast, a solitary male voice. The man was screaming, "Oh, God, no, please don't! Oh, God, no, don't, don't, don't …"

The scream lasted ten to fifteen seconds, then stopped, the abrupt silence almost as chilling as the cry itself. Ireland quickly checked the camp, but all the children were asleep. He awoke his supervisor, Rich Sparks, who had bedded down inside the school, and, telling him what he had heard, got his permission to drive around the area to see if anyone needed help. Ireland took a circuitous route from North Faring Road, where the school was located, south on Benedict Canyon Road to Sunset Boulevard, west to Beverly Glen, and northward back to the school. He observed nothing unusual, though he did hear a number of dogs barking.

There were other sounds in the hours before dawn that Saturday.

Emmett Steele, 9951 Beverly Grove Drive, was awakened by the barking of his two hunting dogs. The pair usually ignored ordinary sounds but went wild when they heard gunshots. Steele went out to look around but, finding nothing out of place, returned to bed. He estimated the time as between 2 and 3 A.M.

Robert Bullington, an employee of the Bel Air Patrol, a private security force used by many of the homeowners in the affluent area, was parked in front of 2175 Summit Ridge Drive, with his window down, when he heard what sounded like three shots, spaced a few seconds apart. Bullington called in; Eric Karlson, who was working the desk at patrol headquarters, logged the call at 4:11 A.M. Karlson in turn called the West Los Angeles Division of the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD), and passed on the report. The officer who took the call remarked, "I hope we don't have a murder; we just had a woman-screaming call in that area."

Los Angeles Times delivery boy Steve Shannon heard nothing unusual when he pedaled his bike up Cielo Drive between 4:30 and 4:45 A.M. But as he put the paper in the mailbox of 10050, he did notice what looked like a telephone wire hanging over the gate. He also observed, through the gate and some distance away, that the yellow bug light on the side of the garage was still on.

Seymour Kott also noticed the light and the fallen wire when he went out to get his paper about 7:30 A.M.

About 8 A.M., Winifred Chapman got off the bus at the intersection of Santa Monica and Canyon Drive. A light-skinned black in her mid-fifties, Mrs. Chapman was the housekeeper at 10050 Cielo, and she was upset because, thanks to L.A.'s terrible bus service, she was going to be late to work. Luck seemed with her, however; just as she was about to look for a taxi, she saw a man she had once worked with, and he gave her a ride almost to the gate.

She noticed the wire immediately, and it worried her.

In front and to the left of the gate, not hidden but not conspicuous either, was a metal pole on the top of which was the gate-control mechanism. When the button was pushed, the gate swung open. There was a similar mechanism inside the grounds, both being positioned so a driver could reach the button without having to get out of the car.

Because of the wire, Mrs. Chapman thought the electricity might be off, but when she pushed the button, the gate swung open. Taking the Times out of the mailbox, she walked hurriedly onto the property, noticing an unfamiliar automobile in the driveway, a white Rambler, parked at an odd angle. But she passed it, and several other cars nearer the garage, without much thought. Overnight guests weren't that uncommon. Someone had left the outside light on all night, and she went to the switch at the corner of the garage and turned it off.

At the end of the paved parking area was a flagstone walkway that made a half circle to the front door of the main house. She turned right before coming to the walk, however, going to the service porch entrance at the back of the residence. The key was secreted on a rafter above the door. Taking it down, she unlocked the door and went inside, walking directly to the kitchen, where she picked up the extension phone. It was dead.

Thinking that she should alert someone that the line was down, she proceeded through the dining room toward the living room. Then she stopped suddenly, her progress impeded by two large blue steamer trunks, which hadn't been there when she had left the previous afternoon - and by what she saw.

There appeared to be blood on the trunks, on the floor next to them, and on two towels in the entryway. She couldn't see the entire living room - a long couch cut off the area in front of the fireplace - but everywhere she could see she saw the red splashes. The front door was ajar. Looking out, she saw several pools of blood on the flagstone porch. And, farther on, on the lawn, she saw a body.

Screaming, she turned and ran back through the house, leaving the same way she had come in but, on running down the driveway, changing her course so as to reach the gate-control button. In so doing, she passed on the opposite side of the white Rambler, seeing for the first time that there was a body inside the car too.

Once outside the gate, she ran down the hill to the first house, 10070, ringing the bell and pounding on the door. When the Kotts didn't answer, she ran to the next house, 10090, banging on that door and screaming, "Murder, death, bodies, blood!"

Fifteen-year-old Jim Asin was outside, warming up the family car. It was Saturday and, a member of Law Enforcement Unit 800 of the Boy Scouts of America, he was waiting for his father, Ray Asin, to drive him to the West Los Angeles Division of LAPD, where he was scheduled to work on the desk. By the time he got to the porch, his parents had opened the door. While they were trying to calm the hysterical Mrs. Chapman, Jim dialed the police emergency number. Trained by the Scouts to be exact, he noted the time: 8:33.

While waiting for the police, the father and son walked as far as the gate. The white Rambler was some thirty feet inside the property, too far away to make out anything inside it, but they did see that not one but several wires were down. They appeared to have been cut.

Returning home, Jim called the police a second time and, some minutes later, a third.

There is some confusion as to exactly what happened to the calls. The official police report only states, "At 0914 hours, West Los Angeles Units 8L5 and 8L62, were given a radio call, 'Code 2, possible homicide, 10050 Cielo Drive.'"

The units were one-man patrol cars. Officer Jerry Joe DeRosa, driving 8L5, arrived first, light flashing and siren blaring.1 DeRosa began interviewing Mrs. Chapman, but had a difficult time of it. Not only was she still hysterical, she was vague as to what she had seen - "blood, bodies everyplace" - and it was hard to get the names and relationships straight. Polanski. Altobelli. Frykowski.

Ray Asin, who knew the residents of 10050 Cielo, stepped in. The house was owned by Rudi Altobelli. He was in Europe, but had hired a caretaker, a young man named William Garretson, to look after the place. Garretson lived in the guest house to the back of the property. Altobelli had rented the main residence to Roman Polanski, the movie director, and his wife. The Polanskis had gone to Europe, however, in March, and while they were away, two of their friends, Abigail Folger and Voytek Frykowski, had moved in. Mrs. Polanski had returned less than a month ago, and Frykowski and Folger were staying on with her until her husband returned. Mrs. Polanski was a movie actress. Her name was Sharon Tate.

Table of Contents

Cast of Characters13
Part 1The Murders: August 9-October 14, 196921
Part 2The Killers: October 15-November 17, 1969111
Part 3The Investigation--Phase Two: November 18-December 31, 1969163
Part 4The Search for the Motive: The Bible, the Beatles, and Helter Skelter January-February 1970283
Part 5"Don't You Know Who You're Crucifying?" March-June 14, 1970341
Part 6The Trial: June 15-November 19, 1970401
Part 7Murder in the Wind: November 19, 1970-January 25, 1971505
Part 8Fires in Your Cities: January 26-April 19, 1971541
Epilogue: A Shared Madness599

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Helter Skelter 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 242 reviews.
Fuampa More than 1 year ago
Great read. Would have given 5 stars if the Nook would show the images. "Images in this book are not displayed owing to permissive issues" That is frustrating.
Mary_T More than 1 year ago
I acknowledge that this story is horrific enough without the photos, but I was surprised when my ebook edition omitted them. I could understand the technological issues attendant with including color photos, but the pics in the "dead tree" version are in black and white, so I don't understand why they weren't included in my ebook version. I checked out the paper book while at Barnes and Noble. The photos are not grotesque. Certain aspects of the crime scene photos are prudently obscured. But what I found fascinating were the photos of the young women who committed the murders. Fresh-faced teenage girls smile out from the pages. Manson looks like a feral leprechaun and one wonders why anyone would follow him anywhere much less murder for him. The inclusion of the photos in the (not inexpensive) ebook version would have made this a better product.
PhxKevin More than 1 year ago
Helter Skelter is about Charles Manson who in 1969, along with his family of followers struck fear in the heart of all America. The darker side of the hippie movement the sixties were known for. Vincent Bugliosi does a great job leading you through the events and subsequent trials. Be aware though that the NOOK version of this book does not include any of the photographs, maps etc. that the book version does. These are important to the story and i was very disappointed to find them not available.
William Russell More than 1 year ago
I would recommend this to anyone that is into detective based novels or interested in psychological thrillers. Very chilling everytime I read the words that come from the manson family. Horrifying that this crime actually happened.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Usually nonfiction books don't keep my interest, but Helter Skelter was a real page turner. It described the Manson Family in great detail, not to mention the murders they committed. Charles Manson was an incredibly twisted character, and manipulated the minds of his followers. The author, Vincent Bugliosi, was one of the members the prosecution. His vivid imagery makes you feel like you're really at the scene of the crime. As if imagination isn't enough, Helter Skelter contains pictures of the victims, where they were found, and those who took their lives. It was eerie looking back through the photos of the killers after reading their responses in interviews with investigators. The one that stood out to me the most was Susan Atkins. She bragged about the murders. Atkins talked about how good it felt to stab people after describing how she murdered pregnant actress, Sharon Tate. If you enjoy crime stories, this one's a must read.
Guest More than 1 year ago
While many non-fiction books are written from second hand information this book was written by one who was actualy a major character int he case and who was responsible for helping end the reign of terror by one of the evilest men in history. Bugliosi's book was wonderful and I'd recommend it for anyone interested in a 'scary as hell' story (just like the warning in the beginning of the book) and a lesson in police and prosecution procedures. Warning: Do not read this book at night. Every few minutes I would get up to make sure the my windows were locked.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
While the subject matter of this book is very engrossing, and all of the pertinent elements are presented in a concise and cogent manner, the author has some rather annoying habits. First, he is not consistent in the use of names of people. Sometimes he uses first names and other times he uses last names. To further confuse the reader, he sometimes uses their true names and other times he uses their aliases. Since their are a very large number of individuals involved in this vastly intricate plot, this can be very aggravating. Despite these fairly minor infractions, however, I was highly entertained and would recommend it to anyone.
Amanda-Katherine More than 1 year ago
This book goes into great detail about the Manson murders during the 60s/70s. It starts off with the Tate and LaBianca murders, and the reasons for why it took so long to connect the murders, let alone solve them. The first time I took a look at the book and didn't want to pick it up because it was over 400 pages. But then I started to read it and could not put it down! I read it in 2 days. I recommend this book to anyone wanting some thrill, as well as information reguarding Manson and his crazy thinking.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is great from start to finish, and I had a hard time putting it down. The author is very detailed regarding the events that took place giving the reader a feeling of actually being there. I don't think it could have been written any better.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I never write reviews. I have to say, this book is unbelievable. It is "real" not fiction and written by the actual prosecuter. So, it's so interesting. It's fascinating beyond belief.....excellently written too. Only thing is that the pictures aren't available with the Nook version.
NewYorker69 More than 1 year ago
I will be honest, I usually find nonfictional dull and miserable to go through. However, this writer is skilled in his delivery of detail and portrayal of events. I am only in the first part of this book still, but felt compelled to let the online community know just how interesting this book really is. Definitely a bit creepy and sad that its all real. But great read.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is the most complete true crime novel ever written. It takes you inside the murders and the lives of everyone involved. Usually in books like this, the portions about the court procedings are slow and boring. That's not the case here. The trial is very interesting to read about. A great book all around!
KLA44 More than 1 year ago
The best true crime book ever written. I've read it twice over the years. Be prepared to be shocked. It s hard to wrap your mind around the lunacy of it all.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is a great book if you are interested in any sort of crime, especially true crime. This book gives you a lot of incite on the Manson Family and its even better because it was written by the prosecution in the Manson Family murders. I think one of the most interesting person of the Manson Family has to be Susan Atkins. She is very complicated and she seems to be open to talking about what happened on August 8 and 9 1969 as if she sort of brags about it. If you are looking for a great true account of the Manson Family and the murders you should read this book!!
MissMonkeysMom More than 1 year ago
Excellent read. A must for true crime fans.
Elaine_M More than 1 year ago
If you only know the name Charles Manson by vague associations with a shaggy beard, creepy eyes, and the notion of evil, this book might surprise you. Indeed, before Manson was any of that, he was a hippy father figure for many wayward youth -- mostly women -- in late 1960s California, and he was a man who was pretty close to not being convicted of anything more than auto theft. Bugliosi, the prosecutor in the Manson trial gave one of the first accounts of the Manson murders following the conviction of Manson and his followers. Bugliosi's tale is indeed told like a district attorney uncovering evidence. The advantage of this for the reader is being privvy to all of the ins and outs of the investigation and trial: the pain-staking evidence gathering that was often hindered by LAPD's lack of internal communication and drawn-out courtroom proceedings that were often hijacked by Manson's obstructionist attorney, the three women in their early 20s who killed for Manson (Susan Atkins, Leslie van Houten and Patricia Krenwinkel) and Manson himself. Although it seems a given now that Manson was responsible for mass murders, it was hardly expected that he and "the girls" would be convicted for killing actress Sharon Tate (Roman Polanski's wife), her friends, a grocery store chain owner and his wife, and a young man who was in the wrong place at the wrong time. The biggest drawback of this book is that it does not go in depth into the motives of Charles Manson and his followers. We get that they at some point accepted him as a religious figure, as is what happens in cults, but we don't get how these young women and men became so dissolute that they could kill for Manson, at least not in anyway that seems convincing. 'Helter Skelter' is a great introduction to the events that led to these horrific murders, as well as to this period in history. (It is said that these murders put an end to the hippy era because of Manson's association with the movement, marginal though it was. Bugliosi refers to Manson at one point as a "right-wing hippie," because of his authoritarian inclinations combined with the hippie lifestyle this ex-con adopted in the late '60s). But reading the book leaves so many questions in the reader's head--maybe as many as it answers. Did the victims really not know the killers? How much responsibility did Manson have for the murders? Why on earth would people believe him when he said there would be a race war called Helter Skleter (were they just that drugged out)? What motivated young women and men from middle class families to uproot and live with Manson? i.e. How bad could their family lives have been that a gnomish bearded man who insisted on directing them in orgies seemed like a better life choice than going to college and leading a "normal" life? Bugliosi's book is a great introduction to this truly gruesome and unparalleled point in history, but you will finish it wanting to learn a whole lot more.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Helter Skelter is perfect if you just want to lesuire read of if you want to be educated on a infamous murder. Vincent writes beautifully and allows you to feel the emotion envolved in the actually crime itself. Someone recommded this book to me and in a second i will and have recommded helter skelter to anyone!!!
Anonymous 21 days ago
horrible and interesting. the case of Sharon Tate and the Labiancas is insane. Charlie Manson is a crazed lunatic.
Anonymous 11 months ago
CSMcMahon on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I will never listen to the Beatles White Album the same ever again. In all seriousness, this book was incredible. It makes you wonder what it was about Manson that he had the ability to get people to commit atrocious acts.
ABookVacation on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This documentary was written VERY well... like a novel, instead of a documentary. I was captivated and appauled at the same time. It's scary to know this madness exsists.
hippieness on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A very disturbing read!
Borg-mx5 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A compelling, factual read. This book changed the genre of true crime and details the events leading upto one ot the most bizzare tales of murder ever.
queencersei on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Helter Skelter is the true story of the Manson Family and L.A. prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi¿s quest to bring them to justice. The infamous murders of Sharon Tate, her guests, the Labianca¿s and others are graphically recounted. The book really shines when Bugliousi describes the trial of the Mason Family, detailing the events that occurred in the courtroom. The book is well written and riveting. It is a must read for any lover of the True Crime genre and a story that is impossible to forget.
sellis91 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Helter Skelter is the first real crime book that I have read. The only books that I have read that are similar are a couple of legal thrillers by John Grisham. I didn¿t even plan to read Helter Skelter either. The red letters on the spine of the book just jumped out at me as I was walking among the bookshelves. For my first factual crime book, I found Helter Skelter horrifying, interesting, and very educational. Before reading this book I only knew bits and pieces about the Manson murders such as; Charles Manson was the leader, it took place in the 60s, he had a bunch of female followers, and that they had committed a few murders. Little did I know how horrendous those murders actually were. From the several and excessive stab wounds, to the bloody writing on the wall, it was like stepping into a horror movie. Vincent Bugliosi, the author, had written Helter Skelter like a murder and legal thriller all in one. Although this all happened way before my time, when I read this book, I felt like it was all happening now and that I was a fly on the wall witnessing everything. The book was exciting and I didn¿t want to put it down. It was intriguing reading about the powerful Charles Manson and his brain washed robot and zombie like followers. It was amazing what people can and will do for love or faith. How someone can murder a woman who was 8 months pregnant and cannot see nor feel any wrong or guilt for what she did. Helter Skelter has opened a new genre of literature to me. I know want to read and learn more. Maybe I will read about Jeffrey Dahmer or other serial killers or psychopaths. It¿s interesting to see, or at least try to see what makes these terrifying people tick.