Helter Skelter by Vincent Bugliosi

It’s interesting that every time I went to search Helter Skelter the song, this book came up first the majority of the time. With a song by an artist so ingrained in our society as the Beatles, I did not take the fact that a book on a serial killer cult possibly having more popularity lightly.

I’ve started to read more nonfiction recently, after taking a creative nonfiction workshop in my years of undergrad. So, getting to read about a true psycho that still exists in the world was going to be an interesting comparison with the fictional ones we’ve encountered thus far. Though this book read as far more factual than some of the more creative memoir I’m accustomed to, I was surprised that I didn’t often lose interest. Helter Skelter’s popularity probably had something to do with the whole society fascination with serial killers idea. However, there’s also the fact that we get to stand in the unique perspective of Deputy DA who prosecuted Manson himself. Informative books like this are often told by those who still serve as outsiders who did a lot of research on the subject. But with Bugliosi, we may feel inclined to get a better, firsthand account of what actually happened.

The idea that Helter Skelter has remained popular since its publication in 1974 is both interesting and a bit concerning to me. Charles Manson obviously had an abnormally large ego, enough for him to claim to his followers that he was Jesus Christ himself. This makes me think that the point of everything he did was simply to go down in infamy, and the public appears to continue to feed that. And from that point of view, I sometimes question Bugliosi’s intentions as well. Did he want society to know what happened to the best of his recollection, or did he also want his name to last longer, making money in the process? In our fascination of these people, I think it’s necessary that we do not cross the line into glorifying them. This goes along the lines of why I don’t think the names of modern-day shooters should be released to the media. They are then hyped up by it, and their victims are never remembered nearly as well as the killers were. There’s an exception with Sharon Tate, but she was already famous by the time of her death.

The things that Manson said and did during his trial were so off-base, I wonder if we wouldn’t criticize him if he were a fictional character. We’d ask questions like, “How could someone like that be smart enough to accomplish those murders, let alone obtain obscenely loyal followers?” I’m often reminded of Hitler when I think of Charles Manson because, although their ideals seem absolutely ludicrous to us, they had some sort of controlling charisma that was actually able to convince others to believe in the same thing. And that, I think, is what makes a truly terrifying psycho. One that can continue his or her antics and belief systems, even after they are caught or killed.


4 thoughts on “Helter Skelter by Vincent Bugliosi

  1. You bring up a good point about Bugliosi’s motives. He isn’t the only one who’s written books on true-crime. Ann Rule made a career on that alone. I am fascinated by serial killers, I don’t know why, but I buy all the books, I watch the movies, and sometimes I have even purchased trial transcripts (only with Lizzie Borden–I’m not super crazy). But I would never ever buy art, autographs or anything else by a serial killer because that is where I draw the line. Maybe I am just as guilty of glorifying them as those who write about them or those who collect their memorabilia. I don’t like to think of myself in that way, but I just want to know how their brains work.


    1. I think it’s aright to be fascinated by them from a psychological point of view. I can’t remember where I saw it, but there was an article that actually showed how a killer’s brain differs from regular person’s vrain in MRi scans. They actually used tge brains of real killers so it was an interesting read.


  2. Klarisa, Manson reminds me of Hitler as well. A lot of their views came across as the same to me and how much Manson admired him was clear. It’s interesting that you think criticizing Manson as a character. I think it’s those lines where there is no logic that had me thinking of the whole case as surreal. I also agree that Bugliosi’s motives for writing this book will always be under question. I like to think he wrote it for the write reasons, but who is to say if he didn’t just want to get on the sensalization of the case and gain from it. I also agree that we shouldn’t give killers the fame and credit they deserve, but I never thought of it as in relation to the victims before. I usually focus on the idea that others will try to copy them and take a shred of the fame the media gives them. For example, I came across an article on the man who committed the London terror attacks tge other day that played up what was wrong with him and likened him to a “vampire”. It completely drew away from the victims of the attack, so I see what you mean. It’s another point to add to why I don’t like the fame killers are given.


  3. I think we are hardwired to be fascinated by anything scary — all the better to study, understand and avoid it! I have a lifelong interest in serial killers too, so I never question why someone like Bugliosi wrote about (probably) the only one he ever had personal contact with. I also think it’s silly to withhold the names of serial killers under the misguided idea that naming them unfairly glorifies them. If they continue to live, and do their deeds, in the dark then how are we going to know who they are — for our own self-preservation?


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