Helter Skelter was so interesting. I’d never really read any true crime before last year (when I went through a fairly intense Simpson trial phase). But after picking up on a lot of hype for The Girls by Emma Cline, combined with a recommendation from a colleague, I ended up spending an interesting fortnight engrossed in Helter Skelter.
My knowledge of the Manson Murders prior to reading this was extremely limited. I had a vague awareness of only the most general particulars – Sharon Tate, hippies, a charismatic cult leader. Helter Skelter does a frankly excellent job of taking the reader through the murders, trial, and genesis of the Mason Family. Written by lead prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi, I came away thoroughly impressed by his work on the case. Only through sheer persistence of chasing up leads overlooked by the case detectives, and exhaustive interviews with witnesses, did he manage to piece together enough evidence to achieve convictions.
The thing that gets me is that so much of the evidence in the trial was circumstantial. Had Manson allowed his lawyers to mount a proper defence – had Manson not been so utterly bugfuck crazy – he very well could have got off. Luckily for the world, he decided instead to carve a swastika into his forehead and attack the judge in open court. As you do. Perhaps the single most chilling facet of the case was the disappearance and death of defence attorney Ron Hughes – something I’d had no inkling of beforehand, and was a ‘twist’ so unlikely you’d never get away with it in crime fiction.
Exhaustive, well-researched and more than accessible to the uninitiated reader, Helter Skelter is a highly recommended read.
[Read from 31 January-11 February 2017]