The best summer readingExplore now

Our recommended summer 2024 crime fiction Explore now

Helter Skelter: a true crime classic

I was passed a crumpled, well-thumbed copy of Helter Skelter ten years ago or more while travelling in the Deep South.

Images from the book have stayed with me to this day: the Tate residence spattered with blood. An eleven-year-old boy finding one of the murder weapons stuffed under a bush (a crucial piece of evidence in the case against the Family). The slum-like conditions at Spahn Ranch, home of Manson’s “Family”.

The Manson story is all about the clash between Charlie Manson’s ludicrous delusions (and those of his followers) of his own self-importance and the mundane reality of their life together. This is a man who thought he was going to instigate an apocalyptic race war by recording a rock album containing secret triggers to violence. But his only real talent was charisma: his ability to seduce and manipulate a bunch of bored, angry, stupid misfits. Runaways and suburban teens who fell for Charlie’s ridiculous Helter Skelter prophecies and treated him like a messiah. Vast quantities of hallucinogenic drugs probably helped.

Perhaps that is the tragedy of Helter Skelter: the Manson Family killed nine people (that we know of) but the murderers, aged in their early twenties, wiped out their own futures in the process.

Vincent Bugliosi tells the story of the Manson murders with the forensic eye for detail that you would expect from a District Attorney, coupled with his inside track on the police investigation and the trial. Despite the celebrities associated with Manson and the murders at Cielo Drive, there is nothing salacious about Bugliosi’s work. It’s the level of detail that Bugliosi provides which makes Helter Skelter a true crime classic.

If you want to know how Manson formed the Family, why they killed and how they were caught, this is the definitive book. The genuine article.

Have you read Helter Skelter? What did you think? Let us know in the comments below!

Dead Good Books Logo
Dead Good Books Logo
David Purvis

Dead Good team member with a fascination for true crime.

Join the discussion

Please note: Moderation is enabled and may delay your comment being posted. There is no need to resubmit your comment. By posting a comment you are agreeing to the website Terms of Use.