This is the definitive account of the longest trial in American legal history. Four persons: Charles Manson, Susan Atkins, Patricia Krenwinkel and Leslie Van Houten, are sentenced to death for the murders of Sharon Tate, Jay Sebring, Abigail Folger, Voytek Frykowski, Stephen Parent, Leno La Bianca and Rosemary La Bianca. The crimes, collectively known as the Tate/La Bianca murders took place in Los Angeles in August 1969. Vincent Bugliosi's work is both focussed and orderly and he scores highly in bringing a convoluted and at times incompetent enquiry to the reader in a totally believable account. Stretching to 664 pages, some might consider the work too long winded but the story certainly licks along at a good pace. The lion's share of the time is given over to a day by day, blow by blow account detailing the court proceedings. These accounts are so good that in places you can believe yourself to be in the public gallery and can feel the tension and horror as this macabre tale unfolds.
The crimes, which rocked America in the late 60's and early 70's, are truly horrific. Bugliosi does not shy away from revealing the cold, callous and detached nature of each defendant; none of whom show the slightest remorse for their barbaric actions. Neither too are we sheltered from the abundant stabbings, shootings, hangings, and mutilations. There are ample official statements, legal examinations, cross-examinations and personal conversations to satisfy even the most curious. The reader's inclusion 'in the court' so to speak, might for some readers prove too much, but by a combination of thoroughness, attention to detail and style the author takes us into the bizarre world of Charles Manson.
He is a 'wannabe' but unsuccessful musician, drug user and, for more than half of his life, a frequenter of numerous penitentiaries. He is the self-styled guru of 'The Family' where most of the members are young, impressionable runaways. Lost, lonely and anti-establishment they, by numerous avenues end up at Manson's door. Most are female, most claim to be in love with Manson, most claim he possesses special power or is the embodiment of Christ or Satan (terms Manson uses of himself). The late 60's mix of sex, free love and drugs are used to full effect and, more often than not, the girls are used to attract new recruits. In turn, through a dangerous cocktail of charisma, fear and violence, added to delusionary interpretations brought on by 'hidden' meaning in a number of the Beatles songs, Manson creates a dependency upon himself and his words. In short - he controls their thoughts, actions and lives, but as Bugliosi shows they are willing participants in this 'game'.
Crucial to the prosecution's case is the motive for the murders - Helter Skelter. Through his interpretation of the Beatles lyrics, his predisposition to violence, his anti-establishment and racism, Manson attempts to kick-start a race war in America. To realise this goal, white 'pigs', as he calls them, must be sacrificed. The culmination of this 'Armageddon' will ultimately benefit Manson and the 'Family' as they will assume control over the reins of power and government. The killings are random and brutal and, in spite of the bizarre nature of the motive, Bugliosi brings the full horror of this tragic episode in American history to the reader in a cogent, believable and professional manner.
If the book has a down side it would be that the real comparisons between Charles Manson and Adolf Hitler are pretty tenuous, Bugliosi's frequent portrayal of himself in the, 'I'm always right' camp, gets a bit irritating and the use of aliases with some of the main players in the 'Family' can get confusing at times. That said, for any true crime buffs out there who like their reading material to be a real mix of the gruesome and the legal, this book is a must.