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This true crime classic was published in 1974. The author, Victor Bugliosi, was Deputy District Attorney in L.A. and responsible for prosecuting the Tate-LaBianca murders. As this book was published a fairly short time after the actual events, it has a real immediacy, and Bugliosi's insider knowledge makes the reading experience extremely interesting.

The book opens with the murders, which are difficult to read about even after so long. On Saturday 9th August, 1969, screams and gunshots were heard from 10050 Cielo Drive. The bodies of actress Sharon Tate, heavily pregnant, Abigail Folger, heiress to a coffee fortune, Voytek Frykowski, a playboy, Jay Sebring, a celebrity hair stylist and Steve Parent, only eighteen, and caught up in events after visiting William Garretson, who lived in the nearby guest cottage to keep an eye on things for the owner of the house and care for his dogs, were discovered the next day by housekeeper Winifred Chapman. Garretson had not even heard the shots or screams reported by nearby neighbours, possibly as he was playing music loudly, although he did recall that the handle of his door was turned down, as though someone tried to enter the property. Luckily for him, he escaped further notice, although by sheer fact that he was nearby, he was considered the prime suspect at the time.

On Sunday 10th August, Leno and Rosemary LaBianca returned home to Los Angeles after visiting Rosemary's son in Lake Isabella. Dropping her daughter home, they picked up a newspaper from the stand and returned home. The next day their bodies were discovered when their son returned home and was concerned something was wrong at the house. Like the murders at Cielo Drive, the murders were savage and words were written, in blood, at the scene - including the infamous, "Healter Skelter," (spelt incorrectly) at the LaBianca home.

In July of that year, a music teacher, Gary Hinman, had been stabbed to death at his home. Like the scene at Cielo Drive and at the LaBianca house, words had been written in blood. However, the connection between the murders were initially ignored. In fact, apart from connections not being drawn, there were mistakes made during the investigation - including police officers obliterating prints at the Tate house and a gun found in the area, and handed in, being logged and forgotten about. The detectives leading the Tate murders were experienced, but set in their ways. Those involved with the LaBianca murders were younger, better educated and, although less experienced, more open minded. Indeed, they were the first to link the LaBianca crime with the Tate murders and even suggested the words written at the scene were from the Beatles latest album, the "White Album."

We read of evidence gathered, interviews and the rumours, and fear, that swept Hollywood. There were suggestions that the murders at Cielo Drive were linked to drug use and the victims were looked at by the press as `freaks' and their murders viewed with a lack of sympathy. Meanwhile, chillingly, a news report on the mass murder included both a short report on the murders of the LaBianca couple alongside mention of a raid on an isolated ranch owned by George Spahn. A group which had been stealing cars and converting them to dune buggies

The book then introduces those responsible for the terrible crimes. Gradually, the detectives become aware of Charles Manson and his `Family'. Largely this is because of members of the family themselves - Manson who bragged to biker Danny De Carlo and Susan Atkins, currently in prison after a raid on the ranch where the family lived, who told more than one other inmate that she had been involved in the killings.

We then meet the author himself. Victor Bugliosi finds he is in charge of prosecuting the Tate-LaBianca murders and painstakingly sets about trying to build a case against the suspects and finding evidence. We follow him to the Spahn ranch, interviewing suspects and coming into contact with Charles Manson for the first time. The police are under immense pressure to wrap the case up as quickly as possible and Bugliosi resists giving deals to Susan Atkins and Linda Kasabian, which might see them literally getting away with murder. Indeed, when he finally takes the cases before the L.A. County grand jury on December 5th, jurors are stunned by Atkins nonchalant testimony, while recounting the horrific murders she openly admitted to being involved in.

The book then moves on to the preparation for the trial. Bugliosi's work is hampered with problems he has with the detectives investigating the Tate murders. He finds the LaBianca detectives far more conscientious and asks them to help him in the task of securing evidence and strengthening their case. He has the difficult task of convincing the jury of Manson's domination over the Family. Meanwhile, Manson himself is acting as his own attorney, while endeavouring to bring the Family members under his control, even in prison. Not everybody is behind bars and many potential witnesses, such as Beach Boy Dennis Wilson, are living in fear and have received death threats, which makes Bugliosi's harder.

Surprisingly, despite being on trial for his involvement in vicious murders, much of the press and public seem to be enamoured by Manson. This love affair with the press is gaining the Family more converts. While the author seems perplexed by this, he is even more confused by the possible motives for the murders. He discovers that Manson quotes constantly from the Beatles and The Bible; plus he borrows various terms from Scientology and has an obsession with the Third Reich. Can Bugliosi convince a jury that the murders were committed because Manson believed the Beatles were sending him coded messages through the "White Album," to begin a racial war in the United States?

The trial itself is covered in great detail; from choosing the jury, through Manson's courtroom antics. Victor Bugliosi was the prosecutor of the Tate and LaBianca trial and so is expertly placed to put us at the very heart of the case. It is obvious that fear was very real - members of the Family were camped outside the Court and carrying weapons openly. Celebrities such as Frank Sinatra, Elizabeth Taylor and Steve McQueen were said to be future targets, as well as those already involved in the case - from Bugliosi himself to possible witnesses. Indeed, before the end of the trial, there will be more crimes committed, including murder... The author's central role in the proceedings helps give the book immense detail and also tension - as the author was truly dedicated to getting the victims of the Tate - LaBianca trial justice.

The epilogue sees the author musing that, even though the defendants had been convicted, events were not yet over. How many murders did Manson and members of the Family commit? At the very least, there was also the murder of Gary Hinman and Donald "Shorty" Shea, as well as the attempted murder of witness Barbara Hoyt, the possible murder of one of the attorneys in the trial and threats to those involved in the case. Other things covered here, albeit briefly, is the trial of Charles "Tex" Watson, plots by the Family to free Manson and the others and the author's musings on Manson's beliefs.

In 1975 this book won the Edgar Award for Best Fact Crime Book and I can easily see why. I have read this before, but found it even more engrossing on re-reading it. It would really be interesting to have the author update this book, as I would be fascinated to hear what he thinks about the case now. At the time he wrote this, the author did not expect Manson to be released from prison, but he did not oppose Susan Atkins release when she was seriously ill (which was denied and she died in prison in 2009) and other members of the Family are still incarcerated. I would certainly have liked to have had, perhaps, a new epilogue or an updated preface to this edition. Still, I recommend this to anybody interested in true crime
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What fascinates me about this book is not the sex and drugs aspect of it, but what a powerfully hypnotic figure Charles Manson must have been. Even Bugliosi struggles to find words to describe what power Manson was able to wield over his followers. It is literally mind blowing. The other hard hitting aspect of the book was the police incompetence right through the entire investigation. I found it terrifying that they mislaid, lost and destroyed evidence and overlooked obvious and vital matters throughout. It is a testament to Bugliosi's skills as a prosecutor and Manson's huge ego that he ever got convicted. What strikes horror into my soul is the fact that if the police had got themselves sorted out from the beginning it would have been an open and shut case instead of one which dragged on for months, cost thousands of dollars and resulted in the murder of various key witnesses by members of the Manson family. An extraordinary and chilling book.
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on 10 August 2004
For those who enjoy true crime, this is one hell of a story. Manson is a terrible antihero who is iconic in history. The book is well and intelligently written and it is very interestingly told by a prosecutor who was able to play an important role in Manson's demise. The fact that the narrator had a personal stake in the outcome of the case makes a big difference from other books of the genre. The book misses out on five stars because the narrator is a little too vain from time to time. I had the impression that Manson's defence was so shambolic that a monkey could have successfully prosecuted him. This is not a point that the narrator takes into consideration.
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on 25 March 2010
The only criticism this book - and all Mr Bugliosi's other books - receive, that is worthy of consideration, is that he is a bit vain. To criticise him as a previous reviewer has, for not acknowledging the defence's contribution to the guilty verdict through their incompetence is very unfair, he lists every one of their own goals. I don't know what some readers expect. When Manson leapt ten feet from a sitting position to try to get at the judge do we really need a paragraph or two from Bugliosi conceding that this did not harm the prosecution's case?
Ok so the rest of it. His book is, like his prosecution work, immensely thorough and intellectually impressive, a masterpiece of combining factually accurate detail with concise and pacy writing. In other words you get the best of both worlds, all the excitement of a tightly written novel with the fascination of a compelling true story that is very easy to read and absorb. This is a wonderful read for any fan of real life crime and judicial history.
Oh, and the vanity. I don't think so. He does not claim much in the way of special skills or immense intellect. He is always at pains to point out how thorough his preparation is - because it needs to be - and the sometimes mind bogglingly huge ammounts of hours he puts into it. He is clear that he has had to graft for his extraordinary record. He certainly does take a strongly disapproving position on what he percieves as incompetance and laziness in many of the professionals he encounters in his work. And we should share his view of how poorly so many of our public servants at all levels perform, it is what makes our world not so great.
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on 26 January 2002
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.
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on 30 May 2001
This is the book the Mansonites don't want you to read. You might not be aware but there are Manson Family advocates out there running a website and music and books and videos hailing Manson as a hero. This is the book they hate because it exposes Manson's true evil. This is an excellent book which though lengthy, reads like a fast paced detective adventure.
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on 23 March 2014
I am not old enough to rememebr the events first hand but have read a number of publications on the Family and Charles Manson . This one covers all areas and encompassess everything anyone would want to know about these events .A lot of detail around names and once you get used to the various names used by the culprits you won't be able to put this book down
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on 25 December 2014
Really good read, full of detail that you probably wouldn't know or even realise! Would also like to add that the author Vincent Bugliosi is the prosecution lawyer of the murders and he writes it very honestly. There is no bigheadedness (if that's a word) that you sometimes get in these sort of books, he states where he goes wrong, where others do well which makes it an even better read!
Definitely recommend!
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on 3 February 2001
i have read this about 4 times(some task becauseits very long)i re-read bits of it now and again.its just very fascinating,immensely readable and very absorbing despite the tragicsubject matter.the passages about the beatles and the bible are the most incredible thingsi have ever read in my it and you'll understand.definately a desert island book.
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on 18 July 2016
This is a fascinating subject and written by someone with first hand knowledge of the case, having presented it at court. The book is written in a very factual and undramatic manner which is engaging. Not that the subject needs drama injected.
My only criticism is of the constant barbed and overt digs at the investigators. It's so unnecessary! I worked as a detective on murders for 10 years. It's very easy for the hindsight brigade to come in, now knowing the case, and pick you up on not having prioritised the key line of enquiry. If only it were that easy! It's also so common as to be expected that the lawyer will see themselves as the person that made that case. I guess that's the ego you need to be a lawyer. The thing about any investigation, but particularly murder, is it's not rocket science. You just gotta dot all the i's and cross all the t's. You work through the lines of enquiry and some fall by the wayside, some stick. It would have been crazy to work on the Tate investigation. Five murders = 5 backgrounds to check. This is a stranger murder though and the author is right, most murders see the perpetrator being known to the victim. The desire to solve this quickly, the pressure to solve this quickly would mean, with limited resources, you'd try to find the quick fix Line of enquiry. Meanwhile the worlds press are there asking you for a headline so they can sell a paper. Stranger murders are so very rare that I can well imagine the investigators being highly perplexed of a similar one the next day. Particularly in light of all the leaks I'm not surprised they think copycat. Who wouldn't? And crimes of hate, in my experience, generally result in 50+ stab wounds tending to be offender known.
It is all too easy to criticise the investigation and there are certainly points to criticise but just banging on about how poor it all was, the constant digs, was a bit dull in the end. Let your good work speak for itself. If you've done good work you don't need to take those around you down to rise above them!
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