Thirty-five years after the Tate-LaBianca murders, it's time to demystify the would-be messiah that Vincent Bugliosi portrayed in the best-selling true-crime book of all time, Helter Skelter. The real Charles Manson was a semi-literate, petty criminal – car thief, check forger, pimp, drug dealer – so insecure about his ability to cope in the real world that on the day of the parole that plunged him into infamy he begged prison officials not to release him.
by Denise Noe
Charles Manson is the most famous common criminal in the world, his name a synonym for evil. Thirty-five years after the infamous Tate-LaBianca murders, he continues to be regarded as one of the most devilish cult figures in U.S. history, the possessor of a charisma and sexual magnetism so extraordinary that he ruled a "Family" of fanatically devoted followers willing to kill at his command. This is the Charles Manson that prosecutor, Vincent Bugliosi, popularized in the best-selling true-crime book of all time, Helter Skelter.
Manson was an unlikely candidate for the role of the would-be messiah that Bugliosi sold first to Manson's jury and then to a feckless national media enthralled by the cult-tinged horror of the Tate-LaBianca murders. At the time of the murders, Manson was a destitute parolee living a hand-to-mouth existence at Spahn Ranch, a place that had once served as a movie set for cowboy flicks and was then functioning as a dude ranch. He and 15 to 20 other drifters with whom he associated had been allowed to live on the premises by its 80-year-old owner, George Spahn, in exchange for helping out with chores like shoveling horse manure, and sexual favors freely provided by some of the young women. The group habitually ate food that its females cadged from dumpsters. A combination of panhandling, petty thievery, and drug dealing also helped them survive and support their primary pastimes: smoking marijuana and dropping acid, making music, and idly conversing.