Read as part of CBR11 Bingo: Beach Read
I view conspiracy theories the same way agnostics view God: if a conspiracy existed, it would have to be quite large and involve an incredible amount of competent people who are both good and lucky and have incentives to keep their mouths shut. Thus, that makes conspiracies unlikely…but not impossible. I don’t submit to 9/11 conspiracy theories but even now, I still can’t fully accept that Lee Harvey Oswald was a lone gunman. I don’t know.
Anyway, rather than playing with just one conspiracy, Tom O’Neill (with an assist from Dan Piepenbring) decides to dangle the loose threads surrounding the infamous Tate-LaBianca murders rather than try and wrap them up. I appreciated that. There’s no unifying alternate theory presented for why Manson’s “family” committed those horribly gruesome crimes. Rather, you see all the problems with Vincent Bugliosi’s narrative about the killers being brainwashed hippies who were rebelling against society in an evil fashion.
I know very little about the Manson murders. I tried to read Helter Skelter but couldn’t get over Bugliosi’s obnoxious self-aggrandizing (same problem with On Such A Full Sea). I also don’t have a fascination with 60s counterculture. So this really isn’t in my wheelhouse. However, I’m going to see Quentin Tarantino’s new movie this Friday, which is set against the background of late-60s Hollywood and features Manson and his followers. Therefore, I decided to learn more through this book.
O’Neill (and Piepenbring) aren’t the best writers: the book has typos, grammar issues, and glaring factual inaccuracies. It also leans heavily on conjecture, to the point where every time O’Neill reveals something, he’s practically nudging me with his elbow going “Eh? Eh? Pretty fishy, eh?”
Also, O’Neill overlooks the bigger problem with prosecuting Manson and his comrades: it’s not that Bugliosi had a narrative. It’s that in our criminal justice system, you need to have a narrative in order to prosecute a case. That’s part of the reason why our system needs a massive overhaul. He brandishes these tidbits that show Bugliosi suppressed evidence or ignored it altogether. I guess I was supposed to be more surprised than I was? Perhaps I’m too cynical, but just about every prosecutor does that.
Now the bigger question is to why. O’Neill posits that Manson skated on his parole and was allowed to live freely despite spending large parts of his life in prison because he was perhaps protected. By who? We don’t know, though there’s a lot of suspicion that the government had something to do with it. That could be the case but I don’t know. I think it was a combination of lack of resources combined with primitive technology and a general indifference.
Anytime there’s a murder outside of the typical “person closest to the victim” sphere, you could look at so many things and wonder why the big picture doesn’t always add up. It frightens us that there might not be a reason, or that the reason may be flimsy at best. To me, it’s just a sign of our animalistic nature. Who knows what the heck compelled the Mansonites to kill those people. I could believe LSD-inspired brainwashing. I could believe something else. People often get their motivations from their environments. I actually think the title is more apt than O’Neill allows it to be. Our 50-year saga of processing the 60s has always been looking for reasons as to why things happen. Rarely do we admit how close we are to chaos.
Whatever the case may be, this book is eminently readable and if you like reading about the Manson murders or conspiracy theories, you should check it out.