The Manson Family murders loom large in the annals of crime history, with prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi’s book Helter Skelter laying out the official story that’s long been accepted as fact by the general public. This book basically kicks Helter Skelter into a fire, but while the cover of mine says it reveals the truth behind the murders, what it actually does is raise lots and lots of questions.
Chaos isn’t really even about the murders. Instead, it’s the story of Tom O’Neill’s decades long obsession with the case and the many investigative rabbit holes he’s wandered down in that time. That there are a huge amount of weird things about this case is evident (for example, it’s always bugged me that Manson was always apparently let go on the many occasions he was arrested while on parole before the murders took place) and it’s easy to see how O’Neill was enticed into obsession.
Multiple alternative theories are explored – some more plausible than others – and reading the reasoning behind these was fascinating, but with most of the key witnesses either dead or refusing to speak to O’Neill, most of the evidence for these theories is actually in the sometimes conspicuous absence of evidence. The only thing that seems to actually be proven is that Bulgiosi was deeply unethical and suppressed and changed key evidence in the trial.
Given that O’Neill doesn’t seem to dispute that the Family did it (this book is more interested in the why than the who) it does make me wonder what the best outcome of all this could be. Manson’s already dead, and overturned convictions on the grounds of Bugliosi’s lying could result in people who no-one is arguing is innocent being set free.
An interesting book, and one I’m sure I’ll be continuing to ponder for some time to come.