Category Archives: Vincent Bugliosi

Bugliosi’s Helter Skelter Bogus Conspiracy Theory?

"Truman Capote and Bobby Beausoleil at San Quentin " by Peter Beard

“Truman Capote and Bobby Beausoleil at San Quentin ” by Peter Beard

As my last post made all too clear, this week in True Crime we’re talking about the 1976 TV movie Helter Skelter. Last night, as a follow-up to the discussion of the film, we discussed the interview between Truman Capote and Bobby Beausoleil published in 1973 as “Then it All Came Down.” Capote went to San Quentin in 1972 to talk with Beausoliel who was (and still is) serving life in prison for killing Gary Hinman—the first of the Manson murders. What’s fascianting to me about this conversation is that it suggests Vincent Bugliosi’s Helter Skelter scenario argued during the Manson trial, namely that the various murders were committed to spark a global race war, is overstated.

Instead, the Sharon Tate and LaBianca murders were actually attempts to free the charismatic and handsome Beausoleil from prison. In fact, Capote lays this theory out pretty clearly in the preface to the published interview:

It all began with the murder of Gary Hinman, a middle-aged professional musician who had befriended various members of the Manson brethren and who, unfortunately for him, lived alone in a small isolated house in Topanga Can­yon, Los Angeles County. Hinman had been tied up and tortured for several days (among other indignities, one of his ears had been severed) before his throat had been mercifully and lastingly slashed. When Hinman’s body, bloated and abuzz with August flies, was discovered, police found bloody graffiti on the walls of his modest house (“Death to Pigs!”) ­graffiti similar to the sort soon to be found in the households of Miss Tate and Mr. and Mrs. LaBianca.

However, just a few days prior to the Tate-LaBianca slayings, Robert Beausoleil, caught driving a car that had been the property of the victim, was under arrest and in jail, accused of having murdered the helpless Mr. Hinman. It was then that Manson and his chums, in the hopes of freeing Beausoleil, conceived the notion of committing a series of homicides similar to the Hinman affair; if Beausoleil was still incarcerated at the time of these killings, then how could he be guilty of the Hinman atrocity? Or so the Manson brood reasoned. That is to say, it was out of devotion to “Bobby” Beausoleil that Tex Watson and those cutthroat young ladies, Susan Atkins, Patricia Krenwinkel, Leslie Van Hooten, sallied forth on their satanic errands.

So, after watching the TV movie which spends three hours articulating and celebrating the brilliance of Bugliosi’s elaborate conspiracy theory tying the Manson murders to the Beatles’s song “Helter Skelter,” Capote offers a very logical, condensed version in just two short prefatory paragraphs. Rather than buying into an overblown theory that The White Album was the basis of an impending global racial conflagration, Capote argues Manson and the family had come up with the bloodiest, most horrific way to get Beausoleil out of jail. Still twisted thinking, no doubt, but somehow more believable than the vision of Helter Skelter laid out during the trial. That said, I must admit Bugliosi’s elaborate theory is far more entertaining than Capote’s, and maybe that’s the point.

Helter Skelter or, how I came to hate the dirty hippies

This weekend I watched the 1976 TV documdrama Helter Skelter for the first time since I was a young boy. And while watching it again I came to the stunning realization that this TV movie is the reason why I’ve hated dirty hippies so viscerally for the last three decades. In fact, this TV movie could have just as well been named The Family: A Bunch of Dirty Hippies. And when I say dirty hippies, I mean DIRTY hippies. According to this TV movie, the love children that were part of Charles Manson’s family may have been the dirtiest people ever. Just take a look at the evidence presented as part of the TV movie, these shots come early on in the program when the Ranch is raided by the police.

Dirty Hippie with Gun

Dirty Hippie with gun protecting the ranch

A series of dirty hippies making ugly faces

A series of dirty hippies making ugly faces

A depth of dirty hippies

A depth of dirty hippies

There is some serious dirt going on here, and I would normally scratch this up to overenthusiasm on the part of the director if it wasn’t reinforced throughout the movie. In fact, there’s a scene between Vincent Bugliosi (the crusading hero determined to stomp out the last remnants of filth) and his wife in which he breaks the Helter Skelter conspiracy behind the murders wide open. While Bugliosi is ennumerating this vision his special lady friend delivers the final blow by tying the Family’s lack of cleanliness to their senseless preying on the lives of the showered establishment people.

I can’t tell you how much this scene made me love this movie. It reinforces everything I feel about Hippies, the 1960s, and Manson more generally, In fact, this TV movie has a few themes it is trying to push pretty relentlessly: 1) Hippies are dirty, 2) the free love movement of the 1960s would ultimately devolve into psychos like Manson taking control of their minds, 3) Manson is the devil, 3) Bugliosi is a legal genius, and 4) Mansonism is a growing epidemic consisting of burgeoning dirty hippies that murderously misinterpret Beatles’ song lyrics.

Scene from Helter Skelter wherein Manson decides to represent himself.

Scene from Helter Skelter wherein Manson decides to represent himself.

While we were talking about this movie in class last night, Seth Dorman brought up the point that this was a major network TV event. In fact, it’s the 16th highest rated movie to air on network television of all time! This was a cultural phenomenon of epic proportions, and I only half joke when I suggest this TV movie had an indelible imprint on my current view of hippies. I can remember the ranch, the filth, the descriptions of love-ins, and the resulting bloodshed. In the U.S. at least, April 1st and 2nd of 1976 were the final days of the 1960s. Helter Skelter put the final nail in the popular peace and love movement perpetuated in the mainstream by Woodstock. It made way for the 1980s, and for that I am ever grateful!

You've Got Charlie Manson Eyes