Helter Skelter is the most successful “True Crime” book ever written. It is so popular it has been made into movies, podcasts and documentaries. The book written by Curt Gentry and Vincent Bugliosi has sold over seven million copies, but does that make it true? Great book sales do not mean something is completely factual or even close to true.
I read the book when I was a teenager and took it as “truth” until one day during police training many years later. A detective from another agency, who was doing instruction for our department, brought the subject up and said the book was not factual and Bugliosi was just looking for publicity when he wrote it with Gentry. I wish I could remember the name of the detective and give him credit but that information is lost from my memory bank. But, it struck my curiosity.
I knew that there is also information written about the amount of drugs that were found at the Tate-Polanski house at 10050 Cielo Drive which had caused many Los Angeles investigators to believe that the murders were drug related. Bugliosi rejected this concept and moved on with the Helter Skelter theory that hypothesized that Manson’s motive was to start a race war. Everyone is so familiar with this concept that there is no reason to elaborate on it. It is undeniable that this concept was discussed at Spahn Ranch but does that mean that this is the motive behind the murders.
The dynamics behind who Manson was and how he is presented in the media is completely confusing. In one sense, he was a madman however there is also a sense of legitimacy to him and his “Family” during the time leading up to the murders. For all the talk about Manson and the Beatles, it is really his relationship with Dennis Wilson and the Beach Boys that should be at the forefront. Regardless of how that relationship is presented, it was close. Not many people have that kind of access to a major star and his connections. Not now or in the late 1960’s. Through his relationship with Wilson, he was able to meet Terry Melcher, who was Doris Day’s son and a top music producer, who worked closely with the Byrds and other top groups. He was instrumental in creating the West Coast sound of the 60’s. This is no small feat.
The weird way music would encompass Manson’s life would be an instrumental part of the history of the Tate–LaBianca murders. But is it the Tate – LaBianca murders or is it the Hinman, Tate – LaBianca murders. It is common knowledge and it was known at the time of Manson Families trial that parts of the “Family,” Bobby Beausoleil, Susan Atkins, and Mary Brunner would terrorize Hinman for three days before murdering him over an alleged drug deal. Charles Manson and Bruce Davis would stop by during this time and Manson would strike Hinman on the side of the head with a sword. Eventually, Beausoleil would kill Hinman and then write the words “Political Piggy” on the wall. This occurred July 25-27, 1969, less than a month before the Tate – LaBianca murders.
Beausoleil was not just a “Family Member” but also a world-class musician. He had been part of the Los Angeles (LA) music scene and had even played in a band with Arthur Lee, who would later gain fame in the LA Band, Love. Beausoleil would still be in prison on August 8–10, 1969 during the Tate – LaBianca murders. Many observers believe these murders where used as a cover up to try to prove that Beausoleil was innocent of the Hinman murder. Again, the combination of murder and music was in forefront of Manson’s life.
Add that on July 1, 1969, Manson shot an associate of Tex Watson, Bernard “Lotsapoppa” Crowe over a bad drug deal where Watson stole $2,500 dollars of marijuana from Crowe and threats Crowe had made about killing everyone at Spahn Ranch. Later, Manson would mistakenly claim that Crowe was a member of the “Black Panthers” in a case of mistaken identity. And at what location was Crowe shot? He was shot at Manson’s Hollywood Franklin Avenue Apartment. What? Depending on what you read, Manson and/or Tex Watson and his girlfriend lived at the apartment. Whatever the case, neither Manson nor Watson spent their entire time at Spahn Ranch. And again, it appears that drugs and drug dealing were a very important part of the Manson life.
For as much of importance that has been focused on the Manson’s Beatle connection, the real focus should be placed on Manson’s relationship with the Beach Boys. This is where the real intrigue lays. During this time frame, Beach Boys released the album, 20/20 and much to the surprise of Manson and others, the album included a song called Never Learn Not to Love, and the writing credit was given solely to Dennis Wilson. The song was in actuality a tune written by Manson called, Cease to Exist. It is a rewrite on Manson’s tune but Manson would have been sophisticated enough to understand he was being robbed by Dennis, the Beach Boys and the music industry.
Add this to Manson’s feeling that Terry Melcher had screwed him and the “Family” and one can assume that a toxic cocktail was being brewed at Spahn Ranch. A lot has been written about Manson and Watson connection to 10050 Cielo Drive. It is anyone’s guess but it is easy to make the giant leap that this was not the first time Watson had visited the house.
So, the questioned still has to be asked, even knowing that Melcher did not live at the house could killing the rich and beautiful people who lived there now still send a powerful message? The way a person answers this question will determine where their minds go after when asked about other important facts about this murder. What group, the Beatles or the Beach Boys really had the most influence on these murders?
It impacted Melcher in many ways. He went into seclusion and by many accounts was never the same after these murders. It sent reverberations throughout the Hollywood community and had many stars including Frank Sinatra and Steve McQueen adding extra security to their lives. To say that it impacted the elite entertainers of that time would be a wild understatement. It was a life-changing event for many people and many people felt these effects until the day they died.
So, Why did Manson and his “Family” kill? Was it drugs? Was it revenge? Was it to cover up for other murders? Was it to start a race war or something else? Two Average Joes will explore these topics on the next few 2AJs podcast. We welcome you to listen and comment.