Charles Manson is dead. On August 9, 1969, actress Sharon Tate and four of her friends were brutally murdered in a home in the hills above Hollywood. The following evening, a seemingly unrelated double murder took place. A Los Angeles supermarket owner and his wife, Leno and Rosemary LaBianca, were killed. The two-night crime spree has come to be known as the “Tate-LaBianca Murders.” Manson and members of his “family” were convicted of the murders in a sensational trial. The jubilant 1960s, with its free love, “do-your-own-thing,” and transcending good and evil philosophy, had shown its dark side. America would never be the same as it feared for its sons and daughters. How could Manson, a misfit if there ever was one, compel all-American types to kill for him in some elaborate scheme to bring about a race war, “Helter Skelter,” as Manson called it?
Humanism on Trial
The Manson trial went on for nearly ten months. The case caught the attention of the international press, radio, and television outlets for more than a year. The only case to surpass Manson’s in international scope has been the O.J. Simpson trial. We’ll never know how the Manson trial would have turned out if cameras had been permitted in the courtroom and an immediate satellite feed had been available through CNN. In both trials, celebrities were at the heart of the proceedings. Sharon Tate was an actress with a famous director husband, Roman Polanski. These were Hollywood murders. For this, America pays attention.
The prosecuting attorney for the city of Los Angeles during the Manson trial was Vincent Bugliosi. He was also a professor of criminal law at the Beverly School of Law in Los Angeles. Bugliosi was something of a prosecuting phenomenon during his tenure, “in a class by himself: 105 convictions out of 106 felony jury trials; . . . 21 murder convictions without a single loss.”1
In a recorded interview about Manson, Bugliosi described him as “evil.” He said the following in 2009:
His moral values were completely twisted and warped, but let’s not confuse that with insanity. He was crazy in the way that Hitler was crazy. In fact, Hitler was Manson’s greatest hero — he spoke about Hitler all the time. He said that Hitler had the right answer for everything, that he was a tuned-in guy. So he’s not crazy — he’s an evil, sophisticated con man. We’re talking about evil here, as opposed to mental illness. Manson wanted to kill as many people as he could. (TIME)
By what standard? The ambiguity of right and wrong became a reality for Manson and his “family” like it has for so many today. In Manson’s words, borrowing from Eastern thought that was the going thing in the 1960s, “If God is One, what is bad?” This has led to, “If there is no God, what is good or bad?”
Bugliosi wrote Helter Skelter in 1974, a disturbing chronicle of events leading up to the Tate-LaBianca murders and the subsequent trial. The book digs deeper by uncovering the bizarre motive behind the murders: Charles Manson saw himself as the prophetic voice of the Beatles as he deciphered their cryptic messages embedded in songs like “Revolution 1,” “Revolution 9,” “Piggies,” “Blackbird,” and, of course, “Helter Skelter.” Manson believed that the Beatles were calling for a revolution, “an imminent black-white war.”2 Manson family member Gregg Jakobson explained it this way:
It would begin with the black man going into white people’s homes and ripping off the white people, physically destroying them, until there was open revolution in the streets, until they finally won and took over. Then black man would assume white man’s karma. He would then be the establishment.3
After the mass killings and eventual black ascendancy, the blacks in charge would turn to Charles Manson for help