Charles Manson has always been surrounded by an aura of mystery for me. I have grown up convinced of his pure evil and scared of what he was able to accomplish in the summer of ’69. Whenever someone brought up his name, a chill would run down my spine and the two most famous words surrounding him would roll off my tongue. Helter Skelter are those two words, and I find it difficult to even read them silently without using a whispered tone. They were used by the prosecution as the basis for their conspiracy case and were instrumental in the conviction of Manson. It has been impossible ever since to separate this term from him and his family. Charles Manson: The Final Words, a new documentary from the Reelz Channel, attempted to shed a light on the theory and it questions the very validity of Manson’s conviction.
According to the District Attorney in charge of trying Charles Manson, Vincent Bugliosi, Helter Skelter was the apocalyptic war between the races that Manson was trying to initiate. The war would see black men rampaging across the country, killing every white person in their way. At the end of the conflict, the white race would be exterminated from the planet and the militant blacks would be satisfied in the outcome. Charles and his family would be in hiding during the war, secreting themselves away in a secret city under Death Valley, California only to rise after the war and lead the world as the only white family left. This is racist garbage, but it was the basis of the prosecution’s conspiracy charge against Manson.
“I never had no followers…”
The State of California could not place Manson at the scene of any of the murders. By all accounts, he had not been directly involved in the killing of the seven people he was being charged with murdering. This is why the state needed that conspiracy charge to stick. They needed to show that the other members of the family were working under his direction and that he was the mastermind behind the entire ordeal. Through his supposed vicarious responsibility, they were able to charge Manson with seven counts of first-degree murder and keep the death penalty on the table. Manson has repeatedly repudiated this theory and has always claimed that it was completely made up by Bugliosi to play on the racial tensions in Los Angeles in the late 1960’s. Reelz’s new documentary, narrated by Rob Zombie, not only showed the holes in the prosecution’s theory of Helter Skelter, but also offered an alternate theory that explains the motives behind the brutal killing spree.
“I wasn’t nobody’s leader…”
The alternate theory posed by the documentary isn’t nearly as sexy as the one Manson has become famous for. It may be convoluted, but it does explain the killing spree in a way that makes a lot more sense than the thought that Manson was able to brainwash and control the minds of his followers. Manson, by his own admission, killed a drug dealer named Bernard Crowe over a dispute involving a member of his family, Bobby Beausoleil. Manson believed that Crowe was a member of the Black Panthers, and he became concerned about retribution from the group. To ensure the safety of the family, Manson enlisted the help of a biker gang called the Straight Satans. He purchased their protection with the women he supposedly loved and cared so much about. Beausoleil and Manson, now owing money to the gang for giving them bad mescaline, ended up in yet another drug altercation, leading Bobby to kill his dealer Gary Hinman. Everything could have stopped right there, except Bobby was arrested driving Hinman’s car and Manson was left wondering what exactly his family member would talk to the authorities about while locked up.
He had to get Bobby out of prison. To ensure his release, Manson wanted to make the authorities think that they had the wrong man behind bars. He enlisted his other family members to commit copycat murders to make sure that the police would let Bobby out. Instead of selecting random people to kill, he sent his family to the home where he believed Terry Melcher lived. Melcher, a record producer, once promised to record Manson but never followed through. As you already know, he no longer lived in the home. It had been was to director Roman Polanski and his pregnant wife Sharon Tate.
The other home Manson sent his family to belonged to Leno and Rosemary Labianca. They weren’t members of the recording industry or drug dealers, they were just successful middle aged people that had once called the police on the family as they stayed in their neighbor’s front lawn. According to the theory, Charles Manson was trying to free his “brother” from prison by creating the appearance of a copycat killer, and also making other members of his family complicit in his crimes to reduce the risk of anyone going to the police. To kill a third bird with the same stone, Manson was also taking revenge on people that he feels had wronged him in some way. Everything can be explained by him committing a crime (he was really good at breaking the law) and wanting to cover it up by committing another and involving those that could testify against him.
“Me is all there is…”
The central theme that the documentary puts forward is that the theory of Helter Skelter used to convict Charles Manson was false. It was a lie created by the prosecution for the sole purpose of convicting Manson. Since the evidence against him was fabricated by the state, the conviction was not valid and should have been thrown out on appeal. At several points in the documentary, the narrator asks whether or not we are OK with the government creating evidence to put someone away that it feels is a danger to society. I do not agree with the host of Manson supporters paraded out to voice their opinion that he is the victim of a huge injustice, but that isn’t the point of the documentary. His innocence in his crimes is not being disputed. What is being disputed, however, is the way in which he was convicted of his crimes. If we claim to care about one person being wrongfully convicted, then it would be hypocritical of us to not care about Charles Manson. The documentary tries a little too hard to convince us that he should not have been convicted for my taste, but it also creates an interesting thought experiment and forces the viewer to examine their own thoughts and beliefs. What I enjoyed the most about the film is that it demystified Charles Manson for a generation of viewers, like myself, that have only known him for his evil legacy.
“I am the most famous man that has ever lived.”
You see, Charles Manson was not the devil. He was not the living embodiment of evil on the Earth. He was not a conjurer able to control the minds and thoughts of those around him. He also wasn’t a genius-free-love-guru that was able to see through the veil that covers the eyes of the rest of us sheep. He was a man. A small, meaningless man who committed heinous crimes in the late 1960’s because that was the only thing he knew how to do. He was not a victim. The world was not against him, as he constantly claimed. He was a narcissistic psychopath who stole the lives of not only his victims, but also those of his followers. Manson was a liar, a thief and a killer that should be no more revered than the worms that litter the sidewalk after a rain storm. This documentary wasn’t perfect, but it was valuable in that it shattered the false aura that had surrounded Manson my whole life. And for that, I will be forever grateful.
Check out the trailer below and catch the documentary on the Reelz Channel. You will not be disappointed. Join our official Facebook Group and let us know what you think. Do you believe that Charles Manson should have been acquitted of the crimes he was charged with?