This article was last modified on December 23, 2010.

Nitpicking “Helter Skelter”

Vincent Bugliosi’s book, Helter Skelter, is the definitive book on Charles Manson and the Tate-LaBianca murders. Numerous books have been written on Manson — I have no less than seven in my possession — and each of them have their own added information, from updated events to alternate perspectives. But all use Bugliosi’s book as a touchstone.

Many people have called Bugiosi a liar on a number of issues. How true some of them are is a matter of debate, as there are so many books with so many different conflicting stories. The veracity of any of the books is hard to objectively determine. But I was hoping that here I could start a list of the alleged errors in Bugliosi’s book, to help sort fact from fiction for new readers. I am not personally calling Bugliosi a liar, but merely pointing out the errors found by others — some of substance, some very nitpicky.

The List

  • He wrote that Manson once “tried to enlist a motorcycle gang, the Straight Satans, as his personal bodyguard. With the exception of one biker named Danny, the group had laughed at Manson.” [Bugliosi: 77] How accurate it is to say they were asked to be bodyguards is unknown. The one biker who stayed, Danny DeCarlo, had stuck around because he “liked broads”… not because he accepted a bodyguard job.
  • Bugliosi calls Mary Theresa Brunner the “first member of the Family.” [Bugliosi: 79] That may be true, but has the implication that Manson set out to create a “family”, which was never the case. At this point, it was a man and woman who wished to spend time together, nothing more sinister. Even when a group was formed, the members of that group were constantly shifting, and to describe the Family as a “harem” for Manson is giving him too much credit. As Bobby Beausoleil would later say, “It didn’t seem like a guy with his harem. There were other guys there – there were always other guys there. Although I would say that Manson was the figurehead of whatever group existed at any given time, characterizing them as his harem isn’t at all accurate.”
  • Bugliosi writes that Manson singled out “Brenda McCann, t/n Nancy Pitman, as his chief assassin.” [Bugliosi: 359] His evidence for this is an alleged conversation where Manson said that he did not have the power to control the girls. Did the conversation ever occur? And Pitman was not involved in any of the murders, so to paint her this way seems misleading if not completely false.
  • Bugliosi repeatedly misconstrues the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. He claims that both Hitler and Manson were influenced by reading Nietzsche, which may be true. But he says that “the three basic tenets of Nietzsche’s philosophy” were “women are inferior to men; the white race is superior to all other races; it is not wrong to kill if the end is right.” [Bugliosi: 474] Anyone with even a basic knowledge of Nietzsche knows this is not remotely true.


Bugliosi, Vincent and Curt Gentry. Helter Skelter: The True Story Of The Tate-LaBianca Trials W. W. Norton and Company, 1974.

Also try another article under Historical / Biographical
or another one of the writings of Gavin.

Leave a Reply