As a true crime enthusiast, today is a monumental day. Charles Manson, patriarch of the notorious Manson Family, died Sunday November 19, 2017. The crimes of Manson and his followers were one of the first that I remember learning about. This is not surprising as the Manson Murders are on a level all their own in the true crime hierarchy. The surprise rests in the fact that Manson was only the mastermind of the crimes; he did not physically kill anyone. A shocking fact for you. It is safe to say that the world considers Charles Manson one of the most evil person to exist. However, it is highly likely that Manson only murdered one person in his entire life. I fully agree that Manson is one of the most evil people to walk the earth. His ability to adopt methods of manipulation and use them to coerce others to commit horrific acts is something to be deeply feared.
I have read about Charles Manson in countless true crime anthologies. I have listened to many true crime podcasts discussing the Manson Murders. I will recommend two books for you on the subject.
I mentioned this book in my very first post. This is a book that has stayed with me since I read it. In my opinion, it is the most authoritative book on Charles Manson. I will be blunt. Do not waste your time on any other books on Charles Manson. The amount of time and research that went into Manson is exhaustively thorough. Jeff Guinn is absolute perfection as a non-fiction writer. Unlike other books including Charles Manson, Guinn went deep into his upbringing. This seems like an obvious place to start especially when it comes to a serial killer but most authors chose to focus on the crimes of the Manson Family. They chose not to focus on Manson’s, upbringing, stints in juvenile detention centers and criminal past which was primarily robberies.
The primary fact that stays with me from this book revolves around Manson’s mother. If Charles Manson’s mother would have been allowed to go out and freely dance Manson would not exist. Manson’s grandmother was conservative and believed in a strict upbringing for her daughter. Her daughter rebelled against those methods and snuck out to go dancing. This led to an affair with a married man and the conception of Charles Manson.
The another fact that sticks with me is connected to the first Manson Family recruit. She worked in a library at the University of Berkeley. As a librarian, this factoid freaked me out. I thought we librarians were smarter than that!
Helter Skelter is the only source you need on the Manson Murders. The author, Vincent Bugliosi, was the prosecutor on the case. It is a comprehensive text on the murders and provides terrific insight with Bugliosi’s insider coverage. I read this when I was in high school. I was determined to read it because it really is the number one true crime of all time. It was the first time that I was exposed to actual crime scene photos. Seeing the mutilated body of a pregnant Sharon Tate was AWFUL for me. Admittedly, I was turned off from the book itself after that but not because it was a bad book. Seeing and reading true crime are two very different things.
Should you not want to read about these terrible acts there are other alternatives. I am an enthusiastic podcast listener as well. The best podcast coverage of the Manson Murders was done by ‘You Must Remember This’. This podcast is not a true crime source. It is actually a Hollywood podcast covering the first century of its history. Back in 2015, its host and creator Karina Longworth, did a twelve part series called “Charles Manson’s Hollywood”. It is a fascinating and comprehensive study of how Charles Manson was deeply embedded in the sidelines of Hollywood. What I really appreciated about this series was that it spelled out the environment of the Summer of Love in California and how the Manson Family creation was possible. Even if you are not interested in all of those ripple effects, there are a few episodes solely based on the Manson Family that are worth listening to. I highly recommend Charles Manson’s Hollywood.