It’s been 50 years since four members of the Manson Family broke into the house at 10050 Cielo Drive and killed five people. Steven Parent, 18, was there to try to sell a clock radio to an acquaintance in the guesthouse. Wojciech Frykowski, an aspiring screenwriter and friend of director Roman Polanski, was Frykowski’s girlfriend and the heiress to the Folger coffee fortune. Jay Sebring, a celebrity hairstylist, was there to cut Sharon Tate’s hair. A well-to-do grocery store owner and his wife were stabbed to death by members of the Manson family the next night. They wrote “Healter [sic] Skelter” in blood on the wall, and stabbed them dozens of times.
The Tate/LaBianca murders shocked Hollywood and the rest of the country. People were wondering what made the killers do such a heinous thing, and many celebrities wondered if they were going to be the next ones to be killed. A few weeks or months after Charles Manson was arrested, more questions than answers came up about the Family and the group’s leader, Charles Manson. Reasons: Why did these homes get hit? What did they want to do with the killings?
Manson’s followers were able to show that he had brainwashed them into killing people in an attempt to start a race war, but there are still many questions about how one man could have so much power over his followers that they would kill for him. This has led to a lot of movies, documentaries, and books about the Manson family murders. And did he even order the murders in the first place?
It comes out on July 26. Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time… is one of his best movies.
People in Hollywood are now using their own minds to solve the Manson case mysteries. It’s not enough for you to read about the Manson murders on Wikipedia or listen to podcasts about them. Here are nine of the best books about them, from classics to lesser-known works that look at their cultural context and how the murders affected their lives.
Helter Skelter by Vincent Bugliosi (1974)
When the Manson family killed people in 1974, a prosecutor wrote an account of the case in which he was a witness. This book is not only one of the most popular true-crime books of all time, it’s also one of the most important. A crazed cult leader was obsessed with The Beatles’ White Album and wanted to scare people who had betrayed him, especially Terry Melcher, a record producer who had refused to give Manson a record deal and lived at 10050 Cielo Drive. This is the main source of the story about the Manson killings. By saying that the crimes would start a global race war, he convinced his followers to do the killings. They were then told that they would get the world’s land. As the chief prosecutor in the case, Bugliosi is not an impartial source. As other journalists who have looked into the case have said, there are many inconsistencies and holes in the narrative. Yet, Helter Skelter is still an important source for anyone who wants to learn more about the case.
Chaos: Charles Manson, the CIA, and the Secret History of the Sixties,by Tom O’Neill with Dan Piepenbring (2019)
Chaos isn’t a straight account of the Manson murders. It’s a fascinating, dizzying, and at times frustrating look at all the other theories that have been put forward about the case, from the idea that the murders may have been the result of a drug deal that went bad to the idea that Manson was a participant in CIA-sponsored LSD mind control experiments. The Helter Skelter story isn’t 100% true, but O’Neill does a great job of skewering it and making people rethink what they thought they knew about the case. He also makes people question the reliability of Bugliosi, who died in 2015.
Manson: The Life and Times of Charles Manson,by Jeff Guinn (2014)
Guinn’s interviews with Manson’s family members, such as his sister and his cousin, are what make Manson so important. None of them had been interviewed before. Book: The book sheds light on Manson’s very troubled childhood (he was a juvenile criminal who bounced from reform school to reform school, and reported being raped several times by older students). While it can’t definitively say where Manson’s evil comes from, it does make him into a fully three-dimensional person, which is a big change from previous depictions of him as a crazed killer.
Member of the Family: My Story of Charles Manson, Life Inside His Cult, and the Darkness That Ended the Sixties,by Dianne Lake (2017)
As a teenager, Dianne Lake ran away and joined the Manson family when she was 14. Three years later, she testified against her former leader at his trial. This memoir by Lake is a gripping, at times disturbing, account of how Manson psychologically abused her. When young women were dissatisfied with their lives and moved away from home to find themselves, older men took advantage of the 1960s’ message of free love and took advantage of them. This movie does a great job capturing that spirit. Another thing that helps explain why so many young women were attracted to Manson was that he was a wiry, wild-haired man who wasn’t known for having a lot of sex appeal.
The Family,by Ed Sanders (1971)
The Family is based on hundreds of interviews, but it’s not as well-researched as Helter Skelter. It’s full of rumors and urban legends, not just about the Family but about the victims, which could be seen by modern readers as victim-blaming. In fact, The Family is a great source of more information for people who can’t get enough about the case. Even if the information doesn’t come from a good source or isn’t very useful.
Manson in His Own Words: The Shocking Confessions of ‘The Most Dangerous Man Alive’, by Charles Manson and Nuel Emmons (1988)
Even if you don’t like Charles Manson, you still have to agree with what you think about him. A clever conman or a crazy person? Even if you don’t agree with this, it’s hard not to agree that he did a good job of keeping journalists on their feet. As a child, Manson used to get very angry and go on hours-long rants that were full of koans. He died in 2017. Eamons, who grew up in California, met Manson when both of them were in prison in the state. They both lived there at the time. That’s not what happened. By 1979, the man was a photojournalist, and he reached out to his old friend. Manson In His Own Words is the culmination of eight years of correspondence between Manson and Emmons. It’s not unbiased because it’s all from Manson’s point of view, and it’s not always clear. A standard true crime investigation, on the other hand, couldn’t bring Manson to life in a way that a movie could.
The Manson Women and Me: Monsters, Morality and Murder,by Nikki Meredith (2018)
Manson’s story isn’t just about him. It’s also about the people who followed him and did what he said. Especially the women, who were often loaned out by Manson to visitors of the Spahn Ranch for sex. In her book, The Manson Women and Me, Nikki Meredith talks to two of the last two women in prison for their roles in the murders, Leslie Van Houten and Patricia Krenwinkel. She tries to answer a question that has been bothering many people: How did these two middle-class, normal girls become coldblooded killers, to the point that they were unrepentant even as they stood trial for their crimes? Meredith doesn’t claim to know the answer to this question, but she does show a lot of empathy for her subjects while also mentioning other examples of brainwashing and groupthink to try to explain, or at least justify, their actions, even though she doesn’t say so.
The Girls,by Emma Cline (2017)
While this award-winning book isn’t a hardboiled true crime book in the traditional sense, Cline’s languid, seductively sinister account of a young girl drawn into a commune like Manson’s is an important addition to this list of books about real-life crime stories. Not only does it try to answer the question of how young, well-off women could fall so quickly into a life of sex, drugs, and violence, but it also uses the heady, bacchanalian spirit of the 1960s as a metaphor for young women in general. Through her dreamy, evocative language, Cline says that the drug-fueled angst, rampant sexual energy, and anti-establishment spirit that led to the Manson Family are also, in many ways, similar to the condition of being a teenage girl. She shows how young women can feel so powerful and so powerless at the same time.
Restless Souls: The Sharon Tate Family’s Account of Stardom, the Manson Murders, and a Crusade for Justice, by Alisa Statman with Brie Tate (2012)
Manson murders are a lot of times talked about in a way that does not include the people who were killed and their families: the people who died and their families. Before she died in 1992, Sharon’s mother, Doris, became one of the most visible and well-known advocates for victims’ rights. After Sharon’s death, the Tate family kept looking for justice. Restless Souls, written by Alisa Statman, a friend of the Tate family, and Brie Tate, the daughter of Sharon Tate’s niece, isn’t an objective account of the Manson murders. It does, however, show how the Tate family dealt with their loss and how Tate herself was described as a sweet, ebullient young woman whose light was snuffed out far too soon.