14 Facts About Vincent Bugliosi, The Man Who Literally Wrote The Book On Charles Manson
Lawyer, author, and outspoken political commentator Vincent Bugliosi became inextricably connected to the infamous Charles Manson Family during their murder trial in 1970. Bugliosi successfully convinced the court Manson was responsible for the Tate and LaBianca murders, even though he never personally laid a finger on the victims.
In the aftermath of the trial that captivated the US, Bugliosi wrote a book about Manson and the other cases he had prosecuted. While many were quick to criticize the ethics of such a move, the book, Helter Skelter, became the best-selling true crime book in history (a record it still holds as of 2018) and propelled Bugliosi into other endeavors.
While Bugliosi switched focus from prosecution to defense, he kept writing books about highly publicized trials and the people accused of carrying out the acts. OJ Simpson, Lee Harvey Oswald, and even another of his own clients received books detailing their cases and the author's take on their guilt or innocence.
Although Bugliosi passed away from cancer in June of 2015, his legacy lives on in the books he wrote and the world's continued fascination with the madman that first propelled him into the headlines.
With Five Years Experience And No Losses, Bugliosi Led Manson's Prosecution TeamPhoto: NoHoDamon / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0
On August 9, 1969, the Manson Family murdered actress Sharon Tate, her unborn child, and several of her friends staying in her home the night of the attack. The very next day, the cult targeted Leno and Rosemary LaBianca. At this time, Bugliosi worked as an assistant district attorney in Los Angeles with 21 convictions and no losses under his belt.
After the arrests of Charles Manson, Susan Atkins, Patricia Krenwinkel, Leslie Van Houten, and Linda Kasabian, Bugliosi became the lead prosecutor in the tricky and highly publicized case - all with just five years of experience.
In a retrospective interview, Bugliosi recalled, "I was honored that the DA had enough confidence to assign a case of that magnitude and complexity to me. I worked on it around the clock, seven days a week, sometimes 80 or 90 hours."
Bugliosi Earned Convictions For Four Family Members On Trial, Including Manson
The Manson Family trial lasted about nine months from the time of jury selection to the final arguments and verdict. During that time, Bugliosi often worked 80 to 90 hours per week on the case to ensure the conviction of not only the three family members who carried out the acts, but also their leader who never physically touched any of the victims.
A fifth member of the Family, Linda Kasabian, was arrested along with the other women present at the Tate and LaBianca slayings. However, Kasabian flipped on the cult and agreed to testify as Bugliosi's star witness during the trial in exchange for immunity. Bugliosi's deal with Kasabian was perhaps the most damning bit of prosecutorial evidence against Manson, as her testimony detailed the Family's inability to ignore their leader's commands. During her 17 to 18 days of questioning, Kasabian painted a picture of obedience and complete trust in Manson - even if the orders were to kill.
In the end, Bugliosi secured convictions against Manson, Atkins, Krenwinkel, and Van Houten for the slaying. All were sentenced to death by gas chamber in 1971, but the next year brought an end to the death penalty in the state of California. Because of this, all of their sentences were changed to life imprisonment; Manson died in prison in November 2017.
Participating In Manson's Trial Was Extremely DangerousPhoto: San Quentin State Prison
The first time they met, Bugliosi was shocked by Manson's small stature (the cult leader was allegedly five foot two inches tall), but the threat he held as the leader of a cult programed to kill for him was undeniable. During the many months of the trial, Bugliosi was constantly trailed by a bodyguard.
Members of the Manson Family camped outside the court during the course of the trial, presenting a very real risk to the prosecutor. Manson himself remained a threat inside the courtroom, as evidenced by Bugliosi's account of one of the cult leader's more violent displays:
One day, Manson got a hold of a sharp pencil and, from a standing position, he leaps over the counsel table and starts to approach the judge, and of course the bailiffs immediately tackle him, and he shouted out to the judge, 'In the name of Christian justice, I want to chop off your head.' The judge started carrying a .38-caliber revolver under his robe in court. One of the defense attorneys vanished from the face of the earth during the trial and turned up dead.
Bugliosi Believed Manson Wanted To Spark A Race War
In November of 1968, The Beatles released the White Album, including a song called "Helter Skelter" Manson became obsessed with. According to Bugliosi, in Manson's mind The Beatles were presenting the idea of a race-fueled conflict he needed to start:
To Manson, helter-skelter meant a war between whites and Blacks that the Beatles were in favor of. When the album first came out, in December of '68, he got a copy, and he came racing back to the ranch all excited and said, 'The Beatles are telling it like it is! The sh*t is coming down!' It was this war that he felt he could ignite by killing white people and blaming Black militants, this war called helter-skelter.
Bugliosi further explained Manson saw Blacks emerging victorious from the conflict before handing over power to the cult.
Bugliosi Authored 'Helter Skelter,' Detailing The Cult And Its ActsPhoto: W. W. Norton & Company
After the close of the remarkably long and publicized trial, Bugliosi turned his attention to writing a book about the crimes of the Manson Family. He called the book Helter Skelter after Manson's name for his imagined race war (and The Beatles song that inspired it).
Published in 1974 and co-written with Curt Gentry, the book has sold over seven million copies as of 2018 and earned an Edgar Award for best true crime book that year. The book is nearly 700 pages long, and covers the early lives of the Manson Family members, Manson himself, gruesome aspects of their acts, their investigation, and the trial.
Some criticized Bugliosi for giving Manson a platform to become an immortal symbol for the end of an era in America. Bugliosi believes the strange aspects of the crime are to blame for Manson's enduring presence in pop culture:
I think the main reason for the continuing fascination is that the murder case is almost assuredly the most bizarre mass-murder case in the recorded annals of American crime. The Beatles were somehow involved. The killers were young kids from average American homes.
'Helter Skelter' Revealed Poor Police Communication
In Helter Skelter, Bugliosi criticizes the police's slow connection of the Tate and LaBianca incidents. Bugliosi revealed the Los Angeles Sheriff's Office homicide detectives told a LAPD detective they were investigating a murder from two weeks prior that was very similar to the Tate crime scene. The earlier victim was also stabbed, there was also bloody writing on the walls, and the suspect in custody even lived with the Manson Family. Instead of connecting the two homicides, the LAPD believed the Tate killings were drug-related.
Three weeks after Tate, a young boy turned in the .22 caliber murder weapon he'd found to the LAPD, but it remained locked away in evidence for months while the police continued to search for it. It took a phone call from the boy's father to alert police the gun was already in their possession.
A television crew later found bloody clothes thrown from the fleeing car of the Manson Family before the LAPD, and they set up cameras to capture the moment police caught up.