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Anatomy of an Outrage

By PAUL GRAY Monday, Nov. 04, 1974 HELTER SKELTER: THE TRUE STORY OF THE MANSON MURDERS by VINCENT BUGLIOSI with CURT GENTRY 502 pages. Norton. $10. Is this book really necessary? Thanks to massive publicity, everyone knows all too well that on Aug. 9, 1969, Actress Sharon Tate and four others were savagely murdered in a Los Angeles home leased by Tate and her husband, Director Roman Polanski. Early next morning a well-to-do L.A. couple, Leno and Rosemary LaBianca, were similarly butchered. Because of the prominence of the first victims, plus Polanski's identification with macabre films (Repulsion, Rosemary's Baby), the killings produced a mudslide of speculative explanations: drugs, kinky sex, human sacrifice. When suspects were arrested four months later, reality proved even more bizarre. No one had dreamed up Charles Manson and his marauding band of zombies. Attorney Vincent Bugliosi was chief prosecutor at the 9-month Tate-LaBianca trial the longest murder trial in California history. With help from Author Curt Gentry (The Last Days of the Late Great State of California), he has produced a valuable book on a lurid subject. Through solid documentation, Bugliosi and Gentry have constructed a record of savagery and official bunglinga textbook on what can go wrong between the discovery of a crime and its prosecution. Bugliosi was not assigned to the case until mid-November 1969, but his troubles began the moment L.A. police arrived at the Tate residence. One officer unthinkingly obliterated a bloody fingerprint with his own. Physical evidence broken pieces from the grip of a revolver, a pair of glasseswas scattered about as the parade of investigators swelled. Blood samples were gathered and tested haphazardly, leaving gaps in later reconstructions of the murders. During the LaBianca investigation the next day, a coroner's assistant failed to take the dimensions of the stab wounds. Blood Scrawl. The gruesome similarities between the Tate and LaBianca killings were striking: "Pig" was printed in blood on the front door of the Tate house, "Death to Pigs" on a wall at the LaBiancas. Yet the separate teams of detectives assigned to the two cases chose to ignore each other. A day after the first murders, two members of the L.A. sheriffs office told a police department detective of a strange case in their territory: a murder and a message ("Political Piggy") scrawled in blood. Furthermore, the sheriff had a suspect in custody, a member of a roving group led by a man named Charlie. Incredibly, the police department did not follow this lead, which seemed to link all three cases. Bugliosi writes that the detective did not "think the information important enough to walk across the autopsy room and mention the conversation to his superior." That was only one of many other examples of incompetence. Among them: the revolver used in

two of the Tate killings, which had been found by a young boy and turned over to the police, was routinely filed away in a Van Nuys station house, where it remained unexamined for months. The L.A. police department, meanwhile, sent flyers to police across the country to keep an eye out for the Tate murder weapon. Bugliosi sees some police mistakes as unavoidable. Despite leaks to the press, police succeeded in keeping a few details of the murders secret, to be used as "keys" to test the truth of possible confessions and accusations. Yet one bit of suppressed evidence would almost certainly have broken the case at once if it had been released. The words "Healter Skelter," a misspelling of a Beatles' song title, had been written on the LaBianca refrigerator, and there were scores of people in the L.A. area who could have assigned the phrase to Charles Manson. Manson was finally caught because one of his accomplices, Susan Atkins, boasted about the killings. Bugliosi then had to fill the gap between allegations and evidence. Detectives on the Tate case sloughed off his repeated requests to search for the bloody clothing that the killers had discarded. Using leads from a newspaper story, a TV crew found the evidence on the first try. Additional facts led further into fantasy. What jury would believe, for example, that the runtish Manson, who had spent half his life in reformatories and prisons, had gamed iron control over a youthful "family" of some 60 members? Would any sane person credit Bugliosi's explanation of Manson's motive for the killings: to incite "helter skelter" an Armageddon between blacks and whites that would eventually make Manson the leader of the world? A jury was finally convinced of all this (the inept defense masterminded by Manson helped), and Bugliosi won death sentences for Manson and three women followers. A male accomplice was convicted later. During and after the trial, the ranks of the family grew. Indeed, Bugliosi believes that family members have killed several times since. The horror of this possibility is exceeded by the fact that since California abolished the death penalty in 1971, the Tate-LaBianca murderers are now serving life terms and will be eligible for parole in 1978 Paul Gray Source: TIME magazine (http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,9450791,00.html)