WEIRDLAND: Helter Skelter vs Chaos: Manson, the CIA, and the Secret History of the Sixties

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Helter Skelter vs Chaos: Manson, the CIA, and the Secret History of the Sixties

Joan Didion famously said that the Sixties ended on August 9, 1969, with the murders of Sharon Tate and six others at the hands of the so-called Manson Family. For 50 years, the official narrative has held that the murders were initiated by Manson to appear as if they were committed by the Black Panthers with the goal of starting a race war. That was prosecutor Vince Bugliosi’s theory of the case. Bugliosi argued at trial that Manson had gotten this idea of “Helter Skelter” from a Beatles song. That has remained the conventional wisdom — It now appears that this version of the story may be just as fanciful as Quentin Tarantino’s fictional version Once Upon A Time… in Hollywood. In 1999, investigative journalist Tom O’Neill was commissioned to write a story for what was then Premiere magazine, marking the 30th anniversary of the Tate/LaBianca murders. Thus began for O’Neill a 20-year odyssey into the dark world of Charles Manson.

Tom O'Neill: Manson was released in March of ’67 from Terminal Island, which is an island prison off of the coast of Long Beach in Los Angeles County. He immediately violated his parole. He went right up to the Bay Area and just turned up at the parole office there to announce that he was not going to live in Los Angeles, despite his orders from the prisons, and that whether they liked it or not, he was staying in San Francisco. Rather than immediately send him back to prison like they would any other prisoner, they didn’t. Vince Bugliosi kept that out of the trial and out of Helter Skelter. He said that he went there with permission, but I’ve got documents showing that it was the opposite of that. He was assigned to a parole officer named Roger Smith, who was a researcher getting his … I think it was his master’s or PhD at Berkeley School of Criminology. He was also involved with something called the San Francisco Project, so it was a special study that would have usually entailed a much closer observation of a parole client. What you’ll find out in my book Chaos: Charles Manson, the CIA, and the Secret History of the Sixties and what I got through a very lengthy Freedom of Information Act process. I got his records of his parole during those two years. In that first year in particular, he was arrested much more than had ever been reported before, and was constantly relieved without charges. Manson had immunity from that. Roger Smith had him reporting for his parole appointments, his weekly appointments at the Haight Ashbury Free Medical Clinic in the summer of ’67, where he was also preparing a study on amphetamines and communes in the youth of the Haight Ashbury during the Summer of Love. That mysterious year that Manson kind of transformed from this unremarkable federal parolee who could barely read or write, into the Manson we know today, or knew until he passed away as this kind of cult leader who had this great charisma and magnetism. That year was pretty much ignored by Bugliosi in Helter Skelter. I was wondering what happened that first year. So you’ll see I did a deep dive into Manson’s life in San Francisco and in the Bay Area in ’67 through early ’68. Well, he left there about May of ’68 and went down to Los Angeles. That’s a very important period in the life of him and his group and his followers. I think there was a reason Vince chose not to write about that. I think he gave it a page and a half in his otherwise pretty thorough account of the history of the Manson family.

I researched about Jolly West, Dr. Louis Jolyon West, who was a psychiatric researcher from Oklahoma who took a sabbatical in ’66, went to Stanford to study. He was never really clear about what he was studying there. He just was very vague and said he was going to write a book about LSD and its influence on youth. He went to the clinic and David Smith gave him an office in June of ’67 to recruit “hippies” to study for his LSD research. In later years, in ’77, he was identified by Seymour Hersh, a kind of groundbreaking New York Times journalist… in ’77, Seymour Hersh wrote a cover story [for] the New York Times, identifying Jolly West as one of six subcontractor researchers of the MKUltra Program, which was a CIA secret research project to create what’s popularly known as Manchurian Candidates, which are people who, through their unwitting… let’s just say without their knowledge are programmed to kill, to become basically hypno-programmed assassins. West was part of that project. He died in ’99, and through a long process I got access to his personal papers and found that he actually not only was a part of MKUltra, but he wrote the blueprint for how they were going to operate and hide their research; that it was going to be conducted at prisons and universities and psychiatric hospitals and in the general population. Source:

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