Manson family prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi.

Vincent Bugliosi 1934-2015

I heard this morning that Vincent Bugliosi, the famed prosecutor who put Charles Manson and his followers away for the awful Tate-La Bianca killings in Los Angeles in 1969, died over the weekend of cancer at the age of 80. While I am in the middle of writing a new Beatles related piece, I thought I’d comment on this current (somewhat Beatles related) bit of news.

I’ve been fascinated by this case since I heard about it, as a 9-year-old in the late 1970’s. It’s kind of like a recurring nightmare that has caused me to read the famed book, Helter Skelter, and seek out further information to understand the case that has haunted me since childhood. The central question to these murders is why? Vincent Bugliosi, the prosecutor pushed one motive on the jury to frame the murders and put Charles Manson at the center of it all. He called the motive “Helter Skelter” and it resonated. I’m not a Helter Skelter defender. Not the song, which I love, but the raison d’etre for the killings. This motive, central to using the conspiracy theory, was used by Vincent Bugliosi to tie Manson, who didn’t actually murder any of the victims, to the crimes and lock him up with the actual murderers. Apparently, Helter Skelter (the motive) was based on the concept that the Beatles playground themed proto-heavy metal track, and the rest of the White Album, supposedly inspired the idea in Charlie and his followers’ minds that an armegeddon like race war was about to take place and  would need to be set in motion by Manson so that he and his followers could go into hiding in the California desert and wait out the war until its conclusion.  Then at which time, Manson supposedly prophecied that the black masses would defeat the white masses, but would be unsuited to rule the new world and would lead them to relinquish their power to Manson, who would them rule over a new and better world. Pretty out there stuff!

Prosecutor Bugliosi, in putting together his case against Manson and his followers developed this theory out of interviews with some, but not all the defendents and followers. It’s contended by other Manson associates and followers that they never even heard Charlie’s prophecies about Helter Skelter or that it wasn’t germane to anything really going on with Charlie at the time. Who knows? The mercurial Manson was known to use whatever personal charm and inchoate marketing skills at his avail to achieve whatever his weasly, antisocial, narcissist, con-artist mind could muster up in order to get people to do what he wanted them to do, all the while, giving himself what he thought would be credible legal distance from the crimes but giving his followers the rope to hang themselves for the horrifying things he set in motion.

I can’t help but have respect for Vincent Bugliosi for putting the murdering creeps in jail. The criminal justice system, being totally adversarial at its roots left the prosection with a daunting task. They had the right perps locked up and on trial, and while Bugliosi may have had to play loose with establishing the motive, he had little choice but to string some kind of narrative out of the case interviews. There is still great debate as to what might be the real motive for killings, with many seeming to be based on Manson personal vendettas, drug hits, mafia hits, enacting copycat murders to get one of their own members out of prison for an earlier murder (if you’re interested try googling Gary Hinman), or that other members of the Manson family devised it but not Charlie. Bizarre as it was and still is, out of the chaos, prosecutorial rules and limited time frame, Vincent Bugliosi did the job he was required as a public servant to do, and put Charlie Manson away for good, to protect the public. Though the killers and their leader were all convicted and given the death penalty, the California Supreme Court outlawed the death penalty in 1972 and all the convicted murderers death sentences were commuted to life sentences. The judicial system is far from perfect but in the case of the Tate-La Bianca murders, Bugliosi did his best working with a highly flawed process, to achieve what I believe is the correct result.

As a child, after watching the 1970’s TV movie Helter Skelter, and hearing about all this crap for the first time, I felt relieved hearing that Prosecutor Bugliosi put those vicious murderers away for good. Though obviously dramatized for television, the trial and case details presented depict a decent general idea of how things transpired with the trial being  as riveting as the crimes were astounding. These were horrific crimes, after all, and still hardly make any sense. We can argue about motives and prison sentences for the rest of eternity I guess.

Irony being what it is of course, Charles Manson, the elder in terms of age, has now outlived Vincent Bugliosi. But at least Bugliosi departed this world having helped make it a little better. No one in their right mind will ever be ever be able to say the same thing about his old courtroom nemesis.

8 thoughts on “Vincent Bugliosi 1934-2015”

  1. Well written and to the point. There is nothing or no one that could explain what Charlie Manson inspired his followers to do. Charlie will take these horrible and deplorable acts of violence to the grave as will his followers that are in prison for life. Whatever his explanation is, there is not justification…….

  2. Hello Michael,
    Great topic I’ve read the book and like you love the song Helter Skelter , Charles Manson did not kill anyone lets fast forward to the 90’s when music was being blamed for kids taking their lives or killing someone after hearing a song you can’t pit the blame on a song the blame is the person doing the killing so Charlie said The Beatles were giving him clues through their music to do the killings although he didn’t kill anybody

    1. Helter Skelter, the book, was probably the scariest thing I ever read. Though Manson didn’t physically kill anyone, that we know of, he gave the orders, and therefore is guilty of conspiring to murder with the others. He also drove the killers to the Labianca home and told them to do away with the residents. There are folks who think that as he didn’t actually get any blood on his hands, he was railroaded into prison for crimes he did not do, which is garbage. He initiated and directed his pals to do the dirty work which him makes him no less legally responsible than the others.

      Unfortunately, Charlie liked the White Album, and much like that vagrant who was camping out on John Lennon’s property in 1971 while he was recording the Imagine album, misinterpreted, or projected his own meanings and intentions onto the lyrics.

  3. Hello Michael,
    I believe it was a Judis Priest song that caused some problems when teenager commited suicide they had to go to court being blamed for the young mans death how can you put the blame on someone for taking their own life due to a song just like the the sensorship issue that Twisted Sister went to court, go back as far as The Beatles Sgt. Peppers A Day In The Life was banned because of the line I’d Love To Turn You On as a drug reference, someone has to be blamed it will always be like this!

    1. I remember the Judas Priest case back in, I believe, the late 1980’s or 1990. The family of two teenagers that killed themselves, probably in their grief, brought to trial a case accusing Judas Priest of placing subliminal messages in some songs of theirs from years earlier. The case was decided in the band’s favor. Ozzy Osbourne went through the same thing with the song “Suicide Solution” which was about alcoholism being a form of self-destruction. These cases had to fall apart on the facts alone, there were no subliminal messages, not was there any incitement for anyone to commit suicide. There’s a lot of ground this subject could cover but bringing it back to Manson, music and art of any form is almost always open to interpretation and that interpretation is always based on what’s going on in the mind of the beholder. Just as Judas Priest and Ozzy were not responsible for fans’ suicides, the Beatles were not responsible for how Manson interpreted the White Album, which is was entirely wrong about anyway. But he had his own agenda, and he twisted the meaning of some lyrics to suit his agenda. The result was awful for Manson’s victims and their families, and sad that the Beatles had to be dragged into it, but it still has nothing to do with them. The fact that people still connect the Beatles and Charles Manson sucks but the only thing people who know the whole story can do is to educate those who are misinformed about it.

  4. I’m sorry to say that the Manson family probably could have been brought to justice somewhat sooner if it were not for the jealousy and infighting within the LA Police Dept. Information was not being shared and basically good clues and statements from witnesses and other people closer to the “Family” were ignored for unknown reasons.

    1. Thanks for writing Mark! The police investigation was a bit of a mess. There was some jurisdiction/turf issues for sure like when the Hinman investigators discussed a connection to the Tate-Labianca murders but were turned away because the Tate case police believed their case was purely a drug hit. Then there was the cop who put his own finger into the gate release button at the Tate property rendering any other fingerprints in it useless. Then there was the police already having in custody, but somehow not identifying Charlie’s buntline revolver (used to shoot Steven Parent and Jay Sebring) for months after it had been found. This was the gun belonging to Charlie which he had used to shoot a Hollywood drug dealer a few weeks earlier, but then used by Tex at Cielo Drive which he ditched soon after the murders that night. Then there was the TV news crew that located the murderers discarded clothing off an embankment on Benedict Canyon, which the police could have easily found had they even tried. Bugliosi somehow prevailed despite this mess.

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