16 October 2017

Helter Skelter Book Club: Week 3

One of the LaBianca detectives would later admit that he and his fellow officers should have checked with LASO homicide detectives in mid-August to see if they had any similar murders.” (p. 113) 

A stunning revelation, as most officers should be aware of the need for corroboration, especially given the death of celebrities (though, they’re just like you and I - or so they say). We’ve also brought up this point in the past two weeks, but that the officers are openly admitting this shortfall makes their mistakes all the more jarring. Of course, hindsight is 20/20, but even as we’ve been reading through, it seems so simple to double check and be communicative with other departments. It could have saved them so much time, and potentially lives. 

Also, I find it riveting that the chronic confessors referenced last week stayed away from an admission of being involved in the case because these murders were “so horrible”, but here we have Susan Atkins who openly and contentedly admits to what they did. And what’s more, she says that they did it out of “love”. On a personal note, this is why I find myself repelled from any sort of organized religion (and while this Family isn’t a religion, I do see organized religion as cultish and Manson - as we’ll learn - utilized religious rhetoric to “brainwash” his followers). When you have a group of people believing in something, you can get them to do anything and believe they’re right (see: religiously motivated wars through the ages). In this way, I see the rationale for these murders no different from these wars fought in the past/currently: Palestine and Israel, Sudanese Civil War, and personal to myself and my family, the Yugoslav Wars. I think for this reason, I didn’t find Atkins’ confession as jarring as some others may have. You can tell by the quotes given that she’s absolutely bonkers.

I recently watched a documentary on Scientology, and there was a man named Steve Hassan who spoke about how we all have an authentic self (which is the real you) and how a cult works to dissociate a person from his or her authentic self (known as a dissociated self). It’s those who have a poor understanding of their authentic self and what makes them the person that they are where they’re easily brought into a cult. Leah Remini (a former scientology member, as of 2013) spoke about how she still struggles to sort through day-to-day thought about what are her thoughts and what thoughts are still rooted in scientology. In any case, my point here is that Manson was able to capitalize on people like Susan Atkins, Linda Kasabian, Patricia Krenwinkel, and Tex Watson. After looking into each of the Family members, they each had family problems from a young age, and as we know according to Maslow, love and affection is a necessary step to self-actualization. And evidently, there was very little of that before these killers met Manson and were brainwashed by him.

I did find it reassuring that there were other prisoners who viewed the murders (and confessions of said murders) as appalling and even questioned her sanity because of how heinous the actions were. It’s interesting that even convicted felons align with the views of serial confessors that these crimes were next level twisted. Kudos to Ronnie Howard and Virginia Graham for initially just indulging Susan’s “crazy” stories, but then slowly starting to believe them and test her on them.

Final note: Tasting Sharon Tate’s blood? These people were nasty as hell.


  1. I totally agree about the organized religion bit. Because at first everyone is shocked that Atkins would "confess" to these nursery .. but in her mind they are totally acceptable.. like any one else involved in acts of terrorism or war. I always remind myself that we're always the hero in our own story, we never perceive ourselves to be the bad guys.. regardless of how the others perceive our actions.
    Sadie Mae is fucking batshit and she annoys the hell out of me. She is so immature.
    I also find it horrifying that Ronnie and Virginia (in prison for prostutuion and some financial crimes?) are in the same cell as Susan/Sadie... VERY different crimes.

    1. Also thanks for writing this week Kenan!!!! I miss you

    2. Yes, it takes a great deal of reflexivity to see your actions objectively, an I think Atkins just has no ability to do this. I think part of that was because she was so enchanted by Manson; she was completely under his spell. It's hard to see anything any other way than through that particular lens, and I think she really had no hope to view it any other way. She was indoctrinated into a way of thinking because it made her feel a part of something, and to feel love. And given her background, she never really had much of an example in the realm of "love" so how is she to know what sacrifices on behalf of love really mean? Plot twist: she doesn't.

      And that's a really good point about the different crimes, and I think points to the major flaws with the prison system in the United States (and honestly, in Canada too - we have a whole heap of issues). The fact that Ronnie and Virginia were intimidated and scared of this woman (rightfully so) points to a need for restructuring the system into something that is more reflective of criminal activity.

      I miss you too, Meg! Next time you come to London, please message me! I wanna hang with you!

    3. Hi pals. I feel like this whole cult thing makes perfect sense to me and I know 100% I would be the ideal victim for a cult because I will believe ANYTHING said to me by a male authority figure that others think is cool. I want to watch that thing about Leah Remini, so does this mean Scientology is actually a cult? What does Tom Cruise say?

      What I found frustrating about this section was the lack of trust the cops had in the people who were telling these stories. I'm very sorry she didn't get it 100% fucking right and thought they cut the baby out... if I was hearing that story, I may be in my own head and get a few things wrong too. I think the cops need to be considerate of people trying to help them, a bit more patient, and a bit more understanding that maybe while they were listening to a psychopath confess a jillion crimes, they weren't taking perfect notes.

      I'm sad we didn't learn more about Manson himself in this section. I want to know where he grew up, what he eats for breakfast, and whether he believes this whole 'love' gimmick too or if he is just evil and knows how to manipulate women.

  2. This part of the book had me really on edge. There is something sickly fascinating about murderers and serial killers, to get inside their heads a bit. But then you want to watch a cartoon before bed lol. I still cannot imagine being that fucking unhinged where you're brainwashed to the point of committing murder?! Dear lord help us all. Everyone makes choices that are influenced by your environment in some way I guess...But wow. It is frightening the lengths people will go to for affection and attention. What a path to take.
    Still looking forward to learning more about Manson. Is it that simple? These people were just such impressionable or lost sheep and boom he just starting spouting bullshit to them and they went hook, line and sinker? The pictures of him really give me the creeps.

    I also applaud the efforts of Virginia and Ronnie. I would've had a hard time sleeping next to that psycho Sadie/Susan.

    1. The pictures of him give me the creeps too!!! More than any other criminal ever. I chalk it up to knowing absolutely nothing about him/the murders. Hopefully after reading this I'll be able to look at him without losing sleep.

    2. Yeah I would have been completely horrified to be locked in a cell with Sadie. Also I like that point of how far people will go to get affection/attention ... it is deeply sad, but also so scary. Like maybe it really is that simple...