As an antidote to the mainstream media’s inaccurate eulogies, here is the real Vincent Bugliosi, as revealed in a chapter excerpted from Nikolas Schreck’s 2011 book The Manson File: Myth and Reality of an Outlaw Shaman:
The Bug Cashes In: You Saw the Trial! Now Read the Book! And See the TV Movie!
By Nikolas Schreck
“Who we gonna blame it on? Let’s blame it on somebody we can get away with blaming it on. Let’s blame it on some convict that ain’t got no money, let’s blame it on somebody that got no education… When Bugliosi seen me, I was custom made for his ambitions.” – Manson
When it comes to naming and shaming the creators of the false Manson myth that’s been marketed to the public for four decades, the name Vincent Bugliosi stands at the top of the list in a class of its own.
Perhaps the day will come when research into the Manson phenomenon can proceed in its own right without having to constantly differentiate the facts from the tales told by theDistrict Attorney. But as of this writing, Bugliosi’s influenceon the way Manson is perceived far outweighs any other fac-tor. This can be illustrated by the fact that I’ve already been forced to mention Bugliosi 170 times in the course of our inquiry thus far. This present study has attempted to clear away the thick impasto of obscurations that begrimes the Manson mirror. Most of the gunk that needed to be scrubbed away derives from Bugliosi’s courtroom theatrics and his heroic portrait of them in his most famous work.
I would wager that if a survey was held to ask the proverbial man on the street what they know about Charles Manson, the answers would all be based on the Bugliosi-created myth rather than anything remotely like the truth. And I suspect that this would be so even if our theoretical man on the street never read a word of Bugliosi’s Helter Skelter or saw either of the two Made-for-TV docu-dramas based on that questionable source. Since the media made the mistake of turning to Bugliosi so often as the undisputed Manson expert, the attorney’s skewed opinions of Manson have soaked into the mass mind’s conception bysheer osmosis. If we are to understand how and why the Manson myth and the Helter Skelter horror story it’s based on was created, we need to understand something of the enigmatic attorney whose calculating imagination created it.
Helter Skelter (1974), the best-selling true crime book in publishing history, is the veritable Bible of the orthodox Manson myth. We’ve already seen that the story it presents isvery far from being “The True Story of the Manson Murders” the book’s subtitle claims it to be. And yet it has become the standard source of information on Manson.
Whether Bugliosi’s antics in court – the heart of the cover-up – were performed at the behest of the Mob, the Hollywoodmovie industry, the FBI, or all three, cannot be proven with absolute certainty. That the concealment of the truth which Bugliosi’s “Helter Skelter” scenario accomplished during the trial primarily served the interest of those parties is incontestable. As previously mentioned, Manson’s informed opinion is that his prosecutor’s main taskmaster was the same branch of the Mafia which Leno LaBianca worked for: the Genovese Family.
But whatever orders from above drove Bugliosi to perform the courtroom cover-up he carried out with such efficiency, his continuing capitalization on the crimes after he won the case had only one beneficiary. Not truth. Certainly not justice.Only the insatiable political ambitions of Vincent T. Bugliosi himself.
As Susan Atkins, who was also manipulated and discarded as a pawn in Bugliosi’s career-making machinations wrote, in her unpublished and unfinished document The Myth of HelterSkelter: “It may be cynical but it has to be pointed out Mr.Bugliosi’s book about the crime was published just before heran for Attorney General of California.”
Far from being cynical, that’s just the plain truth of it. Every copy of Helter Skelter should have come with a VINCENT BUGLIOSI FOR ATTORNEY GENERAL bumper sticker.
Even before the media circus of the Tate/LaBianca trial actually began, it’s clear that Bugliosi already planned to commandeer the Manson case as his personal vehicle to political superstardom. Helter Skelter was the first phase of his cam- paign; anyone who could defeat an evil criminal mastermind like Manson could certainly be trusted to fight crime as Attorney General. As we will see, only Bugliosi’s own self-destructive arrogance and a few glimpses of his paranoid personal behavior which were revealed to the public prevented him from attaining his goal.
Even some of Bugliosi’s own legal associates were astounded and repelled at the shameless way Bugliosi grand-standed for the cameras during the trial. They saw only seven squalid murders which would never even have aroused public attention had not a semi-famous minor actress of Sharon Tate’s caliber been among the victims. But Bugliosi, from the beginning, hyped what he called “the crime of the century” as an event unprecedented in the history of murder. He portrayed the messy but by no means uncommon killings of some drug dealers into a phenomenon of great moral weight andeven metaphysical significance. By so doing, Bugliosi created a stage grand enough for him to play the part of Super-Prosecutor he cast himself in.
Integral to the stark drama of Good vs. Evil Bugliosi intended to enact was a foe fiendish enough to serve as a worthy adversary. One sufficiently loathsome to allow Bugliosi tocome off as the brave dragon-slaying knight he saw himself as.
The real instigator of the crimes, and the man who had done most of the killing, was unavailable since he was still locked upin a Texas jail. And besides, Watson, the bland and clean-cutcollege athlete would never do as the Satanic megavillain that Bugliosi needed as a foil.
This Manson kook, on the other hand, looked and acted the part. But Manson as an accessory to a series of drug rob- beries which he was dragged into once half of the Cielo Drive murders had already happened also didn’t fit Bugliosi’s bill. By inventing a narrative of supernatural evil which featured Manson as a cult leader who cast a spell on his followers to kill in the name of an esoteric race war, Bugliosi had created amonstrosity formidable enough to allow his own ascent to fame and fortune.
But in his blind ambition, Bugliosi didn’t only engineer his own rise to celebrity and political eligibility. By convincing the jury and the watching world of the lie that Manson – who ordered nobody to kill or be killed over the weekend of 8-9 August 1969 – had actually commanded the murders, Bugliosi almost single-handedly created the basis for a Charles Mansoncult that had never existed before.
But that was a very risky game.
Because as Bugliosi’s keenly aware, not only is he largely responsible for his adversary’s legendary celebrity, but Manson’s own stubborn refusal to talk about the actual natureof the crimes is what has kept Bugliosi’s reputation intact all these years. While Manson has lambasted the D.A. as a liar, a Mob stooge, a self-publicist and an opportunist, he has neverreally revealed in clear and unimpeachable terms preciselyhow wrong the case Bugliosi presented in court and in hisbook really was. And to date, of the other defendants, only Susan Atkins finally spoke out and clearly stated that the“Helter Skelter” motive was a lie with no bearing on the crimesshe was convicted for. However, for whatever personal rea-sons, she didn’t take that extra step of revealing her first-handknowledge of what Tex was really up to on that long-ago week- end.
However, Bugliosi’s undeserved reputation as a great legal mind and hero to true-crime fans doesn’t only depend on the silence of criminals. It also relied to a great extent on the passive cooperation of those LAPD homicide detectives who watched Bugliosi pull off his great deception in court. Even though they knew how much evidence had been suppressed and how much false testimony had been uttered to do so. One of the mysteries of the case I have not been able to penetrate is why so many cops kept their mouths shut about what they knew – even after Bugliosi accused them of incompetence in Helter Skelter.
The planning that went into Bugliosi’s scheme to use the Manson trial as his stepping stone to political power was almost military in its efficiency. Bugliosi’s ghost-writer Curt Gentry, who did most of the work of weaving Helter Skelter’s narrative together, was installed in a small room behind thecourtroom throughout the trial. There, he was fed a steadysupply of facts, near-facts and utter fantasies that were ultimately melded into the Helter Skelter product. Bugliosi’s behavior at the trial must be seen with this in mind: he was consciously performing the part he wanted his hired writer to depict. In this sense, from Bugliosi’s self-aggrandizing perspective, you could say that the trial was conducted the way it was largely to assure that it would make for a dramatic and saleable book.
When one interviewer asked Manson what he thought of Helter Skelter, he wrote of how mercenary Bugliosi’s motives were, and how significant the book was as the foundation stone for the profitable Manson industry to come:
“Helter Skelter was written well, names and dates were right – The D.A. won Helter Skelter reality for the People Vs. Manson and made $15.50 a copy 25 million times world wide and 295 17 million and movies = a lot of money – 50 books written and people don’t realize the LA Times sold papers all over the world = 100’s of millions of dollars made in the U.S and the world and the movies and TVs been playing Charlie’s Angels, Charlie’s this and that – It would take you 5 years to think through how much was made from one asshole and only money I got was 40 or 50 dollars – no lawyer no rights and 19 years in the hole … people been misleading each other for years and years – the biggest part of what you believe is unreal.”
When the trial was over, Bugliosi took possession of the rough draft manuscript Curt Gentry had been preparing behind the courtroom and gave it its final shape. At one point in Helter Skelter’s composition, Bugliosi’s friend Hugh Hefner let the lawyer hole up in a comfortable Bunny hutch at the Playboy Mansion West. As a guest of Hef’s hospitality, Bugliosi carried out his labors on the book. The patronage of the Playboy entertainment empire in connection with the making of Helter Skelter raises other questions about whose interests Bugliosi’s magnum opus of deception was intended to serve.
Shortly after entering English exile in the mid-Sixties, Roman Polanski befriended Hugh Hefner’s rich British lieutenant and fellow womanizer Victor Lownes. Lownes, in turn, introduced the Polish director to someone who would later play an important role in the events of August 8-10, 1969: Iain Quarrier. Quarrier’s first film role had been in a Lownes pro- duction. Lownes became a powerful patron in Polanski’s career. Through this connection, Hefner invited Polanski to publicize his forthcoming Fearless Vampire Killers with a nude photo spread of Tate published in Playboy’s March 1967 issue.
The next year, on January 20, Lownes arranged for Polanski and Tate to be married at a star-studded party at London’s Playboy Club. Tate and Polanski appeared with Hefner on an episode of Playboy After Dark, a television series Hefner hosted.
Lownes was with Polanski in 1969 when he heard the news of his wife’s murder from L.A., and the British Playboy chief was also among the party that escorted the grieving Polanski from London to Los Angeles. Later, Hugh Hefner and Lownes helped the director return to his career after the trauma by producing Macbeth, Polanski’s first post-murder film, released on Playboy’s short-lived film subsidiary.
So one can only wonder if Hefner’s involvement as a guardian angel in the writing of Helter Skelter was in any way connected to Playboy’s long history of supporting Polanski’s career. Tangential to a possible Playboy-Bugliosi-Polanski con-nection and how it may figure in the mechanics of the cover-up is the fact that Hefner, from the beginning of his career,was dogged by rumors of Mafia involvement which he has, of course, angrily denied. When Hefner opened his first Playboy Club in Mobbed-up Chicago, it was no secret that the syndicate got a cut from every nightclub in that city. It’s often been speculated that Hefner couldn’t have operated his profitable club without paying off the Chicago mob, or letting them in on the action. Such rumors obviously didn’t bother Vincent Bugliosi, even when he was on the brink of running for California’s Attorney General, and, one would imagine, would have wanted to be careful about presenting a law-abiding image to the electorate.
Friendship with Hugh Hefner wasn’t the only thing Polanski and Bugliosi had in common. Polanski was born on August 18, 1933 in Paris. Vincent Torquato Bugliosi, whose fate would interweave with Polanski’s, was born exactly one year later, on August 18, 1934.
His hometown was Hibbing, Minnesota, where Bob Dylan also grew up. Like Leno LaBianca, who Manson so often links him to, Bugliosi’s parents were Italian immigrants. Also like LaBianca, Bugliosi’s father owned a successful grocery market. Bugliosi attended Catholic school. Excelling at tennis, the competitive young man became Minnesota’s state high school champion. His athletic skill won him a tennis scholarship to the University of Miami. There, he met Gail, his future wife.
After moving to the greener pastures of California, Bugliosi graduated from UCLA Law School in 1964. Ever the over- achiever and pillar of society, he was elected the president of his graduating class. After passing the bar, he entered the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office. Even before his star-making Perry Mason performance in the Manson show trial,
Bugliosi already had a knack for mixing show biz and jurispru-dence. He served as technical advisor for Dragnet star Jack Webb’s TV series, The D.A.. Bugliosi edited the scripts of two pilot films for the series, providing him valuable experience that later paid off in his exploitation of the Manson case into entertainment. Bugliosi’s resolute crime-busting persona owes more than a little to the morally upright character the cop-loving Jack Webb played on TV.
After the Manson trial made him a nationally recognized public figure, Bugliosi prepared the release of Helter Skelter as a publicity-grabbing first step in his campaign for Attorney General. Many of the hippies who watched Bugliosi carry out character assassination on the counterculture during the Manson trial assumed the aggressively square D.A. must be a rabid Nixonite Republican. In fact, the fervent JFK apologistwas always a loyal Liberal advocate of the Democratic Party.
In keeping with the thin line between entertainment and Californian politics that Ronald Reagan and Arnold Schwarzenegger maneuvered so well, Bugliosi relied on his Hollywood friends as part of his crusade as Democratic aspirant to the Attorney General’s Office. The actor Robert Vaughn, best known as secret agent Napoleon Solo in the popular 60s spy series The Man from U.N.C.L.E, was recruited to stump for candidate Bugliosi.
Despite the reputation as legal eagle supreme that the Manson trial earned for Bugliosi, his better-financed Republican opponent outspent him and eventually defeated him. But there was another significant factor in Bugliosi’s loss of the Attorney General post he fought so hard for. Candidate Bugliosi’s electoral performance was also badly damaged by an article that appeared in the Los Angeles Times on May 8, 1974, which quoted fellow attorney George V. Denny, at one time Bruce Davis’s attorney, describing Bugliosi as a “liar, a perjurer and fabricator of false evidence who [is] totally unfitfor office.” At a May 7 press conference, Denny also accused Bugliosi of “lying to police investigators, and making hush money cover-up payments.”
Denny’s allegations, although not directly connected to the prosecution of Manson, are suggestive enough of the state of Bugliosi’s moral probity and character that any serious student of the Manson phenomenon must at least consider them.
The Denny charges were originally brought to light during Bugliosi’s first grab for political power in November of 1972, only a few months after Manson’s conviction. Bugliosi, then Deputy D.A., ran to unseat the incumbent Los Angeles
District Attorney, the Chief County Prosecutor. On November 3, 1972, a press conference was held, in Denny’s words, “to bring to the public’s attention Bugliosi’s misuse of the powers and resources of the District Attorney’s Office when he was just a Deputy D.A.. The implications of yet greater misuse andabuse if he were to become THE D.A. were apparent.”
A Los Angeles couple, Rose and Herbert Weisel, issued legal declarations under penalty of perjury accusing Bugliosi of harassing them with anonymous phone calls and mail.
According to the charges made in the Weisel documents, Bugliosi, who they believed was in need of “professional help from a psychiatrist” was convinced that Herbert Weisel, a milkman by trade, had had an affair with Bugliosi’s wife and may have been the real father of his child. According to Rose Weisel’s statement, Bugliosi’s wife came by the Weisel home to apologize for the harassment. Mrs. Weisel testified that Mrs. Bugliosi said, “I know he’s sick. He’s got a mental problem.”
In pursuing this notion, the Weisels claimed, Bugliosi had misused his position as Deputy D.A. to obtain private information about the Weisels, including their personal telephone number and work address. Bugliosi became a nuisance to them, they asserted, after he’d been given this information.
Herbert Weisel stated:
“It wasn’t until sometime during the Manson trial that I happened to see Mr. Bugliosi on T.V. I called in my wife to show her the guy who had been harassing us, and it was only then that we discovered that he was a Deputy District Attorney.
In June this year, after the primary elections, my wife and I discussed the fact that Mr. Bugliosi had become one of the two run-off candidates for D.A. Based on what had happened to us when he was only a Deputy and not the actual D.A. we were scared of what would happen if he got into office.”
According to George Denny, “Bugliosi had been apprised of the upcoming Weisel news conference before it occurred.
Therefore, the night before the news conference, he concocted a spurious story about a supposed $300 theft that had occurred in his home, his suspicions about Weisel as the thief, and his contact with both Weisel and his attorney regarding those suspicions.”
In his document The Vince Bugliosi Story, Denny claims that the Weisels began pursuing legal action against Bugliosi.
This was settled out of court when Bugliosi paid the couple $12,500. By then, the multi-millionaire author was not goingto be unduly troubled by the loss of such a sum.
Denny also described another case which became public knowledge due to a Herald Examiner article headlined BUGLIOSI ACCUSED OF ASSAULT. A young woman named Virginia Cardwell had allegedly been beaten and choked by the crusading D.A. during a particularly strenuous interrogation concerning an abortion Bugliosi supposedly insisted she should get. Cardwell claimed that she had been impregnated by Bugliosi during a brief affair. She said that Bugliosi had beaten her when she failed to abort the child withmoney he had provided for that purpose.
After Cardwell went public with this incident, Bugliosi was alleged by Denny to have forced her to recant the charges. Bugliosi’s deafening silence in the face of this apparent grossdefamation is remarkable; Denny remains un-sued to this day.
The Cardwell case was, Denny said, ultimately settled out of court. This was revealed in a May 9, 1974 article in the Evening Outlook which stated that Bugliosi “paid $5000 to a former girlfriend to keep her from suing for civil damages over an assault that occurred in Santa Monica, a Beverly Hills attorney has charged.
All of this negative publicity contributed to Bugliosi’s loss of the election on June 4, 1974. These fleeting glimpses of the man behind the mask of public rectitude did nothing to make the public wonder if the prosecution of Manson had been handled with similarly shady methods. But Denny revealed some details of a relatively unknown case more directly related tothe Manson trial:
“The Grand Jury had indicted Bugliosi on three counts of perjury. The charges were based largely on the testimony of Bugliosi’s co-prosecutor in the Tate-LaBianca cases, Stephen R. Kay, and the limited but crucial testimony of reporter William Farr. The gravamen of the charged offenses was that Bugliosi had twice lied to [Manson trial] Judge Charles Older and had also lied to the Grand Jury itself in denying under oath that he had provided Farr with the transcript of a witness’s testimony in violation of a court order.
At Bugliosi’s perjury trial in September-October, 1974, instead of testifying as he had before the Grand Jury, Farr asserted the newsman’s privilege not to reveal his sources of information. Unable to make use of the prior testimony under the Evidence Code and, therefore, unable to establish a prima facie case, the special prosecutor moved to dismiss the case … No conviction. No acquittal. No vindication.”
I believe that a simple comparison of the original police reports in the Cielo/Waverly killings with the trial transcripts suffices to prove that the D.A. suppressed unassailable evidence which pointed away from the Helter Skelter myth.
Unfortunately, that anti-climactic procedure concerning the Farr document remains the only time the question of prosecutorial perjury at the Manson trial has actually come to court.
One of the most frequent charges leveled against Bugliosi by his detractors which has never been legally investigated wassummed up by Sandra Good:
“Bugliosi used the power of the district attorney’s office, the money, the resources of investigators, he was able to coerce witnesses by making deals with them. There were people who testified for the prosecution who had pending charges against them. Bugliosi said, ‘You say what we want you to say or – and we’ll drop your charges.’ People were paid. People were intimidated. Women’s babies were taken away from them. They took my child. They tried to use my child as lever- age to get me to testify against Charlie. They took Susan Atkins’ child away from her. They took Mary Brunner’s child away from her. They used every trick in the book to get people to say what would fit with Bugliosi’s scenario.”
Another kind of trial also sheds light on Bugliosi’s willing-ness to perpetuate the Helter Skelter myth and market it as a profitable entertainment.
In 1986, a British TV network hired Bugliosi to participate in a fictional docu-drama trial of Lee Harvey Oswald.
Attorney Gerry Spence defended the fictional Oswald in this mock trail, and Bugliosi played the prosecutor. In the end, Bugliosi convinced the jury that Oswald had acted alone. The Oswald as “lone nut” theory was concocted in part to prevent the American public from learning of Mafia involve- ment with the Kennedy administration. It also was intended to divert attention from links between Jack Ruby – the man who killed the self-described “patsy” Oswald – and the Mob.
After researching the Kennedy case for this fake trial, Bugliosi became an aggressive opponent against the theory that JFK died as the result of a conspiracy. Bugliosi became devoted to the “Oswald acted alone” hypothesis. He spent over twenty years working on an exhaustive book intended to be the last word on the Kennedy assassination. Bugliosi’s latter-day literary battle in support of the Warren Commission’s no conspiracy conclusion has led many JFK assassination researchers to accuse Bugliosi of being a government disinformation agent.
In light of the Mob background to the Tate/LaBianca murders which Bugliosi’s first book Helter Skelter did so much to conceal from view, his equally adamant refusal to allow that the Mob had something to do with the Kennedy hit in Dallascan only cause us again to wonder whose interests this manhas really been arguing for since 1970. As we will see, Lawrence Schiller, another zealous defender of the Warren Commission, played a crucial part in the early stages of the Tate/LaBianca cover-up and its marketing in the form of yetanother deceitful book.
In the 1990s, those who have some idea of what Bugliosi really got up to at the Manson trial were astonished to see him, of all people, self-righteously preach from the pulpit paid for by the Manson trial about legal improprieties in other trials.
Bugliosi criticized Kenneth Starr’s prosecution of President Bill Clinton as unfair “demonization” – a legal method Bugliosihimself had perfected with his treatment of Manson in Helter Skelter. Bugliosi was also moved to write a book critiquing the errors the prosecution team in the O.J. Simpson trial had made. Bugliosi, who made his career by harping on the completely irrelevant “race war” aspect of his Helter Skelter motive, was especially outraged by the defense playing the famous “race card” in the O.J. Simpson case.
The full extent of the long-lasting damage Bugliosi inflicted with his promotion of Helter Skelter has not been sufficiently realized. By concealing the truth that the murders were simply the routine result of a typical rivalry between drug dealers, Bugliosi’s Helter Skelter cover story unleashed a nightmare in the national consciousness that lingers to this day. Through spreading the false idea that there were motiveless death cults lurking in the shadows waiting to pounce on random victims, Bugliosi set off a tidal wave of paranoid fear in American society that was completely groundless.
But the tangled web of deception Bugliosi wove led to consequences far more serious than inspiring false testimony, per-jury, suppression of evidence, and fear-mongering. It seems unlikely at this late date that the Teflon D.A. will ever be compelled to legally account for the mockery of justice he was responsible for in court during Manson’s trial decades ago.Even though the Helter Skelter lie at the center of Bugliosi’sManson myth has already proven to be lethal.
In Nuell Emmons’ book Manson in His Own Words, Manson is recorded as observing, “The media, film directors, and book authors took a molehill and made it into a mountain. The myth of Charles Manson has twisted more minds than I was ever accused of touching.”
How many deranged minds have been twisted to commit acts of violence and murder by the Helter Skelter cover storyBugliosi authored?
Manson has described meeting many ignorant young con-victs in prison who proudly told him that they had killed random rich victims just like he’d ordered his “Family” to do as part of his Helter Skelter plot. Manson had to disappoint thesemisguided souls. He informed them that they’d only acted outa fictional scenario that Bugliosi invented. Manson has stated that the mail he’s received over the years often includes letters from admirers who’ve volunteered to kill for him. More oftenthan not, these confused fans revealed that they got the erroneous idea that he wanted people to commit senseless slayings for him directly from Bugliosi’s book (or the TV movie based on it.)
That the destructive effect of the devious Helter Skelter myth Bugliosi crafted during the trial and popularized through his book went well beyond the courtroom is proven by at least one dramatic example: the Michael Draben case.
Draben was sentenced to a prison sentence of 75-100 years for the brutal murder of a Lincoln, Illinois family completely unknown to him. According to a Tribune Wire Service news account, Draben testified in court, “that he was following the philosophy of the Charles Manson ‘family’ as outlined in the
best-selling book ‘Helter Skelter.’ He said the Manson family ‘killed all those rich people and I saw that if you killed them, that eases the problem.’…He said he chose … his victims simply because they seemed wealthy and lived in a remote spot. … Testimony at the trial showed that Draben continually played the record ‘Helter Skelter’ in his home.”
Here we have a clear case of an impressionable psychopathcommitting multiple murder by faithfully following the false Helter Skelter scenario Bugliosi created. Draben was, predictably, misidentified in the press as a “Manson-style slayer”.
Typical journalistic inaccuracy; even Bugliosi didn’t accuse Manson of slaying anyone.
If the truth were known, Draben is more aptly described as a “Bugliosi-style slayer.”Helter Skelter did more than earn millions. Its success also splattered the blood of innocent victims on its ambitious author’s hands.