Chaos: Charles Manson, the CIA and the Secret History of the Sixties

Also available in: Spanish

Synopsis of Chaos : Charles Manson, the CIA and the Secret History of the Sixties

Over two grim nights in Los Angeles, the young followers of Charles Manson murdered seven people, including the actress Sharon Tate, then eight months pregnant. With no mercy and seemingly no motive, the Manson Family followed their leader’s every order-their crimes lit a flame of paranoia across the nation, spelling the end of the sixties. Charles Manson became one of history’s most infamous criminals, his name forever attached to an era when charlatans mixed with prodigies, free love was as possible as brainwashing, and utopia-or dystopia-was just an acid trip away.

The Book

Twenty years ago, when journalist Tom O’Neill was reporting a magazine piece about the murders, he worried there was nothing new to say. Then he unearthed shocking evidence of a cover-up behind the “official” story, including police carelessness, legal misconduct, and potential surveillance by intelligence agents. When a tense interview with Vincent Bugliosi-prosecutor of the Manson Family, and author of Helter Skelter-turned a friendly source into a nemesis, O’Neill knew he was onto something. But every discovery brought more questions:

  • Who were Charles Manson’s real friends in Hollywood, and how far would they go to hide their ties?
  • Why didn’t law enforcement, including Manson’s own parole officer, act on their many chances to stop him?
  • And how did Charles Manson -an illiterate ex-con- turn a group of peaceful hippies into remorseless killers?

O’Neill’s quest for the truth led him from reclusive celebrities to seasoned spies, from San Francisco’s summer of love to the shadowy sites of the CIA’s mind-control experiments, on a trail rife with shady cover-ups and suspicious coincidences. The product of two decades of reporting, hundreds of new interviews, and dozens of never-before-seen documents from the LAPD, the FBI, and the CIA, CHAOS mounts an argument that could be, according to Los Angeles Deputy District Attorney Steven Kay, strong enough to overturn the verdicts on the Manson murders. This is a book that overturns our understanding of a pivotal time in American history.

Synopsis of Chaos : Charles Manson, the CIA and the Secret History of the Sixties taken from Amazon

Review of Chaos: Charles Manson, the CIA and the Secret History of the Sixties – Tom O’Neill
The prosecutor, glory…

Bugliosi, prosecutor in Charles Manson’s trial, is a megalomaniac who only seeks fame and glory. Looks like he got ahold of the case to write a book (Helter Skelter)and make a fortune. Bugliosi created a false story, committed perjury, allowed or encouraged witnesses to also commit it, etc. etc. etc. so that everything would fit his interests and get Manson’s (just or unjust) sentence. This is the constant criticism against the prosecutor throughout the book. Everything is clear just by reading the prologue.

But… O’Neill acknowledges that he left the magazine that commissioned the article because if he published it half-finished the Los Angeles Times or the Washington Post, with their means, would close “the story that I hadn’t been able to finish. And if they got the scoop that had been elusive to me, the chronicle of what really happened… all the glory would be theirs, and I would be just a footnote.” Who was really looking for glory?

Well, O’Neill shouldn’t have been worried about this because his book isn’t a scoop, it’s a bore that doesn’t add anything new to what we already know about the case.

The author hoped, I guess, that the prosecutor would willingly cooperate with him, but he didn’t count on a negative answer. I don’t think he took into account that no one was obligated to collaborate with him. And least of all an old person who, I’m sure, was fed up with it. He doesn’t take into account that all the protagonists of the case are thirty years older when he starts investigating, their memories are not the same, they evolve. And so do people.

…and the beginning of an obsession

He was ten years old in 1969 and doesn’t remember being particularly interested in the case, though his brother, “swears over and over that I made a scrapbook about the murders.” Is that the beginning of his obsession? Well, I was nine years old and I remember it, but not perfectly, it’s a bit hazy. And I didn’t make any scrapbooks.

Some of O’Neill’s theories

He’s lost, and he loses the reader, with theories that lead nowhere and he doesn’t prove, many of them already addressed and discarded by Bugliosi.

What stands out the most is the involvement of the FBI and the CIA in the case, and its relationship to the murder of JFK. ?? How he came up with all this is a mystery, at least to me, that would take another twenty years of investigation to unravel. I’m afraid with a result just as nefarious as this book.

Why didn’t he contemplate the theory that Charles Manson was an alien? Does O’Neill know anything about it, but doesn’t want to reveal it? Is O’Neill an alien? I think these questions are just as valid and pertinent as many of the ones he asks in the book.

Looking for mysteries where there are none

On the other hand, when he believes it necessary, he doesn’t deprive himself of forcing the facts to fit his vision of all that was done wrong, or not done, according to what he believes is right.

Why do famous actors and actresses related to the Tates refuse to be interviewed? Because there’s some deep-rooted dark mystery. It doesn’t occur to him that they might be fed up and want to move on. When they spoke, they did so to the authorities. Now he’s an obsessed man who wants to write a book for his own benefit and dig into something they want to forget.

For example, Charlie Guenther, a retired policeman who participated in a part of the investigation and collaborated with the author for years, eventually says: “I want to forget all this Tom O’Neill… This happened over forty years ago, and I’d like to get rid of it… Please. I can’t do it anymore.”

Or Colonel Tate, Sharon’s father. When he refuses to answer certain questions, O’Neill tells him, “Just out of respect for the victims, don’t you think that…?” This to the father of one of the victims. The answer is logical: “Out of respect for the victims! Who the fuck did you take me for? Go ahead and do whatever you want, but… If any son of a bitch has respect for the victims, it’s me.

To sum up

All who agree to talk to him, or at least most, are those who don’t look very well in the book of Bugliosi. Their opinions of him, then, are bad and they don’t hesitate to criticize him. Why does he blindly believe them? Because what they say corresponds to what he thinks? He didn’t talk to anyone who wasn’t opposed to Bugliosi, then the result, by force, is negatively biased.

I could comment on a lot more, but it’s not worth it. The book gets tiresome and boring.

“Chaos: Charles Manson…” is the result of its author’s obsession with dismantling a story that was already very clear. The result, from my point of view, is a failure. Charles Manson was a very crazy and intelligent killer who fooled everyone. He managed to have people talk about him even after his death. And I don’t think we need to go any deeper.

One last thought (mine): why did O’Neill wait for Bugliosi to die to publish the book? Did he know he was going to lose Bugliosi’s lawsuit?

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Publisher: William Heinemann
Year 2019
ISBN 9781785152078
Original title: Chaos: Charles Manson, the CIA, and the Secret History of the Sixties

Language: English

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