Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Read This: An interview with the author who could change how we view the Manson Family

Charles Manson in 1970
Charles Manson in 1970
Photo: Michael Ochs Archives (Getty Images)

Nearly 50 years after the notorious Manson Family murders, the story and lore behind it all’s been unspooled. Or so we think. A new book coming out has the potential to change the way we view it, framing the Tate and LaBianca murders in a fascinating new light. CHAOS: Charles Manson, The CIA, and the Secret History of the Sixties by Tom O’Neill just dropped on June 25, and in a new Longreads interview, the author insinuates that Vincent Bugliosi, who wrote Helter Skelter, was spinning lies. The book also ropes Jolly West, the CIA psychiatrist who had a hand in the CIA’s controversial MKUltra project.

In the official synopsis of the book and in the interview, it’s stated that O’Neill was actually meant to write a magazine article 20 years ago about the murders, which spurred this new investigation. It was jump-started by him finding new, “shocking” evidence that basically blew the official story of what happened out of the water. That, combined with the fact that Bugliosi was angered by O’Neill’s questioning, made him dig deeper, resulting in CHAOS.

“Those three men, West, Bugliosi and Manson, are of a certain time and place that might never happen again,” O’Neill told Longreads. “Those guys had secrets; they were sinister. Each of those three guys I became pretty intrigued by. I sometimes wondered which was the most evil of the three of them. I’m not sure Manson was.” To propose that someone might be more evil than a cult leader who brainwashed his followers to kill several people, including an eight-month pregnant woman, is a pretty bold claim. But considering all the praise it’s getting already, plus the thorough research behind it all, people’s perception of what happened might very well be swayed.


West was brought into the story because he was conducting research at the Haight-Ashbury Free clinic at the same time Manson frequented it. O’Neill points out some other sketchy things West was doing, and notes that things line up a little too perfectly. “I felt like everything that Manson did with his women was exactly what the CIA was trying to do with people without their knowledge, in the exact same time, at the exact same place,” O’Neill states.

Read the full interview here.

Alani Vargas is an entertainment writer and A.V. Club contributor. Her work also appears on Showbiz Cheat Sheet, INSIDER, Bustle, Refinery29, and Elite Daily.

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