Charles Manson is dead. I hope it provides solace for those survivors related to his victims. As a true crime author I found myself not wanting his death, but oddly comfortable with it. Manson should have died years ago but California rejected the death penalty. He was a product of the prison system where he lived most of his life. Strange as it may sound, his life sentence was merely sending him back to his home.
Manson’s trial was the first since the Lindbergh kidnapping/murder that captivated the entire country. I remember it being on the evening news almost nightly. TV was a catalyst for Charile’s brand of crazy. Even President Nixon weighed in on his guilt. It was the first trial that was part of the mainstream media. It was hard to follow as a kid watching the nightly news. Manson’s motive made no sense to me. How could such a worthless waif of a human convince kids from middle-class America to go out and slaughter innocent people? That alone drove attention and insatiable curiosity into the crimes.
Charles Manson left a few strange legacies in has evil wake. Manson and his followers drove a stake in the hippie movement. Drugs and sex may have opened many minds, but in Manson’s bizarrely capable hands he turned hippies to raw and savage violence. From the time of his arrest, the era of hippies was viewed with suspicion and was forever tainted. Manson killed the very movement he waded into.
Another strange legacy he had was in the true crime genre. I would contend that Manson spawned the contemporary true crime genre which is near its pinnacle right now. His crime, and the books and films that followed convinced the world that there were evil people out there and they could strike, seemingly at random. He blurred the line between horror and true crime simply by existing.
For myself and many others, Helter Skelter was our first contemporary true crime book. The 1976 TV docudrama was chilling and disturbing on multiple levels. If Manson and his Family had not waged their twisted war on Los Angeles, the true crime genre would have been set back decades. Vincent Bugliosi’s masterful book paved the way for countless other books.
You may argue that Capote’s work, In Cold Blood, had laid this foundation first. The murders he chose however were not front page news. Manson went after film stars and prominent members of the LA community. Capote’s work, while groundbreaking, did not have the full media coverage that the Tate-Labianca trial had. Manson played the press and the world ate it up. He was a creature of film and the press. They hated him and put him in every living room nightly. It wasn’t until the OJ Simpson trial that we saw media cover murders with such zeal and interest.
True crime was here to stay.
While I loathe Charles Manson and everything that he stood for; he did forge the start of the contemporary true crime genre by being a horribly evil man with no regard to human life. The world is a better place without him in it. The nightmares he has spawned however, continue on to this day.