PQC: Folks, this is the “PROLOGUE” of CHAOS: Charles Manson, the CIA, and the Secret History of the Sixties” by Tom O’Neill. It’s just a prologue but it tells you everything about the State Power and those represent it and have access to it a.k.a Government. And the most important thing this “prologue” tells YOU, the people is the PRICE that one has to prepare to pay for just knowing and understanding that State power, not to mention exposing it! While these scumbag criminals are free and get away with all of their crimes and die peacefully!
Anyway find time to read the whole book and decide for yourselves, folks!
Vincent Bugliosi was on another tirade.
“Nothing could be worse than accusing a prosecutor of doing what you’re implying that I did in this case,” he barked at me. “It’s extremely, extremely defamatory.”
It was a sunny day in February 2006, and we were in the kitchen of his Pasadena home. The place was cozy, with floral patterns, overstuffed furniture, and—literally—a white picket fence out front, all belying the hostility erupting within its walls. Bugliosi wanted to sue me. It would be, he soon warned, “a hundred-million-dollar libel lawsuit,” and “one of the biggest lawsuits ever in the true-crime genre.” If I refused to soft-pedal my reporting on him, I’d be powerless to stop it.
“I think we should view ourselves as adversaries,” he’d tell me later.
Vince—I was on a first-name basis with him, as I guess adversaries must be—was a master orator, and this was one of his trademark perorations. Our interview that day dragged on for more than six hours, and he did most of the talking, holding forth as expertly as he had when he prosecuted the Charles Manson trial more than thirty-five years before. Seventy-one and in shirtsleeves, Vince still cut an imposing figure, hectoring me over a Formica table strewn with legal pads, notes, tape recorders, pens, and a stack of books—all written by him. Wiry and spry, his eyes a steely blue, he would sit down only to leap up again and point his finger in my face.
Riffling through the pages of one of his yellow legal pads, he read from some remarks he’d prepared. “I’m a decent guy, Tom, and I’m going to educate you a little about just how decent Vince Bugliosi is.”
And so he did—reciting a prewritten “opening statement” that lasted for forty-five minutes. He insisted on beginning this way. He’d dragooned his wife, Gail, into serving as a witness for the proceedings, just in case I’d try to misrepresent him. Essentially, he’d turned his kitchen into a courtroom. And in a courtroom, he was in his element.
Bugliosi had made his name with the Manson trial, captivating the nation with stories of murderous hippies, brainwashing, race wars, and acid trips gone awry. Vince was sure to remind me, early and often, that he’d written three bestselling books, including Helter Skelter, his account of the Manson murders and their aftermath, which became the most popular true-crime book ever. If he seemed a little keyed up that day, well, so was I. My task was to press him on some of his conduct in the Manson trial. There are big holes in Helter Skelter: contradictions, omissions, discrepancies with police reports. The book amounts to an official narrative that few have ever thought to question. But I’d found troves of documents—many of them unexamined for decades, and never before reported on—that entangled Vince and a host of other major players, like Manson’s parole officer, his friends in Hollywood, the cops and lawyers and researchers and medical professionals surrounding him. Among many other things, I had evidence in Vince’s own handwriting that one of his lead witnesses had lied under oath.
I sometimes wonder if Vince could see what a bundle of nerves I was that day. I’m not a churchgoing person, but I’d gone to church that morning and said a little prayer. My mom always told me I should pray when I need help, and that day I needed all the help I could get. I hoped that my interview with Vince would mark a turning point in my seven years of intensive reporting on the Manson murders. I’d interviewed more than a thousand people by then. My work had left me, at various points, broke, depressed, and terrified that I was becoming one of “those people”: an obsessive, a conspiracy theorist, a lunatic. I’d let friendships fall away. My family had worried about my sanity. Manson himself had harangued me from prison. I’d faced multiple threats on my life. I don’t consider myself credulous, but I’d discovered things I thought impossible about the Manson murders and California in the sixties—things that reek of duplicity and cover-up, implicating police departments up and down the state. Plus, the courts. Plus—though I have to take a deep breath before I let myself say it—the CIA.
If I could get Bugliosi to admit any wrongdoing, or even to let a stray detail slip, I could finally start to unravel dozens of the other strands of my reporting. Maybe soon I could get my life back, whatever that might look like. At the very least, I could know that I’d done all I could to get to the bottom of this seemingly endless hole.
Sitting in his kitchen, though, and watching the hours wear on as Vince defended and fortified every point he made, my heart sank. He was stonewalling me. I could hardly get a word in edgewise.
“It’s a tribute to your research,” he told me. “You found something that I did not find.” In the closest thing I got to a concession, he said, “Some things may have gotten past me.” But, he added, “I would never in a trillion years do what you’re suggesting. Okay? Never. My whole history would be opposed to that. And number two, Tom, even if I had the thought that you’re suggesting”—of suborning perjury—“it goes nowhere. It’s preposterous. It’s, it’s silly… Who cares? It means nothing!”
Who cares? I’ve asked myself that a lot over the years. Was it worth investing so much of my time and energy in these, some of the most well-known, worn-out crimes in American history? How did I end up falling into this, anyway? I remember glancing over at Gail, Vince’s wife, during his long, stentorian “opening statement.” She was leaning against the counter looking exhausted, her eyelids drooping. Eventually, she excused herself to go upstairs and lie down. She must’ve heard it all a thousand times before, his scripted lines, his self-aggrandizement. When I’m down on myself, I imagine everyone feels like Gail did that day. Oh, no, not the Manson murders, again. We’ve been through this. We’ve processed this. We know everything there is to know. Don’t drag us back into this story.
I was almost heartened, then, to see that Vince was so anxious. That’s what kept me going, knowing that I’d gotten under his skin. Why would he be so committed to stopping this? And if what I’d discovered was really “nothing,” why had so many of his former colleagues told me otherwise?
Another one of my sources had tipped off Vince about my reporting, giving him the ludicrous idea that I believed he’d framed Manson. That was dead wrong. I’ve never been a Manson apologist. I think he was every bit as evil as the media made him out to be. But it is true that Stephen Kay—Vince’s coprosecutor on the case, and no friend of his—had been shocked by the notes I’d found in Vince’s handwriting, telling me they could be enough to overturn all the verdicts against Manson and the Family. That was never my goal, though. I just wanted to find out what really happened. “I don’t know what to believe now,” Kay told me. “If he [Vince] changed this, what else did he change?”
I wanted to know the same thing, but Vince always found a way to change the subject. “Where does it go?” he kept asking. “What’s the point?” The point, as I saw it, was that an act of perjury called the whole motive for the murders into question. Vince was too busy patronizing me about my motives to take that into consideration. How could I dare insinuate that he’d done something wrong? How could I live with myself if I tarnished his sterling reputation? He liked to bring up “the Man in the Mirror,” as if he, and not Michael Jackson, had popularized the phrase. “You cannot get away,” Vince said, “you cannot get away from him!” I tried to steer the conversation back to Manson, but Vince was having none of it. He wanted to recite some “testimonials” about his good character, to “read them into the record.”
Both of us had showed up that day with two tape recorders—I was as scrupulous as he was, and neither of us wanted to risk having an incomplete account of the conversation. Over and over, whenever the intensity mounted and Vince had something sensitive to say, he would demand that we go off the record, meaning each of us had to shut off two machines, sometimes just for a few seconds, only to turn them all back on again. Often he’d forget one of his, and I’d have to say, “Vince, you didn’t turn it off.”
Off the record, he’d lash into me again, his eyes piercing under that silver crescent of hair. “If you do the book and it’s legally defamatory, you have to realize one thing,” he said. “You have to realize I have no choice. I have to sue you.”
By the time I left his house, I had a headache from all his shouting, and the sun had set behind the San Gabriel Mountains. Gail had never bothered to come downstairs again. Outside, before I got to my car, Vince grabbed my arm and reminded me that a blurb from him could boost the sales of my book—and he’d be happy to offer one, provided the manuscript passed muster with him. “That’s not a quid-pro-quo offer,” he added. But it seemed like one to me.
Driving away, I felt despondent. I’d just gone toe-to-toe with one of the most famous prosecutors and true-crime authors in the world. Of course I hadn’t broken him. I knew I wasn’t alone, either. Other reporters had warned me that Vince could be ferocious. One of them, Mary Neiswender of the Long Beach Press Telegram and Independent, told me that Vince had threatened her back in the eighties, when she was preparing an exposé on him. He knew where her kids went to school, “and it would be very easy to plant narcotics in their lockers.” Actually, I didn’t even need other sources—Vince himself had told me mere minutes before that he had no compunction about hurting people to “exact justice or get revenge.”
As it turned out, my reprieve was short-lived. I arrived at my home in Venice Beach to find that he’d already left me a message, wanting to talk about “a couple of follow-up things.” I called him back and we talked for another few hours. The next day, we had another phone call—then another, then another. When he saw that I wouldn’t back down, Vince only grew more exasperated.
“If you vaguely imply to your readers that I somehow concealed evidence from the Manson jury,” he told me on the phone, “whether you believe it or not, the only thing you’re going to be accomplishing is jeopardizing your financial future and that of your publisher.” Demanding an apology, he assured me that I was treading “in dangerous waters”: “It’s possible the next time we see each other I’ll be cross-examining you on the witness stand.”
Fortunately, that never happened. The next time I saw Vince, it was June 2011, and he was striding past me in an auditorium at the Santa Monica Library, where he was giving a talk. He’d noticed me—his adversary—in the crowd and paused as he made his way forward.
“Are you Tom O’Neill?”
“Yes. Hi, Vince.”
“Why are you so happy?”
I must’ve been smiling out of nervousness. “I’m happy to see you,” I said.
Studying me a bit, he asked, “Did you do something to your hair?”
“It looks different.” He kept walking. And that was it. We never spoke again. Vince died in 2015. Sometimes I wish he were alive to read what follows, even if he’d try to sue me over it. I feel foolish for having expected to get firm answers from him. I replay the scenario in my head, figuring out where I could’ve caught him in a lie, where I should’ve pressed him harder, how I might’ve parried his counterattacks. I really thought that, with enough tenacity, I could get to the truth under all this. Now, most of the people who had the full story, including Manson himself, have died, and the questions I had then have continued to consume me for almost twenty years. But I’m certain of one thing: much of what we accept as fact is fiction.