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The Good Times Are Killing Me

I'm a nerdy girl with too much time on her hands, and too many books on her to-read pile.

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Household Stories by the Brothers Grimm
Wilhelm Grimm, Jacob Grimm, Lucy Crane, Walter Crane
Natasha Wimmer, Roberto Bolaño

Helter Skelter: The True Story of the Manson Murders

Helter Skelter: The True Story of the Manson Murders - Curt Gentry, Vincent Bugliosi After a whole week in bed, trying in vain to maintain whatever dignity I had left after hip surgery (having to pee – every 2 to 3 hours - in one of those cold buckets hospitals have for patients unable to go to the bathroom is not the most uplifting experience, not is it trying to read with needles stuck in your arms and back), I realized that it was time to get over my inexplicable fear of audiobooks and give one a try. Since I’ve been spending most of my time watching “Bones” and “Criminal Minds”, and listening to The Beatles (Paul McCartney recently came to Colombia and we were able to watch most of the concert in TV; we’ve been listening to nothing else since) I figured that a true-crime story was the way to go, and coincidence allowed me to get my hands on a “Helter Skelter” audiobook. The story of the murders is common knowledge. On August 9th, 1969, at 10050 Cielo Drive, Sharon Tate, Jay Sebring, Steven Parent, Wokciech Frykowski and Abigail Folger were brutally murdered at the hands of strangers. The next day Leno and Rosemary LaBianca were also found dead, stabbed more than 13 times for no apparent reason. After months of investigation and a long trial, Charles Manson and several members of his “family” were found guilty of these murders, and are currently serving life sentences in the US. That’s the short version, and most of what I knew before reading (hearing?) this book. I also knew that Sharon Tate was 8 months pregnant and Roman Polanski’s wife, and that Charles Manson was a really, really messed up man. “Helter Skelter” begins the day after the Tate murders, with the housekeeper finding the bodies and bolting out of the house in a state of shock. It then follows LAPD as it conducts two separate investigations, since it was believed at first that the LaBiancas were killed by different perpetrators. When the connection between the two crimes is finally found and the name “Charles Manson” begins to awaken the suspicion of the police, the book turns to the District Attorney’s office and the subsequent trial of Manson, Susan Atkins, Patricia Krenwinkel and Charles Watson. Vincent Bugliosi, the author, was also the main prosecutor in this case, and provides a unique take on the amount of work and luck it took to gain convictions and the maximum sentence for the Tate and LaBianca killers. There were many factors that made this audiobook such an enjoyable experience that I couldn’t turn it off at night without receiving first a stern look from my mom and a sermon on the benefits of sleeping for surgery patients. First of all, I don’t think I could’ve asked for a better narrator. Scott Brick does wonders with the content, bringing to the table a sense of mystery that had me on the edge of the bed most of the time. Are all audiobook narrators this cool? If so, I need to get my hands on more of them right now (Really, hand them over). The process of investigation was another big selling point for me. After seeing many profiling and criminal shows it was a surprise to hear that so many mistakes were made in the initial collection of evidence in this case: A police officer put his finger over a bloody print in order to open a door (not realizing that he probably was destroying valuable evidence), the coroner’s autopsy report was wrong about the estimated time of the Tate murders (placing it about 10 hours before the actual killings), some blood pools weren’t analyzed because the investigators assumed they contained the same type of blood as the rest of the blood found in the house, one of the murder weapons was found by a 10 year old and then left to collect dust by the police somewhere, the clothes used during the Tate killings were discovered by a local news station… and don’t get me started on the lack of communication between the Tate and the LaBianca detectives. The laziness of some members of the police force was evident during the trials, when they would simply ignore express request from the prosecutor’s office to gather more evidence because, you know, they just weren’t in the mood. Did that ever happened in CSI?As a lawyer, the trial portion of the book was especially interesting to me because our criminal system works very differently. Bugliosi did an excellent job here, narrating the trial proceedings as if this was a thriller and we didn’t know the final verdict already. As prosecutor he had to do an enormous amount of work to get a conviction in this case, and it shows. After all, how do you convince a jury of your peers that these brutal killings were ordered by a deranged individual obsessed with finding hidden meanings in Beatles songs and determined to start a war between black and white people? To the difficulty of the case itself one has to add the narcissistic personality of the accused: an experienced conman used to manipulating everyone around him, even the other defendant’s lawyers. It is clear in the book that Manson’s drive to control every action in the courtroom did as much damage to his defense as anything Bugliosi did, and for that, thank you Mr. Manson. Oh! And thank you Mr. Bugliosi, for providing first-hand information about the Charles Manson case, in a manner that was both detailed and respectful to the victims, and for delivering a great true crime book that gave lots and lots of hours of entertainment. I really recommend it.