An ex-jailbird with a glib tongue, Charles Manson became guru to a coterie of drug-addled dropouts during the fabled “Summer of Love.”In the spring of 1968 Manson’s ragtag commune settled in a dusty, disused ranch outside Los Angeles, where they enjoyed a squalid, orgiastic existence overseen by their increasingly demented messiah. Obsessed with the Beatles’ song “Helter Skelter,” which he interpreted as a bizarre doomsday allegory, Manson concocted a scheme to provoke an apocalyptic race war by slaying white people in a way that would supposedly implicate black revolutionaries. On August 9, 1969, Manson sent four of his disciples to invade the home of film director Roman Polanski, who was away on a shoot. They butchered his pregnant wife, Sharon Tate, along with four other people, and scrawled cryptic graffiti in their victims’ blood. The following night, Manson himself led a party of his “creepy crawlers” to the home of Leno and Rosemary LaBianca, who were slaughtered in a similar fashion.
Public fascination with Manson and his “Family” was reflected in an out-pouring of writing about every facet of the case, including this 1970 Esquire magazine piece by Gay Talese (b. 1932). One of the pioneers of the “New Journalism,” Talese started out at The New York Times, eventually taking over Meyer Berger’s “About New York” column after Berger’s death in 1959. It was his work for Esquire, however, that helped introduce something radically new into American journalism, a style of reporting that exploited novelistic techniques and that made Talese’s deeply researched accounts read like literary fiction.