Vincent Bugliosi, Charles Manson Prosecutor, Dead at 80

'Helter Skelter' author passes away following battle with cancer

Vincent Bugliosi, the former Los Angeles deputy district attorney who prosecuted the Manson family, passed away Monday night at a Los Angeles hospital following a battle with cancer. He was 80. Bugliosi also penned the 1974 book Helter Skelter, which detailed Charles Manson and his followers' 1969 murders of actress Sharon Tate and six others and the subsequent investigation and trial. Bugliosi successfully prosecuted Manson and members of his Family in 1971, resulting in 27 guilty verdicts.

In addition to Bugliosi's near-sterling record as a Los Angeles prosecutor – 105 convictions in 106 felony jury trials, including 21 murder cases – the attorney was also an accomplished author, writing crime-laced tomes on subjects like O.J Simpson, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and the assassination of John F. Kennedy. "He was a workaholic. What was remarkable was he always found time for everyone who needed work," his son, Vincent Bugliosi, Jr. told NBC 4 in Los Angeles. "Every fan letter he received, he responded to everyone."

However, it was his work on the Manson trial and his 1974 true crime classic Helter Skelter that Bugliosi would most be remembered for, a fact that did not escape the prosecutor. "It's a shorthand way of defining me, no matter what else I do," Bugliosi once told the Los Angeles Times of the Manson trial. "I can no more separate myself than I can jump away from my own shadow, and it tends to dominate the other things I've done."

Bugliosi helped navigate the jury through the difficult, gory Tate-LaBianca murders, explaining to the jury how Manson distorted Beatles lyrics to spell out a bloody prophecy and manipulate "Family" members. "I think everyone who participated in the murders bought the Helter Skelter theory hook, line and sinker," Bugliosi told Rolling Stone in 2013. "But did Manson himself believe all this ridiculous, preposterous stuff about all of them living in a bottomless pit in the desert while a worldwide war went on outside? I think, without knowing, that he did not.

"I do think one reason why he didn't participate in the murders is because he thought that'd immunize him or insulate him from criminal responsibility," he added "But, of course, if you're guilty of conspiracy to commit murder and there is a murder, then you're also guilty of that murder. This is boilerplate law." 

Despite dealing with defendants who carved the letter X into their own foreheads, Manson Family members intimidating witnesses and the task of prosecuting a "psychotic episode," as Manson described it to Rolling Stone, Bugliosi still managed to convince a jury to convict Manson, Charles Watson, Susan Atkins, Patrica Krenwinkel and Leslie Van Houten. Manson and his accomplices were each sentenced to the death penalty in 1972 before their sentences were commuted to life imprisonment the following year.

Bugliosi left the Los Angeles District Attorney's Office in 1972 and briefly became a defense lawyer and a political candidate before focusing on writing. His Helter Skelter has twice been adapted for films. "There are thousands of evil, polished con men out there, and we've had more brutal murders than the Manson murders, so why are we still talking about Charles Manson?" Bugliosi told Rolling Stone. "He had a quality about him that one thousandth of one percent of people have. An aura. 'Vibes,' the kids called it in the Sixties. Wherever he went, kids gravitated toward him. This is not normal. I mean, I couldn't get someone to go to the local Dairy Queen and get me a milkshake, OK? But this guy, I don't know what it is. How the hell do I know?"