Charles Manson and Helter Skelter

One of the darkest aspects of The Beatles' career was the misguided belief, by the psychopathic murderer Charles Manson and his 'Family' of followers, that the group's songs incited violence and depicted armageddon.

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Look at the songs: songs sung all over the world by the young love. It ain't nothin' new... It's written in... Revelation, all about the four angels programming the holocaust... the four angels looking for the fifth angel to lead the people into the pit of fire... right out to Death Valley. It's all in black and white, in the White Album - white, so there ain't no mistakin' the color.
Charles Manson

Charles Milles Manson was born on 12 November 1934. He became leader of the "Manson Family" - a collection of followers - towards the end of the 1960s. The members of this group carried out a number of murders, which included the killing of film director Roman Polanski's actress wife Sharon Tate, under the instruction of Manson.

It was upsetting. I mean, I knew Roman Polanski and Sharon Tate and - God! - it was a rough time. It stopped everyone in their tracks because suddenly all this violence came out in the midst of all this love and peace and psychedelia. It was pretty miserable, actually, and everyone got really insecure - not just us, not just the rockers, but everyone in LA felt: 'Oh, God, it can happen to anybody.' Thank God they caught the bugger.
Ringo Starr

Manson first heard The Beatles during their first visit to the United States in February 1964. At the time he was serving a prison sentence for attempting to cash a forged US Treasury check. He was taught to play the guitar by a fellow inmate, and quickly became obsessed with The Beatles.

He was released in March 1967 at the age of 32, and in the summer left the San Francisco area with a group of followers in an old school bus. After The Beatles' Magical Mystery Tour was released in November that year, Manson adopted the name to refer to the Family's geographical and psychological movements in the bus.

In later years Manson became inspired by a belief in "Helter Skelter," a term taken from The Beatles' song of the same name, which signified an apocalyptic race war he believed would arise between blacks and whites. As well as the music of The Beatles, Manson's scenario was also inspired by the New Testament's Book of Revelation.

His first known use of the term was at a campfire gathering of the Family on New Year's Eve 1968, at their base at Myers Ranch near California's Death Valley. By February 1969, Helter Skelter had developed into a scenario in which Manson and the Family would create an album which they believed would trigger the conflict and inspire America's white youths to join the Family. He believed that black men, deprived of white women, would commit violent crimes in frustration, resulting in murderous rampages and a swiftly-escalating conflict between racial groups.

Although The Beatles' song Helter Skelter referred to a harmless funfair slide, for Manson it encapsulated the chaos which he foretold. He also found references to the imagined apocalypse in a number of other songs, many of which appeared on the White Album.

In Manson's mind, The Beatles's songs included a number of coded messages and hidden meanings. Manson wasn't alone in finding hidden - often non-intended or non-existent - meanings in The Beatles' songs. After all, John Lennon's Glass Onion had positively encouraged them. However, Manson's interpretations had abhorrent and devastating consequences way beyond the intentions of the songs' creators.

Like, Helter Skelter is a nightclub. Helter Skelter means confusion. Literally. It doesn't mean any war with anyone. It doesn't mean that those people are going to kill other people. It only means what it means. Helter Skelter is confusion. Confusion is coming down fast. If you don't see the confusion coming down fast, you can call it what you wish. It's not my conspiracy. It is not my music. I hear what it relates. It says 'Rise!' It says 'Kill!' Why blame it on me? I didn't write the music. I am not the person who projected it into your social consciousness.
Charles Manson, November 1970

On 10 January 1969 Manson announced that the Family were to move from the desert into a house in Canoga Park. The canary-yellow house, where the Family temporarily settled to develop their plans for Helter Skelter, was dubbed the Yellow Submarine.

On 27 July a dispute over money arose within the Family. Bobby Beausoleil murdered fellow member Gary Hinman, at Manson's instruction. Afterwards Beausoleil daubed the words "Political piggy" on a wall in Hinman's blood.

Beausoleil was arrested on 6 August. Two days later Manson told the Family that Helter Skelter was to begin. The following night, 9 August, three members murdered Sharon Tate and four others. One of the killers, Susan Atkins, wrote "Pig" on the front door of the murder scene, 10050 Cielo Drive, in Tate's blood.

The next night three Family members, again acting on Manson's instruction, murdered Leno LaBianca and his wife Rosemary at their Los Feliz home. One of the killers wrote "Rise" and "Death to Pigs" on the walls of the living room, and "Healter [sic] Skelter" on the refrigerator.

Abbey Road was released in September 1969, after the murders took place. By this time the Family were living at a camp in the Death Valley area of California. In October, after the Family had acquired a copy of the album, several members - including Manson - were arrested.

On 25 November police raided the Spahn Ranch used as a base by the Family. They confiscated a door on which was written "Helter Skelter is coming down fast", and the words "1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, all good children (go to heaven?)" - the latter words are heard in You Never Give Me Your Money.

While Manson stood trial for the Tate-LaBianca murders in late July 1970, two people were murdered and one injured in an attack on a beach near Santa Barbara, California. A female member of the Family later referred to this incident as "Maxwell's Silver Hammer".

27 responses on “Charles Manson and Helter Skelter

  1. Pat

    Let’s face it Charles Manson was evil and wanted revenge and picked the tate house. But I have to say this that I do believe a few of those songs on the White Album were written because of Charles Manson! Why do I believ that? Well Manson knew the Beach Boys and stood out in the crowd because of his weirdness. The Beach Boys probably spoke about Manson and his weird philosiphies and it got back to the Beatles. Also what is too strange is that they called the album the White album and meanwhile Manson hated blacks and wanted a race war. White album stood for the White race. Also Sexie Sadie is too directed to what Susan Atkins was doing. The Beach Boys proably played with her then later bragged to Beatles and music people that they had sexy sadie Susan Atkins. Beatles thought this is weird enough to write about. I don’t believe the Beatles wanted Charles Manson to do killing. I think they juste thought Charles Manson was strange but harmless. Anyway when Charles Manson turned out to be a mass murderer, the Beatles got shaken and tried to bluff their way out of some of those songs. I mean they did not know this horrible murder was going to happen.

    1. Deadman

      Your theory falls down, for a start, with your incorrect assumption that the Beatles called their album, “The Beatles”, the White Album. Your deluded belief is unsupported by any evidence other than your assertion that “The Beach Boys probably spoke about Manson and his weird philosiphies [sic] and it got back to the Beatles”, and further anachronistic, alleged probabilities piled on silly suppositions. “Sexy Sadie” was inspired by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.
      “Album”, by the way, is Latin for “white thing”.

    2. BeatleFreak2

      Pat, I know this is a very late reply but as others have already said, Sexy Sadie was about the Maharishi. John wrote it & said as much. Sexy Sadie, what have you done? You made a fool of everyone……John got disillusioned with the Maharishi, as did Paul and Ringo. George got sour on him too but George always believed in the philosophy.

      And another thing. The Beatles didn’t call the White Album, the white album at first. Everyone else called it that and it stuck.

      The only song on the white album that I would like to hear how it came about is “Piggies.” Fit right in with what Manson thought, but the Beatles didn’t have a clue to who Manson was. Some dirty weird hippie guy in California. Young people were very anti-establishment at that time, so “Piggies” was probably just a dig at the establishment. Manson used it all to his advantage. The White Album came out in late 1968. The Manson murders happened in August, 1969.

  2. Jan

    Manson was one disturbed creature. Could you blame him for ending up like that though? Had a pretty rough life. Not defending him, or making excuses for him – because a lot of people have tough childhoods and don’t become murdering monsters. Just saying if your mom sold you to a pedophile for a glass of beer, how would you turn out?

  3. Jane

    To the above comments that the theory that charles manson sick theories were spoken and the Beach Boys heard it is not impossible. First of all the Beach Boys were working with Manson. Charles was strange. The Beach boys spoke alot with the Beatles and Charles Manson stood out. Why couldn’t a few of those songs in the White Album be about Charles? He was an odd character and stood out. Songwriters write about other people. So it makes sense. I don’t believe they directed Charles to kill no but it seems too much of a coincidence when I listen to the album.

    1. William

      Charles Manson and Dennis Wilson were acquaintances. The rest of the band thought Manson was crazy.

      It’s a leap in logic to say that they were “working together”.

  4. DrTomoculus

    Charles Manson received a visit from one George E. Shibley in March 1967 at his parole. Shibley was a very prominent Beverly Hills lawyer, with rich clientele, and some oil companies as clients. At this time, Manson was in for 10 years on forgery and parole offences. He wanted to stay in jail. One has to ask, why is a petty crook, mainly in for Dyer Act convictions, one count of prostitution, getting visits from a Beverly Hills lawyer.

    2 years later that same lawyer is representing Sirhan Sirhan, the assassin who did not assassinate RFK. When the Manson Murder trials began, Shibley was on board as “an old friend of Charlie”.

    It’s also funny how Sexy Sadie Susan Atkins was offered $150,000 to turn state’s evidence and say it was all done for Charlie.

    Never mind Terry Melcher, Derek Taylor and all that. Or Melcher and McCartney being on the board of directors of Monterey Pop. Or the Esalen Institute, where Manson and Family played 3 days before the murders, which should be called the Watson Murders.

    There’s a lot to that man and how he got to where he got, that you probably DON’T want to know, and how The Beatles played a part in it, knowingly or unknowingly, is anyone’s guess. C I A, you know, those guys who experimented with LSD before anyone ever heard of it in Haight Ashbury. You might want to ask them. Or how Polanski miraculously avoided prison when sodomising and drugging an underage girl.

    You just don’t want to know.

  5. Bill

    Black men being deprived of white women would go out & commit violent acts? Where did this come from? I don’t remember reading that in Vincent Bugliosi’s book…

      1. John Bonaccorsi, Philadelphia

        The following passages are from the “Helter Skelter” chapter headed “February 1970.” In the book’s “25th Anniversary Edition,” published by Norton in 1994, they’re on pages 245 and 247:

        “[Family member Paul] Watkins [to prosecutor Vincent Bulgiosi]: ‘[Charlie] used to explain how [Helter Skelter] would be so simple to start out. A couple of black people—some of the spades from Watts—would come up into the Bel Air and Beverly Hills district … into the rich piggy district … and just really wipe some people out, just cutting bodies up and smearing blood and writing things on the wall in blood … all kinds of super-atrocious crimes that would really make the white man mad …

        “One day at the Gresham Street house, while they were on an acid trip, Manson had reiterated to Watkins and the others that blackie had no smarts, ‘that the only thing blackie knows is what whitey has told him or shown him’ and ‘so someone is going to have to show him how to do it.’

        “I [Vincent Bugliosi] asked Watkins: ‘How to do what?’

        “ANSWER: ‘How to bring down Helter Skelter. How to do all these things.’

        “Watkins: ‘Charlie said the only reason [Helter Skelter] hadn’t come down already was because whitey was feeding his young daughters to the black man in Haight-Ashbury, and he said that if his music came out, and all of the beautiful people—‘love’ he called it—left Haight-Ashbury, blackie would turn to Bel Air to get his rocks off.

        “Blackie had been temporarily ‘pacified’ by the young white girls, Manson claimed. But when he took away the pacifier—when his album came out and all the young loves followed Pied Piper Charlie to the desert—blackie would need another means of getting his frustrations out and he would then turn to the establishment.”

        If the following link holds up, you’ll be able to read the passages directly, at Google Books:

  6. perjensen01

    Frankly, this article about Manson should be removed. It’s rather garish seeing his face (and story) on page 1 of a nice Beatles site, and in no way deserving of debate all these years later. The Beatles were so popular and influential that millions were deeply affected by it, enough to play albums backwards to reveal ‘hidden messages’, even play the record covers, analyze lyrics, emulate their hair, clothes, and Lennon’s glasses, as well as popularizing Indian classical music (sitar), including a little known religion (Hinduism), the idyllic self-search called meditation, even helped advance electronic technology considering their endless studio work. Manson was just one of these millions. His story is fascinating, but does not belong on a Beatles website.

    1. joe

      Well there are supposed to be hidden messages hidden in songs,ant The Beatles songs are what you make of them,thats pretty much the magic of them,because they are kinda weird i guess…idk my opinion…

  7. James M

    What is the source of the “November 25” date for the Beatles door?
    There is testimony from one of the trials, claiming that specific people connected to Manson had an “advance copy of Abbey Road.” However this is not verifiable.

      1. John Bonaccorsi, Philadelphia

        The following passage is from the “Helter Skelter” chapter headed “May 1970.” In the book’s “25th Anniversary Edition,” published by Norton in 1994, it’s on page 294:

        “On May 25 [1970], I was going through LAPD’s tubs on the LaBianca case when I noticed, standing against the wall, a wooden door. On it was a multicolored mural; the lines from a nursery rhyme, ‘1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7—All Good Children Go to Heaven’; and, in large letters, the words ‘HELTER SKELTER IS COMING DOWN FAST.’

        “Stunned, I asked [LAPD Sgt. Manuel] Gutierrez, ‘Where in the hell did you get that?’

        “‘Spahn Ranch.’


        “He checked the yellow property envelope affixed to the door.

        “‘November 25, 1969.’

        “‘You mean for five months, while I’ve been desperately trying to link the killers with Helter Skelter, you’ve had this door, with those very words on it, the same bloody words that were found at the LaBianca residence?’

        “Gutierrez admitted they had. The door, it turned out, had been found on a cabinet in Juan Flynn’s trailer. It had been considered so unimportant that to date no one had even bothered to book it into evidence.

        “Gutierrez did so the next day.”

        If the following link holds up, you’ll be able to read the passage directly, at Google Books:,+I+was+going+through+LAPD%27s+tubs%22&source=bl&ots=yM7yLr8TN0&sig=ZmE-xhu0lMSYrYgyIkAsd7iZo0E&hl=en&sa=X&ei=gGsgVazSHcGKsAWpiYK4Cg&ved=0CB4Q6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=%22On%20May%2025%2C%20I%20was%20going%20through%20LAPD's%20tubs%22&f=false

        The statement that the Manson Family was able to listen to “an advance copy” of “Abbey Road” is from the Ed Sanders book “The Family.” In the edition published by Thunder’s Mouth Press in 2002, it’s on page 288 and reads as follows:

        “Around October 1, Vance, Vern, Zero and Diane came to the Goler Wash camp, bringing with them an advance copy of the new Beatles album, ‘Abbey Road,’ which was played on a battery-operated machine.”

        I don’t know what significance the commenter above places on any supposed “unverifiability” of that statement. As a little bit of Googling will show, “Abbey Road” had already been released in England by that October 1 and was released in the U.S. on that date. The album’s hit single, “Something,” was released in the U.S. in October’s first week. Members of the Manson Family, in other words, even if they hadn’t had access to “an advance copy,” had had plenty of time to hear that very-successful album before late November 1969, when that door was confiscated at Spahn Ranch.

        PS In “Helter Skelter,” prosecutor Bugliosi does not indicate whether he ever attempted to find out who put the writings on that door, and he does not seem to have attached any significance to the “1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7—All Good Children Go to Heaven.” (In the book’s chapter headed “October 6-31, 1970,” he reports that the door was part of the prosecution case, at trial, but he refers to it only as “the ‘Helter Skelter’ door.”) One has to wonder how the presence of that rhyme on “Abbey Road” struck Manson and the Family members who knew of the Family’s involvement in the Tate-LaBianca murders, whose victims had totaled seven.

        1. Michael K

          Well researched! I was also troubled by that 1234567 reference and until fairly recently had left it unresearched. But the current brand of PID (Paul Is Dead) freakery which is basically an adaptation of ‘The Illuminatus Trilogy’ with Paul McCartney as Yog Soggoth was playing this up so I reproduced the research you’ve just quoted and in addition found that many radio stations airing sides of the album in its entirety at the time. So no problem getting that earworm and translating it into…erm…a door scrawled on in blood.

          1. John Bonaccorsi, Philadelphia

            Thanks, I’m glad you appreciate the research. Having been a teenager when Abbey Road was released, I can tell you that, yes, a local “underground” radio station played the album in its entirety just before or just after it was released here, in the Philadelphia area. This might have been after “Something” was already being played on at least one of the Top 40 stations. (There was some sort of pre-release release of “Something” on a station here, I think–some such unusual thing.) When I look back on those days, I’m struck by the awe, the reverence, with which a new Beatle album was regarded. Obviously, the reaction of Manson and his followers was idiosyncratic, to put it mildly; but in a way, it wasn’t unusual.

  8. Chris

    Charles Manson was a frustrated musician with some talent. He had enough talent that both Dennis Wilson and Neil Young advocated that he be signed to a record contract. This is important. If he would have been a completely talentless hack, he would have never had hope. He had hope and it was dashed over and over again. He blamed, among others, Terry Melcher (the Beach Boys producer and son of Doris Day) for his inability to seal the deal. Terry Melcher was the previous occupant to Roman Polanski and Sharon Tate at the Cielo Drive residence. Manson actually visited the place himself and talked to Tate, who told Manson that Melcher didn’t live there anymore. Still, Manson came away from the encounter that the house was an embodiment of the “establishment” and thought of it when he put out his order. He also hoped it would send Terry Melcher a message. The motivation of the “Helter Skelter” as Manson saw it may, or may not, have worked on his disciples, but I don’t believe for a second that Manson himself ever believed any of it – he just used it to manipulate some troubled runaways that would do anything for him.

    1. Michael K

      Yes but you need to read the Bugliosi book (which isn’t a conspiracy book unless it’s part of the conspiracy but I’m not unless I secretly unwittingly am). Don’t wanna give spoilers.

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