helter skelter

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Helter Skelter (scenario)

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The Helter Skelter scenario is a theory put forward by Vincent Bugliosi, the lead prosecutor in the Tate–LaBianca murder trial. It is mostly based on the testimony of Paul Watkins, as a motive for the series of murders that were committed by the Manson Family in order to convict Charles Manson of conspiracy to commit murder. Bugliosi described his theory at trial and in his subsequent book Helter Skelter: The True Story of the Manson Murders. According to Bugliosi’s theory, Manson often spoke to the members of his “family” about Helter Skelter in the months leading up to the murders of Sharon Tate and Leno and Rosemary LaBianca in August 1969, an apocalyptic war arising from racial tensions between Black and White people.[1]: 311  This involved reference to music of the Beatles, particularly songs from their self-titled 1968 double album (also known as the “White Album”), and the New Testament’s Book of Revelation.[1]: 238–44  Other scenarios besides Helter Skelter exist, with some writers, police detectives, attorneys involved with the case, and perpetrators identifying the Tate–La Bianca murders as either copycat killings, revenge for a bad drug deal, or a combination of two or all three.


According to Vincent BugliosiCharles Manson had been predicting racial war for some time before he used the term “Helter Skelter”.[1]: 244  According to Paul Watkins, Manson’s first use of the term was at a gathering of the Family on New Year’s Eve 1968 at Myers Ranch near California’s Death Valley.[1] : 244 [2] Watkins said the scenario had Manson as the war’s ultimate beneficiary and its musical cause. He and the Family would create an album with songs whose messages would be as subtle as those he had heard in songs of the Beatles.[3][1]: 241 

According to Bugliosi, Black men would thus be deprived of the White women whom the political changes of the 1960s had made sexually available to them and would lash out in violent crimes against White people.[1]: 247  According to Watkins and Tex Watson, frightened White people would retaliate with a murderous rampage, and militant Black people would exploit it to provoke a war of near-extermination between racist White people and non-racist White people over the treatment of Black people. Then the militant Black people would arise to finish off the few White people who survived, and kill off all non-Black peoples.[4][5]

Watkins goes on to say that in this holocaust, the members of the enlarged Family would have little to fear; they would wait out the war in a secret city that was underneath Death Valley which they would reach through a hole in the ground. They would be the only remaining whites upon the race war’s conclusion, and they would emerge from underground to rule the blacks who, as the vision went, would be incapable of running the world. At that point, Watkins says, Manson “would scratch [the black man’s] fuzzy head and kick him in the butt and tell him to go pick the cotton and go be a good nigger“.[4]

Manson listened to the Beatles’ White Album, which includes a track “Helter Skelter”

Watson said the term “Helter Skelter” was from the Beatles’ song of the same name and that Manson interpreted it as concerned with the war.[3] The song was on the band’s self-titled double album (also known as the “White Album”), which Manson heard within a month or so of its November 1968 release.[6]

According to Paul Watkins, Manson and his followers began preparing for Helter Skelter in the months before they committed the murders. They worked on songs for the hoped-for album which they anticipated would set off everything, and they prepared vehicles and other items for their escape from the Los Angeles area (their home territory) to Death Valley when the days of violence arrived. They pored over maps to plot a route that would bypass highways and get them to the desert safely. Bugliosi wrote, Manson was convinced that the song “Helter Skelter” contained a coded statement of the route that they should follow.[1]: 244–245 

LaBianca murders[edit]

Tex WatsonPatricia Krenwinkel, and Leslie Van Houten, with assistance from Charles Manson, committed the LaBianca murders on the night of August 9, and Krenwinkel wrote “Healter [sic] Skelter” on the refrigerator in blood, along with a possible reference to the Beatles song “Piggies“.[6][7] Manson Family member Bobby Beausoleil had written “political piggies” (in no relation to the Beatles) in Gary Hinman‘s blood on the wall at Hinman’s house after Beausoleil murdered him.[1]: 35, 91–96, 99–113  Krenwinkel testified she wrote it at the LaBianca’s house to copycat Beausoleil in order to get him out of jail as he had been arrested for Hinman’s murder and was in custody.[1]: 426–435 

References to the Beatles and the Book of Revelation[edit]

In his book Helter Skelter, Bugliosi writes that Manson told “numerous people”, including former Ma Barker gang member Alvin Karpis, that “given the chance, he could be much bigger than the Beatles.”[1]: 145 [8]: 11  Watson wrote that the Bible had “absolutely no meaning in our life in the Family” apart from Revelation chapter 9.[3] Manson lived with an aunt and uncle for a period in his childhood when his mother was in prison. He later told a counselor that the aunt and uncle had “some marital difficulty until they became interested in religion and became very extreme”.[1]: 137 

Beatles songs, as interpreted in the theory[edit]

The following interpretations are based on Vincent Bugliosi‘s interpretations and theories based on statements made to him by Paul Watkins.[1][2] It also includes statements made by Tex Watson years later,[6] and Charles Manson‘s statements to David Dalton.[9]

  • Honey Pie
    Lyric: Oh, honey pie, my position is tragic / Come and show me the magic / Of your Hollywood song

    Meaning: The Beatles know Jesus Christ has returned to Earth and is in Los Angeles.[1]: 240  They want Manson to create his “song”, that is, his album that will set off Helter Skelter.[3]
    Lyric: Oh, honey pie, you are driving me frantic / Sail across the Atlantic / To be where you belong

    Meaning: The Beatles want Jesus Christ to come to England.[1]: 240 
    Consequence: Bugliosi claimed in early 1969, Manson and his female followers attempt to contact the Beatles by letter, telegram, and telephone; they are struggling to make clear to the Beatles that it is they, the Beatles, who are to come across the Atlantic, to join the family in Death Valley.[1]: 240 
  • I Will, “Yer Blues“, “Don’t Pass Me By” and “Blue Jay Way” were all interpreted as the Beatles are calling for Jesus Christ.[1]: 240 
    “Blue Jay Way” appeared on Magical Mystery Tour, the album that preceded The Beatles. The Family had come to call its journey from San Francisco, to Los Angeles, the “Magical Mystery Tour”.[8]: 27 
  • Sexy Sadie
    Significance: Manson had renamed Family member Susan Atkins “Sadie Mae Glutz” long before the release of The Beatles. This served to reinforce the mental connection Manson felt he had with the Beatles.[1]: 241 
    In San Francisco, where she met Manson, Atkins had been a topless dancer.[1]: 80  Paul Watkins wrote that Atkins “thrived on sex”, and he even seemed to suggest she had the nickname Sexy Sadie before the Family heard the song.[6] Similarly, Tex Watson wrote that the words of “Sexy Sadie” fit Atkins so well “that it made us all sure [the Beatles] had to be singing directly to us.” Watson specifically noted that the song’s title character “came along to turn on everyone”, “broke the rules”, and “laid it down for all to see”. Atkins, he said, “had broken all the rules, sexually, and liked to talk about her experience and lack of inhibitions”.[6][10][1]: 160, 193 
  • Rocky Raccoon
    Significance: Rocky Raccoon means “coon”, a racial epithet for a Black man.[1]: 241 
    Of all the Beatles songs known to have been connected with Helter Skelter, this is the only one that mentions the Bible.

    So one day [Rocky Raccoon] walked into town / Booked himself a room in the local saloon / Rocky Raccoon / Checked into his room / Only to find Gideon’s Bible … Now Rocky Raccoon / He fell back in his room / Only to find Gideon’s Bible / Gideon checked out / And he left it no doubt / To help with good Rocky’s revival.
    Before his trial, Manson was visited at the Los Angeles County Jail by David Dalton and David Felton, who were preparing a Rolling Stone story.[11] As published in the June 25, 1970 issue of the magazine, Manson said of “Rocky Raccoon”:

    Coon. You know that’s a word they use for Black people. You know the line, “Gideon checked out / And left no doubt / To help good Rocky’s revival.” Rocky’s revival—re-vival. It means coming back to life. The Black man is going to come into power again. “Gideon checks out” means that it’s all written out there in the New Testament, in the Book of Revelations [sic].[9]
  • Happiness Is a Warm Gun
    Significance: The Beatles are telling Black people to get guns and fight whites.
    Sample lyric: When I hold you in my arms / And I feel my finger on your trigger / I know no one can do me no harm / Because happiness is a warm gun / (Bang bang, shoot shoot)[1]: 241 
  • Blackbird
    Lyric: Blackbird singing in the dead of night / Take these broken wings and learn to fly / All your life / You were only waiting for this moment to arise.

    Meaning: The Black man is going to arise and overthrow the White man.[1]: 241 
    Tex Watson wrote: “[The White Establishment] would slaughter thousands of Black people, but actually only manage to eliminate all the Uncle Toms, since the true Black race would have hidden, waiting for their moment”.[6]
  • Helter Skelter
    Lyric: When I get to the bottom I go back to the top of the slide / Where I stop and I turn and I go for a ride

    Significance: A reference to the Family’s emergence from “the Bottomless Pit”, the underground Death Valley hideaway where the group will escape the violence of Helter Skelter.[1]: 242 
    Lyric: Look out … Helter Skelter … She’s coming down fast … Yes she is.

    Meaning: The upcoming explosion of race-based violence is imminent.[6]
  • Piggies
    Lyric: What they need’s a damn good whacking

    Significance: Black people are going to give “the piggies”—i.e., the establishment—a damned good whacking.[1]: 242 
    Lyric: Everywhere there’s lots of piggies / Living piggy lives / You can see them out for dinner / With their piggy wives / Clutching forks and knives / To eat their bacon.

    Vincent Bugliosi noted that Leno LaBianca was left with a knife in his throat and a fork in his stomach, details that led Bugliosi to draw a further connection with George Harrison‘s song.[1]: 242 
  • Revolution 1
    Lyric: You say you want a revolution / Well you know / We all want to change the world … / But when you talk about destruction / Don’t you know that you can count me out (in)

    Significance: The singing of “in” after the word “out”, even though “in” does not appear in the lyrics as they were presented on the printed sheet enclosed with the album, indicates that the Beatles had been undecided but now favor revolution.[1]: 242–243  Tex Watson claims the Beatles are no longer on a “peace-and-love trip”, but they cannot admit as much to the establishment.[6]
    Lyric: You say you got a real solution / Well you know / We’d all love to see the plan

    Meaning: The Beatles want Manson to tell them how to escape the horrors of Helter Skelter.[1]: 243  According to Watson and Bugliosi, the Beatles are ready for violence; and want Manson to create an album that will tell them what to do.[6][1]: 241 
  • Revolution 9
    According to Tex Watson this is the White Album piece Manson spoke about the most,[1]: 243  and the one he deemed most significant.[6] In his 1970 conversation with Dalton, Manson said that “Revolution 9” was the track that “turned me on” to the message of Revelations chapter 9, which “predicts the overthrow of the Establishment. The pit will be opened, and that’s when it will all come down. A third of all mankind will die.”[9]
    Significance: The machine-gun fire, the oinking of pigs, and the word “Rise”. The piece is audio representation of the coming conflict; the repeated utterance “Number 9” is reference to Chapter 9 of the Book of Revelation.[1]: 243 [4] In his Rolling Stone interview, Manson identified the pig sounds followed by machine-gun fire as significant details that “predict the violent overthrow of the White man”. When asked whether the Beatles intended such a message, Manson replied: “I don’t know whether they did or not. But it’s there. It’s an association in the subconscious. This music is bringing on the revolution, the unorganized overthrow of the Establishment. The Beatles know in the sense that the subconscious knows.”[9]
    According to Bugliosi “Rise” is “one of [Manson’s] big words”; the black man is going to “rise” up against the white man.[1]: 241–2  According to Ed Sanders while Manson played “Revolution 9”, he [screamed] “Rise! Rise! Rise!”[8]: 106 
    Sanders also writes that Manson heard the Beatles whispering: “Charlie, Charlie, send us a telegram.”[8]: 106 

Years later Tex Watson tied the prophecy to one more White Album song, “Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey“, though he changed monkey to monkeys, plural. While on LSD at a party in late March 1969, Watson claims, he and two Manson girls realized they themselves were “the monkeys … just bright-eyed, free little animals, totally uninhibited”. As they started “bouncing around the apartment, throwing food against the walls, and laughing hysterically”.[6]

Book of Revelation, as interpreted in the theory[edit]


Verse 4: And I heard the number of them which were sealed: and there were sealed one hundred and forty and four thousand of all the tribes of the children of Israel.

One hundred forty-four thousand would be the membership of the Family when, in Helter Skelter’s aftermath, it would emerge from “the bottomless pit” to rule.[1]: 246 
Tex Watson said this growth in the Manson Family would be a result of procreation,[6] while Paul Watkins stated that it would result from the release of the Family’s album, which would draw other people to the group.[4] Watkins also said that the Family would acquire babies made homeless in Helter Skelter.[2] Several decades were to pass before the Family would at last depart the Bottomless Pit; the group would live there in miniaturized form.[13]

CHAPTER 9:[14]

Verses 2–3: And he opened the bottomless pit…. And there came out of the smoke locusts upon the earth; and unto them was given power, as the scorpions of the earth have power.

locusts = Beatles[1]: 239 
According to Watkins, as the scorpions of the earth have power = the power of scorpion, that is, Manson, a Scorpio, will prevail[2]
bottomless pit = the underground city in which the Family would ride out the ravages of Helter Skelter. The Family would be lowered into this by means of a gold rope;[8]: 114  Manson bought gold rope at a Santa Monica sporting-goods store.[15]
Verse 17: And thus I saw the horses in the vision, and them that sat on them, having breastplates of fire, and of jacinth, and brimstone: and the heads of the horses were as the heads of lions; and out of their mouths issued fire and smoke and brimstone.

Bugliosi claimed the breastplates of fire = the Beatles’ electric guitars and that fire and smoke and brimstone out of their mouths = the Beatles’ powerful lyrics,[1]: 239  which according to Watson was the power of their music to ignite Helter Skelter[6]
Verse 7: And the shapes of the locusts were like unto horses prepared unto battle

According to Bugliosi the horses were the dune buggies the Family will be riding during Helter Skelter[1]: 239 
According to Watkins, In Manson’s view, dune buggies were the ideal vehicles of the apocalypse; they would enable the Family to outrun police in the Bottomless Pit and were light enough that a few of the girls could carry them. During the war, the Family would be making forays from the Bottomless Pit. They would be fitted with machine gun mounts; while the men would drive, the girls would operate the guns.[2][8]: 109–110 
Fitted next to the steering wheel of Manson’s personal buggy was a metal scabbard. It held a katana with which, in July 1969, Manson allegedly slashed the ear of Gary Hinman.[1]: 102 [8]: 127  Ed Sanders wrote, On the buggy’s front was a winch that Manson envisioned using to evade police. He would fling the winch’s rope up into a tree and then winch himself up out of sight as pursuing officers would drive haplessly by.[8]: 138 
Family member Catherine Share said:

“Charlie talked about Helter Skelter every night. … [W]e’d learn to live off the land. We’d live in the desert and come in on dune buggies and rescue the orphaned white babies. We’d be the saviors.”[16]
Verse 15: And the four angels were loosed, which were prepared for an hour, and a day, and a month, and a year, for to slay the third part of men

Bugliosi wrote, the four angels were the four Beatles,[1]: 239  who Watson claims were prophets who were preparing the way for Jesus Christ, who Watson wrote was Manson, to lead the chosen people away to safety[6]
slay the third part of men, meant destroying the White race, that is (it would seem), one of the three races according to Bugliosi[1]: 239 
Verse 16: And the number of the army of the horsemen were two hundred thousand thousand: and I heard the number of them.

two hundred thousand thousand horsemen = Straight Satans motorcycle gang-members Manson is attempting to recruit into the Family[6][1]: 239 
The Straight Satans were to be the Family’s “needed military wing”.[8]: 107  According to Watkins the bikers and the Family would cruise through Helter Skelter in the manner of a flock of birds, all turning in one direction or another without even a sound from their leader.[2]
Verse 4: And it was commanded [that the locusts] should not hurt the grass of the earth, neither any green thing, neither any tree; but only those men which have not the seal of God in their foreheads.

not hurt the grass of the earth, neither any green thing, neither any tree meant only humans, not nature, will be destroyed in Helter Skelter according to Watkins[2]
Bugliosi wrote the seal of God in their foreheads = a mark that would indicate whether someone was on Manson’s side or not;[1]: 239  in Helter Skelter, those without it would perish, Watson later claimed[6]
Verse 20: And the rest of the men which were not killed by these plagues yet repented not of the works of their hands, that they should not worship devils, and idols of gold, and silver, and brass…

Bugliosi wrote, the worship of idols of gold and silver and brass = the establishment‘s worship of materialism and money[1]: 239 
Verse 1: And the fifth angel sounded, and I saw a star fall from heaven unto the earth: and to him was given the key of the bottomless pit.

the fifth angel =

according to Gregg Jakobson, who arranged a recording session for Manson: Stu Sutcliffe, one of the original five, not four, Beatles
according to Watson and Watkins: Manson[6][2][1]: 239 

CHAPTER 21:[17]

Verses 10 and 18: And [an angel] carried me away in the spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me that great city… and the city was pure gold, like unto clear glass.
Verse 23: And the city had no need of the sun, neither of the moon, to shine in it

According to Watkins, the Family’s sanctuary under Death Valley would be a city of gold where there would be no sun and no moon.[4]

CHAPTER 22:[18]

Verse 2: In the midst of the street of it, and on either side of the river, was there the tree of life, which bare twelve manner of fruits, and yielded her fruit every month…

According to Watkins, the city underneath Death Valley would have a tree that would bear twelve different kinds of fruit, a different kind each month.[4]

Abbey Road[edit]

Abbey Road was released in the United Kingdom in late September 1969[19][20][21] after the murders. By that time, most of the Family was at the group’s camp in the Death Valley area searching for the Bottomless Pit.[1]: 233  Three Family members arrived at the camp around October 1 with an advance copy of the album, which the group played on a battery-operated machine.[8]: 288 

Law officers raided the desert redoubts in the second week of October and found the Family with stolen vehicles, and they arrested Manson and several others.[1]: 126–8  By mid-November, Manson had become a suspect in the Tate-LaBianca murders, but Family members made their way back to Spahn Ranch after being released from jail.[2] The LAPD confiscated a door on November 25, 1969 on which someone had written “Helter Scelter [sic] is coming down fast.”[1]: 294  A photograph shows that the confiscated door was also inscribed with “1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 — ALL GOOD CHILDREN (Go to Heaven?)” [sic].[22] This children’s rhyme is heard in “You Never Give Me Your Money” on Abbey Road. In October 1970, the prosecution offered testimony about the door during Manson’s trial for the Tate-LaBianca murders, but only the “Helter Skelter” inscription seems to have been noted.[1]: 376 

Tex Watson had left the desert camp and gone on to separate himself from the Family, but according to Watson, he bought a cassette recording of Abbey Road and played it continuously while walking for miles across the desert to rejoin the Family; he was hoping to see what The Beatles might have to tell him. He turned back at the last moment, and an old prospector informed him that the arrests had taken place.[6]

Three people were attacked on the beach near Santa Barbara, California in late July 1970 while Manson was on trial, two of them fatally. One of the Manson girls spoke of this incident as “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer“, an Abbey Road song that is about homicidal madness.[8]: 93, 393 



  • Mid-February: Paul Watkins claimed that while driving with Manson they saw a White woman and Black man holding hands. According to Watkins, Manson told him, that is why Black men have not yet risen up in rebellion against White people: they are pacified by access to White women.[2][1]: 247 
  • March: The Family expected a visit from Terry Melcher, a producer for Columbia Records, hoping he will agree to record the music that, according to Paul Watkins and Tex Watson, was written to trigger Helter Skelter; Melcher doesn’t arrive.[6][2]
  • March 23: Entering uninvited upon 10050 Cielo Drive, which he has known as the residence of Melcher, Manson Is received by a male friend of Sharon Tate, the new lessee. Manson, looking for Melcher, is told to check the guest house; he leaves.[1]: 226, 228–31 
  • ~April 1: The Family starts moves back to Spahn Ranch. According to Watson during Helter Skelter, they must be at Spahn, from which Watson said they’ll have a “clear escape route to the desert.”[6][2]
  • July 27: In a dispute over money, Family member Bobby Beausoleil murdered Family acquaintance Gary Hinman. After stabbing Hinman to death, Beausoleil writes “Political piggy” (not related to the Beatles) on a wall in Hinman’s blood.[1]: 33, 102–3 
  • August 6: Beausoleil is arrested after he is caught driving Hinman’s car; the knife he used to stab Hinman is found in the car’s tire well.[1]: 33 
  • August 9: After midnight, acting on Watson’s instruction, three Family members including Tex Watson murder Sharon Tate and four others at 10050 Cielo Drive. Susan Atkins, one of the killers, writes “Pig” on the house’s front door, in Tate’s blood. According to Watson, when the killers return to Spahn Ranch, Watson assures Manson it was Helter Skelter.[6]
  • August 10: After midnight, three Family members including Watson, acting on his and Manson’s instruction murder Leno and Rosemary LaBianca at their Los Feliz home.[1]: 182, 207  Using LaBianca blood, Patricia Krenwinkel writes “Rise” and “Death to Pigs” on the living room walls. She writes “Healter [sic] Skelter” on the refrigerator.[1]: 39 [6]

Manson’s testimony[edit]

Manson was permitted to testify at his 1970 trial for the Tate-LaBianca murders, after the defendants’ attorneys had attempted to rest their cases, without calling a single witness. The jury was removed from the courtroom,[1]: 388  as Vincent Bugliosi argued he would use his hypnotic powers to unfairly influence them.[23] He spoke for over an hour.[1]: 388  As for Helter Skelter, he said the following:

It means confusion, literally. It doesn’t mean any war with anyone. It doesn’t mean that some people are going to kill other people…. Helter Skelter is confusion. Confusion is coming down around you fast. If you can’t see the confusion coming down around you fast, you can call it what you wish.[1]: 390–1 

Manson has dismissed the Helter Skelter conspiracy as an invention by the trial prosecutor to tie him to the murders.

Is it a conspiracy that the music is telling the youth to rise up against the establishment because the establishment is rapidly destroying things? Is that a conspiracy? The music speaks to you every day, but you are too deaf, dumb, and blind to even listen to the music.… It is 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.[1]: 391  … As far as lining up someone for some kind of helter skelter trip, you know, that’s the District Attorney’s motive. That’s the only thing he could find for a motive to throw up on top of all that confusion he had. There was no such thing in my mind as helter skelter.[24]

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