You have a collect call from Charles Manson.
When I was given the chance to read Hippie Cult Leader: The Last Words of Charles Manson before its release, I couldn’t say “Yes!” fast enough. My love of horror films has naturally developed into a fascination with real life horror stories, particularly serial killers, and over the years nothing has interested me more than a good documentary on one of the darkest crimes in recent history. Many people will agree that Charles Manson and his so-called family of followers are one of the biggest stories to ever shock the world, and their blood-soaked legacy will live on for a very long time.
Many books and documentaries have been made which focus on Charlie and his family over the years, but what this book offers is a different perspective. What if Charles Manson wasn’t an evil dictator? Could it be possible that he didn’t order his family members to kill those victims? Maybe the whole ‘Helter Skelter’ theory was an elaborate fabrication developed just to send a man to prison? James Buddy Day presents these ideas in this fantastic book, which documents his conversations with Manson leading up to his death in 2017. Obviously I don’t want to give anything away and spoil the read for you, but I would like to recommend it and let you know why I enjoyed this fascinating read so much.
Let me start by saying that this book isn’t just for people already interested in the Manson case. I personally didn’t know a lot about the details, just that he was a killer and he had a cult-like family working with him. I knew the basics that the media has taught us, but this book gives details of each murder, each friendship, and each insane factor leading up to the fateful events that resulted in Manson being incarcerated once and for all. It also explains how he came to be know as a mind controlling tyrant, bloodthirsty and viewed as God like by his ‘robots’.
The content of this book is incredibly well researched, and the author has clearly spent more than enough time checking his facts and ensuring his work is accurate and well informed. He talks with a lot of people throughout the book, from character witnesses, members of the family and, of course, Charlie himself. These are some of the most interesting parts in my opinion, hearing the conversations he had with Manson over the phone are so interesting, I’ve found myself pausing my read just to reflect on what was said.
The book also talks about why the interviews happened in the first place. Day was making a documentary on Manson, initially to be called Manson: The Voice of Madness. When Charles passed away during the making of the film, the title was changed to Charles Manson: The Final Words. He didn’t initially believe he would get the chance to speak with Manson himself, so the book and the documentary could have turned out very differently. Day wrote to Charlie in prison and to his astonishment he got a response from the man himself. The documentary explores the Manson case in depth, the same way the book does, and looks at elements that were overlooked, ignored, or fabricated altogether in the courtrooms. I plan on watching the documentary as soon as I can, if it’s anything like the book it will be incredibly detailed and factual.
One of the scariest things I faced reading this book is that a lot of the things Charles Manson discussed with the author made sense. You don’t expect this satanic mind controlling murderer to talk the way he does, and it’s a strange feeling to think ‘Hang on, I kind of agree with him there’. The book doesn’t imply that Manson was an innocent man, not at all. But it does show him in a different light. The kind of light the media never wanted him to be portrayed in: Human.
Reading some of the extraordinary things that happened within the courtrooms is astounding and left me feeling almost sorry for Manson and the unfairness he faced whilst on trial. It reminded me a lot of the way I felt watching the Netflix documentary Making a Murderer. This book points out errors made in the courtroom, lies that were told to the media to paint Manson the way the state wanted him to be viewed, and the general unfairness he faced on more than one occasion. Is it really possible that one of the most infamous crimes in history didn’t happen the way we were all told it did? That’s the burning question this book leaves you wrestling with.
James Buddy Day’s writing style is another winning factor for this book. He never lets the heavy load of facts and details get too overwhelming. I haven’t been able to put the book down since I started it, which is testament to how great he is at keeping up the pace. The book starts with a bang and it never relents, from graphic reconstructions of the murders, different sides of stories from different people’s perspectives, and shocking revelations as he develops his own theories on an alternate explanation of exactly what happened. It’s fascinating to hear such an in depth description of every single detail, especially when trying to imagine what the people involved were really like. Day paints an incredibly detailed picture of life in 60s free love America, contrasted harshly with the dark underworld Manson grew accustomed to. It’s incredible to read about how this relatively peaceful commune for outcasts became entangled in one of the darkest killing sprees in history. And Day’s style of writing really keeps you wanting more after each chapter ends.
Day also succeeds at creating extremely vivid characters for everyone involved with Manson. I feel like I know everyone involved personally thanks to his brilliantly descriptive writing. One of the most interesting parts of the book was learning who these people were, and how each of them was involved in the murders. I find it incredibly interesting to hear how these completely average people got mixed up in such dark crimes and how they came to have their own roles within the overall crimes. Learning about the members of the family closest to Charlie, the secrets and the lies, who said what in court, it’s simply astounding. The book really makes you feel like you’ve been there with them, you’ve seen the various locations they lived in, you were there at the murders. And because Day is so good at developing the characters involved, you get a sense that you know how each of them was feeling at the time. The women, the men, even the victims. Everyone gets their own detailed depiction in this book and it all comes together to create one hell of a read.
It really is impressive just how many people Day managed to interview for this book too. Key members of the family, lawyers involved in the court cases, fans of Manson who wrote to him and visited him in prison—he really manages to cover all bases and leaves no stone unturned. After finishing the book you feel like you genuinely know all of the facts surrounding Manson and the crimes. I know his back story, I know how and why the communes came about, I know the details of the murders from numerous perspectives and most importantly I feel like I now know Charlie himself. What he was really like, and what he wanted out of life. And it’s completely different to what I thought I knew already. This is the first book I’ve read on the subject and I don’t feel like there’s anymore to learn really. I do plan to read Helter Skelter as I am interested to see that whole theory from the point of view of the man who came up with it.
So if you’re already a fan of the Manson story, or if you’ve never heard of him, this book will fascinate you. It’s a highly descriptive story of drugs, sex, and murder, and will leave you questioning everything you think you know about Charles Manson and his infamous family. The book is a literary triumph for James Buddy Day, and I look forward to seeking out more of his work. Hippie Cult Leader: The Last Words of Charles Manson is released this August. Buy it.