Chaos: Charles Manson, the CIA, and the Secret History of the Sixties

Chaos: Charles Manson, the CIA, and the Secret History of the Sixties

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Title:Chaos: Charles Manson, the CIA, and the Secret History of the Sixties
Author:Tom O'Neill
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Chaos: Charles Manson, the CIA, and the Secret History of the Sixties Reviews

  • Joe

    This book is nothing but bonkers conspiracy theories AND I LOVED EVERY MOMENT OF IT!

  • Natalie

    Holy cow, that was a RIDE. Like any good conspiracy/hidden history book, ultimately there’s no answer and Tom O’Neill doesn’t claim to have one. But he spent twenty years uncovering a ridiculous number of threads, suppressed evidence, lies officially stamped by law enforcement, and outright prosecutorial misconduct and suborning perjury at Vincent Bugliosi’s hands. There’s a lot here to shock and delight any fan of conspiracies in history. As an aside, if you’ve read David McGowan’s Weird Scenes

    Holy cow, that was a RIDE. Like any good conspiracy/hidden history book, ultimately there’s no answer and Tom O’Neill doesn’t claim to have one. But he spent twenty years uncovering a ridiculous number of threads, suppressed evidence, lies officially stamped by law enforcement, and outright prosecutorial misconduct and suborning perjury at Vincent Bugliosi’s hands. There’s a lot here to shock and delight any fan of conspiracies in history. As an aside, if you’ve read David McGowan’s Weird Scenes Inside the Canyon, CHAOS is a great companion piece to it.

  • Chuck

    Stayed up all night reading this one. Without a doubt the most mind blowing book I've read in a while. I'm not sure what to believe now, but if this guy's even half sane the Charles Manson story is a much different story than we've all been led to believe. My mind is BLOWN.

  • Jeffrey Keeten

    This book began as a 5000 word piece for Premiere Magazine with the subject expected to be Manson and Hollywood. Tom O’Neill did not make that magazine deadline or even the deadline after that. His concept of the narrative and the research had grown well beyond the parameters of the original

    This book began as a 5000 word piece for Premiere Magazine with the subject expected to be Manson and Hollywood. Tom O’Neill did not make that magazine deadline or even the deadline after that. His concept of the narrative and the research had grown well beyond the parameters of the original story idea. The deeper he delved into Manson the more lines for further enquiry he discovered. What was supposed to be an assignment that would take a few weeks took two decades. It became an all consuming obsession.

    Manson was famous for his ability to manipulate people into doing what he wanted. I still feel like he is doing that to us now. Every time I hear or see anything regarding Manson, my ears perk up. I know I’m not alone. A whole nation was rivetted to the events of the Tate-LaBianc murder trial. Even people who were born long after the events in 1969 are enthralled with the need to know why.

    Tom O’Neill became so caught up in researching Manson that he lost two decades of his life to the pursuit of the real truth.

    I definitely benefited from reading

    before reading O’Neill’s book because of the time spent discussing the actual trial that is not covered as thoroughly in

    . O’Neill broke down what Vincent Bugliosi got right, uncovered some of what he suppressed, and dug into the vital information that Bugliosi never bothered to pursue. The truth proved elusive after so many years. Witnesses had died, memories had become faulty, and key people refused to talk about their role in what is looking like a much bigger conspiracy that goes well beyond murder.

    Now how could the CIA possibly be involved with Manson? I asked myself, was this on par with the conspiracy theories surrounding the Kennedy assassination? There were two secret missions one launched by the CIA, called Chaos, and the other by the FBI, called COINTELPRO. They had the same objective to infiltrate groups like the Black Panthers and actually incite violence to discredit the organization. If you remember, that was part of Manson’s supposed objective as well with the murders, to try and convince law enforcement that they were committed by the Black Panthers.

    There was another program launched by the CIA called MKULTRA which was exploring the effects of LSD and how it could lead to the creation of malleable assassins. They even had an operation called Midnight Climax which was bordellos set up in San Francisco for the explicit purpose of drugging johns with LSD to see how it affected them. So if you visited a brothel in San Francisco in the 1960s and had an experience unlike anything you’d ever encountered before, you very well might have been drugged by the CIA. I hope you had a good time anyway, but really, with all seriousness...what the frill? It isn’t even legal for the CIA to operate on American soil.

    There were a lot of government/private programs in San Francisco exploring the potential uses of LSD, and it was during that year that Manson spent in San Francisco that he became Manson the Guru, the grand manipulator. He dropped LSD for the first time and emerged from the experience a prophet. So how could he be so good at manipulating people, especially young women, into becoming mindless, murderous followers? Bugliosi notated.

    Could it even be conceivable that Manson was trained by the CIA as part of what should have been illegal programs?

    So why were Manson and many of his followers arrested many times over the months before the murder and simply turned loose?

    I just want to warn you that the revelations in this book are going to blow your mind without dropping LSD.

    There are peripheral, shadowy characters all around the events of the Manson murders. Terry Melcher, Doris Day’s son, had promised Manson a record deal and then reneged on it, or rather Doris said...hell, no. Melcher, fearing for his life, moved out of 10050 Cielo Drive rather abruptly but then visited Manson three times...wait for it...after the murders. He testified in court that he had not seen Manson after such and such a date, way before the murders.

    Okay, so let's just say there are holes in what we know about what really happened, large enough to drive a semi trailer through. How do we know what we know?

    Why are so many people still lying or unwilling to talk about what they know?

    Tom O’Neill dug up so many odd inconsistencies that it was only by Bugliosi keeping a firm control over what could and could not be discussed in the trial that all or some of the clandestine operations surrounding the murders did not come to light. They had their boogeyman, and he was a legitimate menace to society, and now all they needed to do was put him behind bars. All of America was now terrified of the hippy movement and of the potential for a race war.

    Ultimately at the end of the day no one wanted anything coming to light that would jeopardize prosecuting Manson. I don’t disagree with that being the primary objective because he was a true menace to society. It makes me nervous to think about the crimes behind the crimes.

    So yeah, O’Neill, with a preponderance of evidence has made me rethink everything I thought I knew about Manson, the murders, and the real motives behind everything. As if the Manson murders were not sensational enough, it was even more disturbing to discover the criminal behavior by our government that just happened to intersect with Charles Manson. It was simply unconscionable what the government was doing in the 1960s under the guise of insuring the well being of the American people. Through misinformation and misdirection, they created hate and misunderstanding that we are still dealing with today. Manson wasn’t the grand manipulator. The US government was the grand manipulator.

    ---Joan Didion

    I want to thank Little, Brown for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review.

    If you wish to see more of my most recent book and movie reviews, visit

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  • Louise

    In 1999 "Premier Magazine" asked free lance writer Tom O’Neill to write a 30 year commemorative article on the Tate-LaBianca murders. The article was expected to cover the murder’s impact on individuals and Hollywood in general. O’Neill takes the reader along with him on this project that wound up enveloping him for 20 years.

    Most people, particularly celebrities, like to see their name in print, so landing interviews was expected to be easy. O’Neill not only got a cold shoulder from friends and

    In 1999 "Premier Magazine" asked free lance writer Tom O’Neill to write a 30 year commemorative article on the Tate-LaBianca murders. The article was expected to cover the murder’s impact on individuals and Hollywood in general. O’Neill takes the reader along with him on this project that wound up enveloping him for 20 years.

    Most people, particularly celebrities, like to see their name in print, so landing interviews was expected to be easy. O’Neill not only got a cold shoulder from friends and neighbors of the victims, he also found police and judicial records sealed or missing. Prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi wanted him to stop and threatened to ruin his reputation, and sue him and his publisher.

    The book does not dispute the guilt of Manson and his family but uncovers a trove of negligent police work, fishy cover stories, missing evidence and perjury. The back story has a cast of not only enablers who may or may not be criminally liable and sheds some light on "why". Here are a few of the many intriguing characters for whom O’Neill provides well documented stories.

    - Reeve Whitson – made the first call from the Tate house – before the news of the murders was out. Who was he? Why was he there? Why was he not interviewed?

    - Dr. Louis Jolly West, David Smith and Roger Smith all operated “clinics” in San Francisco where Manson and his family hung out. The clinics were actually fronts for these men who researched LSD and other drugs. O’Neill digests their applicable research and interviews them. He documents how all three were associated with COINTELPRO and/or MKULTR.A, CIA drug and mind control experiments.

    - Roger Smith – The drug researcher above was also Manson’s parole officer prior to the murders. He sat by as Manson violated his parole many times (drugs, contributing to the delinquency of a minor, auto theft, etc) was caught and released to the chagrin of the arresting officers (Who is Manson’s godfather?). Susan Atkins has “catch and release” experiences too. Smith approved a questionable trip to Mexico and took in Manson’s baby with Mary Brunner. If all that isn’t questionable enough, Manson was his only parolee.

    There are plenty of fishy side stories. These are the most curious for me:

    - It's not surprising that Terry Melcher and Brian Wilson would distance themselves from Manson after the murders, but O’Neill exposes the legal issues of, for instance, Melchor’s claim that he never saw Manson after the murders.

    - Why is Larry Schiller allowed to interview Susan Alkins and publish a pre-trial book despite the gag order? Note, Schiller was granted similar and questionable access to Jack Ruby.

    - Why is Vincent Bugliosi so apoplectic? I was surprised about his back-stories (the revenge on the milkman!) but his frequent harassment of the writer hints of something deeper than the gaps in the testimony O'Neill showed him.

    - Why was Paul Dostie's dig for more bodies curtailed?

    The documentation presented and the record of how difficult it was to get, even on simple matters such as Manson’s parole violations, the identity of Reeve Whitson and the “free clinics” in Haight-Ashbury, on their own are significant.

    While this is a research project, it does not have that feel. O’Neil’s chronological approach has you traveling alongside him as he follows leads. If you are interested in this time in history and read this, you will find yourself as engrossed in it as the author was in producing it..

  • Tammy

    This was a wild ride. The author was assigned to write an article for Premier magazine about the effects the Manson murders had on the community for the upcoming thirtieth anniversary of the savagery. He spent the next two decades consumed by his investigations. This book is the result of his fixation. What he learned contradicted many things in Bugliosi’s bestselling Helter Skelter. On top of that, a lot of events and people were simply omitted from Helter Skelter and certainly weren’t included

    This was a wild ride. The author was assigned to write an article for Premier magazine about the effects the Manson murders had on the community for the upcoming thirtieth anniversary of the savagery. He spent the next two decades consumed by his investigations. This book is the result of his fixation. What he learned contradicted many things in Bugliosi’s bestselling Helter Skelter. On top of that, a lot of events and people were simply omitted from Helter Skelter and certainly weren’t included in the courtroom. So he went in search of what actually occurred. To use the vernacular of the time, what he found was mind-blowing. From judicial carelessness to CIA infiltration to FBI smear campaigns to LSD mind-control experiments; O’Neill found it all and then some. Is he a conspiracy theorist? I don’t think so but did he find out what really happened?

  • Natalie Carbery

    Take a deep breath. Consider everything you think you know about the Manson Family. Breathe out.

    This book is one man's journey (one that absolutely consumed his life) to find the truth in the hazy pockets of the Manson trial. O'Neill takes his readers down plenty of rabbit holes based in his own suspicions and questions. Why is it that some major witnesses not called to testify? How did a known convict slip through every possibly crack until it resulted in some of America's most famous and

    Take a deep breath. Consider everything you think you know about the Manson Family. Breathe out.

    This book is one man's journey (one that absolutely consumed his life) to find the truth in the hazy pockets of the Manson trial. O'Neill takes his readers down plenty of rabbit holes based in his own suspicions and questions. Why is it that some major witnesses not called to testify? How did a known convict slip through every possibly crack until it resulted in some of America's most famous and graphic murders? How is it that stories that are forever changing and evolving not questioned by higher courts?

    Does

    dabble in conspiracy? A little bit. At times O'Neill walks the line between deep research and conjecture/pure speculation. That said, I don't think that he ever gives up his credibility.

    It is easy to read

    as a memoir of an obsession. O'Neill is candid about the way he lived his life while researching and the many hits he took along the way. That candor might be one of the most powerful parts of the book. In Manson we have a controlling and dangerous psychopath. In O'Neill we find someone under his spell but outside of his influence. If anything, this book is worth reading to experience the rich and often times scary lengths that O'Neill will go to find the answers he feels the world deserves.

  • Paquita Maria Sanchez

    Pretty wild.

  • David M

    New premise of epistemology: if the Lolita Express was real, then anything can be real. The Manson family as CIA op gone perfectly according to plan. Why not?

    ...

    Alright, so this has got to be the page-turner of the year, if not the page-turner of our still-young century...

    Then why not give it five stars out of five? Well, there’s also something deeply unsatisfying here. The book does a really excellent job punching holes in the official Bugliosi version of events (with certainty, we can say the

    New premise of epistemology: if the Lolita Express was real, then anything can be real. The Manson family as CIA op gone perfectly according to plan. Why not?

    ...

    Alright, so this has got to be the page-turner of the year, if not the page-turner of our still-young century...

    Then why not give it five stars out of five? Well, there’s also something deeply unsatisfying here. The book does a really excellent job punching holes in the official Bugliosi version of events (with certainty, we can say the man suborned perjury). When it comes to presenting a positive alternate theory, however, things get very very hairy... it’s not really a book about the CIA and the sixties so much as a memoir about the author’s own decades-long research and concomitant descent into paranoia/quasi-madness, but even there I can’t help thinking there’s something slightly off. I mean, why would a professional writer need a credited coauthor to write his own memoirs?

    ...

    O’Neill himself agrees that his research is inconclusive. We still don’t know nearly enough about CHAOS and MKULTRA. May this book spur further interest and research.

  • TERRY

    Tom O'Neill has done some serious research for his book and raises some good questions. But the book is very convoluted, full of theories and conjecture. Many of O'Neill's leads and theories were all over the place. I kept waiting for the aha moment to come as to what really happened in 1969. His dislike of Vincent Bugliosi is palpable. It was a tedious read for me. I received my copy through a Goodreads Giveaway for my honest review.

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