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

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

A journalist's twenty-year obsession with the Manson murders brings shocking revelations about the most infamous crimes in American history: carelessness from police, misconduct by prosecutors, and even potential surveillance by intelligence agents. What really happened in 1969? In 1999, when Tom O'Neill was assigned a magazine piece about the thirtieth anniversary of the...

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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!

  • Lynn Hill

    What an interesting and thought provoking book. It really does make one wonder just what lies we get told. Thank you Tom for this great book!

  • 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.

  • John Katsanakis

    The first thing you should know about this book is that it’s less a conspiracy theory tome and more a narrative following the author’s 20 year investigation— and, as far as I’m concerned, it’s all the better for this.

    Author O’Neill freely admits when he hit a dead end or failed to prove something. What he is able to prove is exciting and interesting enough, but what kept me hooked throughout was following his journey. If you’re coming into this book expecting to find a new mind blowing conspira

    The first thing you should know about this book is that it’s less a conspiracy theory tome and more a narrative following the author’s 20 year investigation— and, as far as I’m concerned, it’s all the better for this.

    Author O’Neill freely admits when he hit a dead end or failed to prove something. What he is able to prove is exciting and interesting enough, but what kept me hooked throughout was following his journey. If you’re coming into this book expecting to find a new mind blowing conspiracy, look elsewhere. This is closer in nature to the recent movie, Spotlight. Highly recommended.

  • 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 st

    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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  • 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 grap

    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.

  • 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.

  • Carolyn

    I am shelving this book as unfinished and unrated for now. As I have eye surgery scheduled for this week and next I need to switch to something shorter and less demanding in time and details. It is almost 600 pages of small print.

    Well, I went back to the book and found it tedious, and was feeling I had spent the entire 20 years of the author’s painstaking research and interviews tagging along behind him or listening in. I feel 20 years older than when I started the book. If there is anything a

    I am shelving this book as unfinished and unrated for now. As I have eye surgery scheduled for this week and next I need to switch to something shorter and less demanding in time and details. It is almost 600 pages of small print.

    Well, I went back to the book and found it tedious, and was feeling I had spent the entire 20 years of the author’s painstaking research and interviews tagging along behind him or listening in. I feel 20 years older than when I started the book. If there is anything about too much information, this seemed to be a prime example. Trashing the reputation of the victims was revealing but unfortunate.

    I remember the murders and trial and read the book Helter Skelter by Vincent Bugliosi when it was first published, and so was anxious to continue. Those familiar with the horrific murders have already learned that the Polanski mansion where the Manson murders took place was previously the residence of Terry Melcher, record producer and son of Doris Day. Melcher knew Charles Manson.

    What Tom O'Neill reveals in his 20 years of meticulous research and interviews is that Polanski's home became a hangout for famous celebrities and big-time drug dealers. Some of these drug dealers knew Charles Manson. A-list actors, other celebrities and criminals wandered through the mansion almost at will. Sharon Tate, the beautiful actress and pregnant wife of Roman Polanski was subjected to abuse, and the mansion became known in some circles as a place of orgies, rape, heavy drug use and other depraved activities. The author quotes the saying, " Live weird, die weird."

    It is evident that O'Neill rejects Bugliosi's conclusion about the motive, and feels this was not a random act by an unknown gang of hippies. He cites legal misconduct, poor police investigation, mind control experiments and cover-ups. What were the connections between the uneducated, illiterate Manson and some of the rich and famous celebrities and hardened criminals who frequented the Polanski home? How was Charles Manson able to exert such control over former peaceful hippies? He suggests some tenuous connection between the CIA drug induced mind control experiments and the power Manson exerted over his followers.

    As the author claims, there are some details written about the case which were wrong, but I don't feel I learned much new which was relevant.

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