by William Skink
A new book about Charles Manson and the killing he compelled his followers to carry out is now available and I can’t recommend it enough. Chaos: Charles Manson, the CIA, and the Secret History of the Sixties is the product of a 20 year obsession by its author, Tom O’Neill. Originally meant to be a fluffy article for Premier to mark the 30 year anniversary, O’Neill turned his assignment into a decades long search that, even now, with the book out, is still not fully resolved.
What O’Neill did uncover is hand-written notes from Vincent Bugliosi that undermines the entire premise of the prosecution’s helter-skelter theory explaining the motive of the Tate-LaBianca murders. And he dug into Charlie and the family’s time in San Francisco during the summer of love where a curious free clinic in the Haight provided a geographical space where CIA assets orbited the burgeoning hippie scene.
One CIA asset in particular, Louis Jolson West, connects all the way up the hierarchy to Sidney Gottlieb, a core player in the MK Ultra experiments the agency tried (and failed) to cover up. Gottlieb also pops up in the sad story of Frank Olson, a serviceman who served in the US Army Chemical Corps. Olson died when he supposedly jumped out a hotel window in New York days after being unwittingly dosed with LSD.
One characteristic of O’Neill’s narrative that makes his story compelling is the deep reluctance he experienced when the leads and documents pointed to intelligence connections. But they did, and do, and it’s up to us (if we care) to face up to what that means.