Tag Archives: Tom O’Neill

Chaos: Charles Manson, the CIA, and the Secret History of the Sixties by Tom O’Neill

9 Oct

Chaos
Mad scientists experimenting with hallucinogenic drugs, undercover CIA agents pretending to be hippies, and sleazy Hollywood lawyers who make Saul Goodman and Lionel Hutz seem honest all populate the pages of Chaos, Tom O’Neill’s magnum opus that often seems too bizarre to be labeled non-fiction. What all of these figures have in common is that they have been connected to the murders of the Manson Family and O’Neill believes that their stories poke some major holes in the official narrative that has been retold so many times in pop culture. As O’Neill delves deeper into the stories of these characters living on the margins of Hollywood and the Haight-Ashbury, he comes to the chilling conclusion that almost everything that has been sold to the public about the Manson Family was based on lies.

The story of the Manson Family and their horrific killing spree known as the Tate-LaBianca Murders has been retold so frequently that when O’Neill began researching the story in 1999 for an article for the 30th anniversary of the killings in the now defunct Premiere magazine, he didn’t think there was anything to say that hadn’t been said hundreds of times before. Manson’s connection to the Beach Boys and the Beatles has become a part of the lore of the dark side of the 1960s counter-culture and the motive for his crimes, a white-supremacist race war he called “Helter Skelter,” was considered settled by lead prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi’s true-crime classic of the same name.

Although his editors initially expected a short piece about how Hollywood has changed since the killings, O’Neill’s obsessive research continued for twenty years as he uncovered documents about the Los Angeles Police Department, Manson’s probation officer, the CIA, and even the Warren Commission that left glaring inaccuracies in how Bugliosi sold the Helter Skelter motive to the public. Chaos is compulsively footnoted with these documents for any readers who may be skeptical about O’Neill’s sources.

I don’t want to reveal much more than what I have already said about Chaos. The book is mind-blowing in scope and it’s best that readers start Chaos not knowing much about the shocking discoveries O’Neill uncovers. While readers may feel frustrated that O’Neill is hesitant to draw any definitive conclusions from his research, the joy of reading Chaos is less in figuring out exactly what happened to Charles Manson and more in being alongside O’Neill as he explores the mysterious figures who populate the underbelly of California’s counterculture in 60s and 70s.  Chaos may be one of the most entertaining books of the true crime genre in years.  As well as being available from the Hoboken Public Libary in print, you can borrow it as a digital audiobook from eBCCLS.

Written by
Karl Schwartz
Young Adult Librarian

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