Till I Get to the Bottom: A Lis Wiehl Book Review

When The Beatles released their self-titled double album – known as the White Album – in 1968, the song “Helter Skelter” was inspired by an amusement park attraction that features a tall spiral slide known in British English as a helter skelter. While the song went on to be considered as one of the standout tracks of the album, it became horribly misinterpreted by one Charles Milles Manson.

It’s a name that is programed into nearly every American’s brain. Whether they were around for the trials in the 1970s or watched the latest season of American Horror Story, Charles Manson is a name that won’t soon be forgotten.

The backstory and trial of Manson and his Family is highlighted in the first book of a new series, Hunting Charles Manson. Author Lis Wiehl is one of the nation’s most prominent trial lawyers and has worked at Fox News, NBC News and NPR.

Wiehl goes inside the case of one of the nation’s most recognized serial killers, detailing Manson’s childhood of foster homes and juvenile facilities to his third and final imprisonment for the murders of Gary Hinman, Abigail Ann Folger, Wojciech Frykowski, Steven Earl Parent, Sharon Tate Polanski, Jay Sebring,  Donald Jerome "Shorty" Shea and Leno and Rosemary LaBianca.  

In addition to the facts known since the 70s, Wiehl, with Caitlin Rother, introduce new material about the Manson Family and their crimes. The Family, a group of approximately 100 “followers” that believed Manson was their Jesus Christ, partook in drug use, orgies and petty crimes before escalating to murder. Acting under the instruction of Manson, they murdered a total of nine people on three separate occasions before being apprehended in 1969.

Despite the index and sources and methodology section at the end of the book, each page truly represents the deep research conducted to get as much of the story as possible. Exclusive personal interviews, including information from the Manson Family parole hearings, are sprinkled throughout the book. Letters sent to Manson and his jailed Family members went unanswered. Interview requests to members that still preach his word were declined. Transcripts from the trials appeared to be missing. None of that stopped Wiehl from gathering everything she could.

The story in itself is a horrifying page-turner, but the way the story is told this time around mesmerizes the reader just as much as the original trials mesmerized the nation.

“Helter Skelter” may have been reconstructed to suit the needs of a cult leader, but the original concept of an amusement park ride that goes from the top to the bottom almost nearly depicts the life of Charles Manson. Hunting Charles Manson is a factual account of living life at the top and spiraling to the bottom, and Lis Wiehl’s investigative journalism brings a whole new addition to a gruesome end.