Thursday, October 29, 2015

The Bugliosi Letter

During my days as Charles Manson's "Minister of Information" in the 1990s I very often received mail and other communications from all kinds of people who had an interest in Manson and the Tate-LaBianca murder cases. Many of these contacts were made through "backdoor" channels by people who were involved in their own intrigues related to the case and who wanted us to be aware of their activities or the activities of others. One such backdoor communique was The Bugliosi Letter. 

The Bugliosi Letter was sent to me by a person who had received it from a literary agent after he had asked the agent for examples of pitch letters for a book. Amazingly, among the pitch letter examples sent by the agent was the one that Vincent Bugliosi wrote when he was trying to sell the concept of what would later become the bestselling true-crime book of all time -- Helter Skelter.

Bugliosi early on recognized the financial possibilities of the case he had been assigned to prosecute, and already during the trial he made arrangements with the literary establishment to position himself as the authority who could write the definitive book about the Charles Manson case. 

This in confirmed in the book The D.A.: A True Story, by Lawrence Taylor. Writing about an aspect of the political intrigues of the L.A. district attorney's office that he dubbed "Bugliosi syndrome," Taylor said,

"When the Tate-LaBianca slaughters had horrified the world, then-District Attorney Evelle Younger named the most experienced deputy in the office, Aaron Stovitz, to prosecute Manson and his "family" for the murders. A younger deputy by the name of Vincent Bugliosi as assigned to assist him.

"The carnival-like atmosphere of the Manson trial quickly turned Stovitz into a media celebrity. The press seemed hypnotized by the charismatic Manson; stories of biblical prophecies, race wars, and sacrificial murders captured headlines for months. Younger, who was later to be elected attorney general for California and later still to lose in a bid for the governor's mansion, began to perceive his ace prosecutor as a political threat: Stovitz was seen as using his new fame to position himself for a run at Younger's job. In a pattern that was to become familiar in the office for many years to come, the D.A. removed Stovitz from the case, replacing him with Bugliosi.

"Bugliosi, it turned out, was considerably more ambitious than Stovitz ever was. A younger deputy was assigned as "second chair" for the trial, but he was not to conduct any important cross-examination or present evidence to the jury. The younger deputy sat silently at the counsel table, content to research legal issues and organize witnesses, while Bugliosi performed daily before the world's press. Unknown to anyone at the time, Bugliosi had already arranged to write a book about the trial -- with himself as the hero; his ghostwriter, Curt Gentry, was given a valued press pass and sat in the courtroom audience. The book, Helter Skelter, eventually became a bestseller. And, ironically, Bugliosi used his newfound fame to do do exactly what Younger had feared of Stovitz -- announce his candidacy for the office of district attorney."  (The D.A.: A True Story, pages 33-34)

Lawrence Taylor

The Bugliosi Letter substantiates all of this.

Clearly the letter was written while the trial was still in progress. Note the references "After the trial, many more books will be written…." (page 2, emphasis added) and "I'm the one who is engaging in a veritable life and death struggle with Manson and who will ultimately ask the jury to return a verdict of death against Manson and his 3 female co-defendants." (page 3, emphasis added). The defendants were not even convicted and yet Bugliosi was very eager to go.

"It's a big case," Bugliosi wrote to the literary agent. "The book we're contemplating will likewise have to be 'big' in every sense of the word…. 

"I feel there should be one definitive, authoritative book on this case. I believe that I'm the one to write this book…. Other than Charles Manson himself, I don't think that there's any other person who knows as much about these murders and the madness that led to them as I."

Among the most base selling points, Bugliosi recognized, would be the inclusion of the death photos from the murder scenes on Cielo and Waverly Drives. "The book will have official photos of the murder scene that no other book on the market could possibly have since only the Los Angeles Police Department and the District Attorney's office have said photos," he explained to the agent.

Compare this photo pitch to the reason Bugliosi gave in Helter Skelter for not providing the defense with evidentiary copies of the death scene photos before the trial: "I also strongly opposed providing the defense with copies of the death photos. We had heard that a German magazine had a standing offer of $100,000 for them. I did not want the families of the victims to open a magazine and see the terrible butchery inflicted on their loved ones." (Helter Skelter, page 286)

Perhaps sensing the unseemliness of people finding out that he was shopping around a book about a trial while he was in the process of prosecuting it (is there any kind of ethics issue involved here?) Bugliosi later presented a different version of why he decided to write Helter Skelter. In a 1997 interview with Playboy magazine, when asked about the circumstances that led him to write the book, he replied (and lied), "When the trial was over I kept expecting someone of Truman Capote's stature to write a book about the case. But there was no one, and that's when I decided to do it."  (emphasis added)

One could collect together all of the fallacies presented by Vincent Bugliosi over the years and end up with something reminiscent of the closing sequence of Citizen Kane. We will never know if the Bug had a "Rosebud" moment before his recent death ("The…. 'g'…. is…. silent…"?), but one thing we do know: He will always be as big, as consequential, and as controversial, as Orson Welles' character in that film. 

Below, The Bugliosi Letter: 

Bugliosi letter to me for signature comparison:

Postscript Note -- One thing that was always of concern back in the busier days of the 1990s was the fact that people were frequently trying to set us up. Most commonly such efforts consisted of offering us some kind of financial gain through dubious means. Other times people would offer to "do anything" for us. And then there were efforts made in order to make us look bad or to put us into an awkward legal position. Thus, we were (and are) always on guard against anything that might appear to be too good to be true. The Bugliosi Letter fit into this latter category and thus was initially regarded with suspicion in that it might be a forgery. However, I think anyone reading it would agree that it is genuine. The tone is pure Bugliosi throughout. Note the mis-use of the word "societies" on page 6, an unintentional indicator of Bugliosi's incompetence as a writer. And there are details in it that can be checked (the name of the literary agent, for example). I have no doubt that it is the real thing, and I freely present it here without any concern that it will ever be shown to be a fake.