What was Helter Skelter, Charles Manson’s doomsday fantasy?

Charles Manson, a cult leader convicted of orchestrating the murder of at least five people, pictured here in 1986, died in prison Sunday.
Charles Manson, a cult leader convicted of orchestrating the murder of at least five people, pictured here in 1986, died in prison Sunday. ASSOCIATED PRESS

Charles Manson, the notorious cult killer whose name itself became associated with evil, has died after nearly 46 years in prison. He was convicted after directing his followers to brutally murder the pregnant actress Sharon Tate, along with six others, in the summer of 1969.

The murders stunned the world, but were all the more shocking because of the motivations behind them - among them, Manson’s desire to kickstart an apocalyptic race war he called “Helter Skelter.”

What was Helter Skelter?

Manson believed the tensions between blacks and whites in the counter-cultural boiling pot of the 1960s would erupt into a cataclysmic race war that would end in the slaughter of nearly all white people. He called this doomsday scenario “Helter Skelter.”

In the scenario, the tensions between the races would lead to violent murders of whites by blacks, which would be met in return with murders of blacks by whites, and so on, until a full scale war erupted. At the same time, in Manson’s theory, white people would turn against their neighbors, leading the white race to fight both itself and the blacks at the same time until it was annihilated and blacks emerged victorious, according to the University of Virginia.

Meanwhile, Manson and his followers would crawl down a secret hole in Death Valley and wait out the bloody war in a secret underground city. Upon the war’s end, the group would rise from the desert and rule the victorious blacks, whom Manson thought would be incapable of governing themselves, according to the Huffington Post.

The role of The Beatles and The Bible

Manson became obsessed with the Beatles’ White Album, which included a song called “Helter Skelter.” Manson believed the Beatles had sent subtle, coded messages about the race war through the songs on the album that predicted both the war and the Manson Family’s eventual rule over the survivors. Manson took the name of his doomsday scenario from the song “Helter Skelter,” but interpreted lyrics from songs across the album, according to the Huffington Post.

He compared the lyrics to verses he found in the Book of Revelations, which he interpreted as having predicted the Beatles as harbingers of the apocalypse. This is also where he confirmed his theory of a bottomless pit where the family would wait out the war, according to the UKMC School of Law.

The murders

Manson became impatient after his race war failed to materialize. He told his followers that they needed to give the war a kick - to “do what blackie didn't have the energy or the smarts to do - ignite Helter Skelter and bring in Charlie's kingdom,” according to Tex Watson, one of Manson’s followers.

Manson directed his “family” members to kill everyone at the home on 10050 Cielo Home. Four of them broke into the home and murdered pregnant actress Sharon Tate, as well as four other people.

Manson and the others connected to the killing were arrested several months later, and the trial began less than a year later in the summer of 1970. Manson was convicted and was imprisoned for the rest of his life.