There’s no doubt that The Beatles were the most iconic rock band of the last century. We can argue whether other bands had better music, but this British band achieved what only a few could: become the most recognizable music group in the entire world. Not only that, their music, style, and themselves are popular icons that only a few manage to parallel. Their innovative songs became anthems of a generation who sought representation and change. Many saw in the Fab Four an inspiration to be free and creative. However, not everybody used their music to channel their young free spirits. That’s the case of the most controversial serial killer in the world, Charles Manson, who saw in the lyrics of The Beatles’ songs a dark meaning that inspired him to pursue a life of crime.
On August 9, 1969 –while The Beatles were making the last arrangements of their last album Abbey Road– one of the events that shook the world took place. A group of people entered the property of filmmaker Roman Polanski and his eight-month pregnant partner Sharon Tate in Beverly Hills. Police officers found the bodies of Tate and four other friends she was hanging with when intruders murdered them. The bloody murder scene showed how damaged the murders were and with how much cruelty the events developed. Detectives found bullets all over the scene and marks of stabbings, choking, and torture on the bodies. Perhaps the most disturbing thing was the fury with which former model Sharon Tate was killed. She had a rope around her neck and a huge ‘x’ mark made with a blade on her belly. At the time, there were many suspects, including Polanski himself, who happened to be filming in Europe. But the evidence such as the position of the bodies, the word ‘pig’ written in blood, and the brutality of the murders lead the detectives to think this was part of a cult rite the victims were involved in. However, they soon discovered the dark truth behind this crime.
Not content with the atrocities they'd committed, the next day the Manson Family broke into the home of Leno LaBianca, a supermarket executive. This time Manson himself directed the crime, he entered the house first and tied the LaBianca family. He then ordered his acolytes to murder them. With the same fury, the Manson family stabbed and murder them. Following almost the same pattern, they wrote with their victims' blood the words "rise", "death to pigs", and "Helter Skelter". So you’d ask, what do The Beatles have to do with this? Well, the answer has to do with that last phrase.
By December 1969, the entire Manson family was arrested. However, the trial began in June of the next year when the family members confessed their crimes. Manson gave all the details of his crimes and the reason behind them. The man, who had lived a considerable part of his life in jail, believed that a race war was imminent, so he wanted to speed things up. Actually, at the crime scenes, they also found a blood mark of a paw, a characteristic sign of the Black Panthers. He said that if the police and people thought that these atrocities were committed by this group, the war would start immediately. However, the interesting part of this is that in this apocalyptic scenario, Manson was rooting for black people to dominate the world while he and his family would hide and wait. His plan was that, when black people were in control of the world, the Manson family would rise and conquer them... Yep, that's really what he planned.
Now, here’s the part related to The Beatles. Manson was a huge fan of music and, like almost everybody at the time, he was an avid follower of this band. When The White Album appeared by the end of 1968, Manson felt that all his ideas were being validated by the British Band. For example, regarding "Helter Skelter" the most obvious link, Manson believed that the name of the song was the name of this "upcoming war." In "Piggies," Harrison mentions a group of pigs and their dirty ways of living, as well as the mention of forks and knives.
For Manson the establishment, white people, were the pigs. In the LaBianca crime scene of the police also found fork wounds on the bodies. However, the song with the most evident link to his ideas is "Blackbird." McCartney has mentioned that the song dealt with the idea of black people fighting for their rights. Manson, of course, took things quite literally and when the song says: “you were only waiting for this moment to arise”, he believed they were urging black people to take their weapons and rise to war. We could go on with each song on the album, but at the end of the day, Manson basically interpreted the same ideas on them.
When he was asked about the songs, he actually had the courage to say “you can call it what you wish. It is not my conspiracy. It is not my music. I hear what it relates. It says ‘Rise.’ It says ‘Kill.’ Why blame it on me? I didn’t write the music." Think about it: we could make any song fit into what we believe in. It’s just a matter of finding words and associations. The problem here was not that The Beatles wrote the songs, nor that Manson was inspired by them. The way he managed to convince people to commit such terrible crimes on his behalf is what continues to baffle us. How was he able to lead a group of young people down this twisted path?
The lives of murderers have always intrigued psychologists, historians, detectives, and basically everybody. We find their dark stories extremely interesting, so we always want to know more about them. If you're one of those who enjoy reading about these characters, check the story of Enriqueta Martí, the Vampire of Barcelona. We also recommend the story of Gilles de Rais, the man who fought next to Joan of Arc and history remembers as a children murderer.