Saturday, May 02, 2009

The Killing of Sharon Tate (1970)

I got this copy of Lawrence Schiller's The Killing of Sharon Tate (1970) at a book sale at the library where I work. The selection at our semi-annual book sale is generally pretty theological, which isn't really my thing, but this guy snuck in somehow so I took a chance on it. Plus it was only 25 cents.

This book was published in January 1970 -- the killings happened in August of 1969 and the case hadn't even gone to trial yet. Lawrence Schiller (who went on to a lucrative career in true crime books, movies, and TV shows, as well as a friendship with Norman Mailer) somehow landed an exclusive interview with Susan Atkins before her access to the press was limited by a judge's order. This book, obviously rushed to press to cash in on the Manson Family excitement, consists of two long sections by Schiller (one introducing the reader to the Hippie movement, the drug scene -- much of which seems to come from Schiller's first book, LSD (1966), -- and San Francisco; the other giving some background on the Manson Family and the killings), and then a long section in Atkins' "own words" (which are probably based on the interviews with her but are so so so obviously the author's, and not her own words at all).

This book is not good as a cultural, legal, forensic, or psychological overview of the Manson Family killings. It is not very well written, and it is obviously playing to the curiosity, fascination, and fear people felt about these killings at the time. That being said, it is a great document of the contemporary reaction to the murders, a good example of grocery store true crime journalism, and it takes about two seconds to read, so it is worth looking at if you have an interest in this sort of thing.

The copy I got appears to never have been read before I got to it. It does have a former owner's name written on the first page, along with "March 1970 / $1.00." I guess he didn't feel like he needed to hang on to it for very long... A quick search of the internets show that good copies of this book are going for $50-$60 bucks, so cross your fingers and let's see if I can recoup my initial investment.

[Back cover available here.]

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