(Going long again. So long, in fact, that I’m dividing this into two parts. Sorry, but there’s nothing to be done.)

When you’re as big as The Beatles, and millions upon millions of people listen to your records, it’s a statistical certainty that some of your fans are going to be psychopaths. And once an artist puts something out into the world, they have no way of knowing how it’s going to be interpreted; the work becomes the property of the viewer, reader, or listener.

As they enjoyed this warm summer weekend in London, The Beatles had no way of knowing that in Los Angeles, words from their songs were being written on walls in the blood of the freshly murdered. At first, only the police knew that the killers had written ”Rise,” “Piggies,” and “Healter Skelter” [sic] in blood at the crime scenes, and they didn’t know what it meant.

Let’s back up a little bit. On the night of August 9, actress Sharon Tate and three of her friends, along with a fifth person who just happened to be passing by, had been brutally murdered by a person or persons unknown. Some of the victims were shot and all were stabbed, some of them many, many times. The word “PIG” had been written in blood on the front door.

Sharon Tate always gets top billing in this drama, because she was a celebrity and married to a celebrity (director Roman Polanski), and also because she was eight and a half months pregnant at the time. (The baby was not, as some media reported, cut from her womb; it simply died when she did.) Her ex-boyfriend and fellow victim Jay Sebring, hairdresser to the stars, was second-hand famous; his clients included Steve McQueen, Peter Fonda, Kirk Douglas, Warren Beatty, Yul Brynner, Paul Newman, and George Hamilton.

The other victims were Abigail Folger, of the coffee Folgers; her boyfriend Voytek Frykowski, a friend of Polanski’s; and Steve Parent, an 18-year old boy who had been trying to sell a clock radio to the house’s caretaker. That’s right, a clock radio. That was a thing back then.

Said caretaker, who claimed he had neither seen nor heard anything suspicious, was initially the prime suspect in the case. The police beat him up a bit and hauled him off to jail. But he was still in custody on the night of the 10th when Leno and Rosemary LaBianca — he a grocer with gambling debts, she a dress-store owner with more than two million dollars in the bank — were murdered in Los Feliz. Again, the victims were killed a lot: Rosemary was stabbed 41 times, while Leo, according to Vincent Bugliosi’s Helter Skelter, had

twelve stab wounds, plus fourteen puncture wounds made by a double-tined fork, for a total of twenty-six separate wounds, any one of six of which could have been fatal.

When Leo’s body was found the fork in question was embedded in his chest and a knife was protruding from his throat. Lamp cords were tied around both victims’ throats.

Let’s back up again for a moment: The name “Vincent Bugliosi” is an important one here. When (spoiler alert) the killers were eventually caught and brought to trial, he was the prosecutor. He also wrote the definitive book on the subject, and his theory of the case — often referred to simply as “Helter Skelter” — is the commonly accepted version of events.

In recent years Bugliosi’s veracity has sometimes been called into question. A recent book called Chaos: Charles Manson, the CIA, and the Secret History of the Sixties — which I have not yet had the time to read — is devoted to reevaluating the case. I am in no position to judge who’s right, and for my purposes it scarcely matters: The “Helter Skelter” scenario, whether truth or myth, has been thoroughly absorbed into popular culture.

Anyway, back to the LaBianca murder scene. According to Bugliosi,

There was writing, in what appeared to be blood, in three places in the residence. High up on the north wall in the living room, above several paintings, were printed the words “DEATH TO PIGS.” On the south wall, to the left of the front door, even higher up, was the single word “RISE.” There were two words on the refrigerator door in the kitchen, the first of which was misspelled. They read “HEALTER SKELTER.”

Amazingly enough, despite the obvious similarities between them, the Tate and LaBianca murders were initially treated as two separate cases. Police believed the second crime to be the work of a copycat, and also discounted any connection to the July 25 murder of Gary Hinman, in which “POLITICAL PIGGY” had been written on a wall in the victim’s blood. (This also turned out to be a Charlie Manson joint.)

Bugliosi’s book paints a fairly stunning portrait of police incompetence. He says that in late August, when the Tate and LaBianca investigators released their two separate reports,

While the Tate report didn’t attempt to explain that bloody word on the front door, the LaBianca report speculated as to the meaning of the writings found inside the residence on Waverly Drive. It even suggested a connection so remote it couldn’t even be called a wild guess. The report noted: “Investigation revealed that the singing group the Beatles’ most recent album, No. SWBO 101, has songs titled ‘Helter Skelter’ and ‘Piggies’ and ‘Blackbird.’ The words in the song ‘Blackbird’ frequently say ‘Arise, arise,’ which might be the meaning of ‘Rise’ near the front door.

The idea was just sort of tossed in, by whom no one would later remember, and just as promptly forgotten.

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