Donald Shea

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Donald Shea
Donald Jerome Shea

(1933-09-18)September 18, 1933
DiedAugust 26, 1969(1969-08-26) (aged 35)
Other namesShorty
Ranch hand
Spouse(s)Magdalena Velma (née Jones) Shea (b. 1944; m. 1969; d. 2001)
ChildrenRoy (or Ray) William Shea (b. 1960; d. 1960)

Donald Jerome Shea, also known as "Shorty" (September 18, 1933 – August 26, 1969), was a Hollywood stuntman, actor and victim of Tex Watson. The location of his body was discovered in 1977, 8 years after his death. Manson Family leader Charles Manson and members "Clem" Grogan and Bruce M. Davis were eventually convicted of murdering Shea. Tex Watson, Bill Vance and Larry Bailey (alias Larry Giddings) were possible participants in the murder, but never charged.


Donald Shea was born in Massachusetts on September 18, 1933. He moved to California to pursue a career in acting, but mostly worked at Spahn's Movie Ranch. Shea was a former stuntman whose dream was to pursue a film career in Hollywood, a dream which, according to many friends, he never gave up. He was almost 6 feet 4 inches (1.93m) tall. He worked as a bouncer, a ranch hand at Spahn Ranch, an old Hollywood movie set that had become a horse riding stables.[1] His autopsy report identifies him as "foreman" of the ranch.

Shea reportedly got along with the other ranch employees. When the Manson family moved into Spahn Ranch, Shea initially co-existed with them peacefully but, in time, Charles Manson began to look down on him because he had married a black woman by the name of Magdalena. Manson hated and mistrusted black people, and had been disgusted when Magdalena's friends showed up at the ranch. She stayed for only a few weeks before leaving Shea and returning to Las Vegas.[2] According to Shea's autopsy report, Magdalena eventually settled in Lexington, Kentucky.

Eventually Shea planned to help George Spahn remove the Family from the Spahn Ranch when their brushes with the law grew out of control.[3]

There is anecdotal evidence that Shea had a son with a woman named Judith Ellen Lawson, named either Ray or Roy, who died in infancy in 1960 in Hood County, Texas. Also, according to his autopsy report, Shea was a serviceman in the Air Force (s/n AF 11 270 704) from December 1954 until June 1956.


Shea was murdered on August 26, 1969.[4] Manson had decided to have Shea killed because he believed Shea had reported them to the police, resulting in a raid on the ranch on August 16 where the family were taken into custody on suspicion of car theft. Family member Bruce Davis claimed that the decision to kill Shea came from Manson because he considered him to be a "snitch". Manson told Davis, Tex Watson, and Steve Grogan to ask for a ride to a nearby car parts yard on the ranch. According to Davis, he sat in the back seat with Grogan, who then hit Shea with a pipe wrench and Watson stabbed him. They brought Shea down a hill behind the ranch and stabbed and brutally tortured him to death. Bruce Davis recalled at his parole hearings:

I was in the car when Steve Grogan hit Shorty with the pipe wrench. Charles Watson stabbed him. I was in the backseat with...with Grogan. They took Shorty out. They had to go down the hill to a place. I stayed in the car for quite a while but what...then I went down the hill later on and that's when I cut Shorty on the shoulder with the knife, after he was...well, I don't know...I...I don't know if he was dead or not. He didn't bleed when I cut him on the shoulder.

When I showed up, you know, he was...he was incapacitated. I don't know asked if he was unconscious, I don't know. He may or may not have been. He didn't seem conscious. He wasn't moving or saying anything. And it started off Manson handed me a machete as if I was supposed to...I mean I know what he wanted. But you know I couldn't do that. And fact I did touch Shorty Shea with a machete on the back of his neck, didn't break the skin. I mean I just couldn't do it. And then I threw the knife..and he handed me a bayonet and it...I just reached over and...I don't know which side it was on but I cut him right about here on the shoulder just with the tip of the blade. Sort of like saying "Are you satisfied, Charlie?".

And I turned around and walked away. And I...I was sick for about two or three days. I mean I couldn't even think about what I...what I had done.


Another motive for the murder could have stemmed from a fight between Charles Manson and Shea at the Gresham Street home in Canoga Park, California, that Manson shared with Bill Vance and several Manson Family Members. Windy Bucklee, the wife of Spahn Ranch ranch hand Randy Starr, was beaten by Charles Manson for her refusal to loan her truck to Manson and Vance for robberies. In the days prior, law enforcement questioned Bucklee for a string of robberies that her truck had been identified in. She realized that Manson and Vance had been borrowing her truck to commit these robberies and decided to quit loaning it to them.

When Shea found out about Manson assaulting Bucklee, he went to the Gresham Street home and assaulted both Manson and Vance with threats to stay away from Spahn Ranch.

After Manson moved into Spahn Ranch, Larry Bailey, one of the newer members of the Manson Family, was spying on Shea for Manson and was quickly caught. As a result, Shea, Bucklee, and others stripped Bailey naked and tied him to a tree facing the main road to send a message to the others.

According to participants in Shea's murder, Bruce Davis and Steve "Clem" Grogan, both Bill Vance and Larry Bailey also participated in the killing.[6]

Cover-up and admission[edit]

In a grand jury testimony, Family member Barbara Hoyt recounted hearing the screams which terrified her so much that she left deciding to escape the family, frightened that she might be next. [7] "It was about 10:00 pm when I heard a long, loud, blood curdling scream," she said, "Then it went quiet for a minute or so and the screams came again and again, it seemed to go on forever, I have no doubt that Shorty was being murdered at that time."[8]When Shea was dead, Grogan buried him, and the rumor was that he had been "dismembered into nine pieces."[9]

Hoyt's testimony of the approximate time of Shea's murder contradicts the official stories given by participants Davis and Grogan at their parole hearings.[10] Windy Bucklee was recently interviewed and confirmed that Shea was not the type of person who would scream and beg, and would have gone to his death fighting.[11]

On December 9, 1969, Shea's 1962 Mercury was found with a footlocker of his possessions and a pair of bloodstained cowboy boots belonging to him.[citation needed] A palm print of Davis was found on the footlocker.[citation needed]

Remains located[edit]

Shea's skeletal remains were discovered on a nondescript hillside near Santa Susana Road next to Spahn Ranch in December 1977 after Steve Grogan, one of those convicted of the murder, agreed to aid authorities in the recovery of Shea's body by drawing a map to its location.[citation needed] According to the autopsy report, his body suffered multiple stab and chopping wounds to the chest and blunt force trauma to the head.[12]

Sgt. Bill Gleason, LASO Homicide, Deputy Coroner John Mossberger and Deputy Sheriff Barry Jones, LASO Homicide, were on the site when Shea was exhumed in 1977.[citation needed] Gleason had been the officer who obtained the Spahn Ranch Raid search warrant in August 1969.[citation needed]

Shea was almost 36 years old when he was murdered.[13] He is buried in a community plot in Angeles Abbey Memorial Park in Los Angeles, California.[14]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Donald "Shorty" Shea".
  2. ^ Bucklee, Windy. "Interview on Tate LaBianca Radio". Tate/LaBianca Radio.
  3. ^ Bugliosi, Vincent. Helter Skelter, 1974, pp. 179–180
  4. ^ "Steve Grogan Biography". Archived from the original on 2015-11-23. Retrieved 2015-11-22.
  5. ^ "SUBSEQUENT PAROLE CONSIDERATION HEARING STATE OF CALIFORNIA BOARD OF PAROLE HEARINGS In the matter of the Life Term Parole Consideration Hearing of: CHARLES WATSON CDC Number: B-37999". Retrieved 22 November 2013.
  6. ^ Windy Bucklee interview, Tate/LaBianca Radio by Brian Davis
  7. ^ Barbara Hoyt
  8. ^ Batbara Hoyt
  9. ^ City News Service, Neighbor
  10. ^ Steve Grogan 1980 parole hearing; Bruce Davis 1994 parole hearing
  11. ^ Barbara Hoyt
  12. ^ Autopsy of Donald Shea
  13. ^ Sanders, Ed. The Family. pp. 272–276.
  14. ^ "GRAVE OF DONALD SHEA". Retrieved 28 August 2015.

External links[edit]