Manson Family Murder Victim Donald "Shorty" Shea's Revenge

Steve Grogan and Bruce Davis
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Donald Jerome Shea had dreams of becoming an actor when he moved from Massachusetts to California. Shea had the look of a man who had spent his life working on a ranch, a look that he hoped would help him get into the movies. In truth, Donald Shea was born in Massachusetts on September 18, 1933, and had very little exposure to being on a ranch, but he had potential as a stuntman.

After being in California for a while, it became apparent that finding acting jobs was going to be more challenging than Shea anticipated. George Spahn, the owner of Spahn's Movie Ranch, hired Shea to help care for the horses that were kept on the ranch. The job was perfect for the wannabe actor. Spahn allowed Shea time off when he managed to land an acting job. At times, Shea would be gone from the ranch for weeks at a time while working on a movie, but when filming was completed he knew he always could return to Spahn Movie Ranch for employment.

The agreement that he had with George Spahn made him immensely appreciative and the two men became friends. He became devoted to looking after the ranch and kept an eye out for what was going on with his elderly boss, Spahn.

The Arrival of Charles Manson and the Family

When Charles Manson and the family first moved to Spahn's Movie Ranch, Shea was satisfied with the arrangement. He was usually a casual and friendly guy who got along well with the other ranch hands and who easily made friends.

As time went on, Shea began to see qualities in Charles Manson that he disliked. For one, Manson voiced his extreme prejudices against Black people. Shea's ex-wife was Black and the two had remained friends after their marriage ended. It angered Shea to hear Manson's prejudice rampages towards Blacks and it did not take long before he detested the man. He was also acutely aware that Manson criticized Shea's opinions on race and turned other family members against him because of it.

Shea began to complain about Manson and the family to George Spahn. He knew that the group would one day be trouble and he wanted them to move off the ranch. But Spahn was enjoying the attention of Manson's "girls" who Charlie had ordered to take care of the elderly man's needs.

The First Police Raid

On August 16, 1969, the police raided Spahn's Movie Ranch after being tipped off about stolen vehicles being stored there. Several members of the family were arrested. Manson was convinced that it was Donald "Shorty" Shea that had snitched to the police about the group stealing cars and that he went as far as to help the police set up the raid so that multiple arrests could be made.

Manson had no empathy for snitches and he put Shea on his private hit list. Not only was Shea a snitch, but he was causing problems between Manson and George Spahn.

Around the end of August 1969, Charles "Tex" Watson, Bruce Davis, Steve Grogan, Bill Vance, Larry Bailey, and Charles Manson grabbed Shea and forced him into their car. Shoved into the back seat, Shea had no quick escape. Grogan was first to attack and Tex quickly joined in. While Grogan hit Shea over the head with a pipe wrench, Tex stabbed Shea repeatedly. Somehow Shea managed to stay alive and was alert when the group pulled him from the car and dragged him down a hill behind Spahn Ranch, where they then stabbed him to death.

It wasn't until December 1977, that Shea's body was found. Steve Grogan was in prison when he drew a map of where Shea's body had been buried and gave it to the authorities. His motivation was to prove that, contrary to rumors, Donald Shea had not been cut into nine pieces and buried. Grogan was later paroled and the only Manson family member convicted of a murder that has ever been paroled.

Donald "Shorty" Shea's Revenge

In 2016, Governor Jerry Brown reversed the parole board's recommendation to release Charles Manson follower Bruce Davis. Brown felt that Davis still posed a threat to society if he was released.

Davis was incarcerated for first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder and robbery in the July 1969 Manson-directed stabbing death of Gary Hinman and the stabbing Donald "Shorty" Shea in August or September 1969.

"Davis played a central role in these murders. He was a part of the (Manson) Family's discussions to rob and kill Mr. Hinman," wrote the governor in 2013, pointing out that Davis "now admits that he pointed the gun at Mr. Hinman while Manson mutilated Mr. Hinman's face."

It took years for Davis to admit that he sliced Shea from his armpit to his collarbone, "while his crime partners repeatedly stabbed and clubbed Mr. Shea. He later bragged about how Mr. Shea's body had been dismembered and decapitated," wrote the governor.

Brown went on to explain that although it was encouraging that Davis, now 70, had begun to tell about the actual events of what happened, he continues to withhold some of the details. As a result, Brown is concerned that Davis is downplaying his direct involvement in the murders and his leadership role in the Manson family.

"... Until Davis can acknowledge and explain why he actively championed the Family's interests, and shed more light on the nature of his involvement, I am not prepared to release him," Brown wrote. "When considered as a whole, I find the evidence I have discussed shows why he currently poses a danger to society if released from prison."

Also opposed to Davis' parole is Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey, who contacted the governor in a letter stating that Davis had not accepted responsibility for his crimes and continued to blame everyone but himself for his criminal and antisocial behavior. He said, "Davis blames his father for the way he was raised and Manson for influencing him to commit murders."

The county's top prosecutor wrote his opposition to Davis being paroled, saying that Davis was lacking in genuine remorse and understanding of the gravity of his crimes.

Shea's daughter and his ex-wife voiced their opposition to Davis ever being paroled.

Will Davis ever be paroled?

Like Charles Mason and most of his co-defendants, parole has been denied repeatedly for Davis, despite the number of years he has been incarcerated. 

Susan Atkins was refused a compassionate release from prison even though she was dying from brain cancer. She died three weeks after her plea was rejected by the parole board.

The crimes committed by Manson and some of the family were so horrific that many believe it is unlikely that any of them will ever walk out of prison. Sharon Tate's sister ​Debra Tate, is not as convinced and has spent years attending parole hearings as a representative of the victims, arguing against parole for Manson and any of his co-defendants.

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Montaldo, Charles. "Manson Family Murder Victim Donald "Shorty" Shea's Revenge." ThoughtCo, Aug. 1, 2021, Montaldo, Charles. (2021, August 1). Manson Family Murder Victim Donald "Shorty" Shea's Revenge. Retrieved from Montaldo, Charles. "Manson Family Murder Victim Donald "Shorty" Shea's Revenge." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 7, 2023).