The Manson Family and the Murder of Donald “Shorty” Shea
The Stuntman Whose Disappearance Was Unsolved for Nearly a Decade.
The Life and Death of Shorty
Like so many others, Donald Jerome Shea left his native state (Massachusetts) to journey to Hollywood for fame and fortune but like so many others, it wasn’t quickly forthcoming.
The strapping (6'2") and stocky Shea managed to score a few small roles but by 1954 found himself working at Spahn’s Movie Ranch in Chatsworth, California. The ranch, originally owned by William S. Hart, had been used to rent out horses to filmmakers, and in the 1940s and 1950s, the ranch had been used to actually film westerns, both on film and television, capitalizing on the nearby Iverson Movie Ranch. As the 1960s were ushered in, however, the western genre began to fade and the property was used more for tourists to see the former sets and to horseback ride through the area.
Given the ironic nickname of Shorty, Shea was hired by George Spahn to be the foreman, ranch hand, horse wrangler and general bouncer on the ranch. Although Shorty had no exposure or experience being on a ranch prior to this, he fit right in. Spahn allowed him time off in order to pursue any acting gigs and so Shorty would often be gone from the ranch for weeks at at time when he worked a job (often as a stuntman). Because of this, Shorty and George Spahn became good friends, with Shorty taking extra care to look out not only for his elderly boss but the property Spahn owned.
By the time the Manson Family arrived at the ranch in 1968, George Spahn was 80-years-old, feeble and nearly blind. Charles Manson and his group of followers had spent 1967 and into 1968 driving around California in a black minibus and diving in dumpsters for food. A fortuitous meeting by Patricia Krenwinkel and Ella Jo Bailey, two of Manson’s female followers who were hitchhiking, with Beach Boy Dennis Wilson in the spring of 1968 led all of them to crash at Wilson’s Pacific Palisades home for a time. It was not so lucky for Wilson, who contracted gonorrhea, had his $21,000 (and uninsured) Mercedes totaled, as well as wrecking his Ferrari, stole his clothes and gold records, trashed his home and ran up reportedly an excess of $100,000 on his credit…