Film Stunt Man Feared Beheaded by Cultists
Thursday, December 11th, 1969
LOS ANGELES, Dec. 11 – Detectives late Wednesday began a methodical search of the Spahn ranch near Chatsworth — home of the nomadic hippie cult accused in the massacre murders of seven persons — for the body of a ranch hand missing since shortly after the clan set up headquarters on the 33-acre movie location.
Search for Donald (Shorty) Shea apparently was precipitated by testimony before the Grand Jury Monday. One of the witnesses is reported to have told the jurors that the ranch hand and sometime movie stunt man had been decapitated and his body thrown down a well.
Earlier, in an interview with the Independent Press-Telegram, another ranch hand, Juan Flynn, said Shorty had disappeared “not too long after” the band of nomads, led by 35-year-old Charles Manson, arrived.
“Shorty didn’t like the hippies around and he said so.” Flynn said at the time. “If he had decided to leave the ranch — even though he wouldn’t say goodby to anybody — he’d have taken his guns. They were his whole life — his pride and joy.”
Flynn said that Manson had related a story of “stabbing Shorty, over and over” but he discounted it because Manson was “always trying to scare people.”
Meanwhile, as detectives continue to took for additional bodies and investigate similar murders in the Southland, Manson is scheduled to face arraignment for the murders at 11 a.m. today at the Los Angeles Hall of Records.
The hypnotic-eyed cult leader is charged with masterminding the murders of pregnant actress Sharon Tate, three of her jet-set friends and a casual teenaged visitor on Aug. 9, and of the murders of market chain owner Leno La Bianca and his wife, Rosemary, the following day.
Three others also implicated in the murders waived arraignment Wednesday as a strict news gag was placed on pretrial publicity in the already much-publicized deaths.
The three girls, all sullen as they stood before Superior Court Judge William Keene, included Susan Atkins, 21, the informer whose 2 1/2 hour testimony before the County Grand Jury implicated the five others: Linda Kasabian, 20, the five-months pregnant cultist who waived extradition after her arrest in New Hampshire, and Leslie Sankston, 20, whose real name, she told the court, is Leslie Louise Van Houten.
The Van Houten girl, whose parents live in Monrovia, a Los Angeles suburb, was a mystery to newsmen until her appearance Wednesday in court. Although her relatives refused to speak with newsmen, school officials at Monrovia High School where the girl was graduated in 1967 called her a “very good student” ranking 180 in a class of 400, with a “better than B” average.
Miss Van Houten, along with Mrs. Kasabian, who appeared near tears during the entire court session Wednesday, are to return to court Dec. 22; Miss Atkins will face the court again Dec. 16.
In addition to hunting for the body of the movie stunt man, an investigation is being conducted into the possible Links between the seven Tate-LaBianca slayings and the Nov. 5 stabbing deaths of two young Scientology members, police admitted.
Det. Lt. Earl Deemer said “the overkill syndrome was present in the Scientologists deaths — each kid was stabbed more than 50 times — and it was present in the Tate and LaBianca murders.”
He said, however, similarities in the three brutal crimes have physical as well as philosophical parallels. Detectives reportedly have been looking into cultism, particularly the pseudo-religious tribe led by the long-haired, bearded Manson and another group called “The Process.”
“The Process,” an anti-establishment group formed in London and which has been known to worship Satan, is an off-shoot of the Church of Scientology. Manson has “dabbled” in Scientology and then also gone on to more eccentric cultism.
The Scientalogists, James Sharp, 15, and Doreen Gaul, 19, were found in an alley stabbed repeatedly and their eyes slashed.
Deemer noted that the seven Tate-LaBianca slayings and the stabbing deaths of the young man and woman still were apparently without motive.
Deemer also said that investigators were checking into a possible link between the Manson group and the death Jan. 1 of Marina Habe, 17, daughter of screenwriter Hans Habe. Her body was found on a brush-covered slope in the Hollyswood hills. She had been stabbed.
Another young girl, still unidentified, was found Stabbed to death in the immediate area a few months later.
Two sheriff’s deputies searching the Spahn Ranch were injured when the wall of a well collapsed on them.
Detective William Farrington, 43, of the Homicide Division, lost the tip of a finger on his right hand when the wall gave away. Deputy Gene Reed, 34, of the Special Enforcements Bureau, suffered a possible leg fracture.
Miss Atkins was given a public defender to represent her at first by the judge. Later, he appointed Atty. Richard Caballero as her attorney following a conflict of interest claim by the defender’s office. The office represents Robert Beausoliel, charged with the murder of 34-year-old musician Gary Hinman. Miss Atkins also is involved in the case.
In imposing the news ban, Judge Keene read a lengthy three-page statement which bars any “attorney, judicial attache, public official, grand juror, witness or any person subpoenaed for testimony” from releasing any information concerning the case.
The ban is the strongest placed on the news media since the trial of Sirhan Sirhan, assassin of Sen. Robert F. Kennedy.
Judge Keene also ordered that the grand jury transcript be held secret until 10 days after it is presented to each defendant in the case.
The three girls stood quietly in front of the bench listening carefully to the judge’s words and not taking their eyes from his face. The Kasabian girl appeared nervous and constantly fingered a small piece of paper in her hand.
They answered almost inaudibly the question of whether they understood their constitutional rights to a jury trial and in the fact they did not have to testify against themselves.
The girls faced the court without their leader, 35-year-old Charles Manson, despite the fact the guitar-playing cultist was available for arraignment.
Spokesmen said “unofficially” they feared possible influence over the girls by the hypnotic-eyed cult leader if they were all in the same room together at this time.
By MARY NEISWENDER