Investigators Connect Blaze in Glendale Gun Shop to Shea, Hinman Murder Trial
Tuesday, July 27th, 1971
LOS ANGELES, Jul. 27 — The investigation into a fire at a Glendale gun shop took a new turn yesterday when it was disclosed that the place figured in a murder case involving Charles Manson and his followers.
A man who works at the gun shop was due to testify for the prosecution yesterday in the trial of Stephen Grogan, a Manson lieutenant charged with the murder of ranch hand Donald “Shorty” Shea.
The trial was recessed because the fire and explosion Sunday night prevented the witness, Robert Bickston, from appearing in court.
Meanwhile, the Glendale Fire Dept. said it still was investigating to determine the cause of the conflagration at the Alaskan-African arms shop at 1736 Victory Blvd.
The fire, which caused an estimated $50,000 damage, erupted about 10 p.m. The flames spread into ammunition stocks and touched off a series of explosions that rocked a nearby residential neighborhood. Batt. Chief Charles Hyndman of the Glendale Fire Dept. said witnesses were to be reinterviewed.
A number of men were in the shop when the flames erupted. Chief Hyndman said investigators were told that one of them accidentally dropped a match to the floor and that this touched off the blaze.
The shop figured in the Shea case in that the victim had purchased a pair of matched .45-caliber revolvers there in 1969. He subsequently pawned them, but never reclaimed them.
Prosecutor Burton Katz has indicated that this fact was to be a key point in the state’s case. Shea supposedly was extremely proud of his matched weapons and would have reclaimed them from the pawn shop if he were alive, according to testimony from his wife.
Shea 35, was a worker at the Spahn Ranch at the time that it was the Manson “family” stronghold. A body has never been found and the prosecution must establish that he was, in fact, murdered.
Grogan is one of three Manson cultists charged with Shea’s murder. Manson 36, and Bruce Davis 21, are being tried separately.
Bickston is the brother of Joseph Bickston 54, who owns the building where the gun shop is located. Robert Bickston formerly owned the shop.
Joseph Bickston was stricken during the fire and taken to St. Joseph Hospital. Although it was first believed he may have suffered a heart ailment, he checked himself out of the hospital within 30 minutes, explaining he intended to see a private physician, hospital officials said