Manson Family member Bruce Davis goes before the Board of Parole Hearings for the 27th time Thursday
SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif., Sept. 29 – In August of 1971, Deputy District Attorney Vincent Bugliosi asked former family member Brooks Poston to explain the relationship between Bruce Davis and Charles Manson.
“It seemed to me that Bruce was competing with Charlie,” said Poston. “He was trying to be an equal with Charlie or even he — he was loud-mouthed.
“Whereas when Charlie would generally speak most of the people in the family would keep silent and listen, unless he asked them something directly or he said, ‘What do you think,’ or, ‘Say something.’
“But Bruce would interrupt Charlie when he was talking and he talked in a real loud voice, and it seemed like that he liked the power that he had when Charlie wasn’t around because he could have one of the girls run and fetch him something.”
“You got the impression that Bruce Davis wasn’t subservient to Charlie either?” questioned Bugliosi.
“It seemed to me that he had more ego than any of the other guys I ever saw there,” answered Poston. “So that he hadn’t given it up to Charlie.”
This is the kind of portrayal that Bruce Davis and his attorney, Michael Beckman, will try to distance themselves from Thursday, when Davis appears before the California Board of Parole Hearings for the 27th time.
Much of the debate at Davis’ prior parole hearings, has centered around his role in the family. Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorney Patrick Sequeira has presented Davis as a leader within the group, while Beckman has maintained there is nothing to support it.
“If the District Attorney here had one ounce of proof that Mr. Davis had a leadership position in the Manson family, he’d be pointing you to the relevant pages from the trial transcripts,” Beckman told the board in 2008. “There’s nothing. He had nothing. There was nothing in these trial transcripts that said it at all.”
That same year, Sequeira cited a psych evaluation from 1980, that suggested Davis aspired to be a leader. “He is strongly motivated to leadership, it is unlikely that Mr. Davis would tolerate a subordinate, subservient role,” wrote Dr. Richard Lowenthal. “Consequently, the inmate’s implication that he was an unthinking follower of an intuitive charismatic leader is inconsistent with available data.”
Davis, serving a life term for the murders of Gary Hinman and Donald “Shorty” Shea, was recommended for parole in 2010, but was later denied by then-governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.
In July of 1969, Davis drove Bobby Beausoleil, Susan Atkins, and Mary Brunner to Gary Hinman’s Topanga Canyon home with the intentions of getting money from Hinman.
“I didn’t know [Bruce] very well,” said Beausoleil. “He was one of the guys I looked up to, you know. He’s just one of the older guys that I was trying to emulate at the time. He hung out with Danny DeCarlo. They were into guns. I wasn’t. Bruce Davis gave me the gun that I took to Gary Hinman’s house with me.”
“Bruce drove and just dropped us off,” said Mary Brunner. “We decided that Sadie and I would go to the house and if Gary was there alone, we’d signal at the window. We were going to ask Gary for some money — for $3,000 or $30,000 — I’m not sure how much.
“Bobby asked Gary for the money, and Gary said he didn’t have any. Bobby said we weren’t kidding and pulled out the gun and there was a fight.”
“I hit him with the gun two or three times,” said Beausoleil. “It was because I thought he was lying to me. That was my response and it was the instructions that I had been given by the guys who put the gun in my hand and told me to get the money back, Bruce Davis and Danny DeCarlo.”
The three held Hinman hostage for the weekend. Sometime during the conflict, Hinman managed to take possession of the gun. A call was made to Spahn Ranch, but by the time Charles Manson and Bruce Davis arrived to Hinman’s, Beausoleil had already gotten the gun back from Gary.
“We heard someone coming up the steps,” said Brunner. “It was Charlie and Bruce and there was a rush fight in the living room. They came in and it was just, instantaneous…there was pushing and shoving and they wound up in the living room.”
Manson slashed Hinman across the face with a sword, cutting his left ear and cheek. Davis took back his .9mm and left with Manson in Gary Hinman’s Fiat.
Finally on Sunday evening, after Hinman signed over the pink slips to his two cars, Beausoleil stabbed him twice in the heart. Beausoleil, Atkins and Brunner took turns smothering Hinman with a pillow case before hotwiring his Volkswagen and returning to Spahn’s Ranch.
A month later, late in August of 1969, Manson told Davis they were going to kill Donald “Shorty” Shea.
“I was standing there. I couldn’t even get away. We were all just right there together,” said Davis. “I said, okay, here we go. I got in the back seat opposite him, Grogan was on my left, Watson was in front of me. Mr. Shea was driving.
“Watson tells him pull over. He hesitates. Watson stabs him. He pulls the car over. Grogan hits him in the head.
“I knew in the Hinman case that I was on — it was bad. I knew that. But you know, I had deceived myself into thinking that if I don’t — if I didn’t shoot Gary, if I don’t beat him up, that I’m okay.
“Manson pulled up in the car behind me. He came by and said let’s go. So I went. So I’m down there. They had already been stabbing him. He had a bigger knife. He handed me the machete.
“And he put the knife in my hand and said you better do something. Well, I know, I got the message.
“I reached out and I cut [Shea] right across the shoulder. I cut him with this knife. Boy this knife was sharp. It laid him open. I don’t know if he was dead or not.
“Steve Grogan and somebody, maybe somebody else, I don’t know if Grogan was the only person. They buried Shorty’s body”
Prior to Davis’ 2010 hearing, he had been given 23 consecutive one year denials. In 2006, he received a split decision and was later denied after an En Banc hearing in November of that year.
Davis’ hearing, originally scheduled for this past June, was postponed after Davis became ill shortly before its start. It was to be Davis’ first parole hearing with victims representatives in attendance. Debra Tate, sister of Sharon Tate, had planned to make a victim’s impact speech for the Hinman family. While former Manson family Barbara Hoyt, came to speak on behalf of the Shea family. Hoyt has opposed Davis’ release for years and testified at the En Banc hearing after Davis’ split-decision in 2006 .
“The public needs to know this man is very dangerous now as he was in 1969,” Tate told CNN in June.
Davis has been incarcerated since April 21, 1972. Since that time, Bruce has been active in many self-help and spiritual groups within the prison. His prison disciplinary record is near spotless, with only 2 rules violations in over 40 years, last one occurring over three decades ago.
Davis has continued his education, receiving a Master’s degree from Borean School of the Bible. In 1998, he received a Doctorate degree in philosophy and religion from Bethany Seminary, graduating summa cum laude.
In August of 2007, retired Superior Court Judge William Clark, wrote the board of parole hearings saying that “further incarceration beyond the 36 years served constitutes a miscarriage of justice,” and that Davis should be released.
Davis’ many support letters, from both inside and out of the prison walls, show the positive impact he has made during his incarceration.
In 2010, Davis’ attorney read a support letter from an inmate named Richard Kelly. Kelly wrote that he had planned to murder another inmate, but had a change of heart after conversation with Davis.
“I have observed Bruce during periods which would normally engender great stress in the average inmate,” wrote Kelly. “Nevertheless, I have observed Bruce to remain tranquil and apparently unaffected. When confronted with potentially volatile circumstances, I have observed him to be a force for calm. When faced with tests of his personal character and fortitude, I have observed Bruce to maintain a positive attitude regardless of the adversity.”
Which Bruce Davis will Thursday’s parole board see? The model prisoner and former follower that was reluctant to kill? Or the one time aspiring leader of a band of murderers?
There remains the massive stigma attached to those once associated with Charles Manson. There is still much speculation that there were other Manson family murders. There may not be solid evidence, but the court of public opinion needs little to convict.