Spahn Ranch

Spahn Ranch, also known as Spahn Movie Ranch, was the home of the Manson Family during the Tate/LaBianca murders. In late 1969, Robert Hendrickson filmed the Manson Clan at Spahn Ranch for his Oscar-nominated documentary.

By 1968, when Charles Manson and his Family arrived at the ranch, George Spahn was 80 years old and nearly blind. Spahn allowed out-of-work stuntmen and ranch hands to live on the property in return for labor. Manson and his group fit right in and did chores and helped run the horse-rental business.

But at the ranch, several ranch-hands disapproved of the new tenants, warning Spahn about Manson and his group. Members of the Family would eventually kill A ranch hand named Donald “Shorty”.


On August 16, 1969, around 6:00 am, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department raided Spahn Ranch. They were looking for stolen cars, not knowing they had the Tate/LaBianca killers in reach.

The sheriff’s report states they found Manson hiding beneath the building marked “Saloon”. Manson was laying face down in the dirt between the foundation timbers.

As he crawled out and stood up, a stolen credit card fell out of his pocket. Manson and most of the Family members were arrested and booked at the Malibu police station.

The police also seized and impounded vehicles at the property, VW dune buggies, a couple of motorcycles and a 1959 Ford. The Ford had provided transportation for the Tate and LaBianca murders.

Donald Shea Murder

Donald Shorty Shea [image], was a stuntman and ranch worker who was murdered by members of the Manson Family. “Shorty” actually stood about six feet 4 inches tall and weighed more than 200 pounds.

Shea moved to California to pursue a career in acting, but mostly worked as a horse wrangler at Spahn Ranch and as a bouncer at a topless bar. When Charles Manson and the Family first moved to Spahn’s Movie Ranch, Shea co-existed with them, but, in time, Charles Manson looked down on Shea because Shea married a black woman.

Shea complained about Manson and the Clan to George Spahn.Shea planned to help George Spahn remove the Group from the Spahn Ranch when their brushes with the law grew out of control.

In late August 1969, Charles Manson, Tex Watson, Steve Grogan and Bruce Davis asked Shea to come with them to get some auto parts.

After Watson gave a sign, Grogan hit Shea over the head with a pipe wrench, and Watson stabbed Shea several times. Shea managed to get out of the car. He then was surrounded by the gang, and they brutally stabbed him to death. Grogan later said that Shea was so strong it took all of them to kill him.

Shea’s remains were discovered in December 1977 when Steve Grogan agreed to tell authorities the location of the body. Grogan was granted parole after the discovery of Shea’s remains in exchange for his cooperation.


In September 1970, a wildfire destroyed all of Spahn Movie Ranch’s sets and structures. After the fire, George Spahn moved back to North Hollywood to live with the wife he left years before. Today, the site is part of California’s Santa Susana Pass State Historic Park.