Even Barbara Hoyt noticed how deathly quiet the night was.
And it was a welcome experience.
As Barb climbed into her sleeping bag, she prayed that this silence was ushering in an end to the nightmares she had been having since she knew of the complicity of The Family in the the Tate-LaBianca murders.
Maybe this is the calm after the storm, she thought to herself.
As she rested her head on a blue lined, down pillow void of any pillow-case, ear-piercing sounds suddenly split her relaxation in two…sounds that she will never forget as long as she lives…
Further down Susana Pass road…
The truck and trailer finally arrived at the spot where Bruce said he saw Thunder. Before Clem had a chance to bring the caravan to a full stop, Shorty opened the passenger side door and hopped out with a flash-light in his hand.
“Hey Clem, keep the headlights on, will ya?” ordered Shorty, as Clem nodded an affirmative from behind the wheel.
“Where abouts did you see him, Bruce?” insisted Shorty, his voice strained from the pressure to find his favourite horse.
“He was walking alongside the road up a ways, just before that turnout in the road.” said Bruce, still standing in the box of the truck, using his own flashlight to scan the roadside.
Charlie slowly climbed out of the truck cab, as did Clem, both having grabbed flashlights from the floorboard as well, in a feigned attempt to search for the elusive Thunder.
“Shorty, you start callin’ him and head down a ways and we’ll walk down into this gully here to search.” Charlie said.
“Okay Charlie. Holler if ya see him.” yelled Shorty.
“Will do and you too, Man.” Charlie yelled back.
But Charlie and Clem didn’t head for that gully alongside the road.
Instead, they gathered around the box of the truck where Bruce was still standing.
“What’s your poison, Charlie?” whispered Bruce, as he dug into that potato sack he had carried under his arm when he hopped into the box at Spahn’s.
“Gimme that cutlass, Man. Bruce, you take the hatchet and Clem, you take that monkey wrench and the Buck. Let’s try and knock him out first to make it easier, huh. Clem, you swing that Mother-f—ker for all she’s worth so we don’t have a fight on our hands we can’t win.” Charlie whispered back.
“You got it, Charlie. That dude is goin’ down!” hissed Clem.
“Shhhhhh, Man. He’ll hear ya!” Bruce hissed right back to Clem.
“Sorry, Bruce,” whispered Clem, lowering his head in shame.
And the trio, with weapons at the ready, turned off their flashlights and quietly jogged up to where Shorty was.
“Thunder, here boy! (two-finger whistle) Thunnnnder! (two-finger whistle)” yelled Shorty.
And just as Shorty made that final call…
Clem swung that huge monkey wrench, hitting Shorty in the back lower left side of his neck, a blow which stunned Shorty for a second, putting a dent in his skull but not forcing unconsciousness. Shorty put his hand up to his neck and let out one heck of a cry…
But Clem’s efforts seemed to be in vain, as the robust Shorty wasn’t about to be knocked out with just one blow of that wrench.
As he turned on his heels, Shorty yelled, “Whatthef---!”
Just in time for Bruce to,
Whack! Klunk!! Thwack!!!…
Seeing that his cohorts’ initial attacks hadn’t knocked Shorty unconscious, Charlie got in behind him and with all his might, he let that cutlass swing through the air,
Slllllice! Slice! Sllllice!!! Stab!
…slicing into the back left of Shorty’s neck three times and stabbing him once with the point of that blade, aiming for the jugular but missing his target as well, due to the thrashing of Shorty to escape the onslaught.
The blows, although not knocking Shorty out nor bringing death, did bring blood, lots of it, squirting and gushing out from Shorty’s head and neck, running down his back and onto his chequered flannel shirt, the pain blinding him momentarily, making him see stars and experience incredible vertigo, making it impossible for him to zero in on his attackers now.
Oww! Owwww!!! Ahhh!!! Owww!!!!…
…and with that hit came the cracking of his skull, a blow that should have knocked Shorty to his feet but only served to add to his blinding pain, his screams louder and longer than ever before,
Shorty was a big, blood-splattered screaming entity now, it seemed to the guys, an entity that wouldn’t die quickly nor quietly.
Family murders never do, it seems…
Bruce traded places with Charlie and from behind,
his hatchet chopped twice, deep into the
Charlie moved around to Shorty’s left side and swung that cutlass once more,
…as he got off one deep stab wound to the lower left base of the skull and three more slices into the left side of Shorty’s head, one of the three dealt with such force as to create a long fracture down the side and to the front of Shorty’s skull, the pain from this blow being immeasurable.
Clem threw down the wrench in disgust and pulled out the fixed-blade Buck knife he had stowed in his over-alls and joined Charlie and Bruce in their stabbing frenzy, the trio now slicing, chopping and stabbing their way into Shorty’s thighs, shins, arms and hands and into the right side of the middle of his back near the vertebrae, anywhere and everywhere to bring an end to this guy.
Charlie or Clem managed the final coup de gras as one of them stabbed deep, three times, into the
These blows probably penetrated Shorty’s lungs, and with the accompanying pain and an inability to draw breath, Shorty finally collapsed to the ground, his screams forever stopped as well.
Back to Spahn’s ranch and Barb in her sleeping bag…
Those same screams, hollers and cries could be heard by Barb as well…
She instantly sat up in her sleeping bag and looked at everyone else lying on the floor beside her. No one was awake. No one was hearing what she was hearing. She couldn’t believe that no one was waking up to these screams!
She got out of her bag and tip-toed over to the nearest window and peered out into the night, scanning the frontage road for any signs of distress from someone but she saw nothing and no one.
But those blood-curdling screams continued…
And she was sure now that that voice belonged to Shorty Shea!
“Omygad!”, she quietly whispered. “Not him too, not Shorty.” she whispered to herself again.
As she pressed her hands up against her ears in a vain attempt to quell the awful sounds, she turned around in the room to see if any of the other Family members were now stirring from this awful noise, but no one was. Everyone was sound asleep, the kids splayed out on their backs or cuddled up on their sides, the guys snoring softly, and all of them sleeping the sleep of the unknowing.
Barb wasn’t asleep. She was awake living through the most horrendous sounds she would ever hear in her life.
And these gut-wrenching noises kept on, and on, and on, and on.
“Oh, Shorty, what are they doing to ya? Oh, please God, make it stop.” Barb whispered to herself.
And no sooner had her prayer ended, the screams did stop. They came to a screeching stop and the night was filled with silence once more.
Barb strained her ears, to see if she could hear anything further but there were no more sounds of any kind, no more cries, no talking or yelling, just nothing, just a desert night, still, quiet and calm, her ears ringing now with the complete void of sound.
Had she just imagined this? Was she having a nightmare again? Barb looked down at her chest and arms and touched her body to see if this was indeed an awful nightmare, but it was no nightmare, she was awake and what she heard she knew was real.
Her life was now as horrific as it ever could be. She had to admit, right there and then, while standing in front of that saloon window, that she was apart of a killing machine, that this Family was a killing family and she was experiencing a living nightmare.
Tears started streaming down her face and she gulped back her own cries, fearful now of waking the kids around her. But her cries became sobs and her cheeks and the neckline of her top were now soaked. Afraid to venture outside, she tip-toed back to her sleeping bag and crawled deep inside, her body curling up into the fetal position as she tried to muffle her crying by cupping her hand over her mouth, eventually sobbing herself into a very disturbed sleep, tossing and turning until the dawn of a new day arose.
Back down Susana Pass road…
…the night wasn’t over just yet…
As the trio of killers looked down at the writhing body, they saw a dying man, blood covering his face, arms, chest and legs, that had soaked clear through his shirt and jeans, the life-force that was Shorty finally spent, his yells replaced by gurgling sounds, of blood filling his nose and throat, completely cutting off his air supply.
And as the gurgling ended so did the life of Donald Jerome “Shorty” Shea, aged 36 (as per autopsy report/death certificate), born in Massachusetts in 1933, an Air Force veteran, and now livestock wrangler and ranch-hand foreman for George Spahn, a wannabe movie actor with bit-parts in such forgettable films as, “Hangfire” (1968) and “The Fabulous Kid (Bastard) from Chicago” (1969), “Wanda, the Sadistic Hypnotist” (1969) and “Hard on the Trail” (released posthumously in 1971), survived by his wife, Magdalene Stokes Shea, a former night-club stripper.
“Shit! this asshole wouldn’t go down! What a stubborn Mother-f—ker!” hissed Bruce.
Chuckling as if someone had just said a joke, “Yeah, he was somethin’ else, alright!” whispered Charlie, his shoulders drooped, puffing from exertion, the cutlass, dead weight now in his lowered right hand, the point dripping blood onto the sandy soil below as he stood.
“The site I told ya about is just up here a ways.” said Clem, puffing as well, his over-alls splattered and his Buck knife bent and bloody.
“Okay, you and Bruce get his ass in the trailer and take him on down the road and I’ll take the shovel to this bloody sand here. Come back and get me once you’re done.” ordered Charlie as he walked back to the box of the truck and retrieved the shovel he had Clem put in there just for this purpose.
Charlie scooped up the blood-soaked sand and flung it far and wide off the road into that gully of tall weeds and grass, as Clem and Bruce dragged Shorty’s corpse into the trailer. The duo got back into the truck and drove only a short distance to the site Clem had discovered. It was a highway turn-out that over-looked the railway tracks at the bottom of a ravine, a place not often tread by human-beings.
As they got out of the truck once again, they unhooked the trailer door and dragged Shorty’s body to the edge of that ravine and,
…over Shorty went, down a
250 foot embankment, approximately 1& 1/4 miles down from Spahn ranch off of Susana Pass Road, just west of Topanga Canyon Blvd. (its locale pin-pointed by LASO in the 1977 Thomas Guide, on Page 6, Section B-1, between the word “pass” and the R.R. tracks on the map), never to be seen again, until 8 years later, at 2:20p.m. on December 15, 1977, when, in an urge to get out of prison, Clem finally divulged the whereabouts of Shorty’s body to the authorities.
Shea was found in a
shallow grave, no doubt just buried from years of hillside erosion, his skull laying on top of the soil, his skeleton intact, missing only the left hand which was probably scavenged and carried off by wildlife in the area.
As Bruce and Clem watched Shorty’s body fall, with the aid of flashlights in their blood-stained hands, they lingered long enough to make sure his body wasn’t visible from the roadside and when they were satisfied that their “package” was well camouflaged, the duo lumbered back to the cab of the truck and made a U-turn on Susana Pass Road to fetch Charlie from the kill site.
Charlie was leaning on his shovel when the headlights illuminated his small frame, obviously done with his “chore” too. He dropped the shovel in the truck box and slid in beside Bruce in the cab as the trio returned to Spahn ranch, less one human being, an empty, blood smeared horse trailer, and the truck box holding several blood-stained implements, all of which would be nicely hosed off and put into their proper places around the ranch before bedtime beckoned.
Nobody heard the killers return on this night just like no one heard the never-ending screams of Shorty’s last minutes on earth, that is, but for the exception of one terrified Barbara Hoyt, asleep now but engrossed in fitful dreams and thrashing nightmares, the kind of which still occasionally come to her in the wee hours, on still summer nights, even forty years later.
Yes Charlie, that was ten indeed, ten that we know of, that is.
Was there more? Who knows.
Charlie boasted of 35. Sadie told Ronnie that there were “three more out in the desert”. During the first trial, Leslie van Houten’s attorney, Ronald Hughes, was found face-down with a boulder over his head, a “supposed” victim of a flash flood, while camping at Sespe Hot Springs in Ventura County.
And in 1972, Family Members Nancy Pitman (aka Brenda McCann), Priscilla Cooper (aka Tuffy) and Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme were all charged as accessories after-the-fact in the murders of James and Lauren Willett.
Yes, there were ten alright, and probably more, but as this 40th anniversary comes to a close, one can’t help but wonder, now that the killers are aging and one is near death, that death-bed confessions won’t be the watch-word for all of them in the years to come, revealing still more trade-mark Family horrors, spawning more anniversary stories yet to be written.
We can only wait, wonder and wish that we’re wrong.