Monday, August 14, 2017

Deconstructing Pete Porteous

As everybody gears up over the next couple of years for the Big Fifty it will quickly become evident how much attention this case still attracts after almost half a century. Right now there are probably at least a half dozen projects in the works designed to capitalize on the Golden Anniversary of the Tate-LaBianca murders. Whether it’s books, television, movies, or independent documentaries it is obvious that a market still exists for the TLB Brand and that people are still happy to spend their attention and money on it. But unfortunately there are also people who want to cash in on all of that attention and money. And so in a situation like this you not only have people who want to pay attention but you also have people who want to get it. Therefore, keep an eye out in the coming months for never-before-heard-of childhood friends, old school chums, long-forgotten roommates, distant family members, former neighbors, brief, one-time acquaintances, and any and all manner of other such alleged ancillary characters to the case who want to get a slice of the Death to Piggies Pie. The big problem, though, is that many of these purported peripherals to the case will be imposters. And a prime example of such a mistaken individual is Pete Porteous, the Hollywood stuntman who claims that as a ten-year-old boy he was mentored into the stuntman profession by Donald Jerome “Shorty” Shea at Spahn’s Movie Ranch during the summer of 1969. Porteous’s recollections are particularly remarkable because among them are his memories of being present at the ranch when Charles Manson was beaten up on several occasions by stuntman associates of Shea.

Pete Porteous

Below is a slightly abbreviated version of Porteous’ story as it appeared here on the MF Blog in January of 2015 (You can read the entire article here.):

I Learned to be a Stuntman from Shorty Shea

[Introduction Clipped]

“I would ride to Spahn Ranch on my mini-bike between the ages of 9 or 10 without my mother's knowledge. I was a bit of a black sheep to begin with, but after my dad bought me that mini-bike I was outta control. We lived on the corner of Elizondo Ave. and Currant Ave in Simi Valley.  A flood control wash was right across the street that runs right through the center of Simi. I rode that about 10 miles or so on the hard-packed parts. Then I rode a small service road along the railroad tracks for a few miles to Santa Susana Pass Rd.

“I was fascinated with stuntmen and I wanted to be one even at that early age. I knew Charlie (Manson) by sight and name, but I thought he was a stuntman. I figured everyone at the ranches were stuntmen. I already knew a couple of them from a neighboring ranch called Corriganville Movie Ranch - specifically Jimmy Babcock, Monte Laird and Joe Soto. Those guys would also frequently be at Spahn to do stunts for the various B movies that were filmed there.


“It was actually Charlie who introduced me to Shorty. I asked Charlie how to become a stuntman and he said, "First you have to be one" (He always talked in riddles). He also said, "You'll want to talk to Shorty". So that's when my career as a stuntman first began. My time with him lasted four or five months.

“Shorty was a great guy. He taught me everything like how to take a saddle fall, how to throw a punch and how to take a punch. Most of my friends played sports, but I hung around Shorty. He took the time to show me things. He took a liking to me and an interest in teaching me. He also didn't treat me like a kid. He treated me like an equal. In exchange, I worked for him. I did things like clean horse stalls and other things. For instance, sometimes a ranch customer would be out for a ride and get off the horse to urinate and the horse would run away. So, part of the job was to go find that horse. I really liked it, even cleaning the stalls. If I got there early enough I got to help feed the horses. I loved things like that. My dad was a city boy and didn't like horses but I loved it. I liked cleaning and being a cowboy.

“Charlie was always nice to me. He sometimes would ask to ride my mini-bike. I'd let him and he'd tear around on it and seemed to have fun like a little kid. But, Shorty didn't like Charlie and didn't want me near him. He said, "If you play with a bucket of shit long enough, you're gonna get some on ya". I know that people have the idea that Charlie was in charge of the ranch, but he wasn't. The wranglers thought he was a clown. They laughed at him - never took him seriously. Monte Laird slapped the shit out of Manson twice that I know about. I got there shortly after the first one. I witnessed the second, and Laird sure bloodied him up. I also saw Joe Soto throttle Manson good one day. You gotta remember, these guys were a different breed. If you pissed them off they didn't wonder "hey will this guy call the cops?" No, they'd rough you up and just laugh. Those guys were tougher than any bikers. I know that there are folks out there who see Manson as some mysterious guru, but he was a joke to those guys. I wound up having a long relationship with Joe Soto. From the time I met him as a kid at Corriganville Ranch until he passed away in 2009 at age 80.

“The only other Manson Family person that I had any real exposure to was Tex. The thing I remember best was that he'd take us for ice cream. He had a pickup truck and we'd all (mostly kids and teenage girls) pile in the bed (since it wasn't illegal back then). Tex would spin the truck out leaving the ranch and we'd all slide around and bang into the sides and laugh. He was almost like a kid when we'd go on those ice cream rides. He was always nice to me.

“I remember some of the girls, but I don't remember any of their names because I mostly hung around with the wranglers. I do though remember that sometimes they made brownies and would give me some. I also remember that they liked to take gum wrappers and fold them up to connect to each other and make chains. They had some really long ones going!

“One day I got up early and went to Spahn Ranch because I wanted to help feed the horses. When I got there Shorty wasn't around and the horses had not been fed, so I did it. When I finished I saw Charlie talking to Tex and another guy. I asked about Shorty and Charlie said, "He went away on a trip." When I asked when he'd be back he said he probably wouldn't be back. I was very hurt. Shorty was my teacher and more importantly, my friend. He was also the first adult friend I ever had. It was the first time in my life that my heart was broken.

“I first heard about Shorty's demise at home. My mom watched the news every evening because the Vietnam war was on and we had relatives over there. This one night the ranch was on the news. Miss Pearl (Ruby Pearl) was being interviewed. She said she was worried about Shorty and feared something very very bad had happened…”

Pete Porteous (right) with Eric Estrada (left) at a reunion for the CHiPs television program in Las Vegas, Nevada

Porteous’s story might sound reasonable enough on its face, but once you start to think about it for more than a few minutes it starts to fall apart quickly and completely. The important thing to consider here are the various demonstrable timelines for the persons who were involved with the alleged events that Porteous describes. To begin with, Porteous says that his time as Shorty Shea’s shadow lasted “four or five months.”  Since Shea’s own time ended at the end of August, 1969, four or five months earlier than that (five, to use the outside time estimate) would take us back to the beginning of April, 1969. April through August 1969 — that is the timeline into which Porteous has locked the duration of his alleged association with Donald Shea at Spahn’s Ranch.

Because Donald Shea disappeared on a fairly certain date and was presumed murdered, law enforcement officials put considerable effort into determining his actions in the weeks and months leading up to the date of that disappearance. The results of that effort were testified to by friends of Shea’s at the various trials of the persons eventually convicted of his murder, Charles Manson, Bruce Davis, and Steve Grogan. That testimony reveals an interesting fact, namely that for the vast majority of the time frame given by Pete Porteous as the period he associated with Donald Shea, Donald Shea was no nowhere near Spahn’s Ranch.

Perhaps a little background on Spahn’s Ranch and the situation there in the summer of 1969 would be helpful here. By August of 1969 the nominal “Movie Ranch” already had its best days behind it. Western movies and television shows were losing favor with the public and the demand for western sets for entertainment purposes was no longer great. (Nearby Corriganville, a much larger and more successful movie ranch than Spahn’s, closed its doors in 1965.) In 1969 Spahn’s Ranch mainly supported itself by renting out animals to outside events needing them (circuses and parades, for example) and by renting horses to riders who wanted to explore the rocky hills around the ranch in the Santa Susana Pass area. Spahn’s Ranch was not a bustling money-maker, but was rather a business that was barely getting by. This reality was evidenced by the fact that the wranglers who worked there were not paid any wages for their labors. Instead they got a place to sleep, meals to eat, and occasional cash allowances to buy such necessities as work clothes, gloves, and cigarettes. Spahn’s Ranch was not a place where anybody was likely to make a lot of money in show business, and thus there were no actual “stuntmen” hanging out there unless they had a real, paying job to perform, which, in the summer of 1969, none of them did. Most of the people who did work at the ranch could be classed as “down and outers,” people with nowhere else to go who were happy to exchange a day’s labor for a day’s place to stay. In August of 1969 Donald Shea was just such a person. He had no job, his wife had left him, and he was living in his car.

But what was Donald Shea doing before that? By examining the testimony of witnesses at the several murder trials held in connection with Shea’s disappearance we can construct a fairly complete timeline of where Donald Shea was before his arrival at Spahn’s Ranch in the middle of August, 1969.

We know from trial testimony from various prosecution witnesses that in the summer of 1968 Shea spent some time working at a salt manufacturing facility in the Vallejo, California area before returning to Los Angeles in the latter part of the year and taking up residence at Jerry Binder’s house at 8010 Hollywood Boulevard. Jerry Binder was a longtime friend and frequent employer of Donald Shea. He often let Shea live in his residences and loaned him money on many occasions when Shea had the need.

While staying at Binder’s Hollywood house Shea helped Binder with his mail order business selling adult literature and novelties from out of the house. Business was good, so Binder set up several shops where such merchandise could be purchased in person. Shea helped Binder with the setup of one such store in Las Vegas and then began working at Binder’s L.A. enterprise, the Hollywood Shopper book store.

Jerry Binder’s house on Hollywood Boulevard where Donald Shea lived in the spring of 1969

At some point in “the beginning of ’69,” according to Jerry Binder, Donald Shea was back in Las Vegas assisting with the physical work (setting up shelves, hanging signs, doing fixit work, etc.) involved with launching several of Binder's adult-oriented retail enterprises (the Swingers Boutique, the House of Paperbacks, and Book City) in the city. Shea worked at several of Binder’s retail outlets, waiting on customer and doing other odd jobs around the premises. At one of Binder’s establishments Shea was entrusted with keys to the business and acted as a sort of assistant manager. By April he was back in L.A. and hired by another friend of Binder’s, a Mr. Bromberg, to work at one of Bromberg’s drinking establishments. This time sequence is established in the testimony at the Grogan trial for Donald Shea’s murder when defense attorney Charles Weedman asked Binder when Shea started working in Bromberg’s beer bar:

“Do you recall when Mr. Shea was hired by Mr. Bromberg for the first time to work at one of his beer bars?”

“I can’t recall the exact date, no,” Binder replied.

“If I told you that it was around May of 1969 would that be…. substantially correct in your judgment?“

“No, I don’t think it was that late. It was earlier than that.”

So, starting earlier than May 1969 Shea was working in one of Mr. Bromberg’s beer joints in Los Angeles and was not at Spahn’s Movie Ranch working as a cowboy or stuntman.

Jerry Binder testified that Shea started working at Binder’s Swingers Boutique adult entertainment store in Las Vegas from the end of May and for “a little over a month.” If Binder’s testimony is to be believed (and he was a prosecution witness) that means that Shea was not in Los Angeles (much less at Spahn’s Ranch) for almost all of June of 1969.

Shea must have been in Los Angeles at some point in June of 1969, though, because Spahn’s Ranch forewoman Ruby Pearl recalled seeing him not at the ranch but at her house on DeSoto Street in Chatsworth where he picked up some photographic negatives featuring him at various jobs that he wanted to have printed up as part of his job-seeking resume. Regardless of that brief encounter, however, Pearl must not have seen Shea at Spahn’s Ranch in June because if she had she would have so testified later.

Ruby Pearl

On July 1, 1969, while still in Las Vegas, Shea married Magdalene Velma “Nikki” Fuery, a black topless dancer he had met earlier in Carson, California. The couple immediately encountered problems in Vegas, mostly to do with the fact that not too many people were willing to rent housing to a biracial couple. Thus Shea’s wife then left for L.A., according to Jerry Binder, “after a couple or two [sic] weeks.” Shea followed her, Binder continued, on “approximately the 25th [of July] — no wait. It had to be around the 30th.” Again, if Binder’s testimony is believed, that means that Shea was not in Los Angeles (much less at Spahn’s Ranch) for all of July of 1969.

Shea’s precise whereabouts in the first weeks of August are not known, but we can determine from Ruby Pearl testimonies that although Shea had been an on again/off again habituĂ© of Spahn’s Ranch for about fifteen years in the summer of 1969 she did not see him there until after the raid of August 16. From that time on Shea began living at the ranch in his car and she said she saw him on a daily basis. So, Shea apparently was not at Spahn’s Ranch during the first half of August.

All of this testimony presents a pretty convincing argument that Donald Shea was only sporadically in Los Angeles from late 1968 until mid-August of 1969 and that when Shea was in L.A. he was not at Spahn’s Ranch.

But still another indication that Shea was not in Los Angeles for the greater part of 1969 came in the testimony of Arch Hall, another Los Angeles-area friend of Shea’s who had loaned Shea money to buy a pair of matched western revolvers. Hall loaned Shea the money in August of 1968. Then, he didn’t hear from Shea again for a long time, which was unusual because when Shea was in Los Angeles he usually checked in with him at least every few weeks about employment opportunities.  At the Shea murder trial of Bruce Davis, L.A. Deputy District Attorney Stephen Kay asked Hall, “Now between the time that he purchased the guns from you in August of ’68 until the time he called in late July or early August ’69, had you heard from him?”

“No, I had not…. He said the he was very sorry that he hadn’t gotten back to take care of the payment [for the loan for the two guns]; and that he had been out of the [state] — I think he said he had been married in the meantime, and that he would come by in a few days and settle up and pick up the cameras and pay me the balance on the guns…. I gave [the time of the call] considerable thought before, and I think it was around the middle of August.”

Hall never heard from Shea again.

Now we have a fairly complete and convincing timeline showing that Donald Shea was not at Spahn’s Movie Ranch at the time Pete Porteous claims to have been with him there, from April to August of 1969. Shea’s whereabouts elsewhere are partially documented for the latter part of 1968 up until May of ’69, and are well documented for June, July, and August of '69. (And it could be added here that if Porteous was at Spahn’s Ranch for any amount of time in April or May of 1969 he must have been skipping a considerable amount of his school classes. That’s not an impossibility, of course, but the reader might want to consider the likelihood that a ten-year-old boy would be truant from school for two months in 1969.)

Not only was Donald Shea not at Spahn’s Ranch when Porteous says he knew him there, but the other people described by Porteous as being present were also very likely not there. Monty Laird worked at nearby Corriganville, but there is no record of him working at Spahn’s Ranch in the summer of 1969. Joe Soto is another stuntman claimed by Porteous to have been at Spahn’s. But in 1969 Joe Soto was forty years old and had, according to his obituary, begun a 25-year stint working as a heavy equipment operator four years earlier, in 1965. (Perhaps not coincidentally, Corriganville closed in 1965.) Is it believable that Soto would take a several-months-long break from his burgeoning career operating heavy machinery in the spring and summer of 1969 so he could hang around Spahn’s Ranch hoping to pick up work as a stuntman? (In her trial testimony during the Shea multi-murder trials Spahn’s Ranch forewoman Ruby Pearl said that the only people working as ranch hands in the summer of 1969 were Randy Starr, Larry Craven, Bennie Dietrich, and, later, John Schwarz and Juan Flynn -- not Monte Laird, Joe Soto, or even Donald Shea.)

Another factor which casts doubt on Porteous’ recollections of his life at Spahn’s Ranch are those very recollections, especially the memories of the bad blood and numerous violent encounters between Shea and his stuntman friends and Charles Manson, two of which encounters Porteous claims to have actually witnessed.

Ruby Pearl worked for George Spahn for almost twenty years. In the summer of 1969 she worked at the ranch every day, seven days a week, from mid-morning to late in the evening. She oversaw the operation of just about every aspect of the ranch. If there had been enough disharmony to result in multiple violent encounters she certainly would have known about it. But she never had any such recollection. In fact, aside from a few incidents when “Family” vehicles got too close to horseback riders on one of the riding trails, she recalled no trouble at all  between Manson and his friends and the other people at the ranch.

“We liked ‘em all,” Pearl later testified about Manson and the people with him. “George liked them, and I liked them.”

“You liked Mr. Manson?” asked Manson defense attorney Irving Kanarek.

“We never had an argument. Never had an argument.”

“You never had any argument with Mr. Manson at all?”




“And you never saw Mr. Manson have any argument with anyone else?”




It is pretty clear from that testimony that Spahn’s Ranch was a relatively harmonious place in the spring and early summer of 1969 and not a place where ranch denizens were regularly getting into violent confrontations with visiting stuntmen. (If it had been, the ever-present and all-seeing Ruby Pearl would have been well aware of such incidents. Not to mention all of the other persons who were unquestionably present at the ranch who also don’t recall such violent episodes. And also not to mention that such a violent undercurrent between Manson and Shea would surely have been known to the prosecution during the Shea murder trials and they just as surely would have introduced evidence of such an undercurrent to support their theory that “The Family” had something to do with Shea’s disappearance.)

There are still other thoughts that I’ve had about Pete Porteous’ claims that I have expressed here. I would encourage interested parties to read those thoughts and add them to the information that has been presented here. Because when you read those thoughts and consider what I’ve shown here I’m sure you’ll agree that it’s very reasonable to conclude that neither Donald Shea nor any of his supposed cowboy compadres were at Spahn’s Ranch when Pete Porteous claims they were there. And thus we also can state with near certainty that Porteous’ claims of ongoing hostility and violence between Manson and Porteous’ stuntman pals are also without foundation.

So, in the final analysis you can take Pete Porteous’ reminiscences about his life at Spahn’s Ranch and file them along with the fake mug shots, phony personalities, and outlandish new lies (e.g., Jeff Guinn’s recent uncontested Dateline assertion that Charles Manson went to the Polanski residence after the murders there and draped an American flag over the back of the couch) as an insult to anyone who considers themselves to be a serious student of this case. Because I don’t think it’s likely that Pete Porteous ever met or knew Donald Shea. He probably met or knew Monty Laird and Joe Soto. He might even have been to Spahn’s Ranch at some time in his childhood. But otherwise, Pete Porteous is a fantasist, a fabulist, and a fraud. He is like countless other individuals who have dishonestly latched onto the Tata-LaBianca murder case in order to attract attention to themselves.

I’ve been asked, “If he’s making it up, why?” I’m not inside Pete Porteous’ mind, so I can’t definitively answer that question. But perhaps getting attention is enough of a motive. Perhaps, like his supposed mentor, he is a dreamer seeking stardom. And perhaps the only way he can get some sort of stardom is to claim that he was buddies with tough guys who beat up Charles Manson. But whatever the motivation, it doesn’t justify what he is doing. For by fabricating a relationship with Donald Shea Porteous actually dishonors the hapless, would-be stuntman he so ardently claims to admire. And in doing so he cheapens Shea’s life by using Shea and his unfortunate demise as props in the furtherance of his own publicity-seeking agenda.

Pete Porteous and Matt at Spahn’s Movie Ranch on the MF Blog 2015 Tour. (And yes, that’s Stoner and St. Circumstance hitting a pipe in the background.)

Pete Porteous’ bio on IMBd

Pete Porteous accidentally gets shot while performing in a mock gunfight

Pete Porteous fantasizing  about his time with Donald Shea at Spahn’s Ranch on You Tube

The Indiegogo fundraising page for one of Pete Porteous’ recent film projects