The Only Manson Family Killer to be Paroled

Steve Dennis Grogan was born on July 13, 1951 in Los Angeles County. He grew up in Chatsworth, California — not far from Spahn Ranch. In 1967, Steve was a junior at Simi Valley High School.

Image for post
Image for post
Steve Grogan’s photograph in the 1967–1968 Simi Valley High School yearbook

But by the spring of ’68, Steve had dropped out of high school. His parents were very upset with him. After lazing about the house for a while, they drove him to nearby Spahn Ranch and dropped him off. We assume the family had some prior relationship with the ranch or its’ owner, 79-year old George Spahn. Perhaps they rode ponies there, or maybe they knew old George? Hard to say.

Steve became the ‘stable boy’ at the ranch. He wasn’t paid for his work — by 1968 none of Spahn’s hired help were getting paid (with the exception of Ruby Pearl) because George was broke and deeply in debt to the I.R.S.

According to Steve,

They had a back ranch-house that I lived in and I worked odd jobs, guiding tours for writers and cleaning up the ranch… The rent was free… It was just an old shack. It had no electricity or hot water or anything. Just a place to rest.

— Steve Grogan, from his 1981 parole hearing

Image for post
Image for post
Spahn Ranch

Steve was already living and working at the ranch when the Manson Family arrived there, sometime in the summer of 1968.

Before living at Spahn Ranch in Chatsworth, the Family lived at various houses in the Topanga area, and then with Beach Boys’ drummer Dennis Wilson.

After learning of Spahn Ranch, which Charlie felt would be a good location for his growing group, the Family just showed up there one day.

George heard the ranch hands talking about a school bus full of hippies camped in the woods nearby. A few days later, he heard the sound of singing from inside the rundown house where he lived. Then he heard a tap at the screen door. He got up and shuffled to the door, wearing his dark sunglasses and weather-beaten cowboy hat.

The high-pitched voices of what sounded like teen girls told him they’d had car trouble and would it be okay if they crashed there for a few days? There was only a few of us, just a handful of kids, they told him. George wasn’t keen on strangers staying on his land, but if it were just a couple of nights, that’d be okay.

The next morning he woke to the sound of weeds being clipped near his living room window, the scrapes of raking against the desert brush and rustle of tall grass. He shouted out the window for someone to tell him what was going on. The wranglers said there was a bunch of long-haired kids — girls and boys — clearing some of the brush, tidying things up. George supposed that was alright.

— The Manson Family: More to the Story by H. Allegra Lansing, published June 2019 from Swann Publications

The Family were at Spahn Ranch for a few weeks before they heard stories about a wild boy living out in the wilds. That boy was Steve Grogan. Lynette Fromme (aka Squeaky) recalled:

I later spied him by the creek. He looked older than sixteen, tall and muscular, with wide shoulders, and a narrow waist. Another day I saw him on top of the haystack, just watching us. His hair was the color of the fox… Then I saw him talking to Charlie, and after that he came closer to all of us girls. Some of us were shy of him because he had no pretense. He wanted to make love to all of us — not just to lie down, but to steal the moments when we stood on the boardwalk talking, to slide up, wrap his arms aroun dus, and move us like Charlie did.

— Reflexion by Lynette Fromme, published 2018 from The Peasenhall Press

Image for post
Image for post
Steve Grogan, in a screenshot from the 1973documentary “Manson”

Most of the male members of the so-called Manson Family were really just friends, associates. Many were there to enjoy the favors of the women. Some like to participate in the steady stream of drugs. But Clem was one of the few who thoroughly believed Manson’s philosophy:

He started taking drugs with the Family, participating in group sex and embracing Charlie’s wacky philosophies. Grogan was viewed as ‘not too bright’, possibly even mentally retarded, but in retrospect it seems that Clem (as he was nicknamed) was simply a very good puppet.

’Clem wasn’t dumb,’ Paul Watkins clarified. ‘It was just that he adopted Charlie’s program so completely that he became an idiot’. The girls called Grogan ‘Scramblehead’.

— The Manson Family: More to the Story by H. Allegra Lansing, published June 2019 from Swann Publications (including citation from My Life with Charles Manson by Paul Watkins with Guillermo Soledad ©1979 Bantam Books)

In the fall of 1968, the Family departed for Death Valley. Charlie had long been enamored of the desert, and the isolation made it an ideal place to keep out of the watchful eyes of police, as well as to control his followers. But he returned to Los Angeles that November, refocused on his music career and relying upon the connections he could make through Dennis Wilson and his influential friends.

Clem had remained at the ranch, and various women of the Family had stayed there as well to keep an eye on old George. But the Family were not welcomed to return, en masse, to Chatsworth. So Charlie found a house to rent in Canoga Park, until he and Squeaky could sweet-talk old George into letting the Family come back. He acquiessed in March 1969.

Meanwhile, Clem was now 17 years old and completely unhinged.

On May 20th, Clem was arrested for grand theft auto and released…

On June 11th, Steve Grogan aka Clem aka Scramblehead was arrested for indecent exposure. He was near a private girls’ school and his jeans had a hole near the crotch, his penis visible through the hole. An adult called the cops. Clem was charged with ‘molestation’. A few days later, he was sentenced to a local mental institution…

On July 19th, Scramblehead Clem walked himself out of the mental hospital, following the previous month’s arrest. He was back at the ranch by mid-week.

— The Manson Family: More to the Story by H. Allegra Lansing, published June 2019 from Swann Publications

In August, Grogan accompanied Manson, Tex Watson, Susan Atkins, Patricia Krenwinkel, Leslie Van Houten and Linda Kasabian on the second night of what was to be the start of Helter Skelter: Manson’s prophesized global race war. The night before, Watson, Atkins, Krenwinkel and Kasabian went to the Benedict Canyon home of actress Sharon Tate and killed her and her four houseguests. The plan was to commit a series of brutal and gruesome murders that would be blamed on black people, and then white people would kill black people in retaliation, and kickstart Helter Skelter (the race war that Manson believed was imminent). The murders of Tate and her friends was certainly horrifying, but apparently it wasn’t enough for Manson: the city of Los Angeles didn’t erupt in the rioting and street warfare that he predicted, so he sent the killers out again. This time he joined them, along with Clem and Leslie Van Houten.

Watson, Van Houten and Kasabian went into the Los Feliz home of married business owners Rosemary and Leno LaBianca and savagely killed them.

Manson, Grogan, Kasabian and Atkins left the neighborhood where the LaBianca’s lived and drove to Santa Monica and Venice. Manson ordered the other three to kill a man in Venice Beach that Linda knew, and then he went to a diner for a snack before returning to Spahn Ranch. But the other three failed to kill.

A week later, Spahn Ranch was raided by more than one hundred law enforcement personnel, following an investigation into auto theft. The Family (including Grogan) was arrested, but released a couple days later when the judge realized they’d been taken into custody on a misdated warrant.

Image for post
Image for post
A mugshot of Steve Grogan

More than a week after the raid, Manson had grown increasingly suspicious of another ranch hand, Donald ‘Shorty’ Shea.

His dislike of the ranch hand was already well known. “He would bring it up in conversation around dinner…” Steve Grogan recounted at his 1981 parole hearing. “Over a period it grew worse until we were raided by the police, where everything we had was taken… all our tools and cars and all the possessions that we had accumulated. And plus the children were taken, too. Everybody was arrested on the ranch. In fact the only person who was left was George Spahn and he was blind. We spent three days in jail and we were released. We didn’t get back none of our property. The pink slips were confiscated, along with our property, to four or five dune buggies that we couldn’t get back from them. The children were put into foster homes. What it really did was make everybody really upset at this guy, because I was led to believe that he was doing it to get us evicted off the ranch, to get us thrown off the ranch. That was the only place we had to stay at the time.”

— The Manson Family: More to the Story by H. Allegra Lansing, published June 2019 from Swann Publications (including citation from Steve Grogan’s 1981 parole hearing)

Shea was also in conversation with Spahn’s neighbor, Frank Retz. Retz had recently purchased part of the property and was negotiating with old Spahn to purchase. Spahn’s own terms for the acquisition was that Retz needed to get The Family off the property.

The week before the raid, Frank Retz saw Charlie throw a knife at Shea, with the knife tip hitting a door right in front of where Shorty had been walking. Retz was scared. He told Spahn he wanted to hire guards. George suggested Shea and Retz met with the stuntman.

— The Manson Family: More to the Story by H. Allegra Lansing, published June 2019 from Swann Publications

Image for post
Image for post
George Spahn with Family member Catherine ‘Cappy’ Gillies

Allegedly, Retz asked about hiring Shea in the hearing of Squeaky Fromme.

Image for post
Image for post
Lynette ‘Squeaky’ Fromme was always Charlie’s eyes and ears around Spahn Ranch

Sometime between August 26 and 29, Charlie told several of his followers to kill Shorty Shea. Shorty got into a car with Tex Watson, Steve Grogan and Bruce Davis. They drove to a spot up the road, near the ranch. When Shorty pulled over, Watson told Grogan to hit the ranch hand in the head with a wrench.

I was supposed to hit this guy in the back of the head… Tex was urging me, you know, come on hit this guy. I kept hesitating. He pulled out a knife that he had. I guess that’s what finally, you know, put me over the edge.

— Steve Grogan from his 1981 parole hearing

After Watson cut Shea with the knife and Grogan hit him with the wrench, another car pulled up behind them. In that car was William Rex Cole (also known as Bill Vance), Larry Giddings (aka Larry Bailey) and Charles Manson.

I was handed a knife and told to stab him, and I stabbed him twice in the chest. And some others were told the same.

— Steve Grogan from his 1981 parole hearing

Bruce Davis also cut Shorty, near the collar. Grogan could not recall whether Manson actually cut Shea or not. But after Shorty was dead, Manson told Grogan to bury the body, and warned him to tell everyone that it was an even more vicious murder than it was — as a warning to anyone else who was not loyal to him.

I was told to take him, drag him into some bushes that were further from the highway, cover him up ’til night, come back at night and bury him. And the others left so I came back at night and buried him…

He told me to say that we had mutilated the body… this statement would bring more fear to the people rather than just stab the guy the way we did.

— Steve Grogan from his 1981 parole hearing

The next day, Shorty’s body was dug up and reburied in another location, and his car was driven out to Canoga Park and abandoned. Allegedly, most of the women in the Family participated in this cover-up. The police later found a handprint belonging to Bruce Davis on the car.

Image for post
Image for post
Manson Family victim Donald Jerome Shea — 1933 to 1969

Steve Grogan was convicted in 1971 of first degree murder for the death of Shorty Shea, along with Bruce Davis and Charles Manson. Tex Watson was never charged with Shea’s death — he was, however, found guilty of the murder of the seven Tate/LaBianca victims. William Cole and Larry Giddings were also never charged with Shea’s murder.

He was sentenced to death but the Judge decided that Grogan was ‘too stupid’ and drugged-up to be fully responsible for his crime, and changed the sentence to life in prison.

In 1975, while serving at Vacaville State Prison, Grogan married and fathered two sons. Later, he served at the Deuel Vocational Institute in Tracy, California where Grogan reconnected with Bobby Beausoleil. The two regularly performed music together while incarcerated.

In 1981, after he was shivved by a fellow inmate, Grogan agreed to inform authorities of the burial site of Shorty’s body in hopes of gaining an early release. Shea’s remains were located in 1987.

Grogan was freed from prison the following year — the only member of the Manson Family convicted of murder to go free, so far.

— The Manson Family: More to the Story by H. Allegra Lansing, published June 2019 from Swann Publications

Steve Grogan is the only Manson Family killer to have been paroled from prison.

While serving his sentence, Grogan married a woman named Kathryn in 1975, and fathered two sons with her. After his release from prison, he found work as a housepainter. He divorced and remarried a woman named Janice, a clinical psychologist.

These days, Steve is a musician, performing in a variety of Bay Area bands. Here are some links to his performances:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZOSvMiUfoQ8

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RItuAmcbRtQ

From all reports, shortly after Grogan was incarcerated for his capital offense, he began to work at rehabilitating himself. He had no major infractions during his prison term, and no legal issues since his 1988 release. He has never spoken publicly about his time in the Manson Family, or the crimes he participated in. He lives a quiet life today.

A version of this article originally appeared at MansonFamily.net

Read about the early years of Charles Manson here:

And you can learn more about recent parole efforts for The Manson Family here:

Written by

Author of the “More to the Story” true crime nonfiction series. https://www.mansonfamily.net/

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store