From the dawn of the first silent film starlets, Hollywood has been embroiled in scandal. Public interest in the private affairs of the celebrity elite spawned long before paparazzi, glossy magazines and gossip websites were around to stir the pot. In a post 1800’s society, the dawn of motion pictures opened up the world of celebrity as we know it.
Even if you don’t take an active interest in the celebrity world, it’s hard to avoid hearing about it, especially when tragedy strikes. These days, if a Kardashian blinks, we know about it.
There have been numerous unexplained deaths over the course of the 21st century, including some of Hollywood’s best loved stars. When the evidence doesn’t add up, or the circumstances are unsavory, it causes widespread speculation that lasts a lifetime. The early tabloids were even more unforgiving than today’s media machine, with a penchant for sensationalizing and fabricating details to feed the public obsession with celebrity.
From high profile murder cases to strange disappearances, mystery has always surrounded the stars of the screen and musicians alike. Some of the cases included in this list have changed the face of Hollywood forever, in more tragic ways than you can imagine.
15. BOB CRANE
Bob Crane was a popular American radio personality and actor. Crane was best known for his role in the CBS sitcom Hogan’s Heroes. In 1978, after missing a lunch meeting, Crane was found bludgeoned to death in his Scottsdale apartment. No weapon was identified, although investigators believed it to be a camera tripod. With little evidence to go on, police questioned long-time friend of Crane’s, John Henry Carpenter. Although they found splatters of blood that matched Crane’s blood type in Carpenter’s car, Maricopa County Attorney declined to press charges. The case was re-opened in 1990, when a detective re-examined evidence and found a photograph that seemed to show brain tissue in Carpenter’s car. Carpenter was charged with murder in 1992, but acquitted in 1994, with the defense calling the evidence circumstantial. Carpenter protested his innocence until his death. Crane’s son remains convinced of his guilt, but the case remains unsolved.
14. VIRGINIA RAPPE
The sudden death of 1920’s model and actress, Virginia Rappe caused a media frenzy. Rappe attended a Labor Day party thrown by Roscoe Arbuckle, the famous movie star. Despite there being a host of others in attendance, the events of that night remain unclear. At some point in the evening, Rappe took ill. She was seen by the hotel doctor, who put her symptoms down to drunkenness. Rappe was hospitalized two days later, and died on September 9th from a ruptured bladder. Rappe had had several botched abortions, venereal disease and suffered from cystitis, all of which could have contributed to her death. However, claims that she was raped by Arbuckle stuck. Although no one witnessed a crime and after a physical examination there were no signs of rape, Arbuckle was charged with manslaughter. He protested his innocence. After three arduous trials, he was acquitted. His career never recovered.
13. THELMA TODD
Thelma Todd was an American starlet, business woman and socialite. On December 15th 1935, Todd attended a party at Hollywood hang out Trocodero. During the course of the evening, she had a run in with her abusive ex-husband, movie producer and alleged mobster, Pat DiCocco. Although friends said that she was in good spirits, Todd was found dead in her car the next morning in the garage of Jewel Carmen, ex-wife of Todd’s lover, Ronald West. LAPD ruled Todd’s death as accidental, perhaps from her turning the car heater on to keep herself warm. Rumors circulated that West had locked Todd out of the house and she went to the car to sleep instead. Autopsy reports showed no signs of violent struggles, but there are unofficial reports of greater injury. Whatever happened that fateful evening remains unknown. Hollywood lost one of the most promising starlets that night, under tragic circumstances.
12. PETER IVERS
Musician Peter Ivers was best known for being the host of early 1980’s music show, New Wave Theatre. On March 3rd 1983, Ivers was found bludgeoned to death with a hammer in his LA apartment. The detectives handling the case did a spectacularly bad job, letting friends and family into the crime scene, and even letting producer of New Wave Theatre, Dave Jove, leave with blood stained blankets. Several of Ivers friends suspected Jove of the murder, but due to the botched investigation there was no evidence to support the claims. Ivers girlfriend, Lucy Fisher, even hired a PI to try and solve the crime, but the case eventually stalled out, with no further suspects.
11. DAVID CARRADINE
Star of Kill Bill and martial artist, David Carradine, had a career that spanned decades. In 2009, whilst shooting upcoming film Stretch, Carradine was found dead in his Bangkok hotel room. He was found naked, hanging by his neck in the room closet. Whilst authorities initially thought it was suicide, experts judged it death by autoerotic asphyxiation. Following his death, two of his ex-wives publicly spoke about Carradine’s interest in self-bondage and deviant sexual practices. However, some of his relatives believe that it was an assassination by an underworld martial arts group Carradine was trying to expose. When Carradine was found, his hands were tied behind his back and there was a shoe print on the bed that didn’t match his shoes. Although there may have been some evidence of foul play, nothing ever came of it.
10. RONNI CHASEN
Ronnie Chasen was an American publicist with some pretty impressive clients. She once represented Michael Douglas and musician Hans Zimmer. Whilst driving back from the premiere of the movie Burlesque on November 16th 2010, Chasen was shot three times, causing her to crash her car. When paramedics arrived at the scene, Chasen was slipping in and out of consciousness. She was pronounced dead at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. The assailant wasn’t found at time, and rumors circulated that it could have been a road rage incident. However, police received a tip off through America’s Most Wanted that lead them to known felon Harold Martin Smith. When the police confronted him, Smith shot himself in the head with the same gun that was used to shoot Chasen. With no definitive answer as to why Chasen was murdered, police believe that it was a robbery gone wrong. Chasen was 64 years old.
9. KURT COBAIN
Perhaps one of the most famous celebrity deaths of all time, the 1994 suicide of Nirvana front man Kurt Cobain is a favorite amongst conspiracy theorists and disgruntled fans. Cobain was a troubled man, who struggled with the pressures of fame. Cobain escaped from the LA rehab facility, Exodus, on March 30th 1994, and although he was seen around Seattle the following few days, his family were unaware of his whereabouts. Cobain was found dead on April 8th in his Lake Washington home, by apparent suicide from a shotgun shot. High amounts of heroin and diazepam were also found in his system, causing many to wonder how he would be able to shoot himself in that condition. Due to several inconsistencies, many speculated that Cobain’s wife Courtney Love orchestrated the murder when she found out he wanted to file for divorce.
8. ELIZABETH SHORT
Known as ‘The Black Dahlia’, the 1947 murder of aspiring actress Elizabeth Short shook Los Angeles. Short’s body was found butchered, dismembered, and in two halves at a vacant lot by a passer-by walking her three-year-old daughter. The brutality of the murder was enough to create a media frenzy that went down in history. Newspapers wrongfully sensationalized the case and deformed Short’s character to sell the story. Police were contacted by an unknown source who mailed them several personal items of Short’s, including an address book belonging to Mark Hansen, an acquaintance of hers. He became a suspect, but was never charged. Over 50 people have confessed to the murder since, but no credible leads were ever found.
7. JACK NANCE
Boston born actor, Jack Nance, was well known thanks to his collaborations with director David Lynch. On November 29th 1996, Nance dined with friends who questioned him about a large bruise he had on his face, under his eye. Nance brushed it off and said he had gotten into a fight outside of a doughnut shop with a youth who he had exchanged words with. Nance went home early, excusing himself as he had a headache. The next day, he was found dead on the bathroom floor of his apartment. The autopsy revealed that he died of a subdural hematoma as a result of the fight. Whilst police investigated the death as a homicide, no arrests were ever made.
6. THOMAS INCE
Also known as ‘Father of the Western’, Thomas Ince was an American silent film director, who made an impressive 800 films. Also credited as founding Hollywood’s first major studio, Ince did a lot to revolutionize the film industry. Officially, Ince died of heart failure in 1924, although this was disputed. Ince, his wife and several other friends including Charlie Chaplin, were spending a few days on the yacht of William Randolph Hearst. Ince fell ill with acute indigestion due to aggravating his peptic ulcer. He was hospitalized and later taken to his home, where he died. However, theories circulated that Ince was shot by Hearst who mistook him for Chaplin. This rumor started after one of the servants on board said he saw Ince being carried off, bleeding from a gunshot wound. Many other stories of hush money and big pay offs circulated, but were denied by those on board.
5. JOHNNY STOMPANATO
Unlike the rest of the celebrities on this list, Johnny Stompanato wasn’t famous in his own right. Although he had established a reputation as a bodyguard following his stint as a marine, Stompanato entered the public eye when he began dating actress Lana Turner in 1957. The relationship was anything but a fairy tale, and Stompanato was known to fly into jealous rages. On April 4th 1958, Stompanato was stabbed to death at Turner’s home in Beverley Hills, by her teenage daughter Cheryl Crane. Crane claimed that Stompanato was beating Turner and she acted to defend her. Several other stories are still discussed, including the possibility that it was Turner who committed the crime, and Crane took the blame to save her the scandal. What do you think?
4. NATALIE WOOD
Natalie Wood had a glittering acting career, and was the wife of heartthrob Robert Wagner. The circumstances around Wood’s death are unclear. On November 29th 1981, Wood, Wagner and actor Christopher Walken were on a weekend boat trip to Santa Catalina Island when Wood drowned. She was found a mile away from the boat with an inflatable dingy washed up nearby. Nobody could explain how Wood ended up in the water, and the death was ruled an accident. Wood’s body was also bruised, and she had an abrasion on her left cheek. The case was reopened in 2011, when the captain of the boat told police that Wagner and Wood had argued the night before her death. Wagner denies any wrongdoing, and although the death certificate was amended to read ‘drowning and other undetermined factors’, we may never know what lead to the demise of Natalie Wood.
3. MARILYN MONROE
It’s not an unsolved mystery list if you don’t have Marilyn Monroe on it. On the morning of August 5th 1962, Monroe was found dead by apparent suicide in her Brentwood home. Although the case looked clean cut, there are people out there who believe that Monroe was murdered by the Kennedy family, who didn’t like her relationship with the president’s brother Robert and were worried about how much she knew. Depending on what accounts you read, some sources state that Monroe was visited by a man and Rob Kennedy the day of her death, and witnesses of the visit were threatened into silence. Some also say that when the paramedics were called, Monroe was alive and received treatment. The possibility of foul play here is harrowing – and regardless of the truth, a sad end to the life of the troubled blonde bombshell.
2. WILLIAM DESMOND TAYLOR
William Desmond Taylor was an Irish-born director silent films. On February 2nd 1922, he was found shot dead in his apartment in a well to do area of Los Angeles. The motive was unclear as Taylor’s wallet and other valuables were intact, although a large quantity of money he withdrew the previous day was unaccounted for. Speculation was rife at the time, with newspapers often completely fabricating stories to sell copies. According to one source who interviewed a retired LAPD officer a year after the murder, the investigation was making progress before officers were told to leave the case alone. There was speculation that the film studios were worried about the damage to their reputation and loss of money and hushed the case. Although there were several suspects, no one was ever charged and the case went unsolved.
1. JEAN SPANGLER
Dancer and actress Jean Spangler mysteriously disappeared at the age of 26. On October 7th 1949, Spangler left her Los Angeles home, saying she was going to meet her ex-husband, Dexter Benner, to discuss a late child support payment. Spangler was never seen again. Benner was questioned, but provided an alibi. Spangler’s purse was discovered two days later, with a note inside that read, “Can’t wait any longer, going to see Dr. Scott. It will work best this way while mother is away.” It was addressed to ‘Kirk’, but neither a Kirk or Doctor Scott were identified. Friends of Spangler told police that she was pregnant and planning an illegal abortion. Another theory was that Spangler had ran away with Davy Ogul, an associate of mobster Mickey Cohen, to avoid prosecution. In 1950, a sighting of Ogul and Spangler was reported in Texas, however it couldn’t be verified. The case remains open.
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