Rachel M. Johnson is a lover of all things pop culture. She's been writing about music and entertainment online for years.
The entertainment industry is no stranger to scandal and mystery. Throughout the decades, Hollywood has crafted compelling stories onscreen, but what happens off? With a history plagued by suspicious deaths and startling disappearances, here are 10 real-life Tinseltown mysteries.
Thelma Todd (1935)
Throughout the late 20s and early 30s, Thelma Todd was one of the most prominent comedic actresses in film. She is perhaps best remembered for her roles in Marx Brothers' Monkey Business and Horse Feathers, as well as a slew of Charley Chase's short comedies and Laurel & Hardy films.
On the morning of December 16, 1935, the 29-year-old starlet was found dead in her car inside the garage of silent film actress Jewel Carmen. Todd had been romantically involved with Carmen's husband, director Roland West. The death was initially ruled an accident then later changed to suicide by carbon monoxide poisoning.
However, many believe foul play to be involved, due to Todd having had a broken nose and blood on her face and dress. West and mobster Lucky Luciano were questioned, but no arrest was made. Her death has since remained a mystery.
Marilyn Monroe (1962)
The iconic blonde bombshell Marilyn Monroe was one of the most popular sex symbols of the 1950s and had a highly successful career in films such as Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, How to Marry a Millionaire, Some Like It Hot, and The Seven Year Itch. At the time of her death, Monroe's films had grossed $200 million ($2 billion in 2017). Her love life and personal struggles were heavily reported on throughout her career.
The beloved actress was found dead in her Brentwood home on August 5, 1962, from an apparent barbiturate overdose. She was 36. Her death was officially ruled a probable suicide, but a number of conspiracy theories exist surrounding her death. These theories range from the Kennedy family, to the CIA, to her personal doctor and housekeeper, to even the involvement of the mafia.
Bob Crane (1978)
Bob Crane became a household name for his portrayal of Colonel Robert E. Hogan in the sitcom show Hogan's Heroes. Though the show highlighted a wholesome image, Crane's personal life was far from PG. In fact, the actor had a deep, dark secret: he was a sex addict. His addiction only grew stronger after he developed a friendship with Sony Electronics sales manager John Henry Carpenter.
Carpenter introduced Crane to camera equipment usage, and together he and the actor would meet women and videotape their sexual encounters. The star would go on to craft a raunchy portfolio of Polaroids and videos. Sadly, this sexual addiction would play a role in his untimely death.
In 1978, the 49-year-old was found bludgeoned to death by a camera tripod in his Arizona apartment. Carpenter was arrested and tried for the murder, but a jury found him not guilty. He claimed innocence until he died in 1998. The case remains unsolved.
William Desmond Taylor (1922)
William Desmond Taylor was a successful silent film director in the 1910s and early 1920's. On February 2, 1922, his body was discovered in his home, and the movie studio was notified before the police. A "doctor" claimed the director had died from natural causes, but the mysterious man was never seen again.
By the time the police arrived, they found multiple actors and studio executives sifting through Taylor's belongings as he lay dead on the floor. Upon examination, police discovered he died from a gunshot wound to the back. Actress Mabel Normand and Taylor's valet Henry Peavey were initially considered suspects, but there was no sufficient evidence against them. The press covered the murder heavily, but no person was ever arrested and the death remains a cold case.
George Reeves (1959)
Actor George Reeves became a hero to children across the country when he donned the famous 'S' and took on the iconic role of Superman, in the 1950s series Adventures of Superman. Though the role helped him break into Hollywood, Reeves reportedly felt pigeon-holed and soon became unhappy with his career.
In the early hours of the morning on June 16, 1959, Reeves died of a gunshot wound to the head. Police arrived at the scene within an hour, and found Reeves's fiance Leonore Lemmon, William Bliss, Carol Van Ronkel, and writer Robert Condon. They had delayed calling the police, which they attributed to their intoxicated state.
Many believe the superhero was murdered, and did not commit suicide. Reeves had previously had a relationship with Toni Mannix, wife of MGM Studio executive Eddie Mannix. Some believe Mannix had Reeves killed for his wife, while others saw Lemmon as the probable killer. What exactly happened that night remains unknown.
Natalie Wood (1981)
Natalie Wood was a beloved movie star who received 3 Academy Award nominations before she turned 25. Her most prominent film roles include Miracle on 34th Street, Rebel Without a Cause, and West Side Story. The actress had two highly-publicized marriages to her husband Robert Wagner, whom she was married to at the time of her death.
On November 29, 1981, Wood's body was recovered by authorities floating in the water face-down, dressed in a flannel nightgown. The actress, along with husband Wagner and friend Christopher Walken had celebrated Thanksgiving at sea. The autopsy concluded that Wood died from drowning and hypothermia. She also had bruises on her body and arms as well as a cut on her left cheek. It was presumed that she had slipped into the water when trying to board a dingy.
Speculation began swirling why the starlet was trying to leave the yacht in the first place. It was reported that Wood had fought with Wagner the night before over her relationship with Walken. However, due to conflicting witness statements no arrest was ever made. Wood's death was ruled a drowning and other undetermined factors. The case remains unsolved.
Johnny Stompanato (1958)
Johnny Stompanato was a bodyguard and enforcer for gangster Mickey Cohen and the Cohen crime family. In 1957, Stompanato began a relationship with actress Lana Turner, which often proved to be toxic. On April 4, 1958, the enforcer was stabbed to death by Turner's teenage daughter Cheryl Crane at her mother's home. The 17-year-old alleged that Stompanato had been viciously attacking her mother, so she stabbed him in self-defense.
The killing was ruled a justifiable homicide, though Turner was sued for $750,000 by his family (it was later settled for $20,000). Although, many have speculated that it was actually Lana who killed Stompanato, and that Crane took the fall for her mother.
Jean Sprangler (1949)
Jean Sprangler was an actress and model would mysteriously disappeared in 1949, at the age of 26. It was reported that she left her Los Angeles home around 5 p.m. on October 7, 1949, and told her sister-in-law she was going to meet her ex-husband and discuss child support then go to work at a night shoot. The aspiring actress failed to show up the next day, and she was formally reported missing.
Police would find Sprangler's purse two days later in Griffith Park, along with an unfinished note addressed to someone named "Kirk." Sprangler's family had no idea who Kirk was, and they claimed she was pregnant at the time and was seeking an abortion (they were illegal at the time). The young woman was never seen again, and her case remains open.
Bruce Lee (1973)
Bruce Lee was a Hong Kong and American actor and martial artist and is widely considered to be one of the most influential martial artists of all time. At the time of his death Lee had been suffering from headaches and seizures, and had taken an analgesic, Equagesic. The actor went to lie down around 7:30 p.m., and when he did not show up for dinner producer Raymond Chow attempted to wake Lee up.
A doctor was summoned and attempted to revive Lee. He was sent by ambulance to Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Hong Kong where he was dead on arrival. According to the autopsy, Lee's brain had swollen from 1,400 to 1,575 grams. Lee died from an allergic reaction to the tranquilizer meprobamate, a main ingredient in Equagesic.
Although it was officially ruled "death by misadventure," wild theories and speculation surrounded the 32-year-old actor's death. Rumors ranged from Lee having been cursed to him being killed by Hong Kong triads (gangsters) for refusing to pay them protection money.
Bobby Fuller (1966)
In 1966, Bobby Fuller was an up-and-coming singer who was making a name for himself along with his band, The Bobby Fuller Four. Their hit single, "I Fought The Law", was soaring up the charts and received heavy radio airplay. Sadly, his promising career took a tragic turn when he was found dead on July 18, 1966 inside his parked car. Though the initial ruling was suicide, it was revealed that Fuller had been doused with gasoline and a gas can was located on the floorboard.
Authorities believed the singer had died from inhaling the gasoline fumes, but he also had bruises and blood was found on the car seat. While he had been dead for several hours, his car had only been parked in front of his Los Angeles apartment for a short period. Many speculate the perpetrator was unable to set the car on fire before fleeing. The 23-year-old's death is clouded in suspicion, and no formal arrest had ever been made.