Hollywood is known for creating unforgettable mysteries on screen, but some of the most compelling mysteries in Tinseltown have happened off screen. The entertainment world is riddled with scandal, and has a history plagued by suspicious deaths, shocking disappearances, and cold-blooded murder.
Here are 10 real-life Hollywood mysteries so fascinating, they’re stranger than fiction.
WILLIAM DESMOND TAYLOR
During the 1920s, William Desmond Taylor was a successful silent film director. On February 2, 1922, his body was discovered in his home. The movie studio was called in before the police, and a “doctor” claimed Taylor had died of natural causes. The “doctor” was never seen again.
When police arrived they found numerous actors and studio executives digging through Taylor’s things as he lay dead on the floor. Upon examination of Taylor’s body, they learned he died from a gunshot wound to the back.
Several individuals in Taylor’s life were considered to be suspects in his death, including actress Mabel Normand, and his valet, Henry Peavey. Despite the number of suspects there wasn’t any sufficient evidence connecting any of them to the crime.
Taylor’s murder was sensationalized in the press, and it was a part of a long list of Hollywood scandals of murder, accidents and drug-related deaths during the time. His murder is still unsolved.
Jack Nance became known for his performances in David Lynch projects, most notably as the lead in the cult-film ERASERHEAD. The actor also appeared in TWIN PEAKS as Pete Martell, the person who discovered Laura Palmer’s body.
Nance’s strong personality off-screen often got him into trouble. On December 29, 1996, the actor was involved in a fight with two unknown men outside a donut shop. He suffered a blow to the head, and a black eye. He told friends about the incident the next day, and left them with complaints of a headache. He died of a subdural hematoma, alone in his apartment. His assailants were never found.
Lynch spoke to reporters about Nance’s rough demeanor, stating his friend often told him he “wouldn’t be too hard to kill.”
Joe Pichler was a child actor throughout the late 90s. He appeared in two installments of the BEETHOVEN family films, and appeared in various movies and TV shows.
In January 2006, the 18-year-old left a friend’s house after a night of gaming, and has never been seen again. His car was found abandoned in an intersection days later. In the car, family reportedly found a note expressing suicidal thoughts.
Pichler’s mother allegedly posted on Pichler’s IMDB page, insisting that her son didn’t commit suicide, and that someone is responsible for his disappearance.
In the 60s, Bobby Fuller scored a top 10 hit with his rock song “I Fought the Law.” But, the 23-year-old’s rising success was cut short when he was discovered dead outside of his Hollywood home.
The musician was found inside his car with hemorrhages to his face, chest and the side of his body. His body was covered in gasoline. The cause of death was asphyxiation. Authorities ruled it an accident.
Despite the official findings, friends regard Fuller’s death as being unsolved. Rumors swirled that Fuller had been involved with the mob, and some even believed that the Manson family was involved.
George Reeves became every child’s hero when he took on the role of Superman in the 1950s series ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN. Although the series was successful, Reeves felt stuck in the role and supposedly became depressed.
In June 1959, Reeves was found in bed naked. He was dead from a gunshot to the head. A gun was at his feet on the floor, along with a shell casing. His death was ruled a suicide, but many believe the superhero was murdered.
Reeves had a relationship with Toni Mannix, wife of MGM Studio executive Eddie Mannix. When he broke up with Toni to date a woman named Leonore Lemmon, Mannix was reportedly devastated. Some believe that Eddie had Reeves killed for his wife. Others argued that Lemmon killed Reeves, as their party guests sat unaware downstairs. Whether his death was accidental or murder, it remains listed as a suicide.
The Rolling Stones guitarist was found dead in a swimming pool in 1969. He was just 27-years-old.
Jones died just one month after being asked to leave the band, which he initially founded. The musician’s death was ruled as an accidental drowning brought on by a drug binge; however, friends and family believed there was something more to his death.
Two books were written on Jones’ mysterious death—“Paint it Black: The Murder of Brian Jones,” and “Who Killed Christopher Robin?” Both books theorized that Jones was actually murdered by a contractor working on his home.
Reportedly, a builder named Frank Thorogood confessed to murdering Jones, on his deathbed. The claims were denied. Sussex police reviewed the case in 2009, after new evidence was brought to their attention.
Jean Spangler was a small time actress who dreamed of Hollywood fame. Her dreams were cut short on October 7, 1949, when she went for a walk and disappeared. Two days later, her purse was discovered in Griffith Park in Los Angeles. Inside was a note that read:
“Kirk—Can’t wait any longer. Going to see Dr. Scott. It will work out best this way while Mother is away,”
The unfinished note prompted more questions than answers. Who was Kirk? Many believed the note referred to actor Kirk Douglas (SPARTACUS), who came forward to inform police Spangler was an extra in one of his films, but that he never met her.
And then Spangler’s friend dropped a bombshell: Spangler was apparently three months pregnant when she went missing.
Some believe Spangler went to see “Dr. Scott” to perform an abortion, which were illegal at the time. Did she die during the procedure and Dr. Scott disposed of her body? Was Douglas involved? There have never been any answers as to what happened. Spangler remains missing.
Natalie Wood and husband Robert Wagner were aboard their yacht for the Thanksgiving holiday in 1981. Wood’s co-star Christopher Walken had joined the couple for a celebration at sea. By the next morning, the celebration was over.
Wood was discovered floating in the water, dressed in a flannel nightgown, face down. The WEST SIDE STORY actress was dead. Autopsy reports concluded that Wood died due to drowning and hypothermia.
The 43-year-old actress presumably slipped when trying to get into a dingy. When news broke of Wood’s death, many people wondered why she was trying to leave the yacht in the first place. The investigation into her death was re-opened in 2011 when the boat’s Captain, Dennis Davern, admitted to lying in the initial police investigation.
Davern claimed Wagner and Wood fought about her relationship with Walken, and alleged that Wagner is responsible for her death. No new evidence was discovered, but Wood’s death was reclassified from an accidental drowning, to a drowning and other undetermined factors. Wagner is not a suspect in her death.
On the small screen Bob Crane grew to fame for his portrayal of Colonel Robert E. Hogan in the sitcom HOGAN’S HEROES. However, despite his squeaky-clean Hollywood image, Crane hid a dark secret. He was a sex addict.
Crane’s addiction intensified after he developed a close friendship with Sony Electronics sales manager, John Henry Carpenter. Carpenter showed him how to use camera equipment, and together the friends met women and videotaped their sexual encounters. Crane built up an impressive portfolio of raunchy Polaroids and videos of his exploits.
His love for the camera would ultimately play a role in his death. The 49-year-old actor was found bludgeoned to death by a camera tripod in his Arizona apartment in 1978. Carpenter was initially arrested for the murder based on circumstantial evidence, and a jury found him not guilty.
Carpenter claimed his innocence until the day he died in 1998. The case remains unsolved to this day.
THE BLACK DAHLIA
Elizabeth Short moved to Hollywood seeking fame, and she did just that. Short became one of the most notoriously unsolved murder mysteries of all time, forever known in culture as The Black Dahlia.
The scene was grisly and unsettling. Her body was discovered January 15, 1947. She was nude, and cut in half. Her mouth was cut from ear-to-ear, and her body was almost entirely drained of blood. She had been disemboweled, and posed by the killer.
Short’s death was highly covered by the media, and people desperately wanted to know what happened to the strikingly beautiful woman with an affinity for dark clothing.
There have been many rumors and false confessions regarding the case, but no definitive answer as to who killed The Black Dahlia.