Best known for his award-nominated role opposite James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause, Sal Mineo’s sexuality and death has often overshadowed his Hollywood career. Mineo, who would have been 77 today, was murdered outside his apartment by a teenage pizza delivery boy during a botched robbery. The case made the tabloids since Mineo was an openly bisexual actor and people linked the murder with a spurned gay lover. The press often speculated who Mineo’s lovers were, too, as the actor was close friends with stars like Dean, David Cassidy, Don Johnson, and Bobby Sherman. But this is just one of many bizarre murders that happened in Hollywood.
A regular star in B movies during the 1950s, Susan Cabot, who once dated Jordan’s King Hussein, was beaten to death by her 22-year-old son, Timothy Scott Roman, in 1986. Roman, who suffered from complications due to dwarfism, used a weightlifting bar in the crime. He was charged, but claimed mental and physical abuse, after which he received a three-year suspended sentence and was placed on probation. A report from the Los Angeles Times detailed the bizarre case:
Extensive court documents made available last week and an interview with the attorney Saturday revealed that, by focusing on Roman’s mother’s fragile mental condition, her unkempt home and her authorization of controversial drugs for her son, the defense intends to show that she may have contributed to her own death. Defense attorney Chester Leo Smith argued in documents that Roman is an emotional wreck as a result of an overprotective, disturbed mother and a severe growth deficiency that has made him dependent on strong medications with dangerous side effects. “Mr. Roman is probably, really, an experiment of the human race,” Smith said Wednesday at the courtroom hearing.
The Bob Crane murder was a high-profile case that stumped detectives before finally leading them to electronics salesman John Henry Carpenter. The men were friends for some time, often picking up women in bars and recording their sexploits on video and film (the 2002 film Auto Focus suggests that Carpenter had an obsessive sexual attraction to the Hogan’s Heroes star). Carpenter was tried, eventually acquitted, and maintained his innocence for years. The case remains officially unsolved.
During a career decline, former silent heartthrob Ramon Novarro — then, 69 years old — arranged for two young hustlers to come to his Laurel Canyon home for sex. Brothers Paul and Tom Ferguson brutally tortured and killed the actor believing he had money stashed away somewhere, but wound up finding a paltry sum stuffed inside Navarro’s bathrobe. Being a gay Mexican-American in Hollywood meant the rumors were sure to fly, even in death. Out’s William Van Meter details how Navarro’s murder was perceived in popular culture:
The legend of their crimes infiltrated pop culture. Charles Bukowski wrote the thinly veiled “The Murder of Ramon Vasquez.” Salacious magazines featuring crime scene photos and the nude images of Paul were rushed into production. Truman Capote interviewed Paul for a 1973 TV special on the prison’s death row. The most infamous reference to the murder, however, was the section in Kenneth Anger’s remarkably entertaining (and inaccurate) exploration of decadence, Hollywood Babylon. He asserts that the murder weapon used to kill Novarro was a lead dildo cast from Valentino’s member, and that it was crammed down his throat suffocating the actor. The phallus didn’t exist, but this urban legend still persists.
Playboy Playmate and “Miss Cosmos” Dorothy Stratten, who starred in the sci-fi parody Galaxina, was murdered at only 20 years old by her estranged husband and former manager Paul Snider (who took his own life during the grisly incident). Stratten met Snider while she was still in high school, and the club promoter and pimp convinced her to pose for Playboy. They eventually married, and Snider became increasingly controlling of Stratten (he even hired a private detective to follow the actress), which led to her affair with director Peter Bogdanovich. The whole story became even stranger when it was revealed that Bogdanovich started dated Stratten’s younger sister when she was only 14, not long after the murder. They eventually got married.
Carl Switzer, aka the freckle-faced child actor who played Alfalfa in The Little Rascals, was shot to death by an acquaintance over $50 involving a lost dog.
Lana Clarkson, known for her roles in various sword-and-sorcery films (she made her big-screen debut in Fast Times at Ridgemont High) and popular TV series of the ‘70s and ‘80s, found herself inside the home of record producer Phil Spector in 2003. She met him while working at House of Blues. Several hours later, she was dead. “She kissed the gun,” Spector told an interviewer. The case was a media circus, but Spector was eventually sentenced to 19 years to life for her murder.
The former SNL comedian was shot to death while sleeping by his wife, Brynn Hartman. She had been using drugs and drinking — something the couple reportedly argued about earlier that night. Hartman committed suicide several hours later. Their troubled marriage was the subject of Hollywood gossip and was mentioned in the book You Might Remember Me: The Life and Times of Phil Hartman.
The former child actress drowned while on a weekend boat trip to Santa Catalina Island with her husband, fellow actor Robert Wagner, and the boat’s captain. Wood’s body had bruises and an abrasion. Medical examiners also found a motion-sickness pill, a painkiller, and alcohol in her system. Some of this put the cause of her death into question, but nothing could be proved. The case was reopened in 2011 after the captain claimed he lied, blaming Wagner for her death, stating that the couple had a fight before Wood drowned. Wagner denied the story, the medical examiner once again couldn’t prove anything, and the case remains open to much gossip and speculation.