The Chicks are preparing for a big Hollywood premiere next week! That would be the debut of our very own Kellye Garrett’s mystery Hollywood Homicide. So we thought it would be fun to talk about some famous Tinsel Town murders, many of them still unsolved. But we do have some theories…
The mysteries in the Detective by Day series are actually inspired by Hollywood crimes. Hollywood Homicide is loosely based on the Bling Ring. I just turned Day 2 into my editor and I used the Ronnie Chasen murder for inspiration. Chasen was a well-known “power publicist” who was killed in 2010 when leaving a party for a movie premiere. The police quickly called it a car jacking gone wrong and blamed an ex-con named Harold Smith, who conveniently killed himself before he could be arrested. Case closed, right? Not quite. This being Hollywood, conspiracy theories abound. There are too many to name here, but you can read more in this 2016 Hollywood Reporter article: What Really Happened the Night Hollywood Power Publicist Ronni Chasen Was Killed?
I’ve always been fascinated by the silent film era. I started coming to L.A. in the 1980s on a regular basis to do celebrity interviews for women’s magazines and I’d tour the town to find the “dream palaces” of the silent stars. Most succumbed to tear-downs, but one in a less desirable part of town survived – the home of hapless actress, Mary Miles Minter.
Minter had a massive crush on film director William Desmond Taylor. On the evening of February 1, 1922, Taylor was shot to death in his apartment, not far from Minter’s Hancock Park-adjacent home. While the crime is considered a cold case to this day, famed director King Vidor became obsessed with uncovering the murderer. His investigation is chronicled in the 1986 non-fiction book, “A Cast of Killers.” Vidor came to the conclusion that Taylor’s killer was Minter’s maniacally controlling stage mother, Charlotte Shelby. Shelby was originally a suspect but never charged due to a lack of evidence. The scandal killed Minter’s career and she eventually died a recluse in Santa Monica. But to this day, Hollywood historians debate whether Vidor was right, or the real killer got away with murder.
To be honest, I never knew that much about Lana Turner. I was aware that she was gorgeous, the original “sweater girl,” and of course familiar with the famous story of her being discovered at a Schwab’s drugstore while drinking a Coke after skipping typing class. I also knew that my college roommate was named after her. But just this week (because I have apparently been living under a giant rock all these years) I learned that she was married 7 times and that her only child, Cheryl Crane, stabbed one of Lana’s boyfriends (an abusive gangster) to death with a carving knife at the age of 15. After a media-circus coroner’s inquest which concluded she was coming to her mother’s defense, no charges were brought, but Cheryl ended up in the care of the state for a few years. She grew up to become a realtor–and a mystery writer! In addition to a biography of Lana Turner and a book about her own life, she has authored three titles in a mystery series from Kensington featuring Nikki Harper (realtor-turned-amateur-sleuth-with-a-famous-Hollywood-mother). The titles are puns on Lana Turner’s real-life movies: The Bad Always Die Twice (2012), Imitation of Death (2013), and The Dead and the Beautiful (2014). I can’t give you her author website, as she seems a little social media shy. But after all that attention as a teenager, Cheryl Crane doesn’t need any more publicity. She just wants to write.
When I think of L.A. murder mysteries, the one that immediately springs to mind is the Black Dahlia murder. It’s one of Hollywood’s oldest and most famous cold cases, dating all the way back to 1947. The victim was Elizabeth Short, a 22-year-old actress who had moved to Hollywood in search of stardom. The details of the case are pretty gruesome, so I won’t repeat them here, but there’s something poignant about a wannabe starlet who finds fame in such a film-noir fashion. Adding to the intrigue is the fact that a retired LAPD cop thinks he’s finally solved the case. The culprit? His father. The story of his investigation alone would make a great movie — except nobody would believe the ending.
I’ve always been fascinated by publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst, and by actor Charlie Chaplin. The two are notoriously linked to the mysterious death of studio mogul Thomas Ince. (Mysterious deaths also fascinate me!) A possible solution about what happened to Ince aboard Hearst’s yacht in 1924 was put forth in the 2001 film The Cat’s Meow. In the movie version, Hearst, who believed Chaplin was having an affair with his mistress Marion Davies, shot Ince by mistake in a blind rage. Ince was removed from the yacht during the night, and no one onboard ever spoke of it. Did W.R. Hearst get away with murder in real life? Some smoking guns suggest he may have: Ince was injured or ill enough to be removed from the boat during the night in San Diego, however he wasn’t taken to a hospital, but to his home in Los Angeles. The D.A. never questioned Hearst’s guests; no autopsy was performed. And shortly after Ince’s death, Hearst signed gossip columnist Louella Parsons, who had been aboard the yacht at the time, to a lifetime contract with the Los Angeles Examiner.
Readers, is there an unsolved murder (real or fictional) that particularly intrigues you? Let know in the comments below–extra points for a Hollywood setting!
Did you enjoy this article? Subscribe to Chicks on the Case and never miss a post. Just click the button on the top right side of this page and let the fun begin!
(Note: Photo via Giphy)