We’re part of a culture that is obsessed with the lives of celebrities. We know everything about their lives, even if most of the news we receive is petty stuff. Sure, sometimes there is big stuff. Many are involved with crimes, like shoplifting or DUIs, but we tend to forget that horrible things can happen around them as well. In this list, we’re going to look at some high-profile murder cases that, in some way, involved celebrities. Maybe they were related to the victim or maybe they were the suspect. In some of the cases on here, the murder was high profile before the star rose to fame, while other murders are probably high profile because of the star’s proximity to them. Either way, we want to bring to everyone’s attention those times when shocking murders touched the lives of the celebrities that we have come to know over the years.
It seems that every other week, a celebrity is in the news for something they don’t want to be in the news for. Normally, we eat this kind of stuff up. But when a famous person is involved with a death, somehow it tends to hit us differently. Obviously, death makes everything more serious and final, but we’ve come to feel connected to celebrities, so we feel more connected to the murder. If you’re wondering what our definition of “high profile” is, you’re asking a great question, because we don’t really have a definition. Basically, we’re looking at the cases that involved a great deal of press, multiple murders or involved someone famous/infamous. If it made national news, there’s a good chance it made the list. Here are 15 celebs who are connected to high profile murder cases.
15. Terrence Howard
In 1971, “The Santa Line Slaying” was a murder case that gained national attention because of where it took place. It was sort of forgotten about until 2005, when actor Terrence Howard revealed that he was there and it was his father, Tyrone Howard, who was responsible for the death of Jack Fitzpatrick. While waiting in line to sit on Santa’s knee, the Howard family was accused of cutting in line. What was said and what, if any, racial epithets were used here is debated, but an argument between Howard and Fitzpatrick had begun at this point. The argument turned physical and Fitzpatrick is said to have pinned Howard against the wall by the throat and began to knee him in the groin. This kneeing opened a previous wound and Howard began to bleed in the groin area. It was then that Howard started stabbing Fitzpatrick in the neck and thighs. Fitzpatrick would fall to the ground, dying from his injuries. Howard served 11 months and was released on good behaviour.
14. Michael Masse
Today, actor Michael Masse might be best known for playing Gustave Fiers (“The Gentleman”) in The Amazing Spiderman and The Amazing Spiderman 2, but the role that will forever follow him around is from the 1993 film, The Crow. Though there were no criminal charges laid, the death of actor Brandon Lee from a faulty prop gun was widely publicized and heavily investigated. While everything was very clearly accidental, the poor actor who fired the gun that killed Lee was Masse. Even now, Masse has never gone back and watched the film and has claimed that he still suffers from nightmares from the event, saying, “I don’t think you ever get over something like that.”
13. George Reeves
There have always been questions about George Reeves’ death: was it suicide or was it murder? The official case was ruled a suicide though there were three bullets fired, only one heard and only one hit Reeves. Some say there was no gunpowder on Reeves either, while police said there was no evidence pointing to murder. Some murder theories point to Leonore Lemmon, who was engaged to Reeves and present in the house at the time of his death. Some stories have her predicting Reeves’ suicide when he went upstairs during the party, saying he was depressed and would kill himself before hearing the shot, while other stories claim that she went upstairs and came down after the shot telling everyone to say that she was downstairs the whole time. Other people blame Toni Mannix, an actress that had an affair with Reeves while she was married to producer Eddie Mannix. The story is that Toni hired a hitman to do the job because she was angry with Reeves for leaving her. Then there are those who say it was Eddie Mannix who hired the hitman. Whatever or whoever it was, the story has lived in infamy since it happened in 1959 and will continue for a long time yet.
12. Dylan McDermott
When Dylan McDermott was 5-years old, his mother, Diane McDermott, was dating a known gangster, John Sponza. One February morning, Sponza told Dylan to go outside and play. After leaving the house, Dylan heard shouting, and soon after, a gunshot. Diane was killed, though the death was ruled an accident, largely due to a lack of evidence. Five years after that event, Sponza was found dead in the trunk of a car, so any murder case effectively dried up that day. Years later, however, McDermott asked that the case be reopened and investigated. It was found that Sponza’s father was a jailer and Sponza himself was a police informant and evidence had been covered up. This information helped get Sponza convicted of the murder and put all the questions McDermott had been holding onto to bed.
11. O.J. Simpson
We might as well mention the case that everyone has heard about. On June 12, 1994, Nicole Brown Simpson, O.J.’s wife, and Ronald Goldman were found stabbed to death, having died several hours prior to their discovery. Police also found a bloody glove in the house. When police arrived at O.J.’s house, they noticed a white Ford Bronco with blood in and on it as well as another bloody glove, the mate to the other glove and the same gloves that were in a picture of O.J. wearing them. O.J. was not at home as he had, suspiciously, flown out the night before. It looked obvious that O.J. was guilty. There was an agreement that O.J. would turn himself in five days later, but he never showed up. Instead, his lawyer, Robert Kardashian, read aloud a letter that was seemingly a suicide note. Not long after, the Bronco police chase began and ended in O.J.’s arrest. You know the result. O.J. was acquitted because the gloves never fitted or however it is they said that.
10. William S. Burroughs
William S. Burroughs has long been considered one of the great writers of the 20th century. He is largely responsible for starting and popularizing the Beat Generation and his postmodern works are considered some of the most influential ever written. But perhaps the thing many people remember best about Burroughs is that he shot and killed his wife and fled the trial being held in Mexico. It was long known that Burroughs and his wife Joan Vollmer were drug addicts and intense partiers. One evening while partying with some friends above a bar, Burroughs told Vollmer that “it’s time for our William Tell act,” something neither of them had ever done before. Vollmer obliged and put a glass on her head while Burroughs pulled out his revolver and shot, hitting Vollmer in the head and killing her instantly. The resulting trial was filled with bribes, lies, recanted stories, delays. It ended with Burroughs fleeing Mexico and returning to the United States. He was convicted in absentia and sentenced to two years in prison that he never served.
9. Steve McQueen
On August 9, 1969, the actress Sharon Tate, Jay Sebring and three others were murdered by the Manson Family at Tate’s and director Roman Polanski‘s home. The murders were widely publicized because of the famous connections and the cult status that the Manson Family was gaining. The information released afterward, however, indicated that the night could have been a whole lot different. When out for dinner with Tate and friends, Sebring had called his good friend, the Hollywood megastar Steve McQueen, and invited him over to Tate’s house. McQueen accepted and was apparently ready to go when the lady that he as with asked him to stay home with her, a request that McQueen didn’t turn down. McQueen never turned down a request like that. Later, police found a hit list in Manson’s possessions that had McQueen’s name on it, assumed to be there because he had rejected a screenplay Charles Manson sent him.
8. Bill Paxton
One of the most famous murders ever committed happened on November 22, 1963 and actor Bill Paxton was a witness and there are pictures to prove it. The day that president John F. Kennedy was assassinated, Paxton was in the crowd and saw it all go down. Is he a magical time traveller? No, he was 8-years old at the time silly. Paxton always knew that there was a chance that his picture would be in the records, but he was never able to prove it until he found the Roy Cooper footage, a cameraman for KTVT-TV who took a video of the President’s speech earlier in the day. There, sitting on another person’s shoulder, is a young boy peering over the crowd. That little boy is none other than Bill Paxton.
7. Snoop Dogg
In 1993, when Snoop Dogg (Calvin Broadus) was at the height of his fame, he got involved in a dispute that ended in the death of a 20-year old named Philip Woldemariam. The story goes that there was an argument outside of Snoop Dogg’s home, which his bodyguard, McKinley Lee, went out to investigate. Nothing happened, but he saw a car full of gang members and recognized Woldemariam as one of them. Later, while driving past a park, Broadus and Lee saw Woldemariam again, and this is where the accounts differ. The prosecutors claimed that Woldemariam was hunted down by Lee and Snoop Dogg and shot in the back, while the defense suggests that Woldemariam had run at the jeep and was reaching for a gun when they shot him (technically both accounts could be true because of the lateral bullet wounds on the body). The big piece was that the gun that Woldemariam was said to have been reaching for was missing when he was found dead. The trial would go on for three years until Snoop Dogg and Lee were acquitted and found not guilty. It also helped to up Snoop Dogg’s street cred. A win-win.
6. Robert Blake
Following a dinner with his wife, Bonnie Lee Bakley, in 2001, long-time actor Robert Blake and Bakely returned to their vehicle, which was parked around on a dark side street. After getting into the car, Blake reportedly went back to the restaurant to retrieve a revolver that he had left there. When he returned to the vehicle, Bakely was dead from a gunshot wound to the head. In 2002, Blake was arrested and charged with the murder of Bakely and up started a very strange and very public court case. Two different stuntmen that had worked with Blake had come forward and stated that Blake had asked them to kill his wife, but they had turned him down. They couldn’t find the shooter or the murder weapon. After about one year in jail, Blake was released and the courts admitted that it could not find definitive proof that he was involved in the murder.
5. Kelsey Grammer
In 1975, Freddie Glenn and Michael Corbett began a killing spree that would result in the deaths of five people (Glenn was found guilty of murdering three). On July 1st of that year, Glenn, Corbett and one other man entered a Red Lobster with the intention of robbing it. Though they didn’t make off with much money, they kidnapped an 18-year-old girl who worked there; her name was Karen Grammer, Kelsey Grammer’s younger sister. The men took Grammer back to their apartment and raped her for four hours. After that, they drove her to a trailer park, promising to let her go. With a cloth over her head, the men abandoned the vehicle, but, before Glenn exited the car, he decided to stab her in the back, the hand and the neck. Karen would attempt to ring a nearby doorbell, but she died before she could get to it. In 1976, Glenn was convicted and sentenced to the gas chamber, though that was overturned two years later when the Colorado Supreme Court eliminated the state’s death penalty. Glenn was recently denied parole in 2014.
4. Fatty Arbuckle
Early in the 20th century, Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle was one of the most popular actors in Hollywood. He mentored Charlie Chaplin, discovered Bob Hope and Buster Keaton, and was involved in one of the most publicized court cases of the time. Well, he was in three of the most publicized court cases of the time. The cases all revolved around the death and the r*pe of actress Virginia Rappe. After a party at a hotel that Arbuckle had rented three rooms in, Rappe became very ill and was observed by the hotel doctor for alcohol poisoning. Rappe also suffered from chronic cystitis, which was made worse with alcohol. She was also known to get super wasted at parties too, so this was nothing new, except that Rappe’s friend had another story. Two days after the party, Rappe was admitted to the hospital and it was there that Rappe’s friend, Bambina Delmont, accused Arbuckle of raping Rappe. There were claims of Arbuckle using a piece of ice to simulate sex, which escalated in the papers to bottles of different sorts. When Rappe died in hospital of peritonitis, following a ruptured bladder, Arbuckle was accused of causing her death, a result of his large body crushing hers during the r*pe. After two hung juries and one acquittal, Arbuckle was apologized to, but the damage was already done. His acting career would never recover and his reputation was forever tarnished.
3. Matthew Broderick
In 1987, following the filming of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Matthew Broderick and Jennifer Grey (his sister in the film) had begun dating and were driving through the countryside in Northern Ireland. Broderick, for whatever reason, drove into oncoming traffic and hit another car head on, killing the mother and daughter occupants of the other vehicle. Broderick suffered some breaks and a collapsed lung, whereas Grey escaped with minor injuries. After the accident, Broderick said, “I don’t remember the day. I don’t remember even getting up in the morning. I don’t remember making my bed. What I first remember is waking up in the hospital, with a very strange feeling going on in my leg.” Initially, the famed actor faced jail time of up to five years and charges of causing death by dangerous driving, but was let go with a careless driving charge and a fine of less than $200. Keep this in mind next time you see that Honda commercial starring Broderick, maybe the worst possible spokesperson for a car company.
2. Jennifer Hudson
In 2008, singer Jennifer Hudson was in the news for all the worst reasons. Three members of her family, her mother, Darnell Donnerson, her brother, Jason, and her 7-year-old nephew Julian King, were all shot and killed by Hudson’s brother-in-law, William Balfour (left), her sister Julia’s estranged husband. Hudson’s mother and brother were found dead in the home that they shared with Julia, while the nephew, Julian, was reported missing and not found for three days. In the search for Julian, police issued an AMBER Alert and the process was widely publicized. They finally found his dead body on Chicago’s West Side. Balfour, the man behind the killings, was convicted in 2012 and sentenced to three life sentences without the possibility of parole.
1. Woody Harrelson
In 1968, Woody Harrelson‘s father left his childhood home and was not heard from again until years later when Woody was riding home in a car that would pick him up from school. On the radio, they were discussing the trial of Charles V Harrelson for the murder of a judge. The judge was John H. Wood Jr., set to reside over the case of drug dealer Jamiel Chagra, and Charles V Harrelson was the accused contract killer who shot Judge Wood in a parking lot outside of his home. Harrelson had been on parole for less a year, just completing a 5-year term for the murder-for-hire of Sam Degelia, a grain dealer from Texas. Charles Harrelson was convicted and sentenced to two life sentences. After that, Harrelson reconnected with his father and would visit him from time to time in prison, even trying to secure a retrial when Chagra recanted his statements about Harrelson’s involvement in the murder.