Reputations have a tendency to follow people around, no matter how hard they try to keep their image squeaky clean. Anyone with older siblings can attest that teachers make assumptions about you based on the actions of that trailblazing big brother or sister, no matter how different they are from you. Breaking free of the public’s perception of you based on your family can be hard, particularly if you grow up in a small town or if said family member is infamous for being well-loved, hated, or a known criminal.
Celebrities, particularly modern ones, have a specific brand they’re trying to maintain. They have a crack team of stylists, agents, a PR team, and others working on perfecting their social media accounts to ensure the right version of them is forward facing, for their fans. While these icons have curated posts on Instagram and “caught” at all the most fabulous places, one thing they can’t plan for is what members of their family get up to, even if it’s murder.
Whether you’re famous or not you can’t pick your family. Sometimes by the luck of the draw, one of your relatives does some pretty terrible things. If you’re really unlucky there’s a murderer hanging out on your family tree. These 15 celebrities have something in common with each other, they all have relatives who’ve killed.
15. Dylan McDermott’s Mother Was Murdered By His Step-Father
Sometimes what was believed to be an accident is cold blooded murder. In 1967, Dylan McDermott’s mother was killed by a bullet to the head in what was determined to be an accidental shooting at the hands of her boyfriend, and McDermott’s stepdad. 45 years later the case was re-examined, at the request of McDermott, and it was discovered that the murder had been covered up and they had enough evidence to file murder charges against shooter John Sponza, who was a gangster and heroin addict. No charges were laid however since Sponza had been found dead in 1972 in the trunk of a car in the parking lot of a Massachusetts grocery store. Dylan had told the police about wanting to re-open the case, “In order for me to survive and to get where I am today, I needed to bury that moment in my life deep within myself.”
14. Woody Harrelson’s Father Was A Contract Killer
Who would think that hemp advocate, avocado farming, vegan Woody Harrelson would come from a murderous background? It turns out Woody’s father was a handsomely compensated contract killer. His dad, Charles Harrelson, separated from the family when Woody was seven, and a short time after he had left the family was charged, and later acquitted of the murder of Alan Harry Berg. In 1973, he was sentenced to serve 15 years in jail for the murder of grain dealer, Sam Degelia Jr. He was released from prison in 1978, but didn’t clean up his act. In 1979, he was hired to put a hit on US district judge, John H. Wood Jr. After this murder he was incarcerated for two life sentences and was in jail until he died there in 2007 due to cardiac arrest.
13. Charlize Theron Saw Her Mother Murder Her Abusive Father
Like something out of a movie, Charlize Theron witnessed her mother, Gerda, killing her abusive father when she was a teenager growing up in South Africa. Her mother killed her father, Charles, in 1991 during an altercation where he drunkenly pulled a gun on both her and Charlize. The police determined that Gerda was acting in self-defence, even though she had shot him four times, and no charges were laid. Charlize’s mother was the one who nudged her in the direction of taking up acting, and the two remain very close. Charlize has said that she sees her mother as her hero, and that Gerda was the one who helped her cope with this family tragedy. “She guided me towards not being a victim, it doesn’t haunt me, I am completely at peace.”
12. Jennifer Hudson’s Brother-In-Law Killed Her Mother, Sister, And Brother
In 2008, tragedy struck the seemingly charmed life of Academy-Award winning actress, and former American Idol contestant Jennifer Hudson. In 2008, she lost three family members when her mother, brother and seven-year-old nephew were all murdered by her sister’s estranged husband, William Balfour. Balfour was already on parole for an attempted murder in 1992 at the time he was arrested, and was said to be a possessive and jealous man. He was believed to be stalking the family in the time before he committed murder. In 2016, during an interview with ABC 7, Balfour insisted that he was an innocent man and suggested that he was framed in a police conspiracy, even though evidence included gun residue on his clothing and a witness who spotted him near the crime scene around the time of the murders.
11. Ice T’s Grandson Killed His Roommate
In 2014, there was gun related bloodshed on the hands of Ice T’s family when his 19-year-old grandson, Elyjah Marrow was arrested for involuntary manslaughter. It was determined that Elyjah had “recklessly” handled a gun that went off, and accidentally led to the death of his roommate. Elyjah was supposedly playing with the firearm when it went off. By the time that police arrived on the scene the roommate, Daryus Johnson, was unconscious and he later died as a result of the injuries. Some may remember Marrow from his appearances on Ice-T’s reality TV Show, Ice Loves Coco. Elyjah Marrow is the son of T’s eldest daughter who was born when the rapper was quite young and still attending high school.
10. Former First Lady DUI?
Accidents happen, sometimes with fatal results. This was the case with young former First Lady Laura Bush in 1963. She was driving in Texas, ran a stop sign and crashed into another car. The driver of the other vehicle coincidentally was Laura’s classmate and friend from school, and he was killed as a result of the crash after he was thrown from the car and broke his neck. Some say that Laura was drinking and driving at the time of the accident, however since no tests were performed to determine the alcohol level of either driver, there was no evidence and no charges were laid. Laura Bush talked about the incident in her 2010 biography, saying that the accident was a result of a dangerous intersection, a dark night, her poor eyesight, and the other party driving a “less than safe” car.
9. Billy Bob Thorton’s Daughter Murdered A Child She Was Babysitting
In 2011, Billy Bob Thornton’s daughter, Amanda Brumfield, was sentenced to serve 20 years behind bars after she was found guilty of aggravated manslaughter of a child she was babysitting. Brumfield claimed that the cause of death was a fall out of a playpen while the one-year-old child was staying overnight with her, however prosecutors determined that it was contrary to reason that a fall from the alleged height would cause the three and a half inch fracture on the child’s skull, which ultimately led to her death. Brumfield was acquitted on charges of first-degree murder as well as child abuse charges. There was no call for help until two and a half hours following the toddler’s fall, and at that point it was too late. Billy Bob Thornton hasn’t said much about this case, however has commented that he had been estranged from his eldest daughter Amanda for years preceding the incident.
8. Marvin Gaye, Killed By His Own Father
Many music fans say the untimely death of Motown’s “Prince of Soul” Marvin Gaye Jr. just a day before his 45th birthday is one of the most tragic deaths in music. Despite his successes with songs like “I Heard it through the Grapevine” and his Grammy Award winning hit “Sexual Healing” in 1984, Marvin Gaye Jr. had moved back in with his parents and was coping with drug addictions. When intervening between his parents in a fight they were having over insurance papers it got heated quickly. Things got physical when Marvin Jr. didn’t like the way his Preacher father was treating his mother and reportedly kicked and punched him. In response, the father fought fire with gunfire shooting his son in the chest and then again from a closer distance.
7. Spade Cooley Murdered His Wife
Unfortunately, it wasn’t just lyrics to a sad country song when Spade Cooley was found guilty for murdering his ex-wife and former singer in his band. Trouble began for Cooley when he divorced his second wife, Ella Mae, the mother of his three children. Cooley was known to be jealous of his younger ex-wife, and was said to often accuse her of being unfaithful. He was also a known alcoholic who abused pills. The couple attempted a reconciliation, but in April 1961 Spade killed her by beating her to death in their home. It’s reported that he “made sure” she was really dead by putting out a cigarette on her skin. His daughter witnessed the entire thing and testified against her dad who was to serve life in jail. Oddly enough Cooley was set to be released after just eight years behind for being a model prisoner and was even allowed to perform at a charity concert towards the end of his sentence. Because of the performance he was excited about a comeback, but died backstage from a heart attack.
6. Marlon Brando’s Son Killed His Sister’s Boyfriend
Blood is thicker than water, and sometimes that means that a family member will take things into their own hands when a member of their family is being mistreated. This was the case for Marlon Brando’s eldest son Christian. He allegedly shot and killed his sister Cheyenne’s boyfriend (and the father of her baby), Dag Drollet because he’d been abusing her. At first Christian said the death was accidental, but later he plead guilty to involuntary manslaughter and served about half of his 10 year prison sentence. He was granted parole in 1996, but unfortunately did not get to reunite with his little sister who had hung herself the year before when she was just 25. Christian Brando also died tragically young in 2008, he was just 49 years old.
5. Phil Hartman, Killed By His Wife
The death of Phil Hartman and his wife Brynn left their two children as orphans in 1998. Brynn Hartman was under the influence of cocaine and booze when she decided to take her husband, SNL comedian Phil Hartman’s life while he slept in their marital bed. The actor had supposedly threatened divorce because of her drug issues shortly before his death. Brynn had also been in and out of rehab several times. A short time after confessing the murders to a friend Brynn climbed into bed beside her deceased husband and took her own life. A year later Hartman’s estate filed a lawsuit surrounding wrongful death and the medication Zoloft that Brynn had been taking for her depression. The estate also sued Brynn’s psychiatrist. The drug firm Pfizer settled with the estate.
4. Adult Industry Model Dorothy Stratten, Murdered By Ex-Husband
Divorce can be deadly, or so was the case for Playboy model and actor Dorothy Stratten and her ex-husband, Chippendales act founder, Paul Snider. The pair married in 1979, and were estranged by 1980, the year when Stratten was named Playmate of the year. At a meeting in their former shared residence to discuss the details of their divorce, Snider shot Stratten with a shotgun, and then took his own life using the same gun. Police reports revealed that Snider not only killed Stratten, but he also beat up and molested her body before killing himself. The Vancouver born Stratten was only 20 years old at the time of her death, and since then her story has been showcased in movies (one starring Jamie Lee Curtis as Stratten), books, and the song “The Best is yet to Come” by fellow Canadian Bryan Adams.
3. NBA Player Bison Dele, Murdered By Brother
Former Chicago Bulls 1996-1997 championship team player Bison Dele was murdered by his brother, Miles Dabord, during a fight on board a boat near Tahiti. The two got into a fight, when Bison’s girlfriend Serena Karlan tried to break things up and was killed. The boat captain was shot and killed by Bison Dele because he wanted to report the murder, the fight escalated from there, eventually leading to Miles Dabord killing Dele. Several days following the murder Dabord was detained while using his little brother Dele’s passport on September 5, 2004, but was released. Dabord’s girlfriend later told police that Dabord decided to weight and dump the three bodies, which were never recovered. If this story wasn’t odd enough, Dabord died on September 27, 2004 from a combination of insulin overdose and not taking his asthma medication.
2. NFL Football Player Fred Lane Murdered By Wife
Everything appeared to be going wonderfully for the young married couple Deidre and Fred Lane. He was a highly celebrated running back for The Carolina Panthers, they had a five-year-old daughter, and another child on the way. Unfortunately their marriage was falling apart. Things got worse when Fred was traded to the Indianapolis Colts. The couple would fight frequently about money and about how much time Fred spent on the road. Police were called for one case of domestic violence. Just a few days following the birth of their second child a 911 call was made after Deidre shot and killed her husband in what she said was self-defence. Deidre’s story didn’t add up. Fred’s keys were in the door of the house, and he’d been shot twice, once in the back of the head and another time in the chest. A few weeks later Deidre was also charged with a bank robbery in addition to her charges of murder. She pleaded guilty and was sentenced to eight years for her crimes.
1. Tupac Shakur’s Mom Was Charged With Attempted Bombings
Tupac Shakur’s mother, Afeni Shakur Davis, was a former Black Panther, as was his father. His activist mother had a past that also involved legal troubles, including attempted bombings and conspiracy that could have taken many lives. Afeni and 20 other Black Panther members were tried for bombing charges in New York City. Afeni was pregnant with her son Tupac at the time. She was acquitted of her charges after an eight month long trial, and gave birth to her son just a month after her release from prison. Tupac’s song “Dear Mama” was a tribute to Afeni whom he greatly admired. Afeni founded a program following the death of her son to provide art programs for young people.