One in three murders in America goes unsolved. That’s a worrisome statistic, and if you think those types of numbers are exclusive to homicide, then you’d be wrong. Almost 7,000 people die every single day in this country. How could investigators possibly close the book on every last one? Do you think there’s a special division at the precinct for spontaneous human combustion cases? Neither do I. At some point, you have to count it as “unsolved” and move on to the next solvable case. However, you’d think that for the more notable names on the morgue’s guest list, investigators would do whatever they could to feed some kind of answers to the mourning public. But an unsolvable case is an unsolvable case regardless of the notoriety of the recently deceased, and the history of pop culture is littered with celebrity deaths that police have responded to with nothing but a shoulder shrug. Here’s a list of 15 examples.
15. Jack Nance
Jack Nance was David Lynch‘s go-to man. The actor appeared in several Lynch projects, beginning in 1977 with his most famous role as Henry Spencer in the number one movie to not watch on a first date, Eraserhead, and ending twenty years later, with the number one movie to pretend like you’ve seen for the sake of a Richest article, Lost Highway. He was in Twin Peaks, Dune, and Blue Velvet, which is to say that this guy wasn’t exactly small time. But it all stopped in 1996 when Nance suddenly died. The actor met with friends for lunch on December 29, 1996, where they noticed a strange crescent-shaped bruise underneath his eye. Nance explained that he had gotten into a fight with some punk kids outside of a doughnut shop, and they left him a little bruised up. No big deal, right? Well, tell that to Jack Nance. Oh, wait, you can’t because his corpse was found on his bathroom floor the following morning. Doctors THINK the injuries from the fight caused a subdural hematoma which took two days to slowly kill him, but they’re not positive. Nance had a BAC of .24 at the time of his death. He was a career alcoholic and some even think it was Lynch who had him killed, but there’s no real evidence of that.
14. Barbara Colby
Barbara Colby was just getting a break in the film industry when her life was cut short. The young actress had traveled west to the sparkling lights of Los Angeles after finding some success on the Broadway stage. She had a handful of small roles in various 1970’s television hits you’ve never heard of unless you have TVLand, such as Columbo, The Odd Couple, Kung Fu, and Gunsmoke. But it was her appearance as the street-wise prostitute in The Mary Tyler Moore Show that made her career. Colby was asked to reprise the character in another episode and then was asked to be a recurring character on the spin-off, Phyllis, in 1975. Unfortunately, she was only able to film three episodes before tragedy struck. On July 24, 1975, Colby was leaving an acting class with colleague James Kiernan in Venice, CA when two men approached the duo and shot them both. Colby was instantly killed and Kiernan died before he was able to give police a thorough description. All he said was that he had never seen the men before, nothing provoked them, and they weren’t robbed. Authorities have chalked this one up to a random act of Los Angeles violence and the case remains open today.
13. Johnny Stompanato
Stompanato was an All-American boy from rural Illinois who fought in the Battle of Peleleiu and Okinawa in Dubbya Dubbya Two before he moved to Los Angeles and joined the ranks of Mickey Cohen and the L.A. Mafia. But when he wasn’t collecting for the mob, Stompanato was schmoozing his way into mid-century Hollywood’s inner circle. With his rugged good looks, this small-town Italian kid found himself waking up next to so many A-list ladies, he started marrying them—three of them, to be exact. But it was his relationship with actress Lana Turner that proved to be most violent. Turner’s career had come to a halt by the time she crossed paths with Johnny Stomp. She had recently been dropped from her contract with MGM Studios and needed a big goon like him to “help through the hard times.” But when she started getting work again and Stompanato thought she was going to leave him, that’s when things took a nasty turn. One evening, he was threatening to cut her face and end her career AND kill her 14-year-old daughter, Cheryl. Little did he know that the girl was waiting in the hallway with a kitchen knife, and his first step out of the room was his last. Within the next ten minutes, the once-feared mobster bled to death on the carpet of the mansion floor. Sounds like a pretty cut and dry justifiable homicide case. However, many believe that Lana was the one wielding the knife and Cheryl took the charge because she was a minor without any Oscar noms. Others think she was in love with Stompanato and if she couldn’t have him, no one would. Either way, the public was never satisfied with the outcome and doubters raise eyebrows at the verdict to this day.
12. Elliot Smith
If you don’t know who Elliot Smith was, just imagine the sound of a thousand emotional angels playing a soft acoustic guitar or, if imagination isn’t your thing, you can just go watch Good Will Hunting because he does most of the soundtrack for the movie. Bottomline is, Smith was a talented musician with a growing fanbase when he committed suicide by stabbing himself in the chest in October of 2003. Thing is, authorities, his fans, and fans of common sense alike have gone over the case facts and after fourteen years, they’re still not 100% convinced that he killed himself. Here are some of the top questions asked when theorizing about Smith’s death. Who the hell ends it all by stabbing himself/herself in the chest?! That would be somewhere in the late teens on my list of preferred suicide methods. Seriously, though, Smith was vocal about his depression but statistics say this method of death is extremely rare; and when it does happen, there are usually small cuts around the wounds where the victim tested the sharpness of the blade. Smith didn’t even have one of these. Also, he did it at noon which is very uncommon because I guess people don’t typically kill themselves at lunch time. Oh, and the biggest question mark is, of course, his girlfriend who was there fighting with him at the time and had “locked herself in the bathroom for 5-10 minutes” during the time he stabbed himself. Hmm. That’s all I can really say. Hmm.
11. Jill Dando
Jill Dando was a BBC News journalist and overall television personality who, after fifteen years of being on the air, was shot in the head at point blank range on her doorstep just outside of London. Nobody heard a gunshot, and she wasn’t found until fourteen minutes later at 11:46 A.M. by her neighbor who was able to give the only description of the possible killer—a six-foot white man walking away. Not very descriptive, right? The police ended up arresting and convicting another neighbor with a history of stalking women. But after a few years in the clink, he was able to prove his innocence due to lack of DNA evidence. Rumors began to spread that maybe it was a hired killing. After all, Dando was widely known and had a heck of a lot of enemies. Some people believe she was murdered by Yugoslavs or a Croatian terror group while others believe the head of a pedophilia ring that Dando reportedly exposed was behind her murder. As of now, nobody knows who pulled the trigger and the case remains open.
10. George Reeves
This is one of Hollywood’s most famous unsolved cases and for good reason. George Reeves was an actor in the golden age of film whose career went from just “so, so” to “Holy s***! is that George Reeves?” nearly overnight after taking the role as Superman in the 1950’s TV version of The Adventures of Superman. But like every serious actor who finds fame and riches by playing a corny role, he became restless with the part and desperately tried to find other work. Then, at around 1 am on June 16, 1959, Reeves came downstairs of his Benedict Canyon home to ask his fiancee, Leonore Lemmon, and her guests, William Bliss, Robert Condon and Carol Van Ronkel, to keep the noise down as the group seemed to be having an impromptu party. Reports say that he had a drink, went back upstairs to the bedroom, and shot himself with a .30 caliber Luger. The case was ruled a suicide, but nobody in Hollywood was buying it. Reeves had no gunpowder residue on his hands, no muzzle discharge burns on his body, two other bullets were found IN the bedroom (although witnesses only heard one shot), AND the kicker, there were no fingerprints on the gun whatsoever. So, unless Reeves stayed alive long enough to wipe the trigger and handle clean, it’s reasonable to suspect some funny business. Skeptics believe in two other possible scenarios besides suicide. Either Lemmon accidentally shot Reeves during an argument or he was killed by the mob which might make a whole lot of sense, considering he was sleeping with Toni Mannix who just happened to be married to Eddie Mannix, who just happened to be the president of MGM, a movie studio which just happened to be well-connected to the mob. Connect those dots and I think you’ll become a skeptic as well.
9. Mary Rogers
Mary Rogers was an odd type of celebrity in the sense that she existed in a time when there were no celebrities. She was a humble 17-year-old girl growing up in mid-1800’s Connecticut who took a job in a New York City tobacco shop after her father blew up in a steamboat explosion. Classic tale. But it was at that tobacco shop that Rogers began to gain notoriety. Apparently, this girl was so heart-stoppingly gorgeous that men would travel from far and wide to just trade glances with her in the store. She attracted the likes of renowned authors and even had a poem published about her beauty in the New York Herald. Unfortunately, her stunning good looks were put to a murky halt when she washed up in the Hudson river in 1841. The press went crazy over the story and dubbed her the “Beautiful Cigar Girl.” Authorities attributed her death to gang violence, but something smelled fishy when, one month later, her boyfriend committed suicide. It was later speculated that Rogers met her fate as a result of an abortion gone wrong, and the doctor dumped her body when he realized he had cut the green wire instead of the blue wire. Let this be a lesson to you, s*xually active youngsters out there, and make sure to read the Yelp reviews before picking a doctor, guys.
8. Thomas Ince
Thomas Ince was/is a pivotal part of film history. This guy invented the entire western genre, he built the first studio in Los Angeles, basically invented movie production, he made over 800 films, and has had two chosen to be preserved by the National Film Registry. The long and the short of it is Thomas Ince wasn’t in the movie industry, he WAS the movie industry…until he suddenly died of heart failure in 1924 at the age of 44. Dying of a heart condition at middle age isn’t exactly unheard of, but there are plenty of devilish details in the story to suspect foul play. Ince had been in the midst of a deal with media mega-giant William Randolph Hearst, and you don’t reach mega-giant status unless you never take “no” for an answer. Ince and his wife had been invited to party with Hearst and company on Hearst’s yacht in celebration of Ince’s birthday and to finalize a deal allowing Hearst to begin production on Ince’s studio grounds. But after the first night out, Ince retired to his room with an upset stomach and died the next morning with the signature on his death certificate due to heart failure being that of Dr. Daniel Carson Goodman, a licensed physician who just so happened to also be Hearst’s film production manager. Many people believe that Hearst shot Ince in the head (possibly mistaking him for Charlie Chaplin who was also in attendance and who he hated) and many dock workers claim to have seen a bullet wound in the famed man’s head when he was carried off of the yacht, although no official record of this has ever been found.
7. William Desmond Taylor
Taylor was a famed Hollywood director in World War I era America and was renowned for his kind manners and generosity, so you could imagine the public’s horrified confusion when he was found dead in his Westlake, Los Angeles bungalow with a bullet in his back. Oddly enough, nobody has any clue as to who shot him. Nothing valuable was taken so burglary was ruled out and so many people mobbed the bungalow to see the body, only to find out that any possible evidence was destroyed. The laundry list of suspects became so long people began coming forward as a joke and suspiciously after only one week of investigation, police were commanded to “back off.” The case became so flooded with media coverage and so intricate that 80 years later, an Arizona State University staff member was able to put together a 1,000-page text compiled of interviews and speculations on the murder called Taylorology. The case remains an official cold case to this day.
6. Tupac Shakur
One of the most outspoken musicians, beloved by critics and the public alike, is shot down on one of the busiest and well-lit streets on the entire planet immediately after a highly-publicized sporting event, and nobody saw who pulled the trigger. The story starts when Orlando Anderson, a known member of the Crips, robbed a member of Death Row Records (Shakur‘s label) at a Footlocker. Fast-forward a few months to the night of the Seldon v. Tyson fight in Las Vegas, and who does Shakur and company see in the lobby of the MGM Grand? Anderson, that’s who. The group beat Anderson and his crew down on camera until it was broken up by hotel security and Shakur and Death Row founder, Suge Knight, left to go to a club. On their way there, the duo stopped at a red light. Shakur stood out of the sun roof to invite women in the car beside them to come to the afterparty when a car pulled up on the opposite side and shot him and Knight. The assailants sped off and Shakur and Knight were rushed to the hospital where Shakur died. Shakur’s crew, who were in the car behind him, refused to help the police in identifying the shooters and Knight claimed he didn’t see a thing. This all happened amidst Shakur’s famous feud with East Coast hip-hop heavyweight (yeah, I do think I’m clever) Notorious B.I.G. which lead to many people pointing fingers at the rapper. Other theories include speculation around Suge Knight who supposedly employed Blood gang members as well as crooked LAPD officers to make the hit. At the end of the day, many people believe it was the obvious answer of who shot Tupac—Orlando Anderson. In fact, Anderson’s uncle told reporters in 2014 that he’s positive his nephew killed the hip-hop icon. Nevertheless, the case remains open.
5. The Notorious B.I.G.
You can’t talk about Tupac Shakur’s death without talking about the murder of his East Coast rival, Biggie Smalls a.k.a. Christopher Wallace a.k.a. Big Poppa a.k.a. Frank White a.k.a. The Notorious B.I.G. The two had a tumultuous relationship, to say the least, and when Smalls died only six months after Shakur, the similarities were sort of uncanny. Smalls was in Los Angeles leaving a party that was shut down by police due to overcrowding when he stopped at a red light at a busy intersection just outside the party. According to reports, the streets were mobbed due to people leaving when a car pulled up beside the one Smalls was in, rolled the window down, and fired four times into the car killing Smalls almost instantly, and the only eyewitness account of the shooter was that he was a black man in a blue shirt and a bowtie. Naturally, some people thought it was retaliation for Shakur’s murder. Others suspected Puff Daddy had him killed in order to collect on the boosted record sales that occur after an artist’s demise, and others (including those close to Smalls) believe the LAPD set the hip-hop star up. The case remains open just like his west coast counterpart.
4. Christa Helm
You probably don’t know who Christa Helm is and that’s perfectly fine and perfectly normal because she was never really famous until her death in 1977, after which she became the disco-era Black Dhalia. Helm was a young starlet trying to break into the industry but could only really land extra roles in toss-away television series. However, what she lacked in acting parts she made up for with her other parts. Helm was a notorious party girl who spent many nights canoodling with very powerful men, including Warren Beatty and the Shah of Iran. And she kept records of EVERYTHING. We’re talking diaries, audio recordings, gift receipts, and video tapes. And a lot of people think that’s why she was found stabbed and bludgeoned on the streets of West Hollywood. What makes it even odder is that a majority of those incriminating items went missing before the police could search Helm’s apartment and are still missing to this day. But maybe it goes deeper than just s*xual blackmail as a postcard Helm wrote to a friend before her death implies. Helm wrote, “I am in way over my head here. I’m into something I can’t get out of.”
3. Natalie Wood
Natalie Wood was America’s sweetheart for decades before her bizarre death in 1981. She was the little girl in the original Miracle on 34th Street, she was Maria in West Side Story, and she played opposite James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause. It goes without saying that Wood was one of the biggest movie stars of the time, and by the time the ’80s rolled in, she was happily married to Robert Wagner and was about to star in the new movie, Brainstorm, with Christopher Walken. On November 28, the three (and the yacht’s captain, Dennis Davern) went out on Wagner’s yacht but only the men would return. Wood’s dead body was found early the following morning in an inflatable dinghy with bruises on her body and an abrasion on her left cheek. She had painkillers in her system and a BAC of .14%. The cause of death was determined to be drowning, but nobody knows exactly how she ended up in the water in the first place. Years later, in his memoir, Wagner admitted that he and Wood did have an argument earlier that evening but denies any involvement with her death. Thirty years later, the case was reopened when Captain Davern came forward and said he had originally lied to police and now admits that Wagner threw Wood off of the boat. The police changed Wood’s death certificate to “drowning and undetermined factors.” It should also be noted that when the case reopened, Walken lawyered up faster than he could say he was innocent, even though police never considered him a suspect. Did Christopher Walken kill Natalie Wood?
2. Bruce Lee
How does one of the most pound-for-pound physically fit men in recent history kick the bucket in his early 30’s with almost no signs of sickness? A brain aneurysm, that’s how, or at least that’s what the official coroner report says. Others tend to guffaw at such an idea. In 1973, Lee collapsed during an ADR session for his last film. He was having headaches and seizures and was diagnosed with a cerebral edema which is basically when excess fluid starts filling up parts of your brain. The doctors reduced the swelling and sent him on his way. About a month later, Lee met with producer Raymond Chow to talk about a new movie. At the end of the meeting, Lee complained about a headache so Chow gave him this med called Equagesic which is one part aspirin and one part tranquilizer, and the actor went upstairs to take a nap—a nap which turned into a long rest, which turned into sleep, which turned into never waking up. Doctors believe he had a reaction to the painkiller which, when combined with the meds he had already been taking for an injured back, ended up killing him. However, of course, there’s going to be some skeptics. People believe he was killed by the same Triads who ran him out of Hong Kong decades earlier, and others believe he overdosed on marijuana, if you can believe that.
1. Marilyn Monroe
Marilyn Monroe is/was one of the most famous actresses in history, if not the most famous. Period. She was at the top of the A-list for over a decade and her movies grossed a combination of over $200 million, which roughly translates to $1.6 billion today. She was idolized, loved, and was a depressed alcoholic drug addict going on her third divorce in 20 years. The night Monroe died, she had encounters with her maid and her publicist, who both thought that nothing out of the ordinary was wrong with the actress. However, Dr. Ralph Greenson, esteemed psychoanalyst, sensed something was wrong and thought it would be best if the maid spent the night, just in case. Later that evening, Monroe had a phone conversation with Joe DiMaggio Jr. during which they discussed his girl troubles as if everything was fine. DiMaggio later stated that he noticed nothing out of the ordinary with Monroe. She then took a call from friend and actor Peter Lawford, who tried to convince her to attend his party that night, but he noticed she sounded under the influence of something when she said, “Say goodbye to Pat, say goodbye to the president (Lawford’s brother-in-law), and say goodbye to yourself, because you’re a nice guy,” before slowly “drifting” away. Lawford got in touch with Greenson who got in touch with the maid, who assured everyone that the lady of the manner was okay. That is until around 3 am when the maid woke up to Monroe’s bedroom light still on and her door locked. She peeked through the window and found Monroe face down on the bed still clutching the phone. Once they broke the door down, Monroe was dead due to consuming several times the lethal limit of barbiturates in a single gulp. The official death certificate says suicide but many still believe that the most infamous s*x symbol the world ever saw was killed by either jealous lovers or the mafia or, more specifically, JFK who was a lover who possibly hired the mafia to keep her quiet.
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