Marilyn Monroe Mystery Persists : 23 Years After Her Death, Questions Continue to Generate Controversy

Times Staff Writers

Eunice Murray would say later that she was not sure what prompted her to awaken that night, step from her bedroom and notice a telephone cord leading under Marilyn Monroe’s bedroom door.

The housekeeper, who said Monroe was a light sleeper who usually kept her phones under a pillow outside the room at night, found the door locked. She grabbed a fireplace poker, walked outside and pushed back the drapes on an open bedroom window that was protected by security bars. From there, she could see the blonde actress lying undressed on the bed with her hand on the phone.

Murray went back into the house and telephoned Monroe’s psychiatrist, Dr. Ralph Greenson, who had hired Murray to care for Monroe. Then Murray telephoned the actress’ personal physician, Dr. Hyman Engelberg, and asked him to come over.


When Greenson arrived at 3:40 a.m. on Aug. 5, 1962, he took the poker from Murray and broke open a bedroom window not protected by bars and climbed through. Murray waited for nearly two minutes by the bedroom door until the psychiatrist emerged saying: “We’ve lost her.”

At 3:50 a.m., Engelberg arrived and pronounced the 36-year-old screen legend dead.

It would be another 35 minutes before Engelberg notified police.

Twenty-three years later, Marilyn Monroe’s death continues to generate controversy and focus new attention on the events surrounding her death by drug overdose and on the thoroughness of the investigations that followed.

Through the years, questions have been raised about whether she was murdered because of her association with John and Robert Kennedy; the exact time the actress’ body was discovered; where she got the pills that killed her, and why an ambulance was dispatched to the scene when official reports indicate that she was lifeless when found.

Today, however, new questions are being raised about the conduct of the late actor Peter Lawford and whether he, in an effort to protect the Kennedys, participated in a cover-up after Monroe’s death. Lawford was married to Patricia Kennedy at the time.

The allegations come from Deborah Gould, the third of Lawford’s four wives, and from Fred Otash, once known as Mr. O, the king of Hollywood private eyes, whose clients included Frank Sinatra, Errol Flynn, Lana Turner, Howard Hughes and Judy Garland.

Gould was married to the actor for only a few weeks in 1976. She said it was then that Lawford told her details about Monroe’s death and her alleged romantic flings with John and Robert Kennedy.


Gould said Lawford broke down and told her that Monroe had been distraught over a love affair with Robert Kennedy. She said Lawford recalled telling Monroe on the phone on the night of her death: “My God, Marilyn, don’t leave any note behind!”

She said Lawford went to Monroe’s house that night and destroyed a note he had found. She said Lawford was to “cover up all the dirty work and take care of everything.”

Gould’s account is contained in a new book, “Goddess: The Secret Lives of Marilyn Monroe” by Anthony Summers, who spent several years investigating the case with members of an independent television documentary team. The documentary, produced by the British Broadcasting Corp., is to be released worldwide in early October. Gould was paid for her interview. She refused to be interviewed by The Times.

Asked by BBC interviewers why she was coming forward at this time, she replied, “I’m only doing it because I feel something good perhaps can come out of this.”

In an emotional interview with The Times from his hospital bed months before his death last Christmas Eve, Lawford tearfully denied Gould’s assertion, which had appeared in a German magazine.

“It’s all a fabrication. You can put me on a lie detector right now and tell me about that and the needle won’t move.” The Times offered to provide a lie detector test for Lawford but later, on the advice of his attorney, he retracted the offer.

“It didn’t happen the way she’s talking,” Lawford said. “Even if those things were true, I wouldn’t talk about them. . . . That’s just the way I am. Plus the fact, I have four children. I’m not going to embarrass them. I’m not going to embarrass the rest of the family.”

Lawford’s last wife, Patricia Seaton Lawford, said of Gould’s assertion: “I think Deborah Gould is fantasizing about a lot of stuff. Her only credibility is that she was married to him a short time.”

Story Buttressed

Recently, Gould’s story has been buttressed by Fred Otash, who said that he had decided to break 23 years of silence on the case.

Otash said that shortly after midnight on Aug. 5, 1962--hours before police were notified of Monroe’s death--Lawford called him to say that something traumatic had happened. Lawford and Otash agreed to meet at the detective’s Laurel Avenue office. Otash said Lawford arrived about 2 a.m. looking “half crocked and half nervous.”

Interviewed last week by telephone from his home in Cannes, France, Otash told The Times:

“He (Lawford) said he had just left Monroe and she was dead and that Bobby had been there earlier. He said they got Bobby out of the city and back to Northern California and would I go on out there and arrange to do anything to remove anything incriminating from the house.

“He said, ‘I took what I could find and I destroyed it--period.’ But he said, ‘I’m am so out of it, I would feel better if you went there.’ I said, ‘I’m not going out there. First, I’m too well-known.’ ”

Otash said he called a man skilled in installing listening devices, with whom he had worked over the years, and sent him to Monroe’s house, along with an off-duty Los Angeles police officer.

“When they got there, from what they tell me, the place was swarming with people. They were incapable of sweeping the place or anything.”

Otash said Lawford told him that Monroe and Robert Kennedy had had a fight over their relationship--whether he was going to marry her--and he left Monroe’s Brentwood house.

‘She’s Ranting and Raving’

“He (Kennedy) went over to Lawford’s and said: ‘She’s ranting and raving. I’m concerned about her and what may come out of this,’ ” Otash said, quoting the actor. “According to Lawford, he had called her and she had said to him that she was passed around like a piece of meat. She had had it. She didn’t want Bobby to use her anymore. She called the White House and there was no response from the President. She was told he (John Kennedy) was in Hyannisport and she didn’t connect with him. She kept trying to get him.

“He (Lawford) had tried to reason with her to quiet down and come to the (Lawford’s) beach house and relax. She said, ‘No, I’m tired. There is nothing more for me to respond to. Just do me a favor. Tell the President I tried to get him. Tell him goodby for me. I think my purpose has been served.’ ”

Otash said Lawford tried to call Monroe back but the phone was off the hook.

“(He said) Bobby got panicky,” Otash recalled. “Bobby asked, ‘What’s going on?’ He (Lawford) said: ‘Nothing. That’s the way she is.’ ”

Otash, the quintessential private eye of the 1950s--tough, hard-drinking and street smart--admitted having had run-ins with the Kennedys over the years, saying that he had investigated them from time to time. Otash, former manager of the Hollywood Palladium who is now retired from private investigating, said he had performed work for the late Teamsters Union President Jimmy Hoffa and some famous mob figures.

Otash, 63, said he had remained silent over the years about the Monroe case because “I didn’t see any purpose of getting involved. . . . I’m not being paid. I’m not writing a book. I’m not making a point. If I wanted to capitalize on my relationship in this matter, I would have written my own book.”

Lawford did not live to reply to Otash’s remarks.

His widow, however, confirmed that Lawford had sought out the private investigator on various occasions, including the day of Marilyn Monroe’s death.

Had Used Otash Before

“Peter told me he had used Otash for different situations at different times,” Patricia Seaton Lawford told The Times. “I had heard he (Otash) had worked for Sinatra and different people throughout that period.”

She said her husband told her that he had gone to Otash for assistance sometime after Monroe’s body was discovered.

“He approached Otash afterward,” she said. “I think what was a concern was the girl had committed suicide. Peter never discussed when or at what point in time Otash’s services were rendered, but he did mention his name to me on many occasions.

“I don’t know exactly what it was about,” she said, referring to Lawford’s visit to Otash. “But I think it was to make sure that nothing would harm Peter’s family.”

She said Lawford had told her that the week before Monroe’s death, he and others had helped the actress get through a suicidal period at Cal-Neva Lodge at Lake Tahoe.

“He mentioned to me she had taken a lot of sleeping pills and had been drinking a lot (at Cal-Neva Lodge) and she was in really bad shape,” Mrs. Lawford said. She did not know what triggered Monroe’s anguish.

But she dismissed as “total nonsense” assertions by Otash and Gould that Lawford had gone to Monroe’s residence and destroyed a suicide note.

“Peter is hardly the type to sneak through a house,” she said. “The picture Deborah painted of him was that he was a second-story man. To me it was hysterical.”

Writing a Biography

Mrs. Lawford, 27, had lived with the actor since she was 17. She married him at UCLA Medical Center five months before his death and is currently writing his biography.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Ronald H. Carroll, who headed a 1982 re-investigation of the Marilyn Monroe case for the district attorney’s office, said had he known of Otash’s statements at that time, Lawford’s actions would have been scrutinized more closely.

“It would have been pursued,” Carroll said. “However, whether it would have been included in our report would depend on whether it had relationship to circumstances of her death. If it had to do with conduct after her death that was not criminal, such as a delay in calling police, it would not have had an impact on our report.

“If there had been a crime to begin with and there was a cover-up, clearly that would have been criminal,” Carroll continued. “If she was despondent and wrote a note saying ‘Bobby Kennedy drove me to suicide,’ it is not clear that the taking of that note would have been a crime.”

Carroll, whose investigation took 3 1/2 months, concluded that there were insufficient facts to warrant opening of a criminal investigation into Monroe’s death.

But the prosecutor said he and his investigator found discrepancies that were historically interesting.

“There is a discrepancy in the initial (police) reports,” Carroll said. “They report she was found around 3:40 a.m. and police don’t get called until 4:25. Why the hell the delay? Why do you wait that long in the interim?

“There were two areas that caused us some concern,” Carroll said “One was the source of medication. We could account for some of it, but not all of it. The other was the delay (in notifying police).”

Stunned by Death

Monroe’s physician, Dr. Engelberg, told the district attorney’s office that after finding her dead, he was stunned and remained in the bedroom with psychiatrist Greenson for about half an hour discussing her death.

“Dr. Engelberg explained he didn’t usually notify police on this type of case, but due to Marilyn’s notoriety, decided to call,” the district attorney’s file states.

Prosecutors said 15 bottles of various pills were found at the scene of Monroe’s death. Eight vials were supplied to the coroner’s office, including an empty container labeled Nembutal and another labeled chloral hydrate. Carroll said reports did not contain the name of the prescribing physicians, nor were the vials preserved.

He estimated, however, that she would have had to take in excess of 25 pills--and possibly as many as 40 or more--to commit suicide.

As for Lawford, there is no indication that he was interviewed by authorities immediately after the death, although an attempt was made by Los Angeles police.

In his 1962 follow-up report, Detective R.E. Byron said that officers tried to interview Lawford but that they were told by his secretary that Lawford had taken a plane trip and that the secretary did not expect to hear from him.

Police did not interview Lawford until 1975, when he talked officially of his phone calls with her on the final night. That confidential police file was made public last week by Police Chief Daryl F. Gates. In 1982, Lawford told the district attorney that he learned of Monroe’s death at 1:30 a.m. and was positive about the time because he looked at a bedside clock after receiving the phone call from his manager.

In his 1984 interview with The Times, Lawford recounted again what happened that night.

Lawford said he told Monroe that night that “five or six” people were coming over to play poker at his beach house.

‘I Just Don’t Feel Well’

“It was about 6 or half-past 6 and she said to me, ‘Peter, I don’t think I’m going to make it tonight because I just don’t feel well.’

“I said, ‘Oh, Marilyn, come on.’ It was starting to rain. I said, ‘Come on down, you can go home early. Call me back. Dinner won’t be until 8 or 8:30.’ She said, ‘OK, I’ll call you back.’ So she rang back. I could hear the depression really moving in on her. She said, ‘I really don’t think I can come down tonight.’ ”

Lawford said she replied: “Will you say goodby to Pat, and to Jack and to yourself, because you’re a nice guy.”

Lawford said he tried to verbally slap Monroe, saying, “Hey, Marilyn, what is that.? Come on now!” She said, ‘You’ve all been so nice to me.’ He said, ‘Marilyn!’

“I started to really get angry and frightened,” he recalled. “She said: ‘I’ll see. I’ll see.’ And she hung up. . . . I tried to ring her back and it was busy. It was busy, busy, busy for an hour and a half. Now, to this day, I’ve lived with this. I should have got into my car and gone straight to her house. I didn’t do it.”

At this point in the interview, Lawford broke down and cried.

He said he telephoned his manager, Milton Ebbins, and asked Ebbins to contact psychiatrist Greenson and Milton (Mickey) Rudin, Monroe’s attorney, and have them check on her because he had a “bad feeling.”

“I went to dinner,” he continued. “My head wasn’t there. I was worrying about it. Don’t ask me why I didn’t get up and go. I kept rationalizing, ‘No, she’s not going to do that,’ so I called Ebbins back about 9:30 and he was out. He rang me between 11 and 12 (midnight). He said, ‘I finally got hold of Rudin, who was getting hold of Greenson.’ He said, ‘They’re on their way over there.’ ”

Called From the House

Ebbins told The Times that “Rudin called me from the house and told me they’d just broken in and found the body.”

Rudin was interviewed briefly in 1962 by Detective Byron but said only that he telephoned housekeeper Murray at 9 p.m. and asked her if Monroe was all right. Told that she was, Rudin said he dismissed the possibility of anything further being wrong. Rudin, who was the Greenson’s brother-in-law, has remained silent on the case ever since.

There was no formal coroner’s inquest into Monroe’s death in 1962. Because the death appeared to be a suicide, the main investigative agency handling the case was the Los Angeles County coroner’s office, then run by Dr. Theodore J. Curphey.

Rather than conduct a public inquest, Curphey decided to appoint a three-member team of mental health professionals to probe into Monroe’s background. Their report, which concluded that her death was a probable suicide, was issued in 11 days.

Psychologist Norman Farberow, who was a member of the team, said he was not aware in 1962 that Lawford had talked on the phone to the despondent actress shortly before her death, although Los Angeles newspapers carried front-page stories on Lawford’s reported final conversation at the time.

“Nobody mentioned, at least to me, that she had made a call to Lawford,” Farberow recalled. “So that his involvement was something that was not pursued and was not known at that time.” Farberow also said he was never told of Rudin.

Still unresolved is whether Robert Kennedy was in Los Angeles at the time of Monroe’s death.

Visited Farm in Gilroy

Kennedy had attended a meeting of the American Bar Assn. in San Francisco that weekend and then, according to official reports, went with his wife and children to the home of friends on a farm in Gilroy, Calif.

Carroll and his investigator, Alan Tomich, found no evidence in 1982 that Kennedy was in Los Angeles that day in 1962.

Carroll, however, did reveal to The Times that, in 1982, Los Angeles Superior Court Commissioner John Dickie told him that he (Dickie) conducted a secret investigation in 1962 of Monroe’s death for then-Chief Deputy Dist. Atty. Manley J. Bowler. Carroll said Dickie apparently found that Kennedy had been at the Beverly Hilton the day of her death. Dickie’s report, if it exists, has not been found. Dickie refused to be interviewed, and Bowler is dead.

Former Mayor Sam Yorty recalled being told by former Police Chief William Parker that Kennedy was in town that weekend.

“Chief Parker told me that he knew Bobby Kennedy was at the Hilton Hotel the night she died and he (Kennedy) was supposed to be in Fresno,” Yorty recalled. “I just remember we talked about it. I don’t think there is any Police Department file on that. I think the chief kept the file separately. As mayor, I sent for it later when the chief died, and they didn’t have it.”