Scenes of the Crimes
The city is sprinkled with sites of the untimely deaths of the famous and the fated. From John Belushi to the Black Dahlia, Los Angeles has been the backdrop for many a notorious demise. Solved or unsolved, some murders and suicides become part of the cultural fabric, spawning books, movies and even sightseeing tours. Here is a look at episodes from the city’s homicidal history.
1. Otto Sanhuber and Walburga Oesterreich
800 block, Lafayette Park Place, Los Angeles
One of the city’s most bizarre love affairs was between Oesterreich, the wife of an apron manufacturer, and Sanhuber, a tiny, quiet man who, unbeknown to Oesterreich’s husband, lived for years in the attic over the couple’s bed. But on Aug. 22, 1922, Sanhuber came out of his hideaway when he heard Oesterreich and her husband quarrel. Sanhuber shot Fred Oesterreich to death. Walburga Oesterreich was acquitted in 1930. Sanhuber was convicted of manslaughter but was released because of a three-year statute of limitations. The frame house on a hill overlooks Sunset Boulevard.
2. Sal Mineo
8569 Holloway Drive, West Hollywood
After a play rehearsal on the night of Feb. 12, 1976, 37-year-old actor Sal Mineo was stabbed to death after parking his Chevette in the carport of the two-story apartment building. He appeared in the 1955 film “Rebel Without a Cause” with James Dean, Natalie Wood and Nick Adams. All died unusual or violent deaths. Mineo’s killer, 19-year-old pizza deliveryman Lionel Ray Williams, was convicted of second-degree murder, as well as 10 robberies in the neighborhood, and sentenced to 51 years in prison.
3. ‘Vamping Venus’
17575 Pacific Coast Highway, Malibu
Actress and comedian Thelma Todd, known as the “Vamping Venus,” was found dead Dec. 15, 1935, slumped over the steering wheel of her convertible in a garage above her restaurant. Her death was ruled a suicide, but some believe it was murder. Toddy’s Cafe is now a publishing company.
4. Andrey Kuznetsov and Vladimir Litvinenko
8546 W. Knoll Drive, West Hollywood
On the night of Jan. 26, 1992, Russian nationals Andrey Kuznetsov and Vladimir Litvinenko, both 28, were found shot execution-style with their fingertips cut off. Police arrived and found two Russian immigrants ripping the bullets from the bodies, presumably trying to erase any ballistics trail. Serguei Ivanov and Alexander Nikolaev, former members of the Soviet military, were charged in the case. The motive is still unclear.
5. Black Dahlia
Once-vacant lot on Norton Avenue south of Coliseum Street in the Crenshaw district.
An aspiring 22-year-old actress named Elizabeth Ann Short was tortured and strangled; her body, severed at the waist, was found on Jan. 15, 1947, in a vacant lot. Her organs had been removed, her body drained of blood and an ear-to-ear grin carved on her face. She was nicknamed the Black Dahlia because of her tight-fitting black dresses and her bouffant black hair. The case was never solved.
6. Johnny Stompanato
730 N. Bedford Drive, Beverly Hills
On Good Friday in 1958, actress Lana Turner’s abusive boyfriend, organized crime figure Johnny Stompanato, was stabbed to death in Turners’s pink bedroom by her 14-year-old daughter, Cheryl Crane. The killing was ruled justifiable homicide and no charges were brought.
7. Dorothy Stratten
10881 Clarkson Road, West Los Angeles
Playboy magazine’s 1980 “Playmate of the Year,” 20-year-old Dorothy Stratten, was raped and murdered by her estranged husband Paul Snider in his rented two-story stucco house in the shadow of the Santa Monica freeway. The killing, on Aug. 14, 1980, reportedly occurred after Snider had learned that his wife was having an affair with director Peter Bogdanovich. Snider then turned the 12-gage shotgun on himself.
8. Shorty Shea
Spahn Movie Ranch
12000 Santa Susana Pass Road, Chatsworth
Donald (Shorty) Shea disappeared one day in 1969 from this rugged acreage where Charles Manson and his homicidal bank lived fro a time amid broken-down sets once used in Western movies. Police believe that Shea, who worked on the ranch as a wrangler, was decapitated and buried somewhere on the property. His remains have never been found. The ranch has since been subdivided into several parcels.
9. Hillside Strangler
703 E. Colorado St., Glendale
Angelo Buono, a Glendale auto upholsterer, was convicted of sexually torturing and murdering nine women whose bodies were dumped on Los Angeles-area hillsides in 1977 and 1978. Buono’s accomplice and cousin, Kenneth Bianchi, admitted to five killings in a plea bargain. Buono was sentenced to life in prison and Bianchi will be eligible for parole in 2005. Bianchi claimed that most of the murders were committed at this address, Buono’s upholstery shop. It is now a used-car dealership.
10. Vicki Morgan
4171 D Colfax Ave., Studio City
Vicki Morgan was the mistress of the late Alfred Bloomingdale, Diners Club founder and member of former President Ronald Reagan’s “kitchen cabinet.” On July 7, 1983, Morgan was beaten to death with a baseball bat by roommate Marvin Pancoast. He died of AIDS in a prison at Chino last December.
11. Night Stalker
3727 E. Hubbard St., East Los Angeles
After seven months of slipping through unlocked doors and windows before dawn to attack his victims as they slept, Richard Ramirez, the notorious Night Stalker, was captured across the street from this house by as many as 20 neighbors on Aug. 31, 1985. Ramirez was convicted of 13 brutal slayings ad 30 related felonies.
12. Mickey and Trudy Thompson
53 Woodlyn Lane, Bradbury
Millionaire racing promoter and pioneering speedster Mickey Thompson and his wife, Trudy, were ambushed and shot to death in the driveway of their walled foothill estate while leaving for work on March 16, 1988. The still-unsolved shootings were thought to be contract killings.
13. John Belushi
8221 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood
The exclusive residential hotel Chateau Marmont, once the residence of Jean Harlow, Greta Garbo and Errol Flynn. It is also where 33-year-old comedian John Belushi was found dead of a drug overdose in Bungalow No. 2 on March 5, 1982. Belushi’s friend, one-time heroin addict and backup vocalist Cathy Smith, was arrested for administering the fatal mixture of cocaine and heroine. She pleaded no contest to a charge of involuntary manslaughter and was sentenced to three years in prison.
14. Edward L. Doheny
905 Loma Vista Drive, Beverly Hills
Oil magnate Edward L. Doheny built this 55-room mansion in 1928 for his son, Edward Lawrence (Ned) Doheny Jr. Just a few months after the younger Doheny moved into the 46,054-square-foot home with his wife and five children, he and his secretary, Hugh Plunkett, were found dead in Doheny’s bedroom. Some say the secretary shot Doheny because he was denied a raise, then turned the gun on himself. But published reports at the time suggested that Doheny and his secretary were lovers and that Doheny fired both shots because he was afraid his family would find out about his affair. Today Greystone is owned by the city of Beverly Hills.
Sources: “Chronicles of L.A. Crime and Mystery: Fallen Angles,” by Marvin J. Wolf and Katherine Mader, and “This is Hollywood: An Unusual Movieland Guide,” by Ken Schessler.