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A maid found TV director Barry Crane bludgeoned and strangled. 34 years later, a suspect is charged

A maid found TV director Barry Crane bludgeoned and strangled. 34 years later, a suspect is charged
TV director Barry Crane (Los Angeles Times)

In 1985, a housekeeper entered the Studio City condo of TV director Barry Crane and came across a horrific scene.

Crane’s body — bludgeoned and strangled — was wrapped in bedding on the garage floor.

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His wallet and late-model Cadillac were missing, but there were no signs of any additional burglary or forced entry.

Coverage at the time detailed Crane's death.
Coverage at the time detailed Crane's death. (Los Angeles Times)

There was a flurry of headlines for a few weeks, and then the case went cold.

But this week, a surprising arrest was made in North Carolina. On Friday prosecutors in Los Angeles announced the man was charged in Crane’s killing.

Here is what we know:

Who was Barry Crane?

Crane gained fame in two areas: television directing and the card game bridge.

He directed episodes of such hits as “Dallas,” “Mission Impossible” and “Mannix.” At the time of his slaying, he was on the production staff of “Dallas,” The Times reported.

Crane also directed episodes of “Police Story,” “Police Woman,” “The Streets of San Francisco,” “Trapper John, M.D.,” “The Incredible Hulk” and other network TV shows. One of the last dramas he directed was “Charlotte Forten’s Mission: Experiment in Freedom,” a two-hour Civil War docudrama PBS aired not long before his death.

“He was a good problem-solver for TV shows,” ”Mannix” star Mike Connors told United Press International a day after his body was found. “He was an expert at bringing a TV show in with the most production values for the least amount of money. He was very popular with the actors he directed.”

At the same time that his body was discovered, The Times reported, Crane’s team had been leading in the finals of an annual bridge tournament in Pasadena.

The slaying sent a shock wave through the ranks of card players at tournaments that weekend. Players who had seen and talked to Crane were questioned by detectives, and entry slips filled out by tournament players were impounded as evidence.

The tournament continued nonetheless, and Crane’s team — with Kerri Shuman sitting in for him — emerged victorious.

Crane was also a six-time winner of the trophy awarded annually to the player accumulating the most master points during the year, and American Contract Bridge League officials suggested the award be renamed as the Barry Crane Trophy.

Suspect Edwin Hiatt is arrested in North Carolina.
Suspect Edwin Hiatt is arrested in North Carolina. (Associated Press)

What happened with the investigation?

Police said they started with few clues.

Because there was no evidence of forced entry, detectives assumed Crane knew his killer.

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A neighbor told The Times that he spoke to Crane’s housekeeper. She told him that she entered the front door on the second level of the townhouse and noticed a trail of blood on the stairs leading to the bedroom on the third floor. She told him the bedroom was “a mess,” with blood on the floor, missing sheets and a broken, bloodied art object on the floor. She then went to the street-level garage, where she saw Crane’s nude body wrapped in sheets.

In its 1985 coverage, The Times noted this strange coincidence: Crane’s Colfax Avenue condominium complex was next to the building where model Vicki Morgan, one-time mistress of the late millionaire Alfred Bloomingdale, was beaten to death with a baseball bat by talent agency clerk Marvin Pancoast on July 7, 1983.

A few years after the slaying, a new appeal was made for information in the killing. But the case soon went cold.

What led to an arrest now?

In 2006 and again in 2018, an LAPD detective from the Robbery-Homicide Division requested that evidence in the case be retested. Last July, the division received results indicating a forensic match to Edwin Hiatt, the LAPD said.

On March 8, L.A. police detectives traveled to North Carolina and interviewed Hiatt. During the interview, he admitted to killing Crane, according to the LAPD.

The News Herald of Morganton, N.C., reported that when a reporter with the North Carolina TV station WSOC asked Hiatt whether he could have killed Crane, Hiatt responded: “Anything is possible back then because I was big into drugs.”

The paper said authorities had been following Hiatt for some time and got DNA from a coffee cup and lid as well as cigarette butts.

In charging Hiatt on Friday, prosecutors included “a special allegation that he used a deadly and dangerous weapon, a heavy decorative object, during the commission of the crime,” the district attorney said in a statement.

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