Miner’s Account of Monroe’s Death
THE MARILYN MONROE STORY
Editor’s note: This is John W. Miner’s personal account of his role in the investigation of Marilyn Monroe’s death. It has not been edited except to correct the spelling of two names.
For me it began when I looked at the naked body of a 36 year old woman. She was dead She was beautiful. She was Marilyn Monroe, awaiting her autopsy.
Why was I there? Soon after I was appointed a Deputy District Attorney of Los Angeles County, California, I founded and headed the Medical-Legal Section which specialized in the investigation and prosecution of crimes presenting complex medical problems. I was designated as liaison to the County’s Chief Medical Examiner-Coroner As such, I went to as many autopsies as my schedule permitted, amounting to several thousand over the years.
Forensic pathology asks the body to tell every thing it can about what caused its death: when it died; how it died; was it murdered. To get answers involves surgery, microscopic examinations and the laboratory sciences. Some answers belong to the Law which makes this branch of medicine forensic. The process begins and ends with the pathologist who is the autopsy surgeon.
For Marilyn Monroe, as for so many other celebrity deaths, this surgeon was Deputy Medical Examiner Thomas T. Noguchi MD--her final physician.
Nothing externally told why she died. Dr. Noguchi and I searched her entire body surface and orifices with magnifying glasses to look for any traces of needle injections. There was none. He then took smears from her genitals, anus, rectum and mouth which, under microscopic examination, would disclose if there had been any sexual activity.
He then began dissection. I will not describe the surgery in detail.
Since the autopsy revealed no apparent cause of death, a lethal drug dose became suspect. If this were the case it would be revealed by the laboratory analyses of the various specimens taken from the body. These specimens included organs, brain, blood, urine, smears of genital, anal, and oral areas, stomach contents.
The results of the blood analysis were conclusive. Death was caused by a massive amount of Nembutal, a barbiturate which may be prescribed for such symptoms as nervous disorders and sleeplessness. The blood sample also revealed a non-fatal level of chloral hydrate. This is the knock-out drug popularly referred to as a “Mickey Finn.” It is infrequently prescribed for insomnia.
The question then is how did the lethal dose of the barbiturate get into the system. There are three main possibilities: orally, by injection and through the large intestine (colon). Finding the answer to this question was made extremely difficult because of a very strange circumstance: the disappearance of much of the specimen materials that had be submitted for examination. The stomach contents, the organ samples, the smear material somehow all vanished! I know of no other such instances,
There were, however, two examinations that could be and were made: tests of the blood and the liver. The blood examination gave us the cause of the death-- the Nembutal, The liver examination provides an indication of the means by which it was administered. The liver contained a level of 13% of Nembutal and this is very significant. It is in the liver that the drug is detoxified (broken down into harmless compounds). For the liver to have so high a barbiturate reading means that the drug was slowly absorbed over a substantial period of time before death occurred.
So now we may assemble the pieces of this puzzle to reconstruct what happened.
1. It is unlikely that Miss Monroe swallowed a large amount of Nembutal capsules without leaving any traces of the drug in her stomach or duodenum (first part of small intestine into which the stomach empties). Even though the stomach contents disappeared and were thus not available for examination, we can conclude this from the fact that, had she taken so many capsules orally, the yellow coloring of the capsules (from which come the street name “yellow jackets”) there should have been yellow dye stains in the stomach or duodenum. There were no such stains.
2. Miss Monroe lived long enough to accumulate 13% Nembutal in the liver where detoxification stops at death. This means she was gradually absorbing the drug for a prolonged time before death,
3. Nembutal is not excreted by passing through the large intestine (colon).
4. She was not killed by a hypodermic injection for 2 reasons: one, there were no needle marks on her body; two, had she died from lethal injection, death would have incurred promptly, before any liver metabolism could have taken place.
5. From the above, two possible ways for the Nembutal to have killed her are eliminated. Only the third remains: absorption from the large intestine. Nembutal is intestinally absorbable. Indeed, it is packaged as a rectal suppository for physicians to use when a patient is unable to swallow. However the blood and liver readings were far too high to support a suppository as the Nembutal transmitting agent But Nembutal readily dissolves in water.
These facts lead to a scenario of what really happened:
Marilyn Monroe took or was given chloral hydrate to render her unconscious. Someone dissolved Nembutal in water by breaking open 30 or more capsules. That person then administered the Nembutal loaded solution by enema to Miss Monroe using an ordinary fountain syringe or enema bag. As the drug was slowly absorbed, the tissues of the large intestine reacted to the trauma of exposure to the poisonous substance by an inflammatory response producing congestion and a marked purple color. That congestion and purple color were in evidence when the body was opened at the autopsy. Never regaining consciousness, Marilyn Monroe died,
It must be concluded from the medical evidence alone that Marilyn Monroe was killed by person(s) unknown.
The administering of the Nembutal by enema would also provide a plausible explanation for a puzzling event recounted by Anthony Summers in his book “Goddess” (by far the best investigative Monroe reportage). He relates that Eunice Murray, the live-in housekeeper, admits to operating the washing machine at midnight, while her employer was lying dead in her room. Mrs. Murray never explained this peculiar activity. Does it not seem likely, in view of the other evidence, that some enema fluid and fetal matter escaped soiling the bed sheet?
Ancient Rome provides a historical precedent for death-by-enema theory. Suetonius reports that the Emperor Claudius was murdered by his wife who gave him poison in an enema.
The Greenson Interview
In 1962 I was an Associate Clinical Professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the Medical School of the University of Southern California (Clinical means part-time and unpaid.) Through attending lectures and seminars, I was acquainted with Ralph Greenson MD who was Marilyn Monroe’s psychiatrist.
(I pause to say something about Dr. Greenson. Indisputably, he was among the outstanding psychiatrists of this century. His writings and teaching deservedly earned admiration and respect internationally. His brilliance and intuitive understanding of psychology made him a very successful practitioner of the most difficult of healing arts. Especially unyielding was his adherence to high ethical standards to protect and safeguard his patients. Although a Freudian psychoanalyst, he varied from orthodoxy when he thought it helped his patient.)
Dr. Theodore J. Curphey, Chief Medical Examiner-Coroner was aware that I knew Dr. Greenson. Soon after the Monroe autopsy, Ted (we were long-standing friends) informally asked me to interview Dr. Greenson on the suicide question.
Dr. Greenson agreed to see me on the condition that I would promise not to disclose to anyone what was said or heard in the interview. I gave him that promise. He said that I could quote his opinion that Miss Monroe did not commit suicide, but nothing more. (After having remained silent for 30 years I was released from my promise under circumstances described at the end of this document and so can relate the material that follows.) Dr. Greenson said that many in his profession would make such diagnoses about Monroe as obsessive-compulsive, manic depressive, or schizoid but these were just labels that did not help in understanding her neurotic difficulties. He made the point that few, if any, women were subjected to pressures and stress of being viewed by all as the world’s greatest sex object, that some of her abnormal behavior was reactive defenses. But he thought that she was well on the path to overcoming her problems and realizing her tremendous potential.
However, he wanted me to understand that the greatest catastrophe that could befall a psychiatrist was to have a patient commit suicide. That would be the ultimate therapeutic failure. So his opinion that she did not kill herself would be considered biased by self-interest and lack objectivity. Accordingly, he would let me hear two tapes she had made for him in her home. From her own words I could thaw my conclusions concerning the likelihood of suicide.
I will not reproduce here the transcription of what I remember Miss Monroe said in her tapes. (The transcription in full is attached. The transcription may be edited by someone other than me to remove possible offensive material. However I will make certain the editing does not distort or change the meaning of what she said.)
I summarize the tapes as follows:
I. She explains that she has recorded her free associating (saying whatever comes into her mind; a necessary technique used in psychoanalytic therapy) at home because she could not do it in office sessions. She hoped this would assist in her treatment. And she believes that she has discovered a means of overcoming the resistance which patients have in being unable to comply with the psychiatrist’s request to free associate because the mind becomes a blank.
2. She tells how she plans to become the highest paid actress in Hollywood so that she can finance everything that she wants to do.
3. She says that she aspires to do Shakespeare and that she will pay Lee [Strasberg] to coach her in Shakespeare as his only student for one year.
4. Laurence Olivier, she says, had agreed to polish her Shakespearean training after Strasberg finished, and she would pay him whatever he asked
5. She says she would pay Dr. Greenson to be his only patient while she was undergoing the instruction in Shakespeare.
6. She says that when she is ready she would produce and act in all of the Shakespeare plays that she would put in film under the rubric Marilyn Monroe Shakespeare Festival.
7. For those many writers who maintain that she was going to blow the whistle on J. F. Kennedy about their sexual relationship, she shoots down such speculation when she expresses utmost admiration for the President and explicitly says she would never embarrass him.
8. Her remarks disprove those who claim that she killed herself because Robert Kennedy broke off their relationship because it was she who broke it off.
9. She strongly assert that she wanted to rid herself of Eunice Murray, her housekeeper, and requested Dr. Greenson’s assistance in so doing.
10. She says that she never had an orgasm before becoming Dr. Greenson’s patient but that he had cured her of that infirmity for which was she was forever grateful. (I add, so much for author Spoto and his ilk who falsely and maliciously claim that Dr. Greenson was implicated in killing her.)
After hearing these tapes, any reasonable person would have to conclude that Marilyn Monroe did not kill herself. She had too many plans to fulfill, too much to live for, and had, at last, found the physical satisfaction that she so missed for all of her life.
I am certain that Dr. Greenson destroyed these tapes. And he died some years ago. I am now the only living person who has heard them. But there is some verification that Miss Monroe did make these tapes. Again, Anthony Summers, that matchless reporter, puts in his book an item about them. Another investigative reporter, Seymore Hersh, told me he can verify, a somewhat “kinky” tape item.
Marilyn Monroe bears the stigma of suicide. That is wrong and must be corrected. The medical evidence here assembled is sufficient to show that she was a homicide victim. However, I would propose that her own body give definite proof, if possible, of this conviction. Because she is interred in a water impenetrable crypt, well off the ground, there is a good chance that the large intestine is sufficiently preserved to enable modern technology to determine the presence of a barbitwate. Dr. Noguchi has volunteered to do the re-autopsy without cost provided that independent and competent witness is present.
I have, in the past, successfully petitioned the Superior Court for exhumation orders in many other cases. For this case, I will do all the necessary court and paper work without fee for which the District Attorney or Attorney General can deputize me. The Chief Medical Examiner-Coroner, the District Attorney, the Attorney General have standing to so petition. Under these circumstances, there are legal and moral requirements to open an investigation of Marilyn Monroe’s death and to perform a re-autopsy.
Personal Note I. I kept my promise to Dr. Greenson to respect the confidentiality of his interview with me and the contents of Miss Monroe’s tapes, I kept that promise in spite of incredible pressures from reporters, authors, and official investigators to relate this information. It is only after Donald Spoto, Marvin Bergman and others accused Dr. Greenson of being responsible in some way for causing Marilyn Monroe’s death that I approached Dr. Greenson’s widow to ask for a release from my promise to her husband. She wishes to do whatever is possible to clear his name and granted my request.
John W. Miner
Start your day right
Sign up for Essential California for news, features and recommendations from the L.A. Times and beyond in your inbox six days a week.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.