…and two unknowns who died horribly. Among great screen beauties, there are all manners of sad, lonely, Hollywood deaths. Marilyn Monroe, (suicide) Veronica Lake, (poor health), Jeanne French, (brutal homicide), Barbara Payton, (poor health), Jean Spangler (technically still listed as a missing person, never found), Georgette Bauerdorf (brutally murdered), Carole Landis (suicide), and of course, Elizabeth Short, whose fame only began the day her life ended.
The baffling question of course is why did all of these successful, talented and beautiful women end up on such hard times or end up dying a horrible death? The woman who died by their own hand is perhaps the most baffling of all. Those who died of ill-health generally got that way due to living excess, specifically drinking and drug use. Short was murdered. Spangler went missing after meeting with a man in the film industry about a walk-on role in a movie. Short, French and Spangler are victims of circumstance. Two died horribly, Spangler was simply never seen again. To this day, no one except perhaps the killer (if there was one) has knowledge of what happened to Spangler, that is, if the killer is still alive.
Victimology is the study of victimization, including the relationships between victims and offenders. and the connections between victims and other social groups and institutions, such as the media, businesses, and social movements. One of the most controversial sub-topics within the broader topic is victim-proneness. This theory posits that the location and context of the crime bring the victim of the crime and perpetrator together. Victim facilitation is a model that describes the misinterpretation by the offender of victim behavior Categorization was based upon lifestyle risk (example, amount of time spent interacting with strangers), type of employment, and their location at the time of the killing (example, bar, home or place of business). A trend was noticed among serial killer victims after 1975: one in five victims were at greater risk from hitchhiking, working as a prostitute, or involving themselves in situations in which they often came into contact with strangers.
Victim blaming occurs when the victim of a crime or any wrongful act is held responsible for the crime. There is a tendency to blame victims of rape than victims of robbery in cases where victims and perpetrators know one another. Although this trend has improved somewhat in the previous 15 years, there is still much prejudice against rape victims in the judicial system. Some of the women in this blog were what police would call “high-risk victims”. The others were “moderate-risk victims” and still others were “low-risk victims.” Landis, Lake and Payton were low-risk victims. For example, although Payton was known for sex scandals and rough boyfriends she was never in any significant danger with strangers. Her scandals were of her own doing. Monroe, Bauerdorf and French were moderate-risk victims. Short and Spangler were definitely high-risk victims. High-risk victims live risky, often dangerous lifestyles.
In Short’s case she was a drifter and a woman who easily hopped into strange men’s cars when offered a dinner or occasionally a place to stay for the night. Short also dated two Mafia members who were henchmen of Kingpin Mickey Cohen. Spangler was an actress and a party girl who associated with members of the Mafia. Spangler associated with the Hollywood set, and trusted acquaintances enough to meet them without revealing their names or her whereabouts to her family.
Bauerdorf worked at the Hollywood Canteen, a place inhabited by the Mafia, celebrities and military men. It is believed she was murdered by a military man who followed her home one night. French was an adventurous woman and a freelancer: a movie bit player, an aviator and an Army Nurse. The high-risk victims in this situation were all beautiful actresses or wannabes, associating with powerful men who expected sex in return for a place to lay their heads for a night, or an introduction to a Hollywood producer.
Low Risk Victims
Carole Landis – Landis wasn’t the victim of a perpetrator, but it is fair to say she was a victim of her situation, being a pending divorce from her husband and a complex relationship with her married boyfriend. Landis divorced her fourth husband, Schmidlapp, in order to marry Harrison, but he chose to remain with his wife. On July 4, 1948, after having dinner with Harrison, 29-year-old Landis took an overdose of Seconal leaving a suicide note that ended with “goodbye my angel – pray for me.”
Veronica Lake – was a victim of circumstance and her own doing, rather than a perpetrator. She was a pinup queen during WWII and co-starred in several films with Alan Ladd. Although popular with the public, Lake, like Marilyn Monroe, acquired a reputation for being difficult to work with. A co-worked stated, “She was known as ‘The Bitch’ and she deserved the title. During filming of the 1946 film The Blue Dahlia she was referred to as Moronica Lake. Ouch. By the early 1950’s Lake had suffered three broken marriages, a domineering stage mother, a manic-depressive personality, and was by then an alcoholic. Lake died at the age of 51 from acute hepatits and acute kidney injury, due to her excessive lifestyle.
Barbara Payton – was another complex, blonde bombshell who was not only a difficult co-worked but a complete nut when not filming. Payton had simultaneous relationships with Tom Neal and Franchot Tone. One evening the two men engaged in a physical fight over Payton; Neal shattered Tone’s cheekbone, broke his nose and gave him a severe concussion. Payton decided to marry Tone but continued her relationship with Neal. Tone divorced her less than a year after they were married. The Payton/Neal relationship ended their film careers. Payton’s hard-drinking and hard living destroyed her physically and emotionally. From 1955 to 1963, her alcoholism and drug abuse led to multiple run-ins with the law including arrests for the passing of bad checks and an arrest for prostitution. Offered the choice of being admitted to the detox unit, Payton said, “I’d rather drink and die.” Following her brief hospitalization, she went to her parents’ home in San Diego. Her father and mother were both heavy drinkers, and joined Payton in unabated drinking binges. At the age of 40 Payton died of heart and liver failure.
Moderate Risk Victim
Suicide is essentially a crime against oneself. Monroe was a successful film star throughout the 40s and 50s. Monroe fits this category since she:
- was a beautiful film star
- died too soon
- died at a young age
- died alone and at home
- overdosed with drugs
- was isolated from friends and family during the
last weeks of her life
- was involved in a dismissive relationship with John F Kennedy, President of the United States
- died a non-violent death
- was suffering or had recently suffered career failure
- was known as difficult to work with on the set
- had several failed marriages
- suffered from depression or manic-depression
- was addicted to drugs and alcohol
Georgette Bauerdorf – was a junior hostess, heiress and a volunteer who knew Elizabeth Short at the Hollywood Canteen, a place frequented by military men, the Mafia and the occasional B-movie celebrity. Although she wasn’t a starlet, nor did she aspire to be, I included her on the list because of her association with Short and her murder, which took place only months before Short’s. At the Canteen, Bauerdorf danced with enlisted men. It was a place to see and be seen in its day. Unfortunately, one night Bauerdorf was seen by the wrong man, most likely an enlisted man, who followed Bauerdorf home and brutally murdered the poor girl.
Newspaper reports indicate Bauerdorf went directly home from the Hollywood Canteen. A maid found her body in a bathtub. She was attacked by a man who was lying in wait for her. Bauerdorf put up a great struggle. An examination by the Los Angeles County Autopsy Surgeon found abundant bruises and scrapes on her body.Bauerdorf was a moderate-risk victim since she wasn’t in the habit of giving out her phone number or address and she didn’t date any of the men at the Canteen.
Jeanne French – Her killing became known as The Red Lipstick Murder since the killer took a red lipstick from her purse and wrote an obscenity on her corpse. He also wrote the initials BD which initially made police suspect a connection to the Black Dahlia; later it was determined that the initials were PD. Whatever the initials meant, no one seemed to have discovered. The body was stomped to death (ugh) in such a vicious manner that, internally, she hemmoraged to death. Nine days prior to the murder, French and her husband Frank had gotten into a bad argument: Frank punched her in the face, giving her a black eye. Frank was arrested on domestic violence charges. Soon after that incident, Frank moved out to a small apartment in Santa Monica near his job while, French remained at their residence alone.
On Friday February 9, 1947, Jeanne went out after visiting Frank at his apartment. She went to The Picadilly Drive-In at 3932 Sepulveda Avenue, in Los Angeles between 12:00 and 1:00 am. A carhop stated later that he saw French eating with an unknown man. Unknowingly, Jeanne left in the killer’s car. Although she was picked up by a stranger, this was atypical for French, placing her in the moderate-risk category, rather than high-risk.
Jean Spangler – Gorgeous Spangler’s appearance bore a similarity to Short’s. Spangler had a number of small walk-on roles in films. She was also a showgirl dancer at the Hollywood Canteen. She was the divorced mother of a 5-year-old little girl named Christine. Her sister-in-law Sophie, Spangler’s brother’s wife, lived with Spangler and her child. Often Sophie babysat for Christine so Spangler could audition for movie roles and work modelling jobs. Technically Spangler isn’t considered a homicide; she simply disappeared on October 7, 1949 and was never seen again. Police questioned Spangler’s ex-husband, Dexter Benner, about her sister-in-law’s statement that she was going to meet Benner about his child support payments. He he had not seen his former wife for several weeks. His new wife Lynn Lasky Benner stated he was with her at the time of the disappearance. Two days later, on October 9, Spangler’s purse was found near the Fern Dell entrance to Griffith Park in Los Angeles. There was an unfinished note in the purse addressed to a “Kirk,” which read, “Can’t wait any longer, Going to see Dr. Scott. It will work best this way while mother is away,…”. The note ended with a comma as if it had not been finished. Sixty police officers searched the 4,107-acre natural terrain park, but no other clues were ever found of the beautiful model/actress. The case remains unsolved to this day. Spangler was a high-risk victim due to the very public and excessive lifestyle she led. Spangler was a party girl, a fact that almost cost her custody of her daughter. On the day she disappeared she went to meet a man who was supposedly offering her a role in a movie. It is doubtful that Spangler even knew this man.
Elizabeth Short – The Black Dahlia
At the age of 21, Short had been in Los Angeles for several months, looking for a way to get into Hollywood films. She auditioned for roles but there is no evidence that she even had a screen test. Brian DePalma, in his film The Black Dahlia, suggests that she did, but no such screen test has ever been found. Short was a drifter; she’d wandered around alone for approximately 18 months before arriving in Hollywood. Short may have been an habitual liar. She was flighty and imaginative. Short was love-starved and emotionally tormented. She lived on the outskirts of Hollywood, seldom making enough money to pay her rent. Frequently she dated men she didn’t know well for dinner, occasional trinkets and money. Although the media accused Short of being a prostitute, this allegation was untrue. Short wasn’t sexually promiscuous either. She worked at the Hollywood Canteen for a time and it is a possibility she may have met her killer there, just as Georgette Bauerdorf, the 20-year-old oil heiress, had. Short’s murder was by far the worst of all reported Hollywood murders. She was tortured for approximately 2 – 3 days; beaten about the head and face, sliced with a knife on the upper chests and on her breasts. She was burned with cigarettes, had her face cut into a Glasgow Smile and finally severed in half at the waist. Short was found in an appalling position: her lower half didn’t quite align with her upper torso, arms and head. Her legs were spread-eagled, her arms were up over her head and her intestines were tucked beneath her buttocks. It is rumoured that police moved the torso before photographs were taken and that Short was arranged to look as though she was performing oral sex on herself. Although police investigated 1,000 leads and interviewed several suspects, no arrest was ever made and over 60 years later, the case remains unsolved.
All of these women were victims of their own hand or someone else’s. Their only crime was living a life of excess, flirting unknowingly with danger, and/or trusting the wrong stranger. No matter how laissez-faire or unfocused a person may be no one deserves to die like Elizabeth Short or Georgette Bauerdorf.