Having grown up devouring books like Helter Skelter and Hollywood Babylon, I understand the power of a Hollywood crime story: the shocking twists, the legendary players, the insidious role of the entertainment industry and its power to build and shatter dreams. The story in my new book, What Remains of Me, explores all of those elements—but of course, it’s fictional. These ten Tinseltown mysteries—some open-and-shut, others forever unsolved—are all the more haunting because they’re true.
- The Case That Wouldn’t Die (1947)
Aspiring star Elizabeth Short attained the fame that had eluded her in life when her mutilated body was found in an L.A. vacant lot. Dubbed “The Black Dahlia” in the press, the grim discovery sparked an investigation that—despite 60 confessions—has gone unsolved for nearly 70 years.
- The Crime of the Century (1994)
Arrested for the murder of his wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend Ron Goldman, O.J. Simpson hired a “Dream Team” of lawyers—and the rest is history. Bloody glove aside, it’s not so much the details of the case as the issues surrounding it—racism, sexism, and the transformative power of the media spotlight—that continue to resonate.
- The Killer Cult (1969)
Everyone knows that members of the Manson Family committed the Tate/La Bianca murders on the orders of their leader, Charles Manson. But the why remains something of a mystery. Were the killings part of Manson’s psychotic plan to start a race war? Were they misdirected revenge against the former resident of Sharon Tate’s home, record producer Terry Melcher? Were they a hit, organized by a shadow branch of the U.S. government? Years later, and with all participants behind bars or dead, the theories still float.
- The Devoted Daughter (1958)
After allegedly hearing him threatening the life of her mom, Lana Turner, fourteen-year-old Cheryl Crane stabbed Johnny Stompanado to death. Despite her conviction, the case raised eyebrows among armchair detectives. But whether she’d killed Turner’s abusive boyfriend or taken the fall for his murder, Cheryl’s love for her mother was indisputable.
- The Fatally Obsessed Fan (1989)
After weaving an elaborate fantasy around sitcom star Rebecca Schaeffer, Robert Bardo obtained her home address via a private detective, knocked on her front door, and shot her to death. Bardo was sentenced to life in prison and L.A’s “stalker laws”—designed to ensure celebrities’ privacy—were enacted as a result of the crime. The driving force behind it all? The case’s tireless prosecutor, Marcia Clark.
- The Cold-Blooded Kill (2001)
Shortly after Robert Blake dined out with his wife, Bonnie Lee Bakley, she was shot to death while sitting in the front seat of their car. Blake’s alibi? During the few seconds in which the killing took place, he claimed to have gone back into the restaurant in order to get his gun. Shockingly, the actor was acquitted but was later found guilty of wrongful death in a civil case.
- The Doomed Director (1922)
When director William Desmond Taylor was found dead from a single gunshot wound, suspects ranged from a smitten teen starlet to a flamboyant valet. Despite a headline-making trial and a deathbed confession by prostitute-turned-actress Margaret Gibson 42 years later, the case remains officially unsolved.
- The Drowned Beauty (1981)
Mystery continues to shroud the night Natalie Wood went out on her yacht with husband Robert Wagner and costar Christopher Walken and didn’t return alive. In 2011, the yacht’s captain revealed that Wood and Wagner had fought that night, resulting in a reopened case and a ten-page addendum to the coroner’s report. Wagner continues to deny any involvement in his wife’s drowning.
- The Haunted Hotel (2013)
The site of several murders and a known flophouse for serial killer Richard Ramirez in the ’80s, L.A.’s Cecil Hotel was said to house dark spirits. This played out to grim effect when, after weeks of searching, the body of missing hotel guest Elisa Lam was found in the Cecil’s water tower.
- The Fatal Date (2003)
Late one night, record impresario Phil Spector called 911, claiming that an actress he’d met at a bar had shot herself. But was Lana Clarkson’s death really an accidental suicide? Numerous women came forward, claiming that Spector had threatened to shoot them when they’d rejected his advances. After a dramatic trial, the eccentric producer was found guilty of second degree murder.