This Playboy Model's Fatal Car Crash Was So Brutal It Changed Federal Law Forever

On the evening of June 29, 1967, actress and Playboy model Jayne Mansfield was in a car driving down Highway 90, heading west toward New Orleans, LA, after finishing a performance at a nightclub in Biloxi, MS. She was accompanied by three of her children—Mickey, Zoltan, and Mariska Hargitay—four Chihuahuas, her lawyer, and her personal driver. At just after 2 a.m., the group suddenly encountered a thick fog of insecticide spray drifting across the road. Upon rounding a dark corner of highway, their car slammed directly into the back of a slow-moving semi truck, killing all three adults in the front seat. 

The tragic death of yet another young Hollywood starlet brought with it a swarm of national media attention. The tragedy soon led to the implementation of new highway safety regulations, namely the requirement that large trucks be equipped with a DOT bar, more morbidly known as the "Mansfield bar."

The circumstances surrounding Mansfield's death seemed to be straightforward, but rumors quickly began to circulate about the beloved actress's true cause of death. Many asserted she had been decapitated in the crash and that a clump of blond hair seen tangled into the windshield of the car in crime scene photographs was, in fact, her head.

  • Rumors Quickly Circulated That Mansfield Had Been Decapitated In The Crash

    Rumors Quickly Circulated That Mansfield Had Been Decapitated In The Crash
    Photo: Keystone/Stringer / Hulton Archive

    As a woman known for making headlines with her numerous wardrobe malfunctions, divorce proceedings, and super-stardom, Mansfield's death continued her sensationalized media legacy. For this final chapter, the topic of debate was whether or not the rumors surrounding her decapitation were true. 

    According to the coroner's report, Mansfield's official cause of death was a "crushed skull with avulsion of cranium and brain"—not decapitation. Despite this documented report, rumors continue to swarm regarding what appeared to be a clump of hair attached to the windshield of the car wreckage, which some people believe to be the blonde bombshell's bouffant wig (as she was not actually a natural blonde and had to frequently bleach her hair). Others speculate that it was either part of her scalp or even her entire head.

  • The Accident Led To The Development Of The "Mansfield Bar"

    The Accident Led To The Development Of The "Mansfield Bar"
    Photo: Keystone/Staff / Hulton Archive

    The next time you're driving down the highway and happen to pass a large semi truck, take a look at the long bar that stretches along the back bumper of the vehicle: it's known as "the Mansfield" or the DOT bar.

    When the accident that killed Mansfield occurred, the hood of the small 1966 Buick Electra she was riding in was just the right size to slip underneath the slow-moving semi truck, slicing the top of the car nearly completely off and instantly killing all the passengers in the front seat.

    As a result, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration "made it mandatory for all semi truck trailers to be fitted with under-ride bars... designed to stop a car before it rolls underneath the trailer."

  • The Car Is Now On Display In Hollywood

    The Car Is Now On Display In Hollywood
    Photo: Bettmann/Contributor / Bettmann

    As of October 2018, morbidly curious fans can buy a ticket to get up close and personal with the actual vehicle that was involved in Mansfield's death by visiting the Dearly Departed Tours in Hollywood, CA.

  • Mansfield Played The Violin, Knew Five Languages, And Was Said To Have A Genius-Level IQ

    Mansfield Played The Violin, Knew Five Languages, And Was Said To Have A Genius-Level IQ
    Photo: 20th Century Fox / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    As a woman frequently referred to as the "Working Man's Monroe," Mansfield was adored as being a self-made woman who rose to stardom on ambition alone. Despite her blonde-bombshell facade, she was, in fact, a highly accomplished woman, having mastered five languages and learned both the violin and piano. She even claimed to have an IQ of 163. However, given the position of women in the 1950s and '60s, she was well aware of the fact that the public cared far more about her body than about her brain.

    She's even quoted as declaring, "they're more interested in 40–21–35."

  • Mansfield's Three Children Survived The Crash

    The three adults in the front, including Mansfield, were killed on impact, while the children—Mickey, Zoltan, and Mariska Hargitay—miraculously survived the crash along with two of the chihuahuas. The kids were sleeping in the back seat, and since they were laying down, they missed the most devastating force of the crash.

    In the wake of the accident, Mickey and Zoltan have led quiet lives away from the spotlight, but Mariska followed in her mother's footsteps and became a well-known actress. Mariska has starred as Detective Olivia Benson on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit since 1999, and she still bears a scar from the crash.