13 Tragic And Mysterious Hollywood Deaths

Although the lives of entertainers often have a tragic element, some stories can turn from sad to deadly. From a young Los Angles newcomer to two famous rappers at the height of their career, this list covers an array of unsolved or disputed Hollywood homicides and show-business crimes, along with the stories, theories, and mysteries behind them.

Hollywood elites are blamed for some of these deaths, while other tragedies are said to be the work of a jilted lover or, in some cases, the star themself. What causes these cases to live on decades later is they fact that they're more or less still complete mysteries with an intriguing cast of suspects and multiple motives, but no answers.

These are 13 of the most tragic and mysterious deaths of celebrities, entertainers, and those in their inner circle from the past century.

  • Natalie Wood
    Photo: West Side Story / MGM

    Who Was She?
    In 1981, 43-year-old Natalie Wood was a successful actress, known for her roles in West Side Story and Rebel Without a Cause. Wood was married to actor Robert Wagner at the time of her death. The two had a long-term, tempestuous relationship, having divorced in 1957 and remarried in 1972.

    The Case
    On the morning of November 28, 1981, Wood's body was found floating in a Catalina Island cove. The night before, Wood had been on a nearby yacht with her husband, Robert Wagner, and their friend, actor Christopher Walken.

    In the aftermath of her death, authorities concluded that Wood had gone out at night to take a dinghy to the dock and simply slipped into the water; however, Wood and Wagner were seen fighting the night she disappeared, possibly about her closeness to Walken. Wood also had a lifelong fear of water, making the idea of her taking a small boat alone, as Wagner contended, difficult to believe. The boat's captain, Dennis Davern, wrote in a 2010 book that he believed Wagner was responsible for Wood's death, and that Wagner didn't search diligently for Wood when she went missing.

    Where the Case Stands Today
    For 30 years, Natalie Wood was classified as a victim of accidental drowning; however, the LAPD reopened Wood's case in November 2011. Davern said at the time that he lied to authorities during the original investigation. Police noted that neither Walken nor Wagner were suspects in their renewed effort.

    40 Years Later, The Mystery Over Natalie Wood's Death Endures
    “Natalie Wood's Drowning Was Not An Accident”: A New Book's Shocking Findings
    Will We Ever Know What Really Happened To Natalie Wood?

  • Who Was She? 
    Virginia Rappe was a 1920s silent film starlet who attended a Labor Day Weekend party celebrating Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle's signing of a million-dollar contract with Paramount.

    The Case
    At the raging party, Rappe became ill in Arbuckle's hotel room from alcohol, which was confirmed by a doctor who was also in attendance at the party. Arbuckle found Rappe when he went to change clothes, and he and other guests were seen approaching her. Rappe, still ill, stayed at the hotel for three days before she was finally taken to a hospital. By that point, however, it was too late for treatment. She died of peritonitis from a ruptured bladder.

    Bambina Maude Delmont, another party attendee, led the charge against Arbuckle, saying Rappe had confided to her that "Roscoe hurt me." Tabloids leapt at the story, with one theory holding that Arbuckle raped Rappe, and his weight (over 300 pounds) caused injuries that led to her death. Another theory was that Arbuckle assaulted Rappe with a foreign object, resulting in fatal internal injuries.

    Where the Case Stands Today
    Arbuckle was arrested and tried for Rappe's death. His first two trials for manslaughter ended in hung juries, but he was acquitted in his retrial. He received an apology from the jury due to the complete lack of evidence against him. Rappe may not have even been a victim of murder; instead she may have had an abortion, which could have caused the peritonitis that killed her. Though Arbuckle was acquitted, he had been found guilty in the court of public opinion and could not find work for years following this scandal. He appeared in some comedy shorts in 1933, but his short-lived comeback ended when he died in his sleep of a heart attack.

    The Death Of Virginia Rappe
    About The Fatty Arbuckle Scandal
    The Skinny On The Fatty Arbuckle Trial

  • Elizabeth Short: The Black Dahlia
    Photo: Los Angeles Police Department / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Who Was She?
    Elizabeth Short was a 22-year-old woman who worked as a waitress while trying to make it in Hollywood. She disappeared on January 9, 1947. Five days later, a mother and child discovered Short's mutilated body in a residential section of Los Angeles on January 14, 1947.

    The Case
    Short's corpse was bisected at her midsection, and her face had deep gashes. Marks on her wrists indicated she had been tied up and possibly tortured. A lack of blood at the scene meant she had been killed elsewhere and dumped in the vacant lot where she was discovered. Investigators later determined the culprit had thoroughly washed Short's body before placing it in the vacant lot. The attractive victim and gruesome murder garnered plenty of press attention. The press began calling Short the Black Dahlia (possibly a reference to Short's dark hair and the recent release of the Veronica Lake film The Blue Dahlia).

    The police had a large suspect pool that included all the men Short had dated, as well as medical students at LA area colleges, who would have had the surgical knowledge needed to sever Short's body. One later theory proposed that Dr. Walter Bayley, who lived near the lot where the body was found and whose daughter was a friend of the Short family, was the killer. He died suffering from a brain disease that may have made him more violent, and rumor spread that he'd been blackmailed by a former mistress about some misdeed.

    Where the Case Stands Today
    At the time, the killer followed the case in the papers, even going so far as to mail the contents of Short's purse to an LA paper. The case has stayed in popular culture through the years, most notably with James Ellroy's novel The Black Dahlia, but no one has ever been arrested for the crime. In 2016, the son of a police officer who worked the original Black Dahlia case said he believed his father murdered Elizabeth Short, but the theory has not been proven. Given the large suspect pool and the time that has passed, the murder may never be solved.

    Has The Black Dahlia Murder Finally Been Solved?
    The Never-Ending Mystery Of The Black Dahlia Murder
    I Know Who Killed The Black Dahlia: My Own Father

  • Marilyn Monroe
    Photo: Gentlemen Prefer Blondes / 20th Century Fox

    Who Was She? 
    Marilyn Monroe, born Norma Jeane Mortenson, was a famous actress, known for her roles in movies such as Some Like It Hot, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, and The Asphalt Jungle. An icon of Hollywood's Golden Age, she was also married to playwright Arthur Miller and baseball player Joe DiMaggio. It's also commonly believed that she had affairs with President John F. Kennedy and his brother Robert.

    The Case
    On August 4, 1962, 36-year-old Monroe died in her Brentwood home. Her housekeeper and psychiatrist discovered Monroe naked in bed with an empty bottle of sleeping pills nearby.

    Before her death, Monroe had been hospitalized for psychiatric issues and was receiving long-term psychiatric care. Her death was ruled a probable suicide from an overdose of barbiturates. Even so, many believe Monroe was murdered, possibly to make sure she wouldn't talk about her liaisons with both JFK and Robert Kennedy. Although Monroe's affair with JFK had been talked about in Hollywood for some time, her birthday serenade of the President in April 1962 made even more people aware of the connection.

    Where the Case Stands Today
    Although rumors and speculation continue, there is no more definitive answer about Monroe's death now than there was in the 1960s.

    This Day In History: Marilyn Monroe Is Found Dead
    Marilyn Monroe Found Dead Of Suspected Overdose
    How Did Marilyn Monroe Die?

  • George Reeves
    Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Who Was He?
    George Reeves was an actor best known for playing Superman in the 1950s TV show Adventures of Superman.

    The Case
    Reeves died of a gunshot wound to the head on June 16, 1959. He was in his Benedict Canyon home at the time, as were his fiancée, Leonore Lemmon, and three other guests.

    Although ruled a suicide, the fact that the others in the house waited to call the police and that stray bullet cases were found near the body led some to believe Reeves was a victim of murder. He had been having an affair with Toni Mannix, the wife of an MGM executive, and one theory holds that a jilted Toni had Reeves killed; another posits that her husband, Eddie Mannix, used his underworld ties to arrange Reeves's murder.

    Where the Case Stands Today
    In 1999, a Hollywood publicist, Edward Lozzi, claimed Toni Mannix confessed to killing Reeves; however, no proof was offered or found, so the case remains officially a suicide.

    The Superman Scandal: How George Reeves' Death Rocked Hollywood
    The Death Of George Reeves
    Was Superman Murdered? The Mysterious Death Of George Reeves

  • Who Was She?
    Born in 1906, Thelma Todd was a successful film actress who worked during the 1920s and '30s. She appeared in Marx Brothers hits such as Horse Feathers and Monkey Business.

    The Case
    Todd ran a restaurant called Thelma Todd's Sidewalk Cafe and lived in an apartment above it. On December 16, 1935, she was found inside her car, which was parked near her restaurant. Investigators determined she had died from carbon monoxide poisoning.

    Although initially considered a tragic accident, the death was ruled a suicide. Police pointed to Todd's financial difficulties as her reason for taking her own life; however, blood spots found in the car and on Todd's face led some to believe she had been killed. Todd had just divorced a man whom she had accused of spousal abuse, and some speculated the split led her ex-husband, Pat DeCicco, to kill her.

    Where the Case Stands Today
    Todd's body was cremated and no thorough autopsy was ever carried out. The case officially remains a suicide, with no new evidence to support the theory of murder.

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    The Mysterious Death Of Massachusetts Movie Star Thelma Todd