The world of entertainment has had its fair share of unsolved mysteries, many of which have involved some very prominent figures. For example, the murders of famous rap artists Tupac Shakur and The Notorious B.I.G. are still unsolved. While the death of Kurt Cobain was ruled to be a suicide, there has always been speculation that he was actually murdered. But on the other side of the coin, there’s the “Black Dahlia”, Elizabeth Short, an aspiring actress who was a complete unknown until she became of one of the most famous murder victims of all time. Here are ten more lesser-known entertainment figures whose careers were cut short by an unsolved mystery, whether it be a murder, an unexplained disappearance, or a suspicious “suicide”. In some cases, the victim’s career never even got the chance to hit its peak and they wound up achieving fame because of the infamous mystery surrounding them.
In 1966, 23-year old Bobby Fuller and his band, The Bobby Fuller Four, were taking the music world by storm as their hit single, “I Fought the Law”, reached #9 on the national charts. However, it all came to an abrupt end when Fuller was found dead on July 18 inside his car, which was parked outside his Los Angeles apartment. The initial ruling was suicide, but no one could understand why a singer on the verge of stardom would take his own life.
Fuller had been doused with gasoline and a gas can was found on the floorboard. However, a witness claimed he saw a detective throw the gas can in a dumpster instead of saving it for evidence. Authorities believed that Fuller had died from inhaling the gasoline fumes, but there were also bruises found on him and blood was on the car seat. His body was also in full rigor mortis, indicating that he had been dead for several hours. Yet his car had only been parked in front of his apartment for a short time before he was found, and one theory is that the perpetrator was in the midst of torching the evidence before they were forced to flee. There have been numerous conspiracy theories about what happened to Bobby Fuller—ranging from an accidental overdose to being murdered by the likes of the mob, his record company, and even Charles Manson—but his death remains clouded in suspicion.
At the age of 17, Christa Helm left her Milwaukee home to pursue a career in modeling and acting in New York City. After garnering a lead role in a low-budget movie called “Let’s Go For Broke”, Helm traveled to Hollywood to further her career and earned a few bit parts on television. She became a prominent figure in the gossip columns because of her rumored escapades with noted Hollywood celebrities. On February 12, 1977, the 27-year old Helm was stabbed 22 times before being bludgeoned to death outside her agent’s home in West Hollywood.
Helm was rumored to have kept a secret diary and recordings of her sexual escapades with her celebrity boyfriends. Since the diary and the recordings mysteriously vanished after her death, some people speculated that they may have been the reason for her murder. It was also theorized that Helm was killed by Lionel Ray Williams, who had murdered Sal Mineo in a similar fashion in the same neighborhood exactly one year before Helm’s murder. However, there has always been a debate about whether Williams was in jail on the night Helm was killed. 30 years later, a DNA sample found under one of Helm’s preserved fingernails was determined to be from a female, and Helm was rumored to have been sexually involved with a female singer shortly before her death. In spite of all these leads, the identity of Christa Helm’s murderer is still unknown.
In 1943, David Bacon was an aspiring 29-year old actor who had just played his most prominent role after being cast as the title character in the film serial, “The Masked Marvel”. However, Bacon’s life came to an end on September 13, when he erratically drove his car off the road in Santa Monica, California. He stumbled out of the car wearing nothing but a swimsuit and after collapsing and dying, a small knife wound was discovered in his back.
The most crucial clue left behind was a camera inside Bacon’s car. The film in the camera was developed to reveal one picture of Bacon nude smiling on the beach and it’s been theorized that the photo was taken by his killer. Prior to his death, Bacon had told his wife—an Austrian cabaret singer named Greta Keller—that he was going for a swim. Shortly before the murder, Bacon was spotted driving around with another man in his car, and it was later discovered that Bacon had recently rented a house for a male friend whose identity was never established. Keller has always alleged that her husband was a closet homosexual and had an affair with Howard Hughes, the man who originally discovered him. However, none of these claims have ever been substantiated and David Bacon’s murder remains an unsolved mystery.
Tammy Lynn Leppert was a model from Rockledge, Florida who spent her childhood competing in over 300 beauty pageants, winning a large percentage of them. She was hoping to transition into an acting career and wound up securing bit parts in a couple of movies, including the 1983 gangster classic, “Scarface”. However, one weekend in July 1982, Leppert attended a party where something seemed to happen which prompted her to start displaying patterns of erratic, paranoid and violent behavior. During the shoot for “Scarface”, Leppert suffered a complete emotional breakdown during the filming of a violent scene and became extremely frightened over the sight of fake blood.
After a violent outburst in June 1983, Leppert had a brief stay in a mental health center. On July 6, she left her family’s home with a friend who dropped her off at Cocoa Beach after an argument. The 18-year Leppert has never been seen again. Police initially suspected that she ran away, but there have been numerous theories about her disappearance. One involves her being the victim of Christopher Wilder, a notorious Florida serial killer who was targeting young models around this time, and there’s also been speculation that Leppert was murdered because of her knowledge of a drug and money-laundering operation. However, none of these theories have ever panned out and Tammy Lynn Leppert remains missing 30 years later.
Barbara Colby was a 36-year old actress who had enjoyed reasonable success on Broadway and in Hollywood. After spending much of the 1970s working in television, her career received a major boost when she was offered a full-time role on the sitcom, “Phyllis”. Colby had filmed three episodes of the series and was teaching an acting class in Venice, California on the evening of July 24, 1975. While walking to her parked car with an acting colleague named James Kiernan, they were both gunned down by two male assailants.
Colby was killed instantly, but Kiernan was able to describe the shooters before he passed away. There had been no attempt at robbery and Kiernan claimed he did not recognize the two men, so no one could figure out the motive for these murders. Approximately 40 minutes before the shooting occurred, three armed men had murdered another woman named Gloria Witte in a robbery attempt in Santa Monica. At the same time, yet another robbery took place in the same vicinity when two other couples were ambushed by six armed men while returning to their homes. The perpetrators were all caught and charged for these crimes, but police could find no evidence that they might also be responsible for the Colby and Kiernan murders. It continues to be a baffling unsolved mystery nearly 40 years later.
Ylenia Carrisi was the daughter of the popular Italian pop music duo, Al Bano & Romina Power, and granddaughter of legendary Hollywood actor Tyrone Power. It seemed like Carrisi was destined to follow in their footsteps and have her own entertainment career, and she became a minor celebrity in Italy after earning a gig as the letter-turner on that country’s version of Wheel of Fortune. After turning 23, she decided she wanted to do some traveling on her own, but after taking a trip to New Orleans, she mysteriously disappeared on January 6, 1994.
Most of Carrisi belongings were left behind in the cheap hotel she was staying at. It was discovered she had been sharing a room with a 54-year old street musician named Alexander Masakela, who had a history of drug use and sexual violence. He was evicted when he attempted to use Carrisi’s passport and traveler’s checks to pay for the room after her disappearance. Masakela was also arrested weeks later after an ex-girlfriend accused him of rape, but he was released for lack of evidence. A security guard also reported seeing a woman matching Carrisi’s description jumping off a bridge the night she vanished, but no body was ever found to verify his story. There have been unconfirmed sightings of Carrisi in the years following her disappearance, but no conclusive evidence about what ultimately happened to her.
For years, Peter Ivers had a cult following as an alternative musician. He recorded numerous albums during the 1970s and was asked to write a memorable song called “In Heaven” for David Lynch’s infamous cult classic, “Eraserhead”. He was probably best known for being the host of a late-night television variety show called “New Wave Theatre”, which featured a unique line-up of punk and New Wave musical performers. However, the show came to an end after the 36-year old Ivers was found dead inside his Los Angeles apartment on March 3, 1983. He had been bludgeoned to death in his bed with a hammer and there were no signs of struggle.
Ivers was very well-liked and had numerous celebrity friends in Hollywood, many of whom showed up at his apartment once word spread about his death. Unfortunately, since police were completely overwhelmed by the large gathering of people, they neglected to seal off the crime scene. Since Ivers’ friends were able to walk through his apartment, potential evidence might have been destroyed. The main theory behind Ivers’ murder is that he was killed by an intruder during a robbery attempt, as the lock appeared to have been jimmied and some pieces of video equipment were missing. However, even after 30 years, authorities have never been able to find a solid suspect for the crime, so Peter Ivers’ senseless murder is still unsolved.
Joe Pichler was a child actor who had prominent roles in such films as “The Fan”, “Varsity Blues” and two direct-to-video “Beethoven” sequels. In 2003, he put his acting career on hold to return to his hometown of Bremerton, Washington and finish high school. The 18-year old Pichler had plans to go back to Los Angeles and resume his career when he mysteriously vanished during the early morning hours of January 5, 2006. After leaving a get-together and talking to one of his friends on his cell phone, no one heard from him again.
When his family went looking for him, the door to his apartment was discovered to be unlocked and the lights and television were left on. Four days later, Pichler’s abandoned car was found with all his possessions inside, except for his wallet and car keys. There was speculation that Pichler was suicidal, as he left behind some poetry which indicated he might be depressed, along with a note where he expressed his wish to be a “stronger brother” and to give his possessions to his younger sibling. Police theorized that Pichler may have taken his own life by jumping off a nearby bridge, but search dogs could not trace his scent there. Since there is no hard evidence that Joe Pichler committed suicide, his ultimate fate is still unknown.
In the late twenties and early thirties, Thelma Todd was one of the most prominent actresses in Hollywood, appearing in nearly 120 films and acting alongside such comedy legends as the Marx Brothers and Laurel & Hardy. However, her life came to a sudden end on the morning of December 16, 1935 when the 29-year old Todd was found dead inside her car of apparent carbon monoxide poisoning. Her vehicle was located inside a Pacific Palisades garage belonging to Jewel Carmen, the wife of director Roland West, whom Todd was romantically involved with.
The death was initially ruled an accident and later changed to suicide, but there was nothing to indicate that Todd was suicidal and there were a lot of suspicious elements to suggest foul play. She appeared to a have a broken nose and other injuries, and blood was also found on her face and dress, leading to the belief that she may have been knocked unconscious and placed in the car before it was started. Roland West was known to be very controlling and possessive of Todd and allegedly gave a deathbed confession implicating himself in her death, but this was never officially confirmed. Mobster Lucky Luciano and an abusive ex-boyfriend of Todd’s were also looked at as possible suspects, but unfortunately, since Todd’s body was cremated, a more thorough autopsy could not be performed. Her suspicious death remains one of Hollywood’s biggest mysteries.
One of the biggest mysteries in Hollywood history occurred on the evening of October 7, 1949 when 26-year old Jean Spangler disappeared. Spangler was a model and aspiring actress who had done bit parts in a handful of films. She left her daughter with her sister-in-law and claimed she was going to meet her ex-husband to talk about child support before going to work on a film shoot. However, there were no film shoots scheduled that night, and Spangler’s ex-husband claimed he never saw her. Spangler’s purse was found in Griffith Park two days later.
Things took a bizarre turn when a note was found in the purse which read: “Kirk, Can’t wait any longer. Going to see Dr. Scott. It will work best this way while mother is away”. Spangler had recently worked as an extra on a Kirk Douglas film and some eyebrows were raised when Douglas contacted police to confirm he wasn’t the “Kirk” in the note before they even considered questioning him. Police also heard rumors of a local man named “Scotty” who was known for performing illegal abortions, leading to speculation that Spangler was pregnant and that he was the aforementioned “Dr. Scott”. Spangler was also rumored to be involved with an organized crime figure named David Ogul, and there was even a sighting of them together in Texas three months after she disappeared. In spite of all these theories, the Jean Spangler saga is still a mystery.
Robin Warder is a budding Canadian screenwriter who has used his encyclopedic movie knowledge to publish numerous articles at Cracked.com. I am also the co-owner of a pop culture website called The Back Row.