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10 Celebrities With Surprising Connections To Horrific Murders

by Robin Warder
fact checked by Jamie Frater

These days, when a famous person is involved in a murder, it inevitably becomes front-page news, regardless of whether they’re a victim or participated in the crime. However, sometimes, a celebrity will be connected to a horrific murder before they’re famous, and no one will find out until years later. In other cases, the celebrity may already be famous at the time of the murder but ends up being linked to the crime in a most unlikely fashion.

10Steve McQueen & Jerzy Kosinski
Missed Becoming Victims Of The Manson Family


One of the most infamous crimes of all time took place on the evening of August 9, 1969, when cult leader Charles Manson ordered four members of the Manson Family to break into the Los Angeles home of actress Sharon Tate. Tate and four other victims were brutally murdered. It’s common knowledge that Tate was married to director Roman Polanski, who was away in London when the crime took place. However, two other famous figures were invited to Tate’s home that night but never showed up.

One of these individuals was noted Polish novelist Jerzy Kosinski. Kosinski was invited to attend Tate’s get-together on August 9 and hopped on a flight from Paris to Los Angeles. Kosinski’s luggage ended up being sent to New York by mistake, so when the flight stopped there for a layover, he was forced to leave the plane to retrieve his bags. As a result, he missed the remainder of his flight and was not present at Tate’s home when the Manson murders took place. In fact, when an innocent bystander named Steven Parent was murdered outside the Tate residence, police initially thought he was Kosinski.

Steve McQueen, one of the biggest stars in Hollywood, was also invited to Tate’s get-together. However, McQueen was a notorious womanizer. After meeting up with a young lady on his way to the party, he had a one-night stand with her and stood up his hosts.

While these twists of fate may have saved the lives of Kosinski and McQueen, it’s worth noting that McQueen had military experience and training in martial arts. Some wonder if he might have been able to fight off the Manson Family and prevent tragedy if he had been there that night.

9Bill Paxton
Photographed At JFK’s Speech On The Morning Of His Assassination


It’s unlikely that any historical event has been dissected as much as the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in Dallas on November 22, 1963. Given the large number of conspiracy theories surrounding Kennedy’s death, virtually every aspect of that day has been thoroughly analyzed. Yet it may come as surprise to discover that a young future celebrity happened to cross paths with JFK that day.

When Kennedy exited the Hotel Texas in Fort Worth that morning, he gave a speech for the crowd gathered outside before his fateful trip to Dallas. A television cameraman shot some footage of the crowd, and an iconic still frame from this footage featured a young boy sitting on someone’s shoulders as he hovers over the large group of people. Decades later, it was revealed that this boy just happened to be famous Hollywood actor Bill Paxton.

Fort Worth was Bill Paxton’s hometown, and he was only eight years old that day. According to Paxton, he and his brother woke their father up and asked him to take them to the Hotel Texas, so they could catch a glimpse of the President. By the time the Paxton family arrived, there was already a horde of people there, but an unidentified man offered to put young Bill on his shoulders so he could look over the crowd and get a better view of Kennedy. As a result, Paxton ended up being prominently featured when the historic footage was shot, but he had no inkling of the world-changing event which would occur a few hours later.

Two still photographs featuring Paxton are now on display on the Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza.

8Rupert Murdoch
Woman Was Kidnapped And Murdered After Being Mistaken For His Wife


On the evening of December 29, 1969, Alick McKay returned to his mansion in the Wimbledon borough of London and was surprised to discover that his wife, Muriel, was missing, and the house was in a state of disarray. Hours later, Alick received a call from someone calling himself “M3,” demanding a £1 million ransom for Muriel’s return. In spite of numerous communications, it would take over a month for the authorities to coordinate a proper ransom drop with the kidnappers. Finally, on February 6, McKay was told to leave two suitcases containing £500,000 at a telephone box in the town of Bishop’s Stortford.

A couple wound up reporting the suitcases to the local police before they could be picked up. However, a Volvo was seen repeatedly driving by the drop-off point, and a check of the license plate led investigators to Arthur Hosein, who lived at nearby Rook’s Farm with his brother, Nizamodeen.

Sadly, a thorough search of the property turned up no trace of Muriel McKay’s body, so she was presumed dead. Police found enough evidence to incriminate the Hosein brothers in the crime and earn them life sentences for kidnapping and murder. Unfortunately for the McKays, they had been the tragic victims of mistaken identity. Alick McKay just happened to work as deputy chairman for wealthy media mogul Rupert Murdoch.

The Hoseins’ original plan was to kidnap Murdoch’s wife, Anna, and hold her for ransom, but the Murdochs happened to be in Australia that particular week. Alick McKay was borrowing his boss’s company car while he was away and drove it home one night. Since the Hoseins were tailing Murdoch’s car, they mistakenly believed that the McKays’ mansion was Murdoch’s home and ended up kidnapping the wrong woman.

7James Ellroy
Mother Was Victim Of Unsolved Murder When He Was 10 Years Old


Photo credit: Guillaume Paumier

James Ellroy is a very successful crime fiction writer who often likes to pen tales set in Los Angeles during the 1940s and ’50s. The narratives of his most popular novels, such as L.A. Confidential and The Black Dahlia, intersperse the stories of his fictional characters with real-life crimes from that era. One of the reasons the author has such a fascination for this material is because his mother, Jean Ellroy, was the victim of an unsolved murder during that time period. After divorcing her husband, Jean Ellroy and her son went to live in El Monte, California. On June 22, 1958, when James was only 10 years old, his mother was beaten, raped, and strangled to death with a nylon stocking in Los Angeles.

Unfortunately, the case was overshadowed by another sensational Los Angeles crime, as notorious mob enforcer Johnny Stompanato was stabbed to death by Lana Turner’s daughter, Cheryl Crane, in April that same year. As a result, Jean Ellroy’s murder was largely forgotten until her son pursued his own investigation decades later.

In 1996, James published My Dark Places, his own personal memoir about his mother’s murder, and did extensive research on the case. Hours before her death, Jean had been seen with an unidentified olive-skinned man at a drive-in. Later that night, Jean and the man were both seen in the company of a blonde woman, who has also never been identified. It’s believed that the olive-skinned man was Jean Ellroy’s killer, and after the publication of his book, James hoped the blonde woman might come forward and identify this man. Unfortunately, she never did, and Jean Ellroy’s murder remains unsolved.

6Woody Harrelson
Father Was A Notorious Contract Killer


When Woody Harrelson was cast as a psychotic spree killer in Oliver Stone’s film Natural Born Killers, many people were surprised. Since Harrelson was known for playing the innocent, good-natured Woody Boyd on Cheers, it was hard to visualize him as a murderer. It turns out, however, that murder is a major part of Woody Harrelson’s real-life family background.

When Woody was seven years old, his father, Charles Harrelson, was separated from his mother. Woody soon found out that his father worked as a contract killer. Charles already had a criminal history before Woody was born, but shortly after leaving his family, Charles was charged with the murder of a man named Alan Harry Berg. He was acquitted at trial in 1970, but his troubles with the law would continue.

In 1973, Charles was convicted of the murder of a grain dealer named Sam Degelia Jr. and was sentenced to 15 years in prison. After being paroled in 1978, he was hired by a drug kingpin to perform a professional hit on US district judge John H. Wood Jr. This time, Charles was sentenced to two life terms in prison for the murder and remained incarcerated until his death in 2007.

Like Bill Paxton, Charles also has a surprising connection to the Kennedy assassination. That day, three unidentified transients were photographed with Dallas police on the grassy knoll. Some people believe the transients were involved in the assassination and that Charles Harrelson is one of them. After his imprisonment, Charles claimed to have participated in the murder of President Kennedy, but no evidence has ever been found to substantiate his claims.

Believe it or not, Woody Harrelson is not the only cast member from Cheers with familial connections to a notorious murder . . . 

5Kelsey Grammer
Sister Was Raped And Murdered By Spree Killer

On June 19, 1975, Colorado Springs cook Daniel Van Lone became the victim of a senseless murder after he was abducted by Fort Carson civilian employee Freddie Lee Glenn and his accomplices. Van Lone was shot in the head and robbed for a grand total of 50 cents.

Eight days later, Glenn was involved in the murder of Fort Carson soldier Winford Proffitt, who was stabbed to death with a bayonet. On July 1, Glenn and his two accomplices robbed a Red Lobster restaurant and kidnapped 18-year-old employee Karen Grammer. The woman was taken to the apartment of one of the men and gang-raped. After telling Karen they would let her go, Glenn, purportedly high on LSD, slashed her throat with a knife.

None of the perpetrators could have predicted that their victim’s sibling would go on to become one of television’s most famous actors. When Karen’s body was found, she was identified by her older brother, Kelsey Grammer. The Grammer siblings already had a history of tragedy in their family as their father had been shot to death by an insane cab driver in 1968.

All three participants in the abduction, rape, and murder of Karen Grammer were soon arrested. Freddie Lee Glenn was initially sentenced to death, but his sentence was later commuted to life imprisonment. In 2014, Glenn became eligible for parole. At the hearing, Kelsey Grammer delivered testimony via video conference, stating that he had forgiven Glenn for his sister’s murder but still wanted him to remain locked up for the rest of his life. Glenn’s parole was subsequently denied.

4Henry Rollins
Best Friend Was Murdered Right In Front Of Him


Even after Henry Rollins started finding success with his rock group, The Rollins Band, he remained very close to his longtime best friend, Joe Cole, who also happened to be the son of television actor Dennis Cole. On the evening of December 19, 1991, Rollins and Cole were heading back to the home they shared together in Venice Beach.

After making a stop at a grocery store, the two friends were only a few feet away from their home when two black men suddenly appeared and pointed guns at them. They shoved Cole to the ground and forced Rollins down to his knees on the house’s front lawn before ordering them to hand over their money. The assailants became visibly frustrated when they discovered that the two men only had a total of $50.

The robbers then ordered Rollins and Cole into their house. Just as they were walking through the front door, Rollins heard a gunshot from behind him and realized that his friend had been shot in the face. Rollins instantly ran through the house and took off out the back door. He managed to escape and elude the gunmen before making it to a phone to call the police. By the time cops arrived, the assailants were gone, and Joe Cole was already dead.

Even though Rollins provided police with a description of killers, they failed to turn up any tangible leads to identify them, and the murder remains unsolved to this day. As a reminder of his friend’s death, Rollins has always kept a container filled with soil that was soaked with Cole’s blood.

3Jacques D’Amboise
Nearly Stayed With The Bishop Family When They Were Murdered


Photo credit: Formbot/Wikimedia

One of America’s most famous ballet dancers is Jacques d’Amboise, who has forged a successful career as both a performer and choreographer and even showcased his dancing skills in some Hollywood musicals. While attending ballet school in California during his teen years, d’Amboise stayed at the home of a Pasadena couple and became friends with their son, William Bradford Bishop Jr. By 1976, Bishop had a job with the US State Department and lived in Bethesda, Maryland, with his wife, three sons, and elderly mother. On February 29 of that year, d’Amboise had a performance scheduled at the Kennedy Center and both he and his wife were planning to stay in Bethesda with the Bishop family.

However, two days before the show, d’Amboise suffered a knee injury and was forced to cancel his performance. As a result, his scheduled stay at the Bishop home never happened. One week later, d’Amboise was shocked to learn that the burned bodies of William Bradford Bishop’s wife, children, and mother were all found in a shallow grave in North Carolina.

Bishop himself had gone missing, but it was apparent that he was responsible. After expressing his frustration over not getting a promotion, Bishop had left work early on the afternoon on March 1. He returned home that night and bludgeoned his entire family to death before driving their bodies to North Carolina.

To this day, William Bradford Bishop has not been found and remains one of America’s most wanted fugitives. If Jacques d’Amboise had not suffered his knee injury and canceled his performance, both he and his wife would have been present at the Bishop home on the night the murders took place.

2Matthew McConaughey
Portrayed A Murder Victim, Helping Capture A Wanted Fugitive


On the afternoon of August 24, 1978, Edward Harold Bell parked his truck in a residential neighborhood in Pasadena, Texas. When Bell climbed out of the vehicle, he was nude from the waist down and walked over to a nearby group of children. A 26-year-old former Marine named Larry Dickens was visiting his mother in the neighborhood and ran out to confront Bell. Bell responded by pulling out a gun and shooting Dickens five times in front of his own mother. Bell tried to escape but was immediately caught by police and charged with murder. After he was inexplicably released on bail, Bell promptly liquidated all his assets and disappeared. He would remain one of Texas’s most wanted fugitives for 14 years.

In 1992, the TV show Unsolved Mysteries carried a segment on Larry Dickens’s murder with hopes of finally capturing his killer. To film a re-enactment of the crime, the show hired a young unknown Texan actor to play Dickens. This actor was none other than Matthew McConaughey. The night the Unsolved Mysteries segment aired, millions of viewers watched the future Academy Award winner get shot to death in what turned out to be his first onscreen acting role.

The segment was also huge success at achieving its desired goal. Shortly after it aired, two viewers called the tip line to say they recognized Edward Harold Bell and that he was living in Panama. Bell was soon captured, extradited to the US, and received a 70-year prison sentence for the murder of Larry Dickens.

1Anne Perry
Committed Murder Under A Different Identity During Her Teen Years


On June 22, 1954, one of the most sensational murder cases in the history of New Zealand took place when Christchurch resident Honorah Parker was bludgeoned to death with a brick in Victoria Park. Shockingly, the perpetrators turned out to be Honorah’s 16-year-old daughter, Pauline Parker, and her 15-year-old best friend, Juliet Hulme.

The two girls had a very close friendship, and their families had become concerned that they were developing a homosexual attraction to each other. Juliet soon learned she was going to be sent off to live in South Africa, separated from her best friend. Since Pauline was terrified that her mother would not let her join Juliet, the duo concocted a plan to kill her.

Pauline and Juliet were both convicted of Honorah’s murder, but because they were juveniles, they only served five years in prison before their release. Pauline and Juliet went their separate ways and started new lives under new identities. For decades, the public had no idea what happened to the two girls. However, the case went back into the spotlight in 1994, when Peter Jackson directed a movie based on the story called Heavenly Creatures, starring a then-unknown Kate Winslet as Juliet Hulme. Shortly thereafter, the new identities of the now-middle-aged perpetrators were publicly revealed.

To everyone’s surprise, Juliet Hulme turned out to be the successful crime novelist Anne Perry. After moving to the United Kingdom, Juliet went on to forge a writing career under her new name. She specialized in historical detective fiction and published dozens of best-selling novels, which have sold over 26 million copies. In spite of the revelation that she committed murder during her teen years, Anne Perry’s career continues to flourish to this day.

Robin Warder is a budding Canadian screenwriter who has used his encyclopedic movie knowledge to publish numerous articles at He is also the co-owner of a pop culture website called The Back Row and recently worked on a sci-fi short film called Jet Ranger of Another Tomorrow. Feel free to contact him here.

fact checked by Jamie Frater