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Top 10 Famous People Who Got Away With Murder (Maybe)

by Nate Yungman
fact checked by Jamie Frater

Contrary to what tabloids say, stars are not just like us. Celebrities can act on any impulse they want. For most, that only means living the high life. Other times they resort to much darker urges. The se10 people may have used the prestige of their fame to get away with murder. It should be stated that absolutely none of these entries are conclusive. No person mentioned below is presumed guilty. These are just theories that raise some suspicion.

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10 Kirk Douglas

Briefly in the 1950 movie Young Man with a Horn, Jean Spangler cameos as an extra. It was the last time anybody ever saw her. On October 7, 1949, Spangler vanished. Her body has never been recovered.[1] The only clue connected to the disappearance is a tattered purse. Inside read a note, “Can’t wait any longer. Going to see Dr. Scott. It will work out best this way while Mother is away.” The unfinished correspondence was addressed to Kirk, the first name of her Young Man with a Horn costar.

Actor Kirk Douglas was vacationing in Palm Springs when called the police completely unprompted. He denied being the “Kirk” in question before he was even considered a suspect. He told authorities that he never knew Spangler. Later, he changed his story to say he met her in passing.[2]

Spangler’s family believes Douglas’s relationship was more intimate. Spangler’s mother says her daughter dated a wealthy Kirk who never came to the door. Spangler’s friend mentioned that Jean was three months’ pregnant when she disappeared. The most popular theory is that Spangler died in a botched abortion financed by the married Douglas. The extent to Douglas and Spangler’s relationship was never determined.

9 Max Linder

“He will kill me,” Hélène “Jean” Peters confided to her mother. Shortly later, her lifeless body was found next to husband Max Linder’s. All signs suggest she was right.

Max Linder was the original movie star. Appearing in dozens of short films at the turn of the 20th century, Linder’s character “Max” was the first internationally known role of the cinema age. Admirers like Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, and Harold Lloyd heavily borrowed from Linder’s brand of physical comedy. The humor masked a vindictive spirit.

Following his service as a dispatch driver in World War I, Linder returned in a deep depression. He tried to suppress his sorrow by marrying Hélène “Jean” Peters, a woman half his age. The marriage did little to relieve his problems. In February 1924, the couple accidentally overdosed on barbiturates. When they slashed their wrists a year later, most believed it was a suicide pact. Daughter Maud Linder proposes Peters did not go willing. In her memoir, Maud recounted a worker that overheard her father tell a friend that he planned on killing his wife, so that nobody else could date her.[3]

8 Burt Reynolds

In the 1973 western “The Man who Loved Cat Dancing,” Burt Reynolds’ Jay Grobart is a protector. When Sarah Miles’ Catherine escapes an abusive lover, Grobart takes the law into his own hands. Perhaps a real-life version of this story played out on the movie set.[4]

As filming wrapped up on February 11, 1973, Miles accompanied Reynolds to his room for a nightcap. Around 3’oclock in the morning, she sauntered into her and manager, and occasional lover, David Whiting’s room. An enraged and jealous Whiting struck her. She fled to Reynolds’ room for the night. By the next morning, Whiting was dead in a pool of his blood.

Ignoring the scratches and abrasions on his hands and body, medical examiners believed a despondent Whiting overdosed. Reynolds tracked his footprints through the scene to retrieve the vial of red tablets Whiting died clasping. The vial was subsequently lost. Due to inconsistencies about her location that night and if Whiting and her fought, Miles was called to testify. MGM initially prevented Miles and Reynolds from speaking, citing the financial strain the delay might cause. Eventually, the two spoke at the inquest. Neither deposition explained where all the blood came from.

7 Albert Broccoli

The Three Stooges could take a hit. Their creator could not. Vaudevillian Ted Healy formed the slapstick troupe in 1922. Between contract disputes and missing paychecks, Larry, Curly, and Moe left Healy’s control. After losing his greatest success, Healy became a belligerent drunk. It was not a complete surprise when the 41-year-old washed up comedian wound up dead after one last trip to Hollywood’s Trocadero nightclub.[5]

James Bond could take a hit. His creator could too. Until his death in 1995, Albert R. Broccoli produced every 007 movie. Broccoli was worse at keeping secrets than his spy protagonist. In his inconsistent retellings, he confessed to participating in a brawl the night before Healy’s 1937 death. Mobster Pat DiCicco and acclaimed actor Wallace Beery joined in. Researcher E.J. Fleming argues that Healy succumbed to the wounds from his three ambushers. MGM could not afford for one of their lucrative stars to be associated with the assault, especially considering Beery’s image was tied to an Oscar winning portrayal of a drunken boxer in The Champ. Using their contacts, the studio forbade an autopsy. The coroner ruled Healy died of acute toxic nephritis. The police did not investigate further.

6 Suge Knight

Jerry Heller has one regret. The longtime manager of gangsta rap trailblazers, N.W.A, wishes that Eazy-E killed producer Suge Knight when he had the chance. Heller believes that Suge Knight got to Easy-E first. Marquise Wright, Eazy-E’s son, shares Heller’s conviction.

The theory stems from an interview Knight gave on a 2003 episode of “Jimmy Kimmel Live!”. Kimmel joked about Suge Knight’s well documented violent history. Knight replied that he no longer seeks vengeance with bullets. He prefers, “this new thing out, people sell ’em all the time. They get this stuff they call — they get blood from somebody with AIDS — and then they shoot you with it. That’s the slow death.”[6]

Eazy-E did not have a slow death. He quickly succumbed to AIDS-related pneumonia. Marquise cites the disease’s rapid progression as evidence Eazy-E was murdered. The timeline begins in 1991 when Knight sent guards to strongarm Eazy-E to release Dr. Dre onto Knight’s Death Row label. At some point following the altercation, Knight pricked Eazy-E with a syringe. If Suge Knight is responsible for Eazy-E’s 1995 death, he did not get away with murder. As of 2018, he has been incarcerated for voluntary manslaughter.

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5 William Randolph Hearst

Thomas Ince’s life should be better known. The so called “Father of the Western” produced over 800 movies, including the star making performance of “America’s Sweetheart” Mary Pickford. His studio became the model for film production for decades. Yet his most enduring legacy is his death.

The first edition of the Los Angeles Times left no question that Ince died as a “Movie Producer Shot on [William Randolph] Hearst’s Yacht.”[7] Later headlines changed it heart failure. The disparity of diagnoses was because a Hearst employee determined that Ince ate and drank so much he died of “acute indigestion.” During the height of prohibition, the mere presence of alcohol would have warranted an investigation. Instead the D. A. refused to inquire before even calling most of the people onboard.

The prevailing theory is that Ince got into the middle of a lover’s quarrel. Newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst had a long running affair with actress Marion Davies. Hearst was suspicious that Davies had her own liaisons with Charlie Chaplin. Hearst invited Chaplin to see how Davies and the silent film genius acted below deck. On November 19, 1924, Hearst walked in on the canoodling lovers. He fired one shot from his revolver. The bullet ricocheted and struck the nearby Ince. Chaplin’s secretary reported seeing Ince carted off the boat with his head bleeding. Ince’s body was immediately cremated. Maybe out of respect or guilt, Hearst wrote Ince’s widow a check.

4 Jerry Lee Lewis

On August 23, 1983, Shawn Michelle Lewis made two phone calls. The first was to her mother saying she was thinking of leaving newlywed musical madman Jerry Lee Lewis. The second was to her high school sweetheart’s sister. The two discussed plans to escape Mississippi and her abusive marriage. In the middle of talking, the phone went dead. The next day, Shawn Lewis was dead too.[8]

DeSoto County police officers discovered Shawn’s corpse neatly placed on top of the guestroom bed. The “Great Balls of Fire” singer staggered over bleeding from scratch marks on his hand. There was blood on the walls, carpet, and both party’s clothes. Jerry’s skin and blood was found underneath Shawn’s broken fingernails. Her arm was punctured similarly to the wounds Jerry had from injecting himself with daily chemical cocktails. Glass shards were strewn around the house. For one hour, the deputy sheriff a private discussion with DeSoto County’s biggest celebrity. The coroner ruled it was an accidental methadone overdose. None of the physical evidence was admitted to the grand jury. The grand jury did not find any sign of foul play. Jerry Lee Lewis was free to go back on tour as “The Killer.”

3 Johannes Kepler

For his reputation’s sake, Tycho Brahe probably wishes he was murdered. The accepted theory is that the pioneering astronomer died in 1601 from holding in his urine too long. Out of professional courtesy, Brahe never excused himself from the Holy Roman Emperor’s banquet. Eleven days later, he died from a urinary infection. However, this ignoble story comes from the man with the most motive to lie about it.[9]

From his Danish observatory, Brahe charted the cosmos. His data provided key insights into the motion of Mars, stars, and buttressed the Copernican model. His biggest discovery, though, was his lab assistant, Johannes Kepler. The only problem is that Brahe would not let anybody else look at his records. Along with the many enemies the ill-mannered Brahe made, Kepler grew to resent Brahe and his secrecy.

In 1991, Brahe’s corpse was exhumed. The body contained noticeably high levels of mercury. Authors Joshua and Anne-Lee Gilder posit in Heavenly Intrigue that Kepler poisoned Brahe with the toxic chemical. Suspiciously, after Brahe’s sudden death, Kepler seized all of the research that was closed off to him while Brahe was alive. With help from Brahe’s calculations, Kepler proved that planets travel in an elliptical orbit. If the theory is true, the murder laid the groundwork for Kepler to make one of the biggest breakthroughs in scientific history.

2 Thomas Jefferson

The first thing Thomas Jefferson did when he became president was pardon James Callender. The two had a deal. To improve Jefferson’s political ambitions, Callender published evidence that Jefferson’s rival, Alexander Hamilton, had an affair with Maria Reynolds. In exchange, Jefferson would free Callender from prison and pay the legal fees.[10] Jefferson initially paid half of Callender’s fine. The political controversy surrounding the obvious corruption prevented Jefferson from paying the remaining $100.

Callender protested by slandering Jefferson in the papers. Investigators backed by Jefferson tried to silence Callender. An exposé in the Philadelphia Aurora alleged Callender was a drunkard and his wife had died from sexually transmitted diseases. Callender retaliated by writing the incendiary report that Jefferson had fathered several children with his slave Sally Hemmings.

Journalist Harry Croswell was indicted for circulating the Hemmings rumors. Part of his defense was that the underlying claims were true. He requested Callender testify to the story’s veracity. Four days before Callender was set to present his case, he drowned in the James River.
The Richmond coroner ruled the death a drunken accident, despite not knowing if Callender was intoxicated. Library of Virginia archives hold no record of any inquisition. There was not enough time to investigate anyways. Less than 24 hours after washing ashore, Callender’s body was interred. The most suspected assailant is Jefferson’s associate and prominent Richmond attorney George Hay. Weeks before he died, Hay bludgeoned Callender with a cane. Soon after Callender’s corpse was located, Hay was promoted to U.S. Attorney for the District of Virginia.[11] The only problem with the theory is that it would mean that a president would abuse their power.

1 Adolf Hitler

At least one person thought Adolf Hitler was not a monster. She was proven wrong. To teenager Geli Raubal, Hitler functioned as a surrogate father figure, affectionally referred to as “Uncle Alfie.” Displaying rare compassion, Hitler took great interest in raising his half-niece by supporting her dreams of singing professionally. Those feelings morphed into obsession. Rumors speculate that the two had an incestuous affair. Hitler limited Raubal from contacting people. On September 18, 1931, Hitler and Raubal publicly fought about his controlling nature. Raubal started a letter promising a friend she would soon abandon her uncle in Munich. In midsentence, in midword, she took out Hitler’s personal gun and shot herself in the chest.[12]

Bavarian minister of justice Franz Gürtner bungled the investigation. Evidence suggesting a quarrel, such as bruises and a broken nose, were overlooked. Without a suicide note, Nazi press passed the dubious story that she killed herself over an upcoming music recital. A rogue investigation by the public prosecutor’s office was quashed. The body was promptly buried in a Catholic cemetery, despite the fact that the religious owners barred burying suicide victims. Fifty stormtroopers ransacked reporter Frtiz Gerlich’s office after alleging Hitler pulled the trigger. Gerlich was sent to Dachau, the prison camp where he died in 1942. Hitler, of course, caused much more death. It is interesting to think how history could have changed if he had been caught the first time he did.

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About The Author: The only thing Nate murders is the English language on social media. If you want to read more of his thoughts, you can follow him on Twitter, @nateyungman. If you had a question or comment about the article, you can send him an email at [email protected].

fact checked by Jamie Frater