There have been countless scandalous celebrity murders so outrageous, awful, and horrifying they marred the Hollywood ideal, while at the same time emphasizing the darker, seamier side of Tinseltown. The public has long been fascinated with these unfortunate deaths, which all too often involve stars struck down in the prime of life. From enraged lovers to deeply troubled renegade fans to drugs, the most scandalous celebrity murders come in all shapes and still intrigue fans years after the fact. Do these leave you as shaken as they left Hollywood?
1. Elizabeth Short: the Black Dahlia
The Black Dahlia is unquestionably one of the most scandalous celebrity murders, not to mention the most intriguing. As yet unsolved, there are still myriad theories floating around about who so brutally killed this beautiful, young would-be starlet. Drained of blood, mutilated, sliced in half, and displayed in a most degrading way, Elizabeth's story still captures the imagination and sends thrills of horror racing down the spines of crime writers, Hollywood historians, readers, and audiences. The tale has been turned into fodder for countless movies, books, and television shows, but the sensationalism really only adds to the sense of tragedy.
2. Sharon Tate
Sharon Tate's murder was horrifying for any number of reasons. An entire house full of people, struck down by the Manson family – reams of paper have been written about motivations, conspiracies, and the aftermath of this fateful, fearful night in 1969. Married to Roman Polanski at the time, Sharon Tate's death was made even more scandalous by the fact that she was pregnant with their first child. The breathtaking level of violence involved in this multiple murder keeps it in the spotlight.
3. Phil Hartman
This one hit me hard. I loved Phil Hartman, who was a funny, charming, and talented actor and comedian. Moreover, the SNL alum seemed like a genuinely nice guy. The world at large was horrified to hear that he was not only murdered in his own home, but his wife was the culprit. Brynn had an ultimately tragic relationship with drugs, which no doubt had a hand in creating this brutal murder/suicide. Phil's friends still remember him fondly, and miss him without reservation.
4. Natalie Wood
Was it an accident or was it murder? In a case that involves a beloved Hollywood beauty, with talent to match, a dashing leading man, and one of the world's best character actors, no one really knows. Even today, people who were there keep coming forward with new information – it happened again in 2011, three decades after Natalie's untimely death, with a man pointing a very sure finger at Robert Wagner, who was of course married to Natalie when she went missing from the boat on which Wood, Wagner, and Christopher Walken were using. Though I suppose you can't technically call her drowning a murder, many people still insist that it was not the accident it seemed to be.
5. Dorothy Stratten
You might not know Dorothy Stratten, but hers is a cautionary tale that has a place well outside of Hollywood. A young beauty with the world at her feet, she was more than just a successful Playboy model. At the time of her death, she was on the cusp of actually making it in Hollywood, with movie roles and guest appearances coming in droves. This is a tale of bad love gone horribly wrong, however. Dorothy not only fell in love with a dangerous, paranoid, and controlling man, she allowed him to become her manager. Paul Snider, faced with losing both his wife and his meal ticket, could not stand the idea, especially when he discovered that she'd possibly fallen in love with someone else, and he murdered her before killing himself.
6. Bob Crane
I remember watching reruns of Hogan's Heroes with my dad as a very young girl, and had no idea that the star I vaguely found so handsome had such a risque, troubled personal life. Whispers of hardcore drug use and interesting sex practices surrounded Bob Crane's death, which involved a very violent bludgeoning. Although one of his friends was tried for the crime over a decade after the fact, he was ultimately acquitted and the case is still unsolved.
7. Carl Switzer
You may not know Carl Switzer by name, but you'd certainly know both his face and his legacy. He was famous for playing Alfalfa in the original Our Gang series – you know, The Little Rascals. That was really his only notable role, although his resume stretched a little further after he outgrew his iconic character. His death was truly senseless: he basically got into a fight with the wrong person, and all over a dog. Dead at 31, his killer wasn't even brought to justice, because a jury found that he simply defended himself. Switzer's death, however, simply adds to the so-called curse of The Little Rascals, many of whom met sad or tragic deaths.
8. Tupac Shakur
Tupac's murder is still a mystery – and so is his death, for that matter. He's seen more often than Elvis and his record sales are still pretty strong. No one knows who shot Tupac in Las Vegas back in 1996. Some swear it was a gang shooting, spawned by the malevolence between the East Coast and the West Coast, while others believe it had something to do with dirty dealings behind the scenes, in the gritty world of the recording industry.
9. The Notorious B.I.G
Tupac's death is inevitably tied with the shocking murder of another prolific hip hop artist. The Notorious B.I.G., aka Christopher Wallace, aka Biggie Smalls, was himself gunned down in an eerily similar drive-by not even a year after Tupac's demise. Were these two men tragic casualties in the cutthroat world of gang violence or was there something even more malevolent at work?
10. Nicole Brown Simpson
The murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman are still infamous. They're two of the most talked-about murders in recent times, surpassing even the deaths of Bonnie Lee Bakley (Robert Blake) and Lana Clarkson (Phil Spector). In fact, inevitably, those two Hollywood deaths drew comparisons to these two Hollywood deaths. Violently stabbed to death in 1994, their murders were made to seem less important than the main suspect: O.J. Simpson. When he was acquitted, the world went wild, torn in two between those who agreed and those who vehemently disagreed with the verdict. O.J. vowed to find the real killers himself, but there's a decided lack of suspects. Did he do it? Much of the evidence suggested he did, but that's a moot point, especially since the legendary football star is currently in jail for unrelated charges.
11. Johnny Stompanato
I'll be honest, this particular scandal has always intrigued me. Stompanato was very much associated with the mafia. He was also Lana Turner's boyfriend. However, when she discovered the nature of his friends, she wisely decided that their time together had come to an end. Johnny wasn't quite so cool with that and literally followed Lana across the world – or at least across the pond, where she was starring in a movie with none other than Sean Connery. Stompanato believed Lana was seeing the unarguably sexy thespian, and basically went berserk. He continued following Lana wherever he could, becoming increasingly violent – until, in 1958, Lana's teenage daughter, Cheryl Crane, stabbed the man who was brutalizing, terrorizing, and threatening her mother. The homicide was ruled justifiable.
Maybe it makes me morbid and macabre, too, but I have a long habit of looking beneath scandalous celebrity murders like these, not to mention other deaths and tragic happenings. Curiosity drives the need to know what really happened, because it's so often heartbreaking to remember that such bright, shining stars are no longer with us. What's the most scandalous or tragic Hollywood happening you've ever heard?