Hollywood is no stranger to scandal. There is no question that under all the glitz and glamour lies a world filled with greed and degradation. Hopefuls arrive daily in search of fame and fortune and are willing to sell their souls in order to attain their goals.
One such hopeful was Julia Jean Mildred Frances Turner. She was born on February 8, 1921 in Wallace, Idaho. Hard times forced the family to relocate to San Francisco, California where her father, John "Virgil" Turner, tried to earn a living by gambling. In 1930, after a night of good luck, Virgil stuck his winnings in his left sock and struck off for home. His body was found in the Mission District with his left sock and shoe missing. His murder was never solved.
When Julia's "Judy" mother, Mildred Frances Turner, developed health problems, she was advised by a doctor to move to a drier climate and they moved to Los Angeles, California. Mildred tried to support herself and Judy by working as a beautician but Judy was often forced to live with her mother's friends and acquaintances in order to save money.
Judy attended Hollywood High School and one day in 1936 she decided to ditch her typing class. She went to the Top Hat Cafe on the corner of Sunset Boulevard and bought a soda. William R. Wilkerson, publisher of the Hollywood Reporter, walked into the cafe and immediately spotted the 15-year-old beauty sipping her soda and decided to approach her. He uttered the fateful question that would forever change her life, "Would you like to be in the movies?"
Wilkerson referred her to talent agent Zeppo Marx who agreed to represent her.
Film director Mervyn LeRoy was having a difficult time finding someone to cast in the role of Mary Clay in his upcoming film They Won't Forget. When Marx introduced Judy to LeRoy he knew he had filled the part.
Her walk-on role consisted of her walking down the street wearing a form fitting skirt, tight sweater and high heels. Even though the film was forgettable, Judy's small role caused an overnight sensation and earned her the unwanted nickname of "The Sweater Girl." She went on to sign a contract with MGM who set at work to reinvent her image. They created a new persona for her, complete with platinum blonde hair and a new name.
The sweater girl became Hollywood's latest sex symbol, Lana Turner. She is best known for her sultry performances in "The Postman Always Rings Twice", "Imitation Of Life", "Peyton Place" and "The Bad And The Beautiful".
Unfortunately Lana Turner's success on the big screen did not spill over into her personal life. She was married eight times to seven different men.
Her first marriage was to band leader, Artie Shaw who she had met while rebounding from her affair with Mickey Rooney. The marriage lasted only four months. Shaw was an arrogant man with a huge ego. He felt he was intellectually superior to Lana and was verbally and physically abusive to her.
Lana's second marriage was to Stephen Crane, a restaurateur. The marriage was annulled shortly after the nuptials when it was uncovered that Crane's Mexican divorce from his first wife was not recognized in the United States. Meanwhile Lana became pregnant with her only living child, a daughter named Cheryl. The two married again after Crane obtained a legitimate divorce but this union fared no better than her previous marriage and the two parted company for good.
Husband number three was millionaire Henry J. Topping Jr. whom Lana divorced when he lost his lost a substantial portion of his fortune due to excessive gambling and poor investments.
She next married actor Lex Barker. They divorced after four years when it was revealed that he was molesting her daughter, Cheryl.
She went on to marry and divorce three more times before throwing in the towel.
Lana had reached a low point in her life when she met Johnny Stompanato in 1957. She had just divorced Barker and her career was in a downward spiral. He went by the name of John Steele and his dark good looks and muscular physique and his persistent wooing, proved to much for Lana to resist.
When their relationship became public knowledge one of Lana's closest friends broke the news to her about Johnny's real identity.
Stompanato was a small-time hood and reputed gigolo. He preyed on women with money and once that was gone so was he. She learned that he had ties to the mob and he worked as bodyguard for gangster Mickey Cohen. Fearing bad publicity Lana tried to break off the affair but the attraction between them had deepened and Lana would later claim that she was afraid of what he would do to her and her daughter if she tried to leave him. Over the course of the following year their relationship was fraught with violent confrontations which Turner strived to keep hidden from the public eye.
Things finally came to a head on the night of Good Friday, April 4, 1958. Turner had been nominated for an Oscar for her role in Peyton Place. Determined not to be seen in public with a known gangster, she refused to allow Stompanato to escort her to the awards ceremony. A fact that did not sit well with him. When Turner returned from the ceremony Stompanato was waiting for her and the two became involved in a violent argument.
On this night Turner decided to finally end the relationship with Stompanato for good. Unfortunately for her Stompanato had other ideas. As the fight escalated in Turner's bedroom her 14-year-old daughter, Cheryl, could hear everything from her room next door. She heard Stompanato threaten to cut her mother's face and kill her and her grandmother.
At that moment Cheryl's only thought was to protect her mother. She ran downstairs to the kitchen and grabbed a carving knife. She ran back to Turner's bedroom, banged on the door and pleaded with her mother until Turner opened the door. Cheryl claims that Stompanato rushed towards her with his arm raised, holding what she thought was a weapon, straight onto the carving knife in her outstretched hand. The wound was fatal and within minutes Johnny Stompanato was dead.
Turner phoned a physician and her mother. Cheryl called her father, Stephen Crane. Eventually all three arrive at Turner's home. After pronouncing Stompanato deceased the physician suggested that Turner contact a lawyer. She immediately procured the services of Jerry Giesler. Only after he arrived at her residence were the police notified.
Giesler escorted Turner and Cheryl to the Beverly Hills Police station where they gave a formal statement about the events of that night. Cheryl was detained at the police station until being transferred to the county Juvenile Hall the next day. She remained there until the Coroner's inquest one week after the killing. Geisler was able to convince the authorities to excuse Cheryl from testifying. Citing that doing so would further traumatize her. It didn't really matter though. The only person that everyone wanted to hear from was her mother.
The Coroner's inquest was destined to be one of the most highly publicized events ever.
120 of the 160 seats in the court room were reserved for the press. Television stations ABC and NBC broadcast the inquest live.
Lana Turner was about to take center stage in the most important performance of her life. At stake was her daughter's future. And what a performance she gave! It was truly Oscar-worthy.
After Lana left the stand investigators testified that there were details of the event that confused them: the knife that was supposed to be brand new was chipped and scratched and there were no fingerprints on it; there was no blood on Turner's clothes or in the bedroom; there was no evidence of a violent fight in the bedroom; and finally there were unidentified hair or fibers mixed in the blood on the knife.
The jury deliberated for approximately a half-hour before reaching a decision. They ruled that it was a case of justifiable homicide. Cheryl Crane was justified in using deadly force against John Stompanato because she feared for her mother's life.
The district attorney decided not to pursue charges against Cheryl but he did initiate legal proceedings against Lana to determine whether or not she was a fit parent. As a result Cheryl became a ward of the state and eventually went to live with her grandmother.
To this day however, questions and rumors still surround the death of Johnny Stompanato. There are some people who insist that Lana Turner was the one who killed Stompanato and then after staging the scene got her daughter, Cheryl, to take the rap because she was a juvenile.
Wikipedia - Lana Turner
Tru TV.com - Lana Turner and John Stompanato
Although Vera Renczi was without question one of the most prolific female serial killers in history, her motives were not based on greed but rather a pathological need for unerring devotion from her men.
Born in 1903 in Bucharest, Romania into wealth and privilege, by the age of 15 she had already engaged in numerous affairs, many of which involved men who were significantly older than she. Her childhood friends described her as being extremely jealous and overly possessive.
Vera's first marriage was to a wealthy business man several years her senior. She was pregnant with her son, Lorenzo, at the time. Unfortunately it did not take long for the marriage to sour. Spending time home alone with her son led to her conjuring up all manners of scenarios which involved her husband cheating. One evening, blinded by jealously, she decided to put an end to his imagined infidelity by spiking his dinner wine with arsenic. She covered up his absence by claiming that he had abandoned her and her son.
After observing the socially correct period of mourning, during which time Vera claimed to have received word that her first husband had been killed in an automobile accident, she remarried. This time the gentleman was closer to her age. In a matter of months Vera would again claim that her husband had abandoned her. After a year Vera supposedly received a "letter" declaring that her second husband had no intention of returning.
After two failed marriages, due entirely to her ingrained belief that all men were untrustworthy, Vera made the conscious decision not to remarry. However it did not stop her from continuing to take lovers. The men came from all types of social classes; rich or poor, married or not, it did not matter to Vera.
As was the case with her two husbands, if Vera had even the slightest hint of infidelity, and she inevitably did, the men disappeared months and in some cases even days after becoming romantically involved with her. If the missing men were connected to her she would simply say that they had either been unfaithful or had abandoned her.
Vera's downfall came at the hands of the wife of one of her lovers. The woman became suspicious about her husband's clandestine activities. She followed him one evening and watched as he entered Vera's residence. When her husband failed to return home the woman returned to Vera's residence to confront her. Vera denied that she knew the woman's husband and dispatched her post haste.
It was not long before the authorities showed up at Vera's front door. Apparently the woman did not take kindly to Vera's treatment of her and went to the police.
During a search of Vera's house the police entered her wine cellar and stepped straight in to what can only be described as a scene from the macabre. The cellar contained thirty-two zinc lined coffins which held male corpses in various stages of decomposition. Vera was arrested and taken to police headquarters at which time she confessed to having caused the death of each of the men in the cellar. If she suspected that they were being unfaithful or if their attraction to her was waning, the men were quickly dispatched with a dose of arsenic. She would spend time sitting in the wine cellar surrounded by her former lovers. Vera had finally achieved with their murders what she could not have while they were alive. Their undivided attention.
In addition, Vera confessed to killing her two husbands and her son, Lorenzo. There was obviously no love loss between mother and son. One day while visiting his mother Lorenzo happened upon her secret in the basement and attempted to blackmail her, thereby sealing his fate.
Vera Renczi was convicted on thirty-five counts of murder and spent the rest of her life in prison.
In the early nineteen hundreds there was a large concentration of Polish Americans on the north side of Chicago, Illinois. One of those residents was Ottilie (Tillie) Gburek. In addition to being a master in the kitchen,Tillie had gained a reputation in the community as a psychic. She had an uncanny ability to foresee the future with amazing accuracy, or so her neighbors thought. She claimed her visions came to her through her dreams. Her first predictions involved stray dogs in the neighborhood. She correctly predicted the day that they would die and her neighbors were astounded when right on cue the mongrels managed to cock up their toes.
Her next prediction involved her husband of twenty-nine years, John Mitkiewicz. She revealed to a friend that she dreamed she would be finding his corpse in three weeks. Her prophecy proved accurate and Tillie found herself widowed but one-thousand dollars richer when John's life insurance policy paid off.
However, Tillie did not remain alone for long. Within a few months Tillie exchanged vows with John Ruskowski. Sadly within three months of the wedding Tillie reported that she was having dreams that her husband would be dead in two weeks. When John obliged Tillie by succumbing at the aforementioned time, Tillie gained some small measure of comfort from the insurance money she received.
Husband number three was Frank Kupszcyk and barely six months later he joined his predecessors in their eternal slumber after Tillie foretold of his impending death.
Husband number four was Joseph Guszkowski. Somehow he managed to last several years longer before Tillie told anyone who would listen, including Joseph, about her "visions". In the meantime one of her neighbors, Rose Chudzinsky, was very vocal in her suspicions about Tillie's gift and her seemingly bad luck with husbands. When Tillie claimed that Rose's days were numbered no one was surprised when she turned up dead. So convinced were they that she was a true psychic, people in the community began to avoid Tillie for fear that she would predict their own demise.
When visiting a fabric store to purchase black material to make a dress for Joseph's funeral, the clerk offered her condolences and asked Tillie when her husband died. Tillie blithely replied, "ten days from now!" A fact to which Joseph complied.
Three young children on Tillie's block died agonizing deaths weeks after she foretold that a plague would strike the family. What she failed to disclose was that she had had words with the family before her "dreams" started.
Despite the warnings of his family and friends, Anton Klimek decided to chuck caution to the wind and exchanged vows with Tillie. Once his life insurance policy was in place and the couple had signed a last will and testament making each other sole beneficiaries, Anton's health seemed to decline overnight.
His family became even more concerned when Tillie did not insist that he seek medical advice and decided to step in and take Anton to the hospital themselves. When doctors examined him they began to suspect that he had been poisoned. They pumped his stomach and his gastric contents were sent to the lab for analysis and their suspicions were confirmed. Anton had managed to thwart Tillie's prediction.
The hospital immediately notified police and Tillie was arrested. Rather than risk the exhumation of her other husbands, she confessed to poisoning Anton.
Tillie Gburek went on trial at the Cook County Courthouse. She was convicted and sentenced to life in prison. On a side note, there was one major stipulation to her sentence. She was never to be allowed to cook for the other inmates!
At a time when there was wide spread belief in the validity of dreams, in Polstead, Suffolk, these would prove to be prophetic and deeply disturbing.
In late December Mrs. Ann Marten dreamed that her stepdaughter, Maria, had been murdered and was buried in a red barn approximately one mile from their cottage. After having the same terrifying dream for three consecutive nights, Mrs. Marten became convinced that Maria was dead and she pestered her husband, Maria's father, until he agreed to apply for permission to search the barn.
On April 19, 1828, armed with a spike, Thomas Marten, a labourer and molecatcher, and a friend entered the red barn and searched the area where Mrs. Marten had insisted that Maria was buried. They immediately noticed that the ground had been disturbed and began to dig. After some eighteen inches they uncovered a body in a sack with a silk green man's scarf protruding from it. They immediately summoned the constabulary. The coroner was also sent for and he quickly summoned a jury. The inquest was held at the Cock Inn in Polstead. The post mortem examination was performed by Dr. John Lawden. He concluded that her death had been the result of foul play. The green handkerchief had been tied tightly around the woman's neck and there was a wound in the orbit of the right eye. At that time the body was identified as that of Maria Marten by her sister.
Maria Marten was Thomas' oldest daughter. She was described as an attractive and very intelligent young woman. Unusual for a country girl at that time, Maria was able to read and write. Unfortunately in an effort to better her circumstances through a good marriage, Maria bartered with, to no avail, her most precious commodity, her virginity. At age 17 she became involved with Thomas Corder, son of wealthy farmer James Corder. Knowing that his family would disapprove, Thomas insisted on keeping their courtship a secret. When Maria became pregnant Thomas refused to marry her and provided very little in the way of financial support. The child would not live past infancy.
She next embarked on a relationship with a Mr Peter Matthews, a well-to-do gentleman who had relatives in Polstead. In time Maria would again become pregnant and Mr. Matthews also made it painfully clear that he had no intention of marrying her. However, he did provide Maria with an allowance when their son, Thomas Henry, was born.
Undeterred Maria was determined to marry well and by all accounts her wish was finally going to come to fruition. She formed an attachment with William Corder, Thomas Corder's youngest brother, he seemed to be openly courting her and frequently spoke of making her his wife. As with her previous liaisons, Maria again allowed herself to become pregnant. When the infant was barely a month old however, it mysteriously died. Corder claimed that he and Maria had taken the child to Sudbury to be buried, a fact that Maria never disputed, however when no official record of burial was ever found he refused to disclose the location where the infant had actually been interred.
William Corder was the youngest son of John Corder. He was described as being 5ft 4in in height, with a fair complexion and freckles, and extremely poor eyesight. Although he was not handsome by any means he seemed to have done quite well with the ladies. During his school years he earned the nickname Foxey because he was not adverse to stealing and lying when it suited his purposes. He was also caught several times in fraudulent and dishonest dealings which caused a rift between himself and his father and brothers. He did, however, remain extremely attached to his mother. At one point his father attempted to ship him off to sea, but his eyesight was so bad no one would employ him. So William was banished to London in disgrace. That changed when his father and eldest brothers all died within 18 months of each other and he returned to Polstead to help his widowed mother run the family farm.
With each postponement of their official union Maria grew more anxious. Perhaps she knew something about the death of their infant that would have destroyed William and used it to coerce him into committing to a firm date for the ceremony.
On Friday morning , May 18 1827, Corder came to the Martens cottage to speak with Maria. According to him a warranted had been issued for her arrest and she was about to be prosecuted for having illegitimate children. No proof of this was ever uncovered.
Maria was afraid to leave in broad daylight in case the constables were watching the cottage. William had already considered that possibility. He had brought along a suit of his clothes for her to change into and told her to meet him at the red barn. Corder left with a bag containing her clothing and personal items after promising to meet her at the barn with a carriage and from there they would travel to a church at Ipswich where they would be married by special license.
When Maria left the cottage to meet Corder it would be the last time she would be seen alive.
Several days later Corder returned to Polstead without Maria. He was confronted by Maria's family as to her whereabouts. He told them that she was staying with a friend of his near Yarmouth and that he could not bring her home yet as his wife because his relatives did not approve of her. And when asked why she had not written he claimed that she was unwell, or had hurt her hand, or that the letter had been lost. When Corder could no longer evade the probing questions of the Marten's, Corder left Polstead for reasons of poor health. He wrote letters to the Martens claiming that he and Maria were married and living on the Isle of Wight. The Martens could not help but notice however that although Corder claimed to be on the Isle of Wight all of the letters bore a London postmark.
In actuality Corder was living in London with his wife, a Miss Mary Moore, whom he had married in November. They had become acquainted when he advertised for a wife in the Morning Herald and the Sunday Times.
After the discovery of Maria's body suspicion immediately fell on William Corder. James Lea of the London police was sent to arrest him. When Lea explained to him that he was being charged with the murder of Maria Marten he denied any knowledge of her even after his house had been searched and the bag belonging to Maria had been found.
Corder was taken back to Suffolk and was tried at Shire Hall, Bury St Edmunds. The trial commenced on August 7 1828 and because of the considerable interest in the proceedings it was determined that women would not be allowed to attend and admittance to the court was by ticket only.
Since the exact cause of death could not be determined because of the level of decomposition the indictment was carefully drawn up to encompass all the possible causes of her murder, a total of nine charges.
In his defense, Corder claimed that when he met Maria at the red barn the two had argued and he retracted his promise to marry her. He left the barn and as he was walking away he heard a gun shot. He ran back to the barn and found Maria lying dead on the floor with one of his pistols next to her. According to him he panicked fearing that he would be blame and decided to bury her body.
The jury returned after 35 minutes with a verdict of guilty and Corder was sentenced to hang.
The day prior to his execution Corder confessed to killing Maria but he claimed that he had accidentally shot her in the eye while they were arguing.
Shortly before noon Corder was led to the gallows in Bury St Edmunds and hung before a crowd of thousands. When he was taken down the body was dissected and parts were preserved. The scalp with one ear attached is on display at Moyse's Hall Museum along with a copy of his death mask. A copy of the judicial proceedings was bound with Corder's skin after the surgeon had it tanned.