Marilyn Monroe

Stacy Conradt
Stacy Conradt / Stacy Conradt

For years, every time we so much as touch a toe out of state, I’ve put cemeteries on our travel itinerary. From garden-like expanses to overgrown boot hills, whether they’re the final resting places of the well-known but not that important or the important but not that well-known, I love them all. After realizing that there are a lot of taphophiles (cemetery and/or tombstone enthusiasts) out there, I’m finally putting my archive of interesting tombstones to good use.

Happy belated birthday to Marilyn Monroe, who would have been 88 yesterday if she hadn’t overdosed on barbiturates in 1962.

Even 50-plus years later, though, her death remains a bit of a mystery. The barbiturates are mostly undisputed—the unresolved issue is whether the overdose was accidental, purposeful, or murder. Conflicting stories from people close to Marilyn have had experts scratching their heads for decades. These are the most popular theories.

The cause: A fatal sleep aid cocktail.

Marilyn’s physician was in the process of slowly weaning her from Nembutal, a sedative. But she had other means of getting it, and may have been mixing it with other drugs. Evidence of both Nembutal and chloral hydrate, another sedative, were discovered during the autopsy. However, they weren’t taken intravenously—there were no needle marks—and reports state that no traces of the drugs were found in her stomach, either. This leads to the theory that Marilyn’s physician administered a drug enema, and perhaps accidentally gave her too much or the wrong combination.

The cause: Getting too close to JFK and RFK.

There are two theories as to how these affairs resulted in murder: Either one of the Kennedy brothers had her killed because she was getting too needy, or a third party (the CIA and the Mafia are both mentioned in conspiracy theories) decided that enough was enough and took her out themselves. Some of Marilyn’s neighbors reported that they saw Robert Kennedy at Monroe’s house the night of her death.

The cause: Marilyn decided to end it herself.

She had attempted suicide at least four times previously, and she had access to a number of drugs. Peter Lawford, Marilyn’s good friend and JFK’s brother-in-law, says that when he spoke to the starlet in the early evening, she said something a little odd: “Say goodbye to Pat, say goodbye to the president, and say goodbye to yourself, because you're a nice guy."

Whether it was suicide, murder, or accidental overdose, Marilyn’s ex-husband, Joe DiMaggio, was convinced that Hollywood had killed her. He arranged her funeral and only allowed 25 people to attend. He excluded most of Monroe’s Hollywood contacts and friends. When studio execs tried to convince DiMaggio that they belonged at the service, he refused, saying, “Tell them if it wasn’t for them, she’d still be here.”

Photo courtesy of Library of Congress

For 20 years, DiMaggio had six long-stemmed roses delivered to Monroe’s grave twice weekly. So why wasn’t the baseball great—who never remarried—buried with his longtime love when he died in 1999? It's possible that he would have been, had he not sold his adjacent crypt after he and Marilyn divorced in 1954. The crypt went to Richard Poncher, whose wife agreed to have him placed face down when he was interred, so he could always be on top of Marilyn.

Monroe continues to make people money even in death. Not only was she one of the top-earning deceased celebrities in 2013, the real estate surrounding her crypt in Westwood Village Memorial Park continues to be hot. In 2009, Richard Poncher’s widow tried to sell his vault on eBay. (So much for resting in peace.) Though it sold for more than $4 million, the winner had to retract his bid.

As of February, the vault next to Marilyn was up for sale—but not the one on the left. Though he never met her, Hugh Hefner bought that piece of "land" for $75,000 in 1992. Hef isn't alone in continuing to love her—the picture above shows how discolored her vault is from more than 50 years of lipstick kisses.

See all entries in our Grave Sightings series here.