5 Major Hollywood Mysteries

INTERNATIONAL NEWS PHOTO/AFP/Getty Images
INTERNATIONAL NEWS PHOTO/AFP/Getty Images

Hollywood is not all glitz, glamour, and cinema. A lot of things happen behind closed doors—so much so that what is considered the "truth" is not always as it seems. Here, we take a look at five major Hollywood mysteries.

1. ELIZABETH SHORT: TO LIVE AND DIE IN L.A.

On the morning of January 15, 1947, the body of Elizabeth Short—an aspiring young actress, who was born on July 29, 1924—was found in Los Angeles in one of the country's most famous (and ghastly) murders. Short had suffered a number of disturbing injuries: in addition to being cut in half at the waist, her face had been sliced from ear to ear, she had been completely drained of blood, and marks on her wrists indicated that she had been bound and possibly tortured before her mutilated body was dumped in a vacant lot. The press, who nicknamed Short "The Black Dahlia," had a field day, sensationalizing every detail of the brutal crime.

While police followed every lead they could to find Short's killer—interrogating her ex-boyfriends and any known male associates—they came up with no solid evidence. Then, in a brash move, Short's killer began antagonizing the police and even mailing the contents of her purse to local newspapers. Despite the killer's boldness, police could not track the culprit down, and the case remains one of Los Angeles' oldest cold cases.

2. GEORGE REEVES: MAN OF STEEL NO MORE 

Hulton Archive/Courtesy of Getty Images

In the course of his 20-year acting career, George Reeves managed to rack up more than 80 film and television credits, most notably as the titular star of Adventures of Superman from 1952 to 1958. Life took a downward turn for Reeves following the end of the series: The acting jobs were not pouring in as he thought they would, and his marriage fell apart after it was discovered that he was having an affair with Toni Mannix, wife of MGM executive Eddie Mannix. Reeves fell into financial disarray and became deeply depressed.

On the night of June 16, 1959, Reeves died of a gunshot wound to the head. Though the police determined his death to be a suicide, Reeves' mother, Helen Besselo, was adamant that no matter how depressed her son might have been, he never would have killed himself. She retained the services of a private investigator to look into the matter. "Nearly everyone in Hollywood has always been led to believe that George Reeves’ death was a suicide," said Milo Speriglio, who helped investigate Reeves' death. "Not everyone believed it then, nor do they believe it now. I am one of those who does not."

Besselo had plenty of reason to believe that there may have been some foul play, as there were some strange occurrences surrounding Reeves' death. For starters, when Reeves allegedly killed himself, his fiancée and three guests were just downstairs. Even though they heard the gunshot, the foursome waited a considerable amount of time before calling the police. Also shell casings were found in various areas of the room where Reeves died, and his body was bruised. Though the official cause of death remains a suicide, rumors have long persisted that Eddie Mannix, the husband of Reeves' former lover, was in fact responsible for his demise.

3. MARILYN MONROE: A GOVERNMENT CONSPIRACY? 

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To this day, the death of Marilyn Monroe remains shrouded in mystery. Her death was ruled a probable suicide after she overdosed on sleeping pills in August 5, 1962—but that was only the beginning of the story. In the more than 50 years since her passing, several theories and conspiracies have emerged regarding the Hollywood bombshell's death, among them:

  • She was assassinated by mafia boss Sam Giancana for threatening to expose information about his illegal operations.
  • She was killed at the behest of John and Robert Kennedy after threatening to go public about her affairs with both brothers.
  • She was given a deadly dose of medication by her psychiatrist, Dr. Ralph Greenson (with whom she also had an affair).
  • She was murdered by the CIA, as she was used in several government operations to seduce world leaders, including Nikita Khrushchev.

According to police reports, some items had been taken from Monroe's home upon her death, including her personal diary, which allegedly could have contained key evidence against some very powerful people. In addition, in 2012, it was discovered that neither the FBI (which had tracked the actress' movements during her life) nor the National Archives had any of the files from Monroe's case.

In his 1983 memoir, Coroner, Dr. Thomas Noguchi—the man who performed Monroe's autopsy—wrote that the true details of Monroe's death will never likely be known. "On the basis of my own involvement in the case, beginning with the autopsy, I would call Monroe's suicide 'very probable,'" he wrote. "But I also believe that until the complete FBI files are made public and the notes and interviews of the suicide panel released, controversy will continue to swirl around her death."

4. PIER PAOLO PASOLINI: PUBLIC ENEMY NUMBER ONE 

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The world cinema industry was in shock when noted Italian director Pier Paolo Pasolini, who courted controversy with films like Accattone and Salò, was murdered in 1975. Pasolini, who was 53 years old at the time, was brutally beaten and run over by his own vehicle. His 17-year-old-killer, Giuseppe Pelosi, admitted to killing Pasolini, and leaving his dead body near a soccer field. The admission of guilt seemed to wrap up the case pretty quickly ... until the forensic report became public. According to the forensic examination, “Pasolini was the victim of an attack carried out by more than one person.” This is when Pasolini's family started to believe there were bigger villains at play than just Pelosi.

Italy in the 1970s was a highly tense nation, and it was not uncommon for outspoken leftists like Pasolini to suddenly disappear, or end up dead. Pasolini's family believes that the director—who often spoke negatively of those in religious and political power—was assassinated in a politically charged killing. There are so many conspiracies and possibilities that in 2010, Pasolini's case was reopened.

5. THE WIZARD OF OZ: A MUNCHKIN IN LOVE

YouTube

Is it a bird? A prop? A Munchkin? For years, fans of The Wizard of Oz have been fascinated by a squint-or-you'll-miss-it object hanging from a tree that stands along the Yellow Brick Road. The story goes that one of the actors hired to play a Munchkin had fallen in love with one of his fellow actors, but his feelings were not reciprocated. The actor was apparently so stricken with sadness that he decided to hang himself on the film's set. If you look at the photo above, from the Tin Woodsman sequence, you'll see the shadowy figure straight ahead in the trees.

Though Snopes.com has determined the story to be "false" and pointed to several other explanations for the mysterious object—from a rented crane from the Los Angeles Zoo to a crew member who simply got caught in the shot and was never edited out—the Munchkin tale is one legend that won't die.

10 Killer Gifts for True Crime Fans

Ulysses Press/Little A
Ulysses Press/Little A

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

Humans have a strange and lasting fascination with the dark and macabre. We’re hooked on stories about crime and murder, and if you know one of those obsessives who eagerly binges every true crime documentary and podcast that crosses their path, you’re in luck—we’ve compiled a list of gifts that will appeal to any murder mystery lover.

1. Donner Dinner Party: A Rowdy Game of Frontier Cannibalism!; $15

Chronicle Books/Amazon

The infamous story of the Donner party gets a new twist in this social deduction party game that challenges players to survive and eliminate the cannibals hiding within their group of friends. It’s “lots of fun accusing your friends of eating human flesh and poisoning your food,” one reviewer says.

Buy it: Amazon

2. A Year of True Crime Page-a-Day Calendar; $16

Workman Calendars/Amazon

With this page-a-day calendar, every morning is an opportunity to build your loved one's true crime chops. Feed their morbid curiosity by reading about unsolved cases and horrifying killers while testing their knowledge with the occasional quizzes sprinkled throughout the 313-page calendar (weekends are combined onto one page).

Buy it: Amazon

3. Bloody America: The Serial Killers Coloring Book; $10

Kolme Korkeudet Oy/Amazon

Some people use coloring books to relax, while others use them to dive into the grisly murders of American serial killers. Just make sure to also gift some red colored pencils before you wrap this up for your bestie.

Buy it: Amazon

4. The Serial Killer Cookbook: True Crime Trivia and Disturbingly Delicious Last Meals from Death Row's Most Infamous Killers and Murderers; $15

Ulysses Press/Amazon

This macabre cookbook contains recipes for the last meals of some of the world’s most famous serial killers, including Ted Bundy, Aileen Wuornos, and John Wayne Gacy. This cookbook covers everything from breakfast (seared steak with eggs and toast, courtesy of Ted Bundy) to dessert (chocolate cake, the last request of Bobby Wayne Woods). Each recipe includes a short description of the killer who requested the meal.

Buy it: Amazon

5. Ripped from the Headlines!: The Shocking True Stories Behind the Movies’ Most Memorable Crimes; $15

Little A/Amazon

In this book, true crime historian Harold Schechter sorts out the truth and fiction that inspired some of Hollywood’s best-known murder movies—including Psycho (1960), Scream (1996), Arsenic and Old Lace (1944), and The Hills Have Eyes (1977). As Schechter makes clear, sometimes reality is even a little more sick and twisted than the movies show.

Buy it: Amazon

6. The Deadbolt Mystery Society Monthly Box; $22/month

CrateJoy

Give the murder mystery lover in your life the opportunity to solve a brand-new case every single month. Each box includes the documents and files for a standalone mystery story that can be solved alone or with up to three friends. To crack the case, you’ll also need a laptop, tablet, or smartphone connected to the internet—each mystery includes interactive content that requires scanning QR codes or watching videos.

Buy it: Cratejoy

7. In Cold Blood; $10

Vintage/Amazon

Truman Capote’s 1965 classic about the murder of a Kansas family is considered by many to be the first true-crime nonfiction novel ever published. Capote’s book—still compulsively readable despite being written more than 50 years ago—follows the mysterious case from beginning to end, helping readers understand the perspectives of the victims, investigators, and suspects in equal time.

Buy it: Amazon

8. Stay Sexy & Don’t Get Murdered: The Definitive How-To Guide; $13

Forge Books/Amazon

Any avid true crime fan has at least heard of My Favorite Murder, the popular podcast that premiered in 2016. This book is a combination of practical wisdom, true crime tales, and personal stories from the podcast’s comedic hosts. Reviewers say it’s “poignant” and “worth every penny.”

Buy it: Amazon

9. I Like to Party Mug; $12

LookHUMAN/Amazon

This cheeky coffee mug says it all. Plus, it’s both dishwasher- and microwave-safe, making it a sturdy gift for the true crime lover in your life.

Buy it: Amazon

10. Latent Fingerprint Kit; $60

Crime Scene Store/Amazon

Try your hand (get it?!) at being an amateur detective with this kit that lets you collect fingerprints left on most surfaces. It may not be glamorous, but it could help you solve the mystery of who put that practically empty carton back in the refrigerator when it barely contained enough milk for a cup of coffee.

Buy it: Amazon

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New Online Art Exhibition Needs the Public’s Help to Track Down Lost Masterpieces by Van Gogh, Monet, and More

Vincent van Gogh's original Portrait of Dr. Gachet wasn't stolen, but it hasn't been seen in 30 years.
Vincent van Gogh's original Portrait of Dr. Gachet wasn't stolen, but it hasn't been seen in 30 years.
Vincent van Gogh, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

If you wanted to compare both versions of Vincent van Gogh’s Portrait of Dr. Gachet in person, you couldn’t. While the second one currently hangs in Paris’s Musée d'Orsay, the public hasn’t seen the original painting since 1990. In fact, nobody’s really sure where it is—after its owner Ryoei Saito died in 1996, the precious item passed from private collector to private collector, but the identity of its current owner is shrouded in mystery.

As Smithsonian Magazine reports, Portrait of Dr. Gachet (1890) is one of a dozen paintings in “Missing Masterpieces,” a digital exhibit of some of the world’s most famous lost artworks. It’s not the only Van Gogh in the collection. His 1884 painting The Parsonage Garden at Nuenen in Spring was snatched from the Netherlands’ Singer Laren museum earlier this year; and his 1888 painting The Painter on His Way to Work has been missing since World War II. Other works include View of Auvers-sur-Oise by Paul Cézanne, William Blake’s Last Judgement, and two bridge paintings by Claude Monet.

Paul Cézanne's View of Auvers-sur-Oise was stolen from the University of Oxford's art museum on New Year's Eve in 1999.Ashmolean Museum, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

The new online exhibit is a collaboration between Samsung and art crime expert Noah Charney, who founded The Association for Research into Crimes Against Art. It isn’t just a page where art enthusiasts can explore the stories behind the missing works—it’s also a way to encourage people to come forward with information that could lead to the recovery of the works themselves.

“From contradictory media reports to speculation in Reddit feeds—the clues are out there, but the volume of information can be overwhelming,” Charney said in a press release. “This is where technology and social media can help by bringing people together to assist the search. It’s not unheard of for an innocuous tip posted online to be the key that unlocks a case.”

The exhibition will be online through February 10, 2021, and citizen sleuths can email their tips to missingmasterpieces@artcrimeresearch.org.

[h/t Smithsonian Magazine]