Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Mysterious Death of Superman

Some Theories

A young George Reeves, 1940
A young George Reeves, 1940

Based on the inconsistency of the evidence, there has been widespread speculation over who might have killed Reeves (and why) if he didn't do it himself. One theory has it that he was killed by Leonore, in a fit of passion or an argument — possibly over whether they would marry. But, like everything else surrounding Reeves' death, this is pure speculation. And, if this was the case, why would the houseguests risk their own reputations to cover for her?

What came to light during the independent investigation was the presence of two bullet holes in the floor at the foot of Reeves' bed. How did they get there? Leonore's explanation was that she was playing with the gun on another occasion, several days earlier, and it discharged.

Leonore, when questioned, maintained that Reeves killed himself due to his "failed career" and his alleged inability to find more work. Unfortunately, for those theorists who suspect foul play, her version of the evening's events is the only official one. There was no reliable list of exactly who was present in the house at the time of the shooting. According to Lemmon, those present were Carol Von Ronkle, William Bliss, and Robert Condon.

Some theorists suggest that Reeves' and Leonore's relationship was quite volatile, and they were often seen arguing in public. Her reputation as a New York City nightclub hell-raiser dated back to the 1940s, leading some to conclude that she and Reeves could have been arguing in his bedroom the night he was shot. She could have been holding the gun and it may have discharged as they struggled for possession of it. This could possibly explain the bullet holes in the floor, in addition to the fatal wound in his head and the bullet hole in the ceiling.

Casting further suspicion on Leonore, many wondered why she left California the day after Reeves' death, never to return, and never explaining why she waited so long after the death to call the police. None of the other houseguests have ever provided public testimony.

Giving credence to the theory that Leonore or another person might have been involved was the angle at which the shot appeared to have been fired. A bullet hole was found in the ceiling above the bed. How would that have gotten there if Reeves fired the fatal shot himself into his head while lying down?

Another theory, equally plausible, infers that Toni Mannix might have been responsible, though not directly. She was known to be hurt, bitter and angry over the breakup of their affair, particularly since Reeves and Leonore were living in a house she had bought for him. Leonore told investigators after Reeves' death that Toni was harassing him with phone calls for months, so much so that he sought legal advice on how to deal with them.

Consequently, Toni might have hired someone to kill him, a theory given further credence by the fact that her husband reportedly had ties to the mob. Had this been the case, Leonore and the other guests that night might have been threatened with a similar fate if they ever said anything.

However, doubt has been cast on this theory by the fact that Toni continued to worship Reeves even after he broke up with her and after his death. For years afterward, until she was stricken with Alzheimer's disease, Toni sought to perpetuate his memory in every way she could. After her husband's death in 1963, Toni was left wealthy and she lived comfortably until her death in 1983.

Diane Lane plays Toni Mannix in the movie
Diane Lane plays Toni Mannix in the

And, despite his engagement and near-marriage to Leonore, Reeves must have felt, deep down, the same about Toni. He left his entire estate to her in his will and named no one else as a beneficiary. After the reading of the will, Leonore was quoted as saying, bitterly, "Toni got a house for charity, and I got a broken heart," referring to the charities for which both she and Reeves worked tirelessly.

The theories that Reeves might have been murdered by someone hired by Mannix himself don't hold water. Mannix knew about the relationship long before it ended and gave covert approval to it, so he could carry on with his Japanese mistress. He would have had no motive for killing his wife's lover.

Recently an item was found in a Poughkeepsie, New York, newspaper, printed the day Reeves died and the day after. L.A.P.D. Sergeant V.A. Peterson, one of the case's investigators, is said to comment on Lemmon's statement in the following manner:

Miss Lemmon blurted, "He's going to shoot himself." A noise was heard upstairs. She continued, inexplicably, "He's opening a drawer to get the gun." A shot was heard. "See, I told you so."

Whether this is true or not will probably never be known. Leonore died on New Year's Day, 1990, taking whatever knowledge she had to the grave with her.

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