Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Marilyn Monroe

Marilyn's Death - Undisputed Facts

Marilyn Monroe in 1962
Marilyn Monroe in 1962

The exact events surrounding Marilyn Monroe's death have remained shrouded in mystery. Much of the evidence and testimony obtained during the investigation has, for the most part, been destroyed or lost, including many of the police files and interviews taken following her death.

From early morning to late afternoon, Saturday, August 4, 1962 appeared to be a pretty ordinary day in the life of Marilyn Monroe. Pat Newcomb, her press agent, had slept over and awakened around noon on Saturday. Marilyn had not slept well and was, at least briefly, in a crabby mood when Pat first spoke to her.

Most of the afternoon Marilyn spent with Dr. Ralph Greenson, her psychiatrist, except for a time in mid-afternoon when Marilyn went for a ride with Eunice driving.

There was a noticeable difference in Marilyn's condition during the afternoon. While she had been alert during the morning, she appeared to be drugged in the afternoon. Her internist, Dr. Hyman Engelberg, had just refilled a Nembutal (barbituates) prescription the previous day and it was possible that Marilyn had taken one or more of the capsules.

Dr. Greenson had been trying to break Marilyn's Nembutal habit and switch her to chloral hydrate as a sleep aid. However, Marilyn had various sources of her favorite drug and had plenty of them around her residence.

Eunice Murray was at Marilyn's home most of the day, arriving at work early in the morning. Dr. Greenson came to Marilyn's after lunch. Donald Wolfe quotes Eunice Murray as saying that she called Greenson after Marilyn asked her if there was any oxygen around.

Pat Newcomb said that she left Marilyn's house somewhere between 5:30 and 6:00 p.m.

Greenson spent some time with Marilyn alone and then later in the afternoon asked Pat to leave for a bit since Marilyn had doled out some sharp words to her that day. Pat left Marilyn's house somewhere between 5:30 and 6:00 p.m.

According to Eunice Murray, Dr. Greenson spent another hour with Marilyn and then left around 7 p.m.

Joe DiMaggio Jr. called Marilyn around 7: 15 p.m. to discuss with Marilyn his decision to end his engagement. Both Murray and DiMaggio Jr. observed that Marilyn was in very good spirits after talking to the young man.  Her elevated mood was confirmed by Dr. Greenson who she immediately called to tell him about DiMaggio Jr.'s broken engagement.

About 7:45 p.m., Peter Lawford stated that he called to invite Marilyn to a party he was having, but said that she sounded heavily drugged. He claimed that she shouted her name into the phone a few times when she didn't respond to his conversation. Donald Spoto writes Lawford as quoting Marilyn, "Say goodbye to Pat, say goodbye to the president, and say goodbye to yourself, because you're a nice guy."

At this point, there are sharply conflicting statements from many sources as to when Marilyn died and how and when her death was discovered. These conflicts will be addressed in the next chapter, but first we will continue with the undisputed facts.

At 4:25 a.m. Sunday morning, August 5 Sergeant Jack Clemmons of the West Los Angeles Police Department got a call that he would never forget. Dr. Hyman Engelberg, Marilyn's personal physician, told him that she had committed suicide. When he and the backup police car that he had ordered arrived at Marilyn's home, there were three people – Eunice Murray, Dr. Ralph Greenson and Dr. Hyman Engelberg.

They led Clemmons into the bedroom where her nude body was lying covered with a sheet and pointed out the bottles of sedatives. Donald Wolfe quotes Clemmons: "'She was lying facedown in what I call the soldier's position. Her face was in a pillow, her arms were by her side, her right arm was slightly bent. Her legs were stretched out perfectly straight.'" He immediately thought she had been placed that way. He had seen a number of suicides, and contrary to the common conception, an overdose of sleeping tablets usually causes victims to suffer convulsions and vomiting before they die in a contorted position."

The statements taken from the three individuals were very strange and Clemmons was convinced that he was not hearing the truth. They claimed that Marilyn's body had been discovered some four hours earlier, but that they could not contact the police until 20th Century Fox's publicity department had given them permission. Clemmons also noted that there was no drinking glass in the bedroom from which Marilyn could have taken the many pills that she was credited with swallowing.

The preliminary autopsy was conducted by Dr. Thomas Noguchi. As the results of various tests were analyzed, Coroner Theodore Curphey determined that Marilyn died from an overdose of barbiturates. Remnants of the drug pentobarbital (sleeping pills) were found in her liver and chloral hydrate was found in her blood. He claimed that there was no distinguishable physical evidence of foul play. Marilyn's death was listed as a "probable suicide."

However, whether Marilyn committed suicide or not has been the source of great debate for more than 40 years.

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