Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Marilyn Monroe

Theories

Suicide

This is the official cause of death and probably the most widely believed. She had tried it four times previously and she clearly had significant mood swings.

The problem with this theory is that too many forensic facts are at odds with it, unless one can imagine Marilyn making up a barbiturate enema and administering it to herself. Quite a number of forensic experts have discarded the suicide theory as inconsistent with the facts.

Another problem with the suicide theory is that she was in good spirits at the time of her death and had been making plans for future events and movies, and if Spoto is correct, her remarriage to Joe DiMaggio.

Accident

If, in fact, Marilyn died from a rectally-administered barbiturate enema, the question is who prepared and administered it. It is not out of the realm of possibility that the overdose was accidental. 

Spoto makes a very persuasive case for accidental death. Dr. Greenson had been working with Dr. Hyman Engelberg to wean Marilyn off Nembutal, substituting instead chloral hydrate to help her sleep. Milton Rudin claimed that Greenson said something very important the night of Marilyn's death: " God damn it! Hy gave her a prescription I didn't know about!"

Dr. Engelberg was having serious marital problems and obviously didn't communicate well with Greenson on Marilyn's prescriptions. Spoto suggests that Greenson would not have given Marilyn a heavy dose of chloral hydrate the evening of her death if he had realized that Marilyn had been taking Nembutal capsules throughout the day. Spoto further suggests that after an exhausting full day with Marilyn that he arranged for Marilyn to have a chloral hydrate enema so that she would sleep through the night.

Chloral hydrate significantly slows down the metabolism of Nembutal, but Greenson did not know that she had been taking Nembutal and Marilyn did not realize that Nembutal and chloral hydrate interacted adversely or she probably would have admitted to Greenson that she had taken Nembutals.

If Spoto's theory is correct, then who administered the enema? Spoto believes that it had to be Eunice Murray, who, like Greenson, had no inkling that the sedative enema would be fatal.

Any doctor might be loath to admit to himself or others that he had made such a significant mistake in such a high-profile patient, especially since Marilyn appeared drugged during the afternoon.  Also, if Eunice was the person who administered the enema, it would be natural for her to try to protect herself and Dr. Greenson by pretending that no such procedure was given to Marilyn.

Murder

Marilyn Monroe grave marker
Marilyn Monroe grave marker

Everyone loves a conspiracy. It is so much more exciting than accidental death or suicide.  The celebrity status of the main characters in this drama lends itself heavily towards the romance of conspiracy.  Look at the cottage industry that John F. Kennedy's assassination has generated.

It's important to distinguish the cover-up of embarrassing information by powerful people from the commitment of a crime to eliminate people who can potentially create embarrassment.

There are a number of credible people who claim that Marilyn Monroe had affairs with one or both Kennedy brothers. John Kennedy, at least, was known to indulge himself in extramarital adventures. So, it is not at all implausible that President Kennedy availed himself of the charms of one of the sexiest and most attractive women of that era. That Robert Kennedy was so inclined is not nearly as clear.

According to Peter Lawford, Marilyn's unrealistic notions about becoming First Lady caused her to embarrass herself with both Kennedy brothers. Her letters and telephone calls to them had become both tiresome and very risky. It was one thing to cavort with anonymous girls, but quite another to be involved with a celebrity sex symbol like Marilyn Monroe.  There was every good reason for JFK and RFK to break off the relationship with Marilyn permanently.

What allegedly became so troublesome was Marilyn's supposed rage at JFK's rejection of her and the fear that she was able to strike in both brothers.  Donald Wolfe sums it up: "Marilyn Monroe was in a position to bring down the presidency. She was cognizant of Jack Kennedy's marital infidelities and other private matters. She had his notes and letters and was privy to Kennedy's involvement with Sam Giancana. That the Kennedy brothers had discussed national security matters with the film star added to an astonishing array of indiscretions."

It is not out of the realm of possibility that Robert Kennedy was the man appointed by his brother to deliver the rejection to Marilyn personally. It's not the kind of thing that one writes in a letter and it's unlikely that JFK was anxious to deliver the message himself.

Did Robert Kennedy bring Marilyn the news of his brother's desire to break off his relationship on the night Marilyn died? After all, there are some witnesses, including a cop, who place Robert Kennedy near the scene that night.  This information may never be known with any certainty, but if Robert Kennedy did somehow make an unannounced visit to Marilyn Monroe on the night of August 4, then it provides unexpected motivation for the suicide theory. That is, while Marilyn may have been in good spirits that day and evening, a visit by Robert Kennedy shattering her notions about an enduring relationship with JFK could have abruptly changed her mood.

Was there an attempt on the part of the government to cover up John Kennedy's indiscretions with Marilyn Monroe? It would be very surprising indeed if there were not such an attempt. 

The alleged cover-up was believed to have extended beyond the phone records and police evidence found at the scene. Shortly after his phone call to the Naars before 11 p.m. on the night of Marilyn's death, it is believed that Peter Lawford and Pat Newcomb went to Marilyn's house. Purportedly in a state of panic, Lawford called brother-in-law Bobby Kennedy and explained what had occurred.

However, destroying phone records and personal journals and scraps of paper are not in the same league with murder.

To suggest, as some authors, have that Robert Kennedy was somehow complicit in the murder of Marilyn Monroe is to be ignorant of the character and integrity of the Attorney General.  While mystery surrounds the death of Marilyn Monroe, mystery does not shroud the character of Robert Kennedy. Robert Kennedy had a very fixed moral compass which was repeatedly documented in his crusade against organized crime.

Was Marilyn murdered by the Mafia, eager to avenge itself on the Kennedys for Robert's strike against them and expose the Kennedys' philandering to the American public? The motive was probably there but with what is known about the individuals present in Marilyn's home on the night of August 4, 1962, it makes a mob hit with a rectal enema seem a bit unlikely and almost absurd.

The actual events that surrounded Marilyn's death will probably never be known. What was known for certain was that a living legend mysteriously died before her time, in a mist of confusion, scandal and uncertainty.

Following the autopsy, Marilyn's body was released to her family. Marilyn's mother, who was institutionalized, did not take custody of the body. Instead, Joe DiMaggio claimed her remains and arranged a small and quiet funeral for the woman he continued to love up until her death.  Finally on August 8, 1962, she was laid to rest in Los Angeles' Westwood Memorial Park in the Corridor of Memories. On that day, thousands lined the streets and grieved for their icon and the world's movie legend, Marilyn Monroe.

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