Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

William Randolph's Hearse

Theories & Rumors

What is known is that Ince was driven home to his Spanish-style mansion in Benedict Canyon, suffering from whatever it was — a gunshot wound or acute indigestion — and he died there two days later. Dr. Ida Glasgow, Ince's personal physician, signed the death certificate citing heart failure as the cause of death. Davies, Chaplin, and other celebs attended the funeral on November 21, but Hearst was conspicuously absent, preferring to retreat to his "ranch" and steer clear of the spotlight.

If Hearst had thought that, by cremating Ince's body, he had immaculately solved his dilemma, he wasn't quite out of the woods yet. Rumors of foul play were just too strong and widespread to be ignored. Few if any people believed that Hearst had shot Ince deliberately, having had no solid basis for doing so. The most commonly circulated stories — and the most plausible theories — were that Chaplin was the intended target and Ince just happened to be in the way or in the wrong place at the wrong time when the fatal bullet was fired.

In The Cat's Meow, Chaplin had left Marion minutes before Hearst, storming around in a blind rage, spied Marion sitting on a step talking to Ince who was sitting next to her. Because he was wearing the same type of hat Chaplin often wore, Hearst mistook Ince for his nemesis and fired a single shot that struck Ince in the head. Once he realized his fatal mistake, Hearst began scrambling around frantically to cover up his misdeed.

Did it actually happen this way? No one alive today knows but it is entirely possible. There are many theories. Some speculate that Chaplin and Ince were together when confronted by Hearst, and Ince, attempting to be the peacemaker, may have gotten in the way when Hearst pulled the trigger. Or there may have been a struggle for the gun and it misfired, hitting Ince in the head. Or Hearst may have fired several shots at Chaplin who was fleeing Marion's cabin after being caught in bed with her, and a stray shot felled Ince who had been nearby. Each of these scenarios is entirely possible. One suggested scenario that is less likely is that a shot fired by Hearst might have penetrated a floorboard and killed Ince in his cabin.

No formal inquest or anything even remotely resembling one by the standards of the time was ever held. Cremating Ince's body within days of his death decisively precluded that possibility. Forensic science as we know it today barely existed in 1924, if it existed at all. Earlier that year, a 29-year-old J. Edgar Hoover had just taken over a disorganized, barely functional, fledgling federal investigating agency that would later become known and respected as the FBI. An autopsy at that time, at best, would have only yielded basic information about a probable cause of death. Nonetheless, even the most cursory examination of Ince's body — had one been held — would have been able to tell the difference between a bullet wound and a malfunctioning digestive or coronary system.

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