Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Christian Brando — A Hollywood Family Tragedy


Christian was taken away to the California Men's Colony at San Luis Obispo to serve his sentence, and he was soon replaced in the public eye by an even more sensational case which also involved Robert Shapiro — the O.J. Simpson murder trial. Gone were the weekly gossip headlines in the southern California papers and the Penthouse cover stories and pictorials of Christian's reputed lovers and the stories of life with Christian by "friends" who sold them to the tabloids.

The case faded from view and the Drollet and Brando families were left to pick up the pieces. The Drollet clan left the United States believing that they had been done an injustice and that Christian had gotten away with murder. Marlon Brando's oldest son had been taken away from him and his daughter was all but emotionally destroyed. He blamed prosecutor Ira Reiner and his staff for their zealous pursuit of her.

Cheyenne continued her downward spiral, now formally diagnosed with schizophrenia, a particularly cruel mental illness that convinces its victims that they have no illness at all. Over the next several years she was on and off her medication many times, her sister wrote later.

"As she slowly withdrew, I struggled to maintain the bond we had always shared," Petra Brando wrote later. "A feeling of alienation set in when I began to understand that the dark journey through mental illness is an individual one that I could not enter or share and that she must travel alone."

She suffered abandonment from Tahitian friends who could not help but gossip. She expressed several times that when she thought of Dag, she wished to join him in death.

"Afterwards, it was a shame," one loyal friend said. "This is a small island. People talk. Her friends were afraid of her. She had no more good friends after the drama."

Denouement in the Christian Brando case would not occur for another five years, long after the story had been forgotten. Then, a month short of the five-year anniversary of the shooting, while Marlon Brando was enjoying another comeback with his role in Don Juan DeMarco with Johnny Depp, the case was brought back to the front pages.

Cheyenne Brando, who had just lost custody of the son she conceived with Dag Drollet, hanged herself in her mother's home. She was just 25 years old.

Marlon Brando remained a recluse and issued no statements about Cheyenne's death, but friends reported he was overcome with grief, physically unable to attend her funeral in Tahiti. Christian was still incarcerated, so he also was unable to attend. He has since been released and is living a quiet life far from the spotlight, content just to be Christian Brando, a welder. He was involved, briefly, in the Bonnie Lee Bakely murder case when there was some doubt as to whether Robert Blake or Christian fathered Bonnie's child. Tests showed Christian was not the father. It is likely that he will be called as a witness, because he was heard on tape warning Bonnie that her lifestyle could get her killed. Christian is not a suspect in that case.

Perhaps in shared pain there can be healing. At Marlon Brando's request, his former friend Jacques Drollet, now his sworn enemy, agreed that Cheyenne would be buried in the Drollet family crypt next to her slain lover.

In the major newspaper in French Polynesia the headline after the funeral read "Cheyenne and Dag: Together For Eternity."

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