Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Lana Turner and Johnny Stompanato - Hollywood Homicide

Plan B

Mickey Cohen (CORBIS)
Mickey Cohen
Mickey Cohen identified Johnny Stompanato's body, and the former Marine was shipped home and buried with full military honors in Illinois. Then Mickey fell back and regrouped. He knew all about Lana Turner and Johnny Stompanato. In fact, he was the one who helped Johnny gain access to Lana and the muscle behind Stompanato's uncanny ability to know where Lana was and where she was heading. He bankrolled Stompanato's seduction of Lana, not because he was interested in playing Cupid, but because he wanted to use Lana for his own purposes.

She was rich and powerful and he intended to blackmail her. Johnny Stompanato was the one who would help put the plan in place.

"I can't understand it," Mickey told the press, which was all over him. "I thought she liked him very much. We were happy Cheryl and Johnny and me. We used to go horseback riding together."

Then, after he went to the morgue to retrieve Johnny's body, he talked to the press again.

"I don't like the whole thing," he said. "There's lots of unanswered questions ... I'm going to find some of those answers no matter what happens."

Weeks after the homicide, one of Lana's attorneys stopped by the house with a package. Inside was a series of negatives showing a naked, sleeping Lana Turner. Johnny had taken them.

"He had asked her [Lana's maid] to keep [them] for him just before he met me in England," Lana wrote. "He told Arminda that the contents were extremely valuable to him, and that she should keep it safe until he came to reclaim it."

Other negatives in the roll showed Johnny having sex with another woman.

With a few darkroom tricks, "he could hold them over you for blackmail," Lana's attorney said. Together, they destroyed the negatives and burned them. They flushed the ashes down the toilet.

Mickey wasn't finished yet. The blackmail plan had fallen through, but Mickey knew that Stompanato had kept the love letters he and Lana had exchanged. Cohen dispatched one of his hoods to break into Johnny's apartment and steal them. Then he leaked them to the press. If he wasn't going to make money off Lana Turner, he was damned sure going to arrange it so that she was finished in Hollywood.

The Los Angeles Herald Examiner was the first to break the story, and two days before the inquest they reprinted every word of Johnny's letters to Lana and hers back to him. The letters provided an intimate look at Lana and Johnny's relationship, from steamy early letters talking of "our love, our hopes, our dreams, our sex and longings" (Lana to Johnny) to her pleas for space later on.

"You must let me alone in my 'own world' for a while, to rest, think, rest, think," she wrote to Johnny.

Cohen freely admitted that he leaked the letters.

"I thought it was fair to show that Johnny wasn't exactly 'unwelcome company' like Lana said," he told the Herald Examiner.


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