Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Lana Turner and Johnny Stompanato - Hollywood Homicide

Conspiracy?

Policeman holds the murder weapon (CORBIS)
Policeman holds the murder
weapon (CORBIS)
The inquest wasn't over after Lana left the stand, but most of the drama was gone. Police investigators testified that they were confused by some of the details. First, the knife was new, but it was scratched and chipped as if it had seen significant use before. Second, there were no fingerprints on the knife. Third, there was no blood in the bedroom or on Lana Turner's clothes and the bedroom was not in any sort of disarray. Finally, the blood on the knife contained "several light and dark fibers or hairs," which could not be identified.

As the inquest concluded, a mysterious man jumped up from the gallery and shouted that he needed to testify. As he was escorted from the room, he shouted, "Lies! All lies! This mother and daughter were both in love with Stompanato! Johnny was a gentleman!" Whether the man was a nutcase, a publicity hound or a Cohen plant was never determined, but regardless, he was taken away and disappeared.

The jurors retreated to deliberate and took less than a half-hour to decide that John Stompanato's death was justifiable homicide. Acting out of fear for her life and for her mother's life, Cheryl Crane was justified in using deadly force to stop Johnny, they ruled. The decision was not unanimous, nor did it have to be.

The inquest verdict was not binding on the prosecutor, but the next day McKesson decided not to pursue charges. He did, however, initiate court proceedings to determine Lana's fitness as a parent.

Mickey Cohen was outraged at the coroner's verdict and immediately went to the press. "It's the first time in my life I've ever seen a dead man convicted of his own murder," he said. "So far as that jury's concerned, Johnny just walked too close to that knife."

Johnny Stompanato's family brought a wrongful death lawsuit against Lana Turner and Stephan Crane. The case was settled out of court.

In 1962, Mickey Cohen was sentenced to 10 years in federal prison for income tax violations. He was released in 1972 and began a campaign for prison reform. In 1974, Mickey made headlines again when he said he had had contact with people holding Patty Hearst for ransom. He died in 1976 of natural causes.

Cheryl Crane eventually went to live with her grandmother, Lana's mother. There were many years of hardship ahead for this young woman, including more alienation from her mother, but overcoming those obstacles, Cheryl went into the restaurant business with her father. Today Cheryl is a successful businesswoman. She recently helped produce a Lana Turner retrospective on cable television.

Lana Turner in 1985, 10 years before her death (AP)
Lana Turner in 1985,
10 years before her
death (AP)
Lana Turner's career, which hit a plateau before Johnny's death, was rejuvenated in 1958. She went on to make many more movies and starred on television in "Falcon Crest." Lana and Cheryl mended fences and reconciled long before her death in 1995. Well-respected and honored until the end, the Sweater Girl proved to be a survivor who had more than enough mettle to stand up to the curse of the Hollywood bombshell.

 

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