Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Lana Turner and Johnny Stompanato - Hollywood Homicide

Oscar and Johnny

But first, Lana decided that she would take a quiet vacation in Acapulco, away from Johnny, Hollywood and Cheryl. At 14, Cheryl had already run away from home, fled a Catholic boarding school and otherwise made foolish teenage decisions that, because of her celebrity mother, landed her in the gossip columns of Louella Parsons, Walter Winchell and the like.

"I think I rebelled against the whole fishbowl life that we were living," Cheryl told CNN's Larry King years later. "You know, every move was fodder for somebody. You know, and I resented it. I just wanted to be Jane Doe."

Lana arranged to keep her arrival in Mexico secret, but when she landed at the airport Stompanato and a phalanx of journalists met her. No studio publicity agent was present, leading her to believe Johnny had set up the press conference.

"To this day I can't tell you exactly how John Stompanato knew when I was leaving England or that I was flying to Mexico via Copenhagen," she wrote. "He proved over and over that he had the power to do anything he wanted."

Johnny continued to be physically abusive in Acapulco, once pulling a gun on Lana when she tried to order him out of her room. Usually he didn't have to use violence, since Lana was terrified into compliance by mere threats.

While she was in Mexico, Lana learned that she had been nominated for an Academy Award for her work in Peyton Place. John was equally excited until she made it clear that he would not be accompanying her to the ceremony. There was no way, she wrote, that she would be seen in public with a known gangster. No amount of pleading or cajoling could change her mind.

She was concerned for her image, but the press was waiting when Lana and Johnny landed in Los Angeles. A photographer was there to capture their reunion with Cheryl and sent the picture of the smiling trio across the wires with the headline "Lana Turner Returns with Mob Figure."

The night of the Academy Awards began as a dream for Lana Turner and ended as a nightmare. She wrote that she didn't expect to win she felt her work in The Postman Always Rings Twice was better than as Constance Mackenzie and the award went to Joanne Woodward for The Three Faces of Eve. A photo of Lana and Cheryl at the awards dinner shows a stunning Lana in a form-fitting strapless white lace gown, wide, bright eyes, flawless skin, charming smile and beautiful platinum blonde hair, seated next to a very grown-up looking Cheryl Crane in a more modest green taffeta gown. Leaning down between them, paying his respects is Cary Grant in white tie and tails. They look like the quintessential Hollywood stars, down to the extravagant jewelry and martini glasses.

At 730 North Bedford Drive in Beverly Hills, John Stompanato sat home alone with the servants, watching the ceremony on TV and growing angrier by the minute. By the time Lana returned home from the post-Oscar parties (Cheryl had come home earlier), Johnny was raging.

"You'll never leave me home again!" he shouted. "That's the last time."

He berated Lana for not winning and for her increased reliance on alcohol. Then he got physical and began slapping her face.

"He cracked me a second time, this time knocking me down. I staggered back against the chaise and slid to the floor," she wrote. "He yanked me up and began hitting me with his fists. I went flying across the room into the bar, sending glasses shattering on the floor."

Picking her up again, he grabbed her shoulders and peered down at her.

"Now do you understand?" he asked. "You will never leave me out of something like that again. Ever."

In her biography, Lana explains the fear a battered woman has for remaining with her abuser.

"Underlying everything was my shame," she wrote. "I was so ashamed. I didn't want anybody to know my predicament, how foolish I'd been, how I'd taken him at face value and been completely duped."

In the early morning hours of the day after the Academy Awards ceremony, when she should have been sleeping with dreams of her night in the spotlight, Lana lay bruised and bleeding in bed.

Next to her lay a sleeping Johnny Stompanato, blissfully unaware that his time was running out.

 

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