17 of Hollywood's Most Horrifying Murders
Hollywood is constantly thought of as one of the most glamorous places (and social circles) to be in. Between the red carpets, lavish parties, and endless award shows, it might seem like stars live inside an untouchable bubble, but even they aren't immune to tragedy. From Phil Hartman's shocking death to the unsolved shootings of Tupac Shakur and Biggie Smalls, keep reading for some of Hollywood's most terrifying murders.
Nicole Brown Simpson
After divorcing in 1992, O.J. and Nicole Simpson attempted to reconcile, but after years of abuse allegations and alleged affairs, they couldn't make things work. So when Nicole and her friend Ron Goldman were found brutally stabbed to death outside her LA apartment on the morning of June 13, 1994, suspicions quickly turned to her estranged husband. Nicole had been stabbed numerous times in her head and neck and had defensive wounds on her hands, while Ron suffered multiple stab wounds to his chest, abdomen, and left thigh.
In what would go on to be one of the most notorious and controversial murder trials in history, O.J. was found not guilty for the deaths of both Nicole and Ron. However, shortly following his acquittal, he was found liable for the deaths in a civil suit led by Ron's family, and was ordered to pay them over $33 million in damages. O.J. is currently in prison on charges from an unrelated armed robbery at a Las Vegas hotel in 2007. Nicole and Ron's murder cases are considered closed, although nobody has been officially charged.
Yolanda Saldívar was a trusted person within Selena's inner circle, having worked her way up from just a fan to president of her fan club. She also became Selena's very close friend and manager of her boutiques. But her relationship with Selena bordered on obsession, and when money went missing from the singer's businesses and fans became upset over not having received anything after joining the fan club, the Quintanillas became suspicious of her intentions. They approached Yolanda with their evidence in a meeting in March 1995, and Selena's father banned Yolanda from contacting his daughter again. Selena, however, didn't want to end their friendship and agreed to meet Yolanda to go over some of the missing paperwork. On the morning of March 31, 1995, Yolanda shot Selena in the back of her right shoulder after they had an argument in Yolanda's motel room. Selena was able to flee to the motel lobby, where she identified Yolanda as her killer before she lost consciousness.
After Selena was rushed to the hospital where she later died, Yolanda locked herself in her car in the motel parking lot, where she had a stand-off with police while pointing the gun at her head and threatening to commit suicide. She eventually surrendered after more than nine hours and was arrested for Selena's murder. After pleading not guilty (she insists the shooting was accidental), Yolanda was sentenced to life in prison with no possibility of parole for 30 years. Since she was convicted in 1995, she will be eligible for parole on March 30, 2025.
Elizabeth Short, aka the "Black Dahlia"
On Jan. 15, 1947, aspiring actress Elizabeth Short's brutally mutilated body was found in the middle of a vacant lot in LA by a woman taking a walk with her daughter. Elizabeth's body had been sliced into two pieces, completely drained of blood, her face slashed from the sides of her mouth to the corners of her ears (which gave her an eerie smile), washed clean, and "posed" with her legs spread apart. She also had several cuts all over her body and full chunks of skin had been cut off. Although dozens of people have confessed to the murder over the years, nobody was ever arrested and the case remains unsolved.
In the above photo, Elizabeth is pictured with fiancé Major Matthew M. Gordon Jr. He was never considered a suspect, however, because he died in a plane crash before her death in August 1945.
Sharon Tate was a successful Hollywood actress in the 1960s with roles in movies like The Fearless Vampire Killers and Valley of the Dolls. In addition to her thriving career, she was also married to film director Roman Polanski. But despite having her whole life ahead of her, Sharon was the victim of one of the most brutal murders in history. On Aug. 8, 1969, Sharon, who was nine months pregnant with her first child with Roman, had a few friends over to her home before they went to dinner (Roman was away in London). Later that night, Sharon, Jay Sebring, Wojciech Frykowski, and Abigail Folger were murdered by members of the Manson family. Another victim, Steven Parent, was found shot dead in his car in the driveway. Sharon had been stabbed 16 times, one of her breasts had been cut off, an "X" had been cut onto her stomach, and the word "PIG" had been written on a door in her blood. There was also a rope tied around Sharon and Jay's necks that connected their bodies on the floor. She was later buried with her unborn son in her arms.
Charles Manson, a cult leader who had dedicated followers that thought of themselves as his "family," was later found to be the mastermind behind the murders. Although he wasn't physically present during the killings, he sent four of his followers, Linda Kasabian, Tex Watson, Susan Atkins, and Patricia "Katie" Krenwinkel, to carry out the act. Charles is currently serving a life sentence for the murders. Linda, who allegedly never entered the house during the murders, served as the key eyewitness for the prosecution and was never charged. Tex and Patricia are also serving life sentences in prison, while Susan died in prison in 2009.
Poltergeist actress Dominique Dunne had a promising career in Hollywood, but her life was tragically cut short when she was murdered by her abusive ex-boyfriend at the age of 22. After meeting John Thomas Sweeney, a cooking hand in LA, at a party in 1981, the two quickly struck up a romance and moved in together. But after John became extremely controlling and physically abusive toward Dominique, she attempted to leave him a few times before eventually reconciling. After a heated argument in 1982 in which John attempted to strangle her, the actress managed to sneak out of their home through the bathroom window and ended the relationship for good.
However, just a few weeks after their split, Dominique was going over lines for her new TV show, V, with fellow actor David Packer when John showed up at her home. She agreed to speak with him on her porch while David remained inside, and the two began to argue. David then left the house through the back door and saw John strangling Dominique in nearby bushes when he approached the driveway. John told David to call the police, and after they arrived, he told them he killed his girlfriend. Dominique was taken to a nearby hospital, but her family eventually decided to take her off life support when her brain failed to show any activity. A jury acquitted John Sweeney of second-degree murder but found him guilty of the lesser charge of voluntary manslaughter. He was sentenced to six years in prison but was released after serving just a little over three years.
Dorothy Stratten first found fame when she was named Playboy's Miss August in 1979 before eventually becoming Playmate of the Year in 1980. In addition to her modeling success, she also had a few guest-starring roles in TV shows like Buck Rogers and Fantasy Island. But her early career was soured by her controlling husband, Vancouver-area club promoter and pimp Paul Snider, whom she had met when she was a teen and he was 26. Friends, including Hugh Hefner, warned her about his obsessive behavior, and Dorothy began an affair with Peter Bogdanovich, the director on her first major film, They All Laughed. After Paul hired a private investigator to follow Dorothy, she ended things and moved in with Peter.
On Aug. 14, 1980, Dorothy met Paul at the house they once shared as a couple to discuss an amicable divorce. Dr. Stephen Cushner, who was staying at the home at the time, broke into Paul's room after Paul's private investigator said he was unable to reach him for several hours. He then discovered the naked bodies of Dorothy and Paul. Police believe that Paul shot Dorothy, abused and raped her corpse, and then turned the shotgun on himself. Dorothy was 20 years old.
Tupac Shakur was one of the biggest names in rap in the 1990s with hits like "Dear Mama" and "California Love." But on Sept. 7, 1996, the music stopped. After leaving Mike Tyson's boxing match at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, Tupac accompanied Suge Knight, cofounder of West Coast's Death Row Records, to a nightclub. However, while stopped at a red light on their way there, a Cadillac pulled up next to them. The unknown number of occupants of the car rolled down a window and opened fire on Tupac. He was hit four times — twice in the chest, once in the arm, and once in the thigh. After being rushed to the hospital, Tupac was put in a medically induced coma after he repeatedly tried to get out of bed. Six days after the shooting, he died from internal bleeding. He was 25 years old.
Nobody has ever been arrested for Tupac's murder and the case remains open, but theories about who killed him have been flying for years. The rapper was involved in the heated East Coast-West Coast rap label feud in the '90s, and many believe that a member of a rival gang carried out the murder.
The Notorious B.I.G.
The murder of rapper Christopher Wallace, aka The Notorious B.I.G. and Biggie Smalls, still haunts pop culture today, and for good reason. Just a few days after the 24-year-old voiced his concern for his safety due to the East Coast-West Coast rap label feud and the murder of Tupac Shakur just six months prior, Biggie's fears were confirmed. Shortly after midnight on March 9, 1997, the star was in a car at a red light in LA after partying the night away with a few friends. Biggie was in the passenger seat, while Sean "Diddy" Combs was in another nearby car. A dark-colored Chevrolet Impala SS pulled up beside the SUV Biggie was riding in, and the driver of the car rolled down his window and began shooting. Four bullets hit the rapper, and his friends immediately rushed him to a nearby hospital, but he was pronounced dead shortly after arriving.
While there have been many theories about the murder over the years (Suge Knight is widely believed to have ordered the hit on Biggie), nobody has ever been charged. Police believe the case will remain open out of people's fear of coming forward and being the next target.
As a member of The Beatles, John Lennon was used to the Hollywood spotlight. But on Dec. 8, 1980, the dark side to fame came right to the singer's doorstep. Mark David Chapman, a fan of The Beatles and of John, became angry with the star after becoming a Christian and John saying that his band was "more popular than Jesus." After planning the murder for roughly three months, Mark stalked the Manhattan apartment building where John was living with his wife, Yoko Ono, and their son, Sean. When John and Yoko left, Mark approached the star and got him to sign a copy of his latest album. Mark then waited until the couple returned home later that night and shot John in the back with a revolver. John managed to stagger up to his building's reception area and reportedly said, "I'm shot, I'm shot." Mark calmly sat down and waited for police after a doorman wrestled the gun out of Mark's hand and kicked it across the street. After asking Mark if he realized what he'd just done, Mark simply replied, "Yes, I just shot John Lennon."
In 1981, Mark pleaded guilty to murder and was sentenced to 20 years to life in prison. He has been denied parole nine times but will be eligible again in two years.
In June 2016, 22-year-old Christina Grimmie, an up-and-coming singer who appeared on season six of The Voice, was shot at her concert in Orlando, FL. While Christina was signing autographs for roughly 120 people, 27-year-old Kevin James Loibl from St. Petersburg, FL, approached the singer and opened fire. Christina's brother, Marcus, quickly tackled the shooter to the ground, but he broke free and shot and killed himself. The star was then rushed to the hospital, where she later died from her injuries. Shortly after her death, stars like Adam Levine, Christina Aguilera, and Selena Gomez spoke out about their heartbreak on social media.
Rebecca Schaeffer's murder is one of the most bone-chilling in Hollywood, because it stems from the one thing many celebrities still deal with today: stalkers. After making a name for herself as an actress with roles in TV shows like My Sister Sam and films like The End of Innocence, the 21-year-old gained the attention of obsessed fan Robert John Bardo. Robert wrote numerous letters to the actress, one of which was answered by a member of her staff. He also traveled from his native Tucson to LA and tried to meet Rebecca on the set of My Sister Sam a few times but was turned away by security. After watching the film Scenes From the Class Struggle in Beverly Hills, in which Rebecca is in bed with a man in a scene, Robert became enraged and decided she should pay for becoming "another Hollywood whore."
On July 18, 1989, Robert traveled to LA one last time after obtaining Rebecca's home address from a private investigator. He then rang her doorbell and she answered the door. After a short conversation, Rebecca asked Robert not to come back to her home again. He then left and had breakfast at a nearby diner but returned an hour later and rang her doorbell again. She answered and he pulled out a gun from a brown paper bag and shot her in the chest at point-blank range. A neighbor called police, and 30 minutes after being rushed to the hospital, Rebecca was pronounced dead. Robert was arrested the following day after people reported a man roaming through traffic. Robert was found guilty of murder and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Gianni Versace was a successful Italian fashion designer whose life was horrifically cut short at the age of 50. On July 15, 1997, Gianni was returning to his Miami mansion after taking a morning walk. When he approached his front steps, a man named Andrew Cunanan shot him twice in the head, killing him instantly. Andrew committed suicide eight days later while on a houseboat during a stand-off with police. It was later revealed that Andrew was an active serial killer, having claimed five more victims in the months prior to killing Versace. Because of Andrew's suicide, police have admitted that nobody will probably ever know why he chose to target Gianni.
In October 2016, it was revealed that season three of FX's American Crime Story will focus on Gianni's murder.
Natalie Wood was a child star who grew into a stunning and even more successful adult actress. With roles in movies like Miracle on 34th Street, Rebel Without a Cause, and West Side Story, she was a force to be reckoned with. But her promising career vanished on Nov. 28, 1981, when she mysteriously drowned during a weekend boat trip to Catalina Island. Natalie was sailing on a yacht with her husband, Robert Wagner; her then-costar in Brainstorm, Christopher Walken; and the boat's captain, Dennis Davern. Her body was discovered by police the following day floating one mile away from the boat. An autopsy later revealed that she had bruises on her body and arms, as well as a cut on her left cheek. At the time, the star's death was ruled an accident after Robert told police that Natalie wasn't with him when he went to bed. Because she had been drinking and two types of medication were found in her system, authorities believed she may have slipped and fallen into the water.
In November 2011, the case was reopened after Dennis admitted to lying to police during the initial investigation. He revealed that Natalie and Robert had a fight the night of her death and placed the blame on him. After a nine-month investigation, LA's chief medical examiner changed Natalie's cause of death from accidental drowning to "drowning and other undetermined factors." Robert maintains that he had nothing to do with his wife's death, and Christopher has rarely spoken about what happened on board the yacht that night.
Marvin Gaye was a major player in the Motown music scene in the 1960s, producing a string of hits like "How Sweet It Is (to Be Loved by You)" and "I Heard It Through the Grapevine." But while his career was at an all-time high, his personal life was suffering. On April 1, 1984, the singer intervened in a heated, physical argument between his parents (he reportedly had long-standing animosity toward his father, Marvin Gay Sr., after years of abuse). A few minutes later, his father entered Marvin's bedroom and shot him three times in his chest. Shortly after he was taken to a nearby hospital, he was pronounced dead. He would have turned 45 the next day.
Marvin's father was initially charged with first-degree murder, but the sentence was reduced to voluntary manslaughter when it was revealed Marvin Sr. was suffering from a brain tumor and his son's autopsy revealed he had drugs in his system at the time of his death. Marvin Sr. was sentenced to a suspended six-year sentence and probation, and he died at a nursing home in 1998.
Lana Clarkson was an aspiring actress who kept busy with low-key jobs in the 1980s; however, when she approached her 30s, her career hit a wall. Needing to earn income in other ways, she took a job guarding the VIP area at the House of Blues in LA. In the early morning hours of Feb. 3, 2003, Lana met record producer Phil Spector at the club, and he invited her back to his mansion. They left together in his limousine, and after arriving at his house, they went inside while the driver waited outside. Roughly an hour later, the driver heard a gunshot and Phil was seen exiting his house through the back door while holding a gun. He reportedly said, "I think I just shot her." Phil later claimed that Lana's death was an "accidental suicide" after she put the gun in her mouth.
In 2007, Phil was tried for Lana's murder, but a mistrial was declared due to a hung jury. In 2008, he was tried again, found guilty, and sentenced to 19 years to life in prison. He will be 88 years old before he's eligible for parole.
During his lifelong career in Hollywood, there was hardly anything Bob Crane couldn't do. As an actor, drummer, radio host, and disc jockey, the star appeared to have it all, but in June 1978, that all came crashing down. At the time of his death, Bob was living in Scottsdale, AZ, while performing in a play. After he failed to show up for a lunch meeting, his costar Victoria Ann Berry entered his apartment and discovered his body. The star had been bludgeoned to death with an object police believe was a camera tripod, and an electrical cord had been tied around his neck.
After police examined some of Bob's own videotapes, their investigation led them to his friend John Carpenter. John had flown to Arizona prior to the murder to hang out with Bob, and after his car was impounded and searched, several stains that matched Bob's blood type were found. Because DNA testing was not yet available, John wasn't tried for Bob's murder until 1992, but he was acquitted during his 1994 trial. Bob's murder remains unsolved.
Phil Hartman was one of the most beloved actors of his time. With a successful run on Saturday Night Live and hit movies like Houseguest, the actor was seen as a comedic genius. He married former model and aspiring actress Brynn Omdahl in 1987, and the two went on to have two children together, son Sean and daughter Birgen. Brynn reportedly had a hard time dealing with her husband's success since she also wanted a successful career in Hollywood, and she turned to alcohol and drugs as a result. She entered rehab numerous times, but in the early hours of May 28, 1998, things finally reached a breaking point.
After getting into a heated argument with his wife about her drug use, Phil went to bed. Shortly after 3 a.m., Brynn entered their bedroom and shot her husband three times — twice in the head and once in the side — with a handgun. After the murder, Brynn drove to her friend Ron Douglas's house and confessed to the crime. After they drove back to the house and Ron saw Phil's body, he called police. Brynn then locked herself in the bathroom before taking her own life by shooting herself in the mouth.