What is it about celebrities that we find so attractive? There is a certain fascination with hearing about the stars’ lives on the screen, in newspapers, and in magazines.
But there is one thing that we find more engrossing than celebrity lives — their deaths. Think about the highly publicized mysterious death of Natalie Wood or the murders involving OJ Simpson.
However, there is one celebrity murder that trumps them all.
The murder of Bob Crane, the star of Hogan’s Heroes, is as mysterious as anything that has ever happened in Hollywood.
More than 40 years later, the killing remains unsolved.
Keep watching as we take a look at the career of Bob Crane and the details of his death.
Who Was Bob Crane?
Bob Crane’s professional career began in the early 1950s. From a young age, Crane was always witty, musical, and silver-tongued. These attributes transitioned him into a career in radio.
Crane quickly made a name for himself at his Connecticut-based station. It wasn’t long before he noticed by the big executives. CBS tapped Crane to breathe life back into their struggling Los Angeles-based station KNX.
Here Crane shined. As he gained traction on the west coast, he started landing big guests on his show. Regular appearances from Marilyn Monroe, Bob Hope, and Frank Sinatra spiked his ratings.
The next step for Crane was naturally television. His charm transferred seamlessly to the screen. He guest-hosted Who Do You Trust, had bit parts in the Twilight Zone, and even secured a cameo in The Dick Van Dyke Show.
Crane so good on a guest appearance on The Donna Reed Show that he written in as a series regular.
All of these small roles were snowballing for Crane. It wouldn’t be long before he landed the biggest job of his career.
The Legend of Hogan’s Heroes
Bob Crane tapped to play the lead role in CBS’s new sitcom Hogan’s Heroes.
The show focuses on a German prisoner of war camp during World War II. Within the camp, the allied soldiers conspire to undermine the efforts of their captors.
The show was an instant hit and Crane was lauded for his role as Colonel Robert Hogan. Hogan’s Heroes lasted for six years and racked up 168 episodes. During its run, Crane was nominated for an Emmy for best actor two years in a row.
Crane even played the drums on the popular theme sign for the series.
Hogan’s Heroes, running from 1965-71, was the longest-running show ever based on WWII.
Crane was on top of the world. It was also at this point when he was able to lose himself in his more risqué lifestyle.
Crane’s Dark Side Emerges
Crane had a proclivity for pornography. The actor would always have nude photographs and he loved to show his collection off to his colleagues. Crane was even known to make some of his own porn.
These behaviors became gossip around the industry. In his biography about his father, Robert Crane claimed his dad was bragging about his porn and his sexual exploits while on set filming a Disney movie. The stories gained traction and wound up in the National Enquirer.
After Hogan’s Heroes was canceled, Crane didn’t find solid work. As such, he sank deeper into his deviant lifestyle, but he didn’t do it alone.
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Bob Crane’s Friendship with John Henry Carpenter
In the waning years of Hogan’s Heroes, Crane met John Henry Carpenter. Carpenter was a salesman for Sony, and he spent much of his time selling equipment to movie stars. One such encounter led to a friendship developing between the two.
Yet, Carpenter wasn’t just Crane’s video supplier. He also shared Crane’s penchant for sexual exploits.
Realizing he struck gold with his new friend, Carpenter held on for dear life. The two would go to bars where Crane would introduce Carpenter as his manager. They would meet women and videotape their sexual exploits.
Crane’s son suggested that because he was no longer a huge TV star, Bob Crane sunk deeper into this side of his life for compensation.
Crane’s one big chance after Hogan’s Heroes was The Bob Crane Show on NBC. However, the show didn’t even last a full season before it was canceled.
The actor switched over to doing diner theatre shows around the country. Carpenter would schedule his business trips around Crane’s schedule so they could continue their sexual escapades together.
This routine went on for a little while. However, around 1978, Crane’s son suggested that his father was no longer getting along with Carpenter. The actor was looking to cut ties with the video salesman.
This is when something went wrong.
Murder of A Television Star
In June of 1978, Bob Crane was working on a dinner show called Beginners Luck in Scottsdale, Arizona.
On the 29th, Crane missed a lunch meeting for the show. Concerned, Victoria Ann Berry, an actress on the show, went to check on Crane.
In his apartment, she found the body of Bob Crane.
Crane had been bludgeoned to death with an unidentified weapon. The actor also had an electrical cord wrapped around his neck.
The damage was so extreme that only one side of Bob Crane’s face could be recognized.
The television star was 49 years old at the time of his death.
An ill-prepared Scottsdale police department that lacked a homicide division attempted to take on the highly publicized murder.
Investigation into Crane’s Killing
In the hours before Crane’s Body was discovered, the actor was seen arguing with Carpenter at a bar. It is possible Crane was severing ties with the man as he suggested he was going to. This event put Carpenter at the top of the list for suspects.
However, the handling of the crime scene was bungled. Crane’s son suggested that too many people were on site contaminating the scene. Beyond the multitude of cops and detectives, Bob Crane’s attorney and business manager showed up.
What they did find was Crane’s B-Type blood in the hotel everywhere. The blood type matched blood they found in Carpenter’s rental car. However, this was before DNA testing.
Although Carpenter looked guilty, there was no murder weapon and no conclusive evidence.
The case remained open for several years with John Henry Carpenter being no more than just a suspect.
A Cold Case Heats Up
12 years after the murder, in 1992, the case was shaken up again.
Jim Raines and Barry Vassell, the original investigators, took another look at the evidence.
In a photograph of Carpenter’s rental car, Raines identified something that appeared to be brain tissue. The samples of the substance had been lost years earlier, so they were not able to be tested for DNA.
However, an Arizona judge determined that the photographs of the brain tissue showed enough to be admissible in court.
Carpenter, who was for so long at the top of the suspect list, was now on the hook in a court of law for Bob Crane’s murder.
Carpenters Arrest and Trial
John Henry Carpenter was arrested and put on trial.
Unfortunately, for the prosecutors, the case was no slam dunk. The retroactive DNA tests that were run on the blood evidence came back inconclusive. Not only that, but no murder weapon ever turned up.
Carpenter’s lawyers ran with the defense that the murderer could have been one of Crane’s spurned lovers. They told the jury about Crane’s sexual escapades and deviant behaviors. It was not hard for them to believe Crane had made some enemies over the years.
The jury acquitted Carpenter of the murder.
Carpenter died in 1994.
Other Theories of the Unsolved Murder
Robert Crane suggested another potential person of interest in his father’s murder. He implicates Patricia Olsen, Crane’s second wife.
Robert claims the two were fixing to go through a divorce at the time of his murder. Yet, up to that point, Olsen was the sole inheritor of Crane’s estate.
The district attorney claimed that Olsen was never seriously considered as a suspect. Instead, they firmly believe Carpenter was the killer.
In 2016, one final run at DNA evidence was attempted by reporter John Hook. With permission from the district attorney, he tested the blood from the scene. One bit of DNA was determined to be from an unidentified male, but the rest was inconclusive.
The murder is still technically unsolved.
Never letting a good story go to waste, in 2002 Hollywood made a biographical film about the murder. The script is based on the book by Robert Graysmith the same person who authored Zodiac.
Directed by Paul Schrader, Auto Focus stars Greg Kinnear as Bob Crane and Willem Dafoe as Carpenter. Auto Focus was met with generally favorable reviews.
Famed movie critic Roger Ebert gave the film a perfect four out of four stars. He claimed it was a “pitch-perfect” look into the seedy underbelly of Crane’s life and praised Kinnear’s performance.
Despite the reviews, the film has some points of contention with Crane’s other son Scotty. He claimed that many of the details were embellished or outright untrue.
These are the details of one of the most shocking celebrity murders in history. Bob Crane, the comedic star of Hogan’s Heroes, had a dark side. It could have been this fast-paced lifestyle that resulted in his demise.
So, what do you think? Did you find Crane’s life interesting? Who do you think is responsible for his murder? Sound off in the comments below.
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