Hollywood and the greater Los Angeles area have been home to stars and industries of all kinds. Whether it’s the place where movies are made or where stars are born, Southern California has been the backdrop for many a tale filled with intrigue, excitement, and sensation. Particularly, and maybe because of its fame, crimes committed in and around Hollywood tend to draw a greater amount of attention, whether it be it actors, writers, or anyone else in the entertainment industry that meets a grisly fate. It’s been a thing since the very beginning of Tinseltown itself, but sometimes, the scandals in question are even darker and more mysterious than you’d expect.
This list goes over and examines notable unsolved murders that have occurred in and around Los Angeles. We also cover a murder of a star who wasn’t actually killed in LA, and a couple others whose deaths have been called murders, though the actual cause of death was never fully revealed. As a requirement, each entry has to have, ultimately, ended with no official suspects imprisoned, and may still remain an open or cold case to this day.
If you’re interested in the disturbing and shocking world of those who never properly received justice—and you’ve got the stomach for it—then look no further for than these 15 Shockingly Unsolved Hollywood Murders.
15 The Black Dahlia
Elizabeth Short was born in Massachusetts, and while she lived a good chunk of her life in the state, she would also live in Florida during the wintertime, eventually living in both states at different times in her life. Years after her father’s disappearance, it was discovered that he’d moved to California, and Elizabeth lived in the state for some time, before going back to Florida.
It was back in Los Angeles, California where Short lived her remaining days, though there weren't many left, tragically. Her mutilated corpse was discovered on January 15th, 1947, leading to a media frenzy and a flurry of rumors about Short's life before her grisly murder. The newspapers nicknamed her “The Black Dahlia” (a reference to 1946 noir picture The Blue Dahlia) and talked about how she prowled the streets and may have also been a call girl. Truth is, Short was simply the victim of a brutal murder, one which brought up many, many suspects, and has endured as the stuff of Hollywood legend.
14 Nicole Brown Simpson & Ronald Goldman
One of the most controversial and widely publicized criminal trials to hit not only Los Angeles, but frankly, the world, the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman resulted in the media circus that was the People of the State of California v. O.J. Simpson. Finding probable cause to arrest the former football player turned actor, the trial itself lasted almost an entire year, ending with Simpson’s acquittal.
Even with his release and the not guilty verdict, Simpson was still sued by the families of Goldman and Brown for wrongful death. Simpson himself was later arrested for a different crime in Nevada involving assault with a deadly weapon, which ultimately landed him in jail (though he's been granted an early release in recent weeks, and will be a free man by year's end). And while no one else was charged with the deaths of Brown and Goldman, many believe that O.J got away with murder…only to be finally put behind bars years later for a different crime.
13 Michael Nigg
A man and crime with strange connections to the deaths of the aforementioned Brown and Goldman, Michael Nigg was an aspiring actor who waited tables in the LA area, including the one where Goldman and Brown had their last meal. Nigg’s death occurred on the night of September 8th, 1995 (one month before the O.J. Simpson trial ended), where he and his girlfriend stopped by a bank in Hollywood to take out money. While his girlfriend stayed in the car, Nigg was approached by two men who asked for his cash. He refused and was promptly shot in the head, and the killers walked to a getaway car and drove off.
While three suspects were arrested, lack of evidence got them free, and to this day, the case remains open. It has been theorized that Nigg was killed as a result of his involvement in drug dealings in the area. The restaurant he had previously worked at—Mezzaluna Trattoria—had other waiters fall victim to foul play, including two disappearances. Simpson himself theorized that Brown and Goldman’s deaths were also drug related.
12 The Wonderland Murders
The Wonderland Gang lived in a rented townhouse in Laurel Canyon, and were known to be heavy partiers and drug users. So when they were brutally murdered on the night of July 1st, 1981, neighbors didn’t pay it much attention. Nightclub owner Eddie Nash had his house broken into two days prior, and when he believed porn star John Holmes was involved, he supposedly got a hold of him for questioning.
In total, four people—three of them part of the gang, one of them a girlfriend—were killed. The wife of one of the men survived, but she was so badly beaten that she couldn’t remember anything from that night. Holmes was suspected and arrested, but was later acquitted of any murder charges, but was sent to jail for refusing to testify. Holmes died in 1988, and while detectives came to ask him one final time before his death about the murders, he declined to divulge any further information. As for Nash, he later admitted to having ordered associates to retrieve stolen property from the townhouse, but not to having planned a murder.
11 Billy London
Born in Wisconsin before settling in Los Angeles, William Arnold Newton went by several names, such as Billy London, Billy Porter, and when acting as producer, Bill E. London. An actor and producer of gay pornographic films, Newton established a production company with adult film producer David Rey, who also became his lover. Under the name Bill E. London, Newton also acted as beautician and set designer.
It was in late October of 1990 that his body was found dismembered in a dumpster near Santa Monica Boulevard. While the case remains unsolved, it was reopened in 2005, only to be abandoned soon after. Newton’s own father, Richard Harriman, was reported as saying that the LAPD weren’t properly investigating the case, and followers of Newton and his murder see it as an example of those in the gay community not being given the proper attention simply due to their sexual identity and line of work.
10 Bonnie Lee Bakley
Married several times, running “lonely heart” scams, getting arrested for said scams, and being celebrity obsessed--Bonnie Lee Bakley lived a strange, if colorful, life. Her scams allowed to her to buy houses in Memphis and Los Angeles, but her career as an actor and singer never went anywhere, and she continued to try to marry any celebrity she could. Near the end of her life, that celebrity was Robert Blake.
The marriage itself was bizarre, since the two didn’t even live in the same house, and Blake had Bakely investigated at the same time. It was on May 4th, 2001 when Bakley, waiting in the car for her husband (who had reentered a restaurant to pick up a gun that he’d left behind) was shot and killed by a bullet to the head. The gun Bakley went back for was confirmed to not have been used in the murder, but he was charged for the crime nonetheless. While Blake was later acquitted, he was later sued by Bakley’s children via a wrongful death lawsuit.
9 William Desmond Taylor
Born in Ireland, but eventually making his way stateside, William Desmond Taylor somehow managed to direct fifty-nine silent films between the years 1914 and 1922, and he even acted in a few more. Along the way, h worked with such famous actresses as Mary Pickford and Mary Miles Minter, and garnered much success and fame at the time.
However, his personal life was a bit off-kilter, and it ended with his death on February 1st, 1922. So much potential evidence was lacking that one of the only things that’s known for sure is that Taylor was shot in the back with a pistol. His murder couldn’t have come at a worse time for the studios, who couldn’t afford such scandals to continue affecting their business and employees. While there were several suspects, and at least one spoken confession decades later, the case has remained unsolved, with any potential evidence seemingly lost.
8 Georgette Bauerdorf
An oil heiress born in New York City, Georgette Bauerdorf moved to Los Angeles at a young age to attend school before deciding to move to Hollywood to try her hand at acting in August of 1944. She worked a job at the Hollywood Canteen, where she entertained and danced with men enlisted to go to war. However, her time working here was brief, as she was found dead two months later on October 12.
Found in an overflowing bathtub, Bauerdorf had bought a planet ticket the previous day for El Paso, Texas, where she was to meet her boyfriend (a soldier who had been stationed there). A night light outside her door had been tampered with, and it’s believed that whomever murdered her had been lying in wait, ultimately causing trauma to her head, bruises on her thighs, and a smashed right hand, along with being strangled with bandage material. A Pontiac registered to her sister was also missing, and was later found with a dent and no gas left. The trail of clues ran dry after that, unfortunately.
7 Gary DeVore
When a Hollywood screenwriter with ties to the CIA disappears en route to deliver a script that will reveal why the USA really invaded Panama, you'll likely assume one of two things: it was a bizarre accident that left him handless and submerged in water, or it was a cover-up worthy of a documentary titled The Writer with No Hands.
Gary DaVore was friends with Arnold Schwarzenegger, had dated Janet Jackson, and knew Kurt Russell, among other Hollywood celebs. He had married a few times and was relatively successful in the industry. But DeVore had been working on a script—The Big Steal—that was going to reveal disturbing details of the invasion of Panama by the United States. He was last seen alive on June 28th, 1997, but it wasn’t until a whole year later that his car and skeletal remains were discovered (again, sans two appendages). While the hands were later seemingly recovered, they were eventually revealed to be 200 years old, further fueling the theory that his death was anything but an accident.
6 David Bacon
Born into a wealthy and privileged Massachusetts family, David Bacon had aspirations of being an actor, though he didn’t have much success. After studying in Harvard and spending time in New York City, Bacon moved to Los Angeles and married Austrian singer and actress Greta Keller. Bacon had met with well-known film producer Howard Hughes, and was supposed play Billy the Kid in The Outlaw, but he was replaced when his screen test proved unsatisfactory. Hughes did eventually give him a part in the serial series The Masked Marvel, and while it’s Bacon’s most notable role, it’s said that he wasn’t particularly pleased with it.
Bacon was found dead on September 13, 1943, with a small stab wound on his back that had punctured his lung. He had been driving erratically through Santa Monica and could barely ask for help once his car stopped and he staggered out. Only his wallet and a camera were found in his car, while he himself was only wearing a swimsuit. The camera only held one image: a smiling and nude Bacon on the beach. The trail only got colder from there.
5 Bob Crane
Best known for his role as Col. Robert E. Hogan on Hogan’s Heroes, Bob Crane was many things: actor, drummer, radio disc jockey, sex addict, and of course, murder victim. Getting his start on the East Coast, he later moved to Los Angeles, where he did radio and television. His role on Hogan’s Heroes awarded him acclaim and attention, but after the show’s cancellation, his work dwindled severely.
While on tour for the play Beginner’s Luck in Scottsdale, Arizona, Crane’s body was discovered by a co-star on the afternoon of June 29, 1978. Other than knowing he was bludgeoned to death, the weapon in question was never found nor identified. Crane was known to film his sexual escapades with his friend John Henry Carpenter; it was believed that Carpenter killed Crane, so much so that he was arrested in 1992 and put on trial, but later acquitted. Others have speculated that former partners, angry boyfriends, husbands, or Crane’s own wife could have committed the crime, but nearly forty years later, the case remains a mystery.
4 Peter Ivers
Peter Ivers was a Harvard educated Classics student who decided to pursue music and managed to write a several songs that were picked up by a variety of artists, including Phyllis Hyman, The Pointer Sisters, and Diana Ross. On top of writing the music for the song “In Heaven (The Lady in the Radiator Song)” for David Lynch’s Eraserhead, Ivers was the host of the local L.A. variety show New Wave Theatre, which showcased punk acts, as well as bizarre clips and skits.
One fateful evening, Ivers was found bludgeoned to death in his loft on March 3rd, 1983. Police were unable to contain the crime scene in time, as a result of his friends entering his loft and taking evidence (such as blood stained blankets). Ivers’ girlfriend Lucy Fisher hired a private investigator to further look into the case, but due to a lack of evidence and witnesses, it didn’t progress any further. The Peter Ivers Visiting Artist Program at Harvard was later established in his honor.
3 Barbara Colby
Born in New York City, but raised in New Orleans, Barbara Colby got her acting start in Broadway productions of A Doll’s House and Julius Caesar, among others. However, her television career took off when she appeared in the premiere episode of Columbo. From here, she would show up in popular shows of the era like The Odd Couple, Kung Fu, and Gunsmoke. Her appearance on a couple of episodes of The Mary Tyler Moore Show led to Colby getting a regular role on the spin-off series, Phyliss.
However, sometime after three episodes of Phyliss had been filmed, Colby and a colleague (James Kiernan) were randomly gunned down in a parking lot after leaving an acting class in Venice, Los Angeles. While Kiernan lived long enough to explain what happened to the police, Colby was killed instantly. The who and why behind the attack have never been solved, and it remains another cold case in Tinseltown.
2 Virginia Rappe
As contentious then as it is now, whether Virginia Rappe was even murdered has been the subject of much debate. Born in Chicago and getting her start there as a model, she would later move to San Francisco and Los Angeles to pursue a career in acting. She appeared in a number of silent films in her brief run, though many of these are now lost.
Unfortunately, Rappe is most famous for dying under mysterious circumstances, though how she ended up dead has never been fully explained. While she officially died of a ruptured bladder and secondary peritonitis, the one and only Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle was accused and put on trial for violently raping Rappe at a party in his hotel suite, thus causing the ruptured bladder. While it was discovered that Rappe had a few illnesses that, with the help of excessive drinking, could have caused the ruptured bladder, Arbuckle never recovered from the scandal, even after he was acquitted and given an apology by the jury.
1 Geneva Odelia Hilliker Ellroy
The mother of the famous crime novelist James Ellroy, much of what is known about Mrs. Ellroy has been described by her son and her ex-husband. James himself described her as a drunk who was sexually promiscuous. Upon learning of his mother’s death, he said he felt relieved that he’d be able to stay with his father from then on. During his parents’ divorce, James’ mother held primary custody, and relocated him to El Monte, California. James much preferred to be with his father, but his mother wouldn’t allow him to stay with him for good.
After another weekend with his father in mid-June of 1958, James came back to El Monte to find police at his home. They informed him that his mother had been killed, her body having been discovered bruised and strangled near a school. Even though two separate women eleven years later stated that their ex-husbands had committed the crimes, there wasn’t enough evidence to convict anyone, and the case remains unsolved to this day.
Do you know of any other unsolved Hollywood murders? Let us know in the comments.