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Porchlight International for the Missing & Unidentified > Missing Persons Cases pre 1949 > Spangler,Jean Oct 7 1949

Title: Spangler,Jean Oct 7 1949
Description: California

oldies4mari2004 - July 30, 2006 03:58 PM (GMT)
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Vital Statistics at Time of Disappearance

Missing Since: October 7, 1949 from Los Angeles, California
Classification: Missing
Date of Birth: September 2, 1923
Age: 26 years old
Distinguishing Characteristics: Brown hair.
Medical Conditions: Spangler was rumored to be three months pregnant at the time of her disappearance, but this has not been confirmed.

Details of Disappearance

Spangler was an actress and a dancer mainly noted for small film roles in the 1940s. She left her home in the Wilshire district of Los Angeles, California on October 7, 1949 at approximately 5:00 p.m. She lived with her young daughter, her mother, her brother and her sister-in-law at the time. Spangler told her sister-in-law that she was meeting her former husband, Dexter Benner, to discuss a possible increase in child support payments on his part for their daughter. A photo of Benner is posted below this case summary. Spangler said that she was scheduled to report to a nighttime film shoot after the support meeting.
Spangler's sister-in-law filed a missing person's report with the Los Angeles Police Department after Spangler did not return home by the following day. A Griffith Park employee found Spangler's purse, with its contents intact but its handles ripped off, on October 9, 1949, two days after she disappeared. A photo of the purse is posted below this case summary. The purse was located near the Fern Dell entrance to the park in Los Angeles. A note stating the following message was found inside:

"Kirk -- Can't wait any longer. Going to see Dr. Scott. It will work out best this way while Mother is away,"

The note was not signed and it ended in a comma, leading authorities to believe Spangler did not have time to finish writing it. Spangler's mother was visiting relatives in Kentucky on the day Spangler disappeared, a fact mentioned in the note. The letter's discovery led to an extensive search of the Griffith Park area, but additional evidence was not uncovered.

Investigators questioned Benner about the night Spangler vanished. Benner claimed that he did not meet with his former wife that evening as she told her sister-in-law; his statement was substantiated by his current wife at the time. Benner maintained the last time he had seen Spangler had been weeks prior to her disappearance. The motion picture studios in Los Angeles reported that night shoots were not scheduled for any film production the night Spangler disappeared, contradicting another statement Spangler made to her sister-in-law.

A clerk at a local market told police that Spangler was in the store on October 7 and that she was apparently waiting for somebody. Robert Cummings, an actor who starred in Spangler's last film Pretty Girl, reported that she told him she was dating a man two weeks before she vanished. Cummings did not know the supposed suitor's name.

Given that Spangler referred to a man named Kirk in the note found in her purse, rumors began spreading as to the person's identity. Actor Kirk Douglas came forward and told authorities that Spangler had been cast as an extra in one of his recent films at the time, but said he barely remembered her. Spangler's mother stated that her daughter had mentioned someone named Kirk, but she had no idea who the man was.

A friend of Spangler's told investigators that Spangler informed her that she was pregnant before she disappeared. This announcement led to speculation that the Dr. Scott mentioned in the note was a physician who performed abortions, which were illegal in the United States in 1949. Authorities investigated the majority of doctors in the Los Angeles area, but the identity of Dr. Scott, if he indeed existed, remained elusive. Police did have one lead into a possible suspect; a former medical student who frequented the Sunset Strip section of Los Angeles performing abortions for fees. The unidentified individual's nickname was Scotty. He was never located or questioned about Spangler's disappearance.

Probing deeper into Spangler's background, investigators learned that she had an affair with a Air Corps Lieutenant named Scotty when Benner was stationed with the United States Army in the South Pacific. According to Spangler's former attorney, Scotty was violent towards Spangler and threatened to murder her if she broke off their relationship. The lawyer said that Spangler told him she ended the affair in 1945 and had not had contact with Scotty since that time.

Spangler apparently had numerous affairs or relationships with men in the Los Angeles and Palm Springs, California area in the ensuing years. One of the men was David Ogul (nicknamed Little Davy), an associate of organized crime figure Mickey Cohen. Palm Springs had been known as one of Cohen's favorite partying spots in 1949. Witnesses told investigators that Spangler and Ogul were seen in the Palm Springs area the week before Spangler vanished. Curiously, Ogul himself had disappeared only two days prior to Spangler; he had been indicted on conspiracy charges shortly beforehand.

Twists in Spangler's case continued into February 1950. United States Customs agents in El Paso, Texas informed Los Angeles detectives that they may have spotted Spangler with Ogul and another Cohen associate, Frank Niccoli, in a hotel. Niccoli was indicted on similar charges as Ogul and had disappeared from California in September 1949, leaving authorities to find only his car keys on a street. A hotel employee idenitified Spangler from a photo as the woman who accompanied the fugitives in Texas. Customs officials believed that the three were headed to Las Vegas, Nevada, but nothing developed from the lead.

Sightings of Spangler continued over the next few years in California, Arizona and Mexico, but nothing concrete was found. Benner was granted custody of their daughter after Spangler failed to reappear, but his new wife was not allowed to legally adopt the child due to Spangler's undetermined fate. Her case remains unsolved.

Left: Spangler's purse; Right: Benner, circa 1949

Investigating Agency
If you have any information concerning this case, please contact:
Los Angeles Police Department

Source Information
Palm Springs Life Magazine
E! Entertainment Network
The Strange Disappearance Of Jean Spangler
Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia

Updated 1 time since October 12, 2004.

Last updated October 31, 2005; middle name and date of birth added.

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monkalup - November 16, 2006 02:22 PM (GMT)
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Sunday, September 10, 2006
What Is the Secret of the Lost Girl?
[Editor’s note: Two Saturdays ago, I wrote a post about Megan Abbott’s forthcoming novel, The Song Is You. Her story fictionalizes and expands on the real-life 1949 disappearance from Los Angeles of Jean Spangler (shown here), a sometime actress of 26 years who, as Abbott’s Web site puts it, “kissed her five-year-old daughter goodbye and left for a night shoot at a Hollywood studio. ... She was never seen again.” In my post I wondered why it is that the still-open Spangler case, which boasts all sorts of sensational elements (not the least of which were a mysterious, seemingly unfinished note left behind in her purse, and supposed mob connections) has been forgotten over the last half-century, while the also-unsolved murder two years earlier of another fetching woman, Elizabeth Short, whom the L.A. newspapers nicknamed “the Black Dahlia,” has become infamous and the subject of numerous books and films, including Brian De Palma’s The Black Dahlia, which opens in theaters later this week. Shortly after that post went up, Abbott contacted me, and I suggested she try to answer my question for readers of The Rap Sheet. Her thoughtful comments appear below.]

When I first came upon the Jean Spangler case about four years ago, I was riveted by the compelling details of the story and was more than a little surprised with how quickly it seemed to disappear into so much smoke in terms of media attention and public consciousness. The largely forgotten quality was one of the main reasons it interested me. There was something so poignant about it: a beautiful, struggling actress, living with her mother, young daughter, and sister-in-law, leaves her Park LaBrea apartment one night and is never seen again. There are so many charged clues (her purse found in Griffth Park with a cryptic note, rumors about her supposed relationships with both movie stars and gangsters), and yet the case basically disappeared from headlines, replaced by other dark tales, within a week or two. In the years that followed, periodic articles would appear suggesting she’d been spotted in El Paso, Palm Springs, and other locales, and her story has been told a few times since, on TV crime shows and in the occasional article, but that’s barely a ripple compared with the Black Dahlia phenomenon. There are many differences between the two tales, including the fact that Spangler lived with family, had a daughter, was older, had gotten much further in Hollywood, etc. But there are also many, many similiarites. So, as the Elizabeth Short case again makes headlines with the release of the Brian De Palma film, what marks the distinction?

I’m far from being a Black Dahlia expert, but I’ve certainly shared the public fascination with that long-ago mystery and have found my way to more than a few books, documentaries, etc. about the case over the years. As for my personal, gut feeling regarding the key factors that distinguish the Elizabeth Short case from the Jean Spangler one, they are:

• The Body: As The Rap Sheet suggested, the body is in fact key. Elizabeth Short’s cultural resonance is forever linked to the state of her body as it was found--the extreme violence done to it, the horror of the bisection, the eerie meticulousness of the measures taken and the posing. The “extremeness” resonates, haunts. And one might even wonder if the case would endure so much without those endless photos (both the ones shown everywhere and the ones shown only in pulpier or grittier publications and documentaries). The power of the visual is clearly a major factor: the endless cycle of attraction and repulsion so many of us have towards such horrifying images. I still remember seeing those grainy pictures for the first time. And I remember finding it hard to believe that this was going on at the same time in the same city that was putting out Miracle on 34th Street and Mother Wore Tights.

• Firstness: To a lesser degree, I think if the Dahlia case had come after Spangler or any of the other missing or murdered women in L.A. in the late ’40s, things might be different. The Dahlia case was the first and, from the cases I’ve read about, appears most hyperbolic in terms of violence to the body, both the excessiveness of the violence and what can be viewed as the violence’s peculiar symbolic qualities (the bisection, the slashes to the mouth).

• 1947: I’m not a historian, but I have been intrigued by various theories suggesting a particular significance to the historical moment of the Elizabeth Short murder, e.g., the transitional period of GIs coming home from World War II to face a changed culture, and many women having entered the workforce and developed independent lives. In addition, there was fear back then that the end of the war presaged a return to the Depression. On the gut level (and I have no historical evidence to back this up), there seems a keen cultural distinction between early 1947 and late 1949 (when Spangler disappeared), between a culture wrestling with transition to a culture deeply satisfied with itself. But this is the armchair historian in me.

So, in 1949, the Jean Spangler case isn’t such a shocking story, doesn’t stand out so much as a possible emblem for a culture in dark, painful transition. That said, the very things that distinguish the Spangler disappearance from the Dahlia maelstrom are precisely what fascinate me. I was drawn to Spangler for many reasons (the glamour of the period, her purported romances, the sadness of her story), but one reason is the fact that, to the public, she’s forgotten--she’s truly a “lost girl.” And she brought to life for me this thing I’d been searching for a way to explore: that fundamental phenomenon of the beautiful female victim who becomes the tabula rasa onto which we project all our fears, yearnings, desires. The emotions depend entirely on her absence, which means she becomes this empty vessel we fill with ourselves. Even as we don’t recognize it.

This dynamic is far from new. It seems to exist in different forms across the ages, in literature (gothic novels, courtly love [in which the knight never even speaks to the woman he desires from afar], much romantic poetry, etc.), but also in “real life” and fiction/film (especially noir; and note the blending of noir and “real life” in the dubbing of Elizabeth Short as the Black Dahlia; see also James Ellroy’s non-fiction pieces over the years about the connections certain cops feel toward female victims).

In this dynamic, the “gone girl” seems to disappear as a real person and re-emerge as ... ourselves--frequently, our hidden selves. Of course, with the case of an unsolved disappearance, this dynamic can go on indefinitely. There’s no body, no real suspects, and most of the clues stop within a few days. So it’s all us after that. The characters in my book, The Song Is You, then, are able to make my fictionalized version of Jean Spangler completely their own--they project all of their own personal disappointments and dreams onto her. In the process, Jean Spangler and her “lived life” gets lost, but those around her can’t help it--even my protagonist, who is no romantically haunted detective but a canny studio publicist, is not immune. It was something I wanted to explore because it still persists (in me, too) and its endurance captivates me. Is it all just a glamour trip, an ego trip, a way of indulging ourselves without looking at ourselves too deeply? Or are we trying to understand and/or save the “gone girl” as a way of trying to save something in our own pasts or in ourselves we feel we’ve lost? All this is a fancy way of asking, What is the secret of the gone girl, the lost girl?

monkalup - November 16, 2006 02:29 PM (GMT)
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The vanishing of Hollywood showgirl Jean Spangler in 1949 left behind more questions than there would ever be answers for. Born in Seattle in 1923, Spangler graduated from Franklin High School in Los Angeles in 1941, and soon afterwards landed work as a model with a local clothing firm. Later, as a dancer with both the Earl Carroll Theatre and Florentine Gardens, she also appeared as a bit player and background extra in films and on television. Now, over 50 years later, there are those who still wonder whether then up-and-coming actor Kirk Douglas told police everything he knew about meeting the attractive beauty on the set of his film, Young Man with a Horn?

While a key piece of recovered evidence (the note), along with police statements from several of Spangler's friends, would circumstantially seem to link Douglas to the case, he denied knowing the girl or even remembering meeting her until questioned by LAPD homicide Captain Thad Brown, who had previously headed up the infamous "Black Dahlia" murder investigation two years earlier. Though the note would mention the name "Kirk", there was no last name to imply that actor Kirk Douglas was the intended recipient. But Douglas, on vacation in Palm Springs at the time of the disappearance, aroused the suspicions of authorities by contacting them before they even had a chance to contact him first. A steadfast denial by Douglas and his attorney that he never knew Jean Spangler, was met with outrage by Jean's family. Florence, Jean's mother, adamantly remembered Douglas picking Jean up at the apartment on two seperate occasions.

Worried because Jean had not come home or even called, her sister-in-law filed a missing persons report the following evening. On Sunday morning, a groundsman came upon her abandoned black purse laying alongside Gate 2 off Fern Dell Road in Griffith Park, it's carrying strap pulled loose, as if a struggle had occurred. Oddly, all of it's contents appeared still intact and undisturbed. Because Jean was flat broke at the time, there was no money in the purse, other than the lucky silver dollar she always carried.

Among other items found within the purse was the so-called abortion note (in Spangler's handwriting, but undelivered) thought to have been meant for Douglas. And though it is still up for debate as to whether or not the note was actually meant for movie actor Kirk Douglas, it seemed more than plausible to assume that Jean had indeed headed off into the rainy overcast of October the 7th to obtain an illegal abortion while her mother was out of town. Questioned later by detectives, several close friends confirmed that Jean was 3 months pregnant at the time. If the doctor mentioned in the note had indeed performed the operation (but perhaps botched it, killing her) why would he so carelessly cast aside the purse after disposing of the body?

About a year or so before the mystery began, Jean Spangler had experienced a very bitter and very public court battle over regaining custody of her young daughter from her estranged ex-husband, Dexter Benner. Benner, who had been given full custody following their messy divorce in 1946 continued to charge that his former wife was nothing more than a Hollywood glamour girl who prefered "parties to priorities". But the courts disagreed. In 1948 a judge awarded full custody to Jean, citing "a daughters place is with her mother". One year later, the week of the disappearance, Jean began telling friends that she was going to meet Dexter that night, to see if she could collect his overdue child-support payment that had been due on October 1st but never paid. Though this could have been just a cover story to hide the fact she was heading off to have an abortion, it doesn't discount the possibility that she may have intended to meet Dexter first. Benner denied knowledge of any such planned meeting with Jean, stating he had been home all evening and had not seen his ex-wife for weeks. Custody of the daughter was returned to Benner in December, but with the understanding that he would allow Jean's mother to visit the little girl. A very public and bitter visitation rights war broke out between the two, after Dexter began preventing the grandmother from seeing the child. Benner continued to defy the court's orders, until finally in May of 1953, a fed-up judge ordered Dexter to serve a 15-day jail sentence for contempt-of-court. Delayed 14 times by Benner's attorney, appeals ran out in December(1953). But instead of surrending himself as ordered, Dexter Benner fled the state, taking his daughter along with him. They were never seen again.

The Spangler case was to become to missing persons what the 1947 "Black Dahlia" murder of Elizabeth Short was to homicides. In fact, detectives still investigating that ghastly crime closely examined several key similarities between the two cases, but nothing concrete ever materialized to indicate a substantial connection.

Confusing the situation further was Jean's marginal association with gangster Mickey Cohen. Cohen, the former bodyguard of Ben "Bugsy" Siegel, and who was ironically "absent" the day his former boss was gunned down (later inheriting Siegel's westcoast gambling operation as a result), hosted an impressive stable of henchmen. Among these was one Johnny Stompanato ( later stabbed to death by the daughter of actress Lana Turner ), and Mike Howard (who did Cohen's book-keeping). Both had dated Jean in the recent past. Stompanato had even been obsessed enough to follow her to Las Vegas when she was visiting her sister there. Because two of Cohen's men (out of jail on bond and awaiting trial) vanished around the same time Jean did, there was wide-spread speculation that they must have therefore "run off together." While supposed sitings of the group stemmed from Mexico City to San Francisco, police found no supporting evidence that any of the three were either alive or together.

Despite a massive nationwide effort by investigators and the over 200 plus individuals who made up the Griffith Park search party, no trace of Jean Spangler ever turned up. Theories and leads continued to trickle in over the years, each one more outlandish and bizarre than the previous. And to this day, the question of what really happened on that October 7th evening so many years ago still looms...and still haunts.

monkalup - November 16, 2006 02:34 PM (GMT)
Dexter Benner
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monkalup - November 16, 2006 02:35 PM (GMT)

March 1950. Six months have now passed, and still no word from Jean Spangler. Newspapers begin debating whether she will soon be re-surfacing, based on information she was 3 months pregnant at the time of her disappearance.
If she was planning to have an abortion (as the undelivered note in her purse implied) it is possible that she may have changed her mind at the last minute, and gone into hiding to have the baby. If true, her "due date" would be approaching, and with it, the possibility of her re-appearance.

March and April passed quietly by.

monkalup - November 16, 2006 02:42 PM (GMT)
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The judge's 1953 answer to Benner's continued defiance of court orders as represented above. Refusing to serve time, Benner skips town, taking along with him Jean's beloved 9-year-old daughter. Though they were never seen nor heard from again, Jean's mother was later tipped off that her ex son-in-law had fled to Florida, but was unable to pursue him any longer. Both her health and money had run out. Florence's final days would be spent alone, in a Southern California nursing home, broken in spirit but still maintaining a small ray of hope that someday, when Christine grew up, she would put aside the lies her father had fed her and seek out her Spangler roots for the truth. That day never came. In 1991, Florence Spangler died.
On October 27, 1953, just over a month previous to Dexter's flee, a custody order was handed down by the Superior Court of the State of California. It read in part: "That plaintiff, Dexter Benner, shall be and is hereby restrained from removing said minor child from the counties of Los Angeles and Orange, in the State of California, without the written consent of said Florence Spangler, or without the further order of the court if such removal would deprive said Florence Spangler of her right to the physical possession of said minor child."

Benner never returned to California. He remained in Florida, never wanting to push his luck. Though there continued to exist an array of other possibilities, Dexter Benner had always been considered the only solid suspect in Jean's disappearance. He was the only party who benefited - having reclaimed control and custody of the daughter Jean had so rudely snatched from his grasps. He remarried, tying the knot with Lynn Lasky (the beautiful but volatile ex-wife of Ely Lasky, whom court records had painted such unflattering colors of) in 1948. Because a final Decree of Divorce was never officially entered between Dexter and Jean, the judge in the custody case later informed Dexter and Lynn that their marriage was invalid but could be corrected. Dexter was furious. Almost a year would elapse before Dexter and Lynn would marry again. The new marriage finally took place September 5, 1949, just a month before Jean Spangler would vanish off the face of the earth forever.

monkalup - November 16, 2006 02:45 PM (GMT)

oldies4mari2004 - September 27, 2007 03:35 AM (GMT)
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The Mysterious Disappearance of Jean Spangler
Story by by Arthur Lyons
Photography courtesy Brandon James

Like so many other talented hopefuls in Hollywood in the 1940s, Jean Spangler wanted to be a star. Sultry and big-eyed, the statuesque 27-year-old brunette had eked out a precarious living as a dancer and a bit player in movies and on TV while she waited for that one big break, that one part that would get her noticed and launch her screen career.

On October 7, 1949, Jean got the part that would make her famous, but it was not in any movie.

A divorcee, Jean lived in a house in the Wilshire District of Los Angeles with her mother, her brother, her sister-in-law, Sophie, and her five-year-old daughter Christine. At five p.m., Jean kissed Christine goodbye and told her sister-in-law that she was going to meet her ex-husband, plastics manufacturer Dexter Benner, to talk about an increase in child support payments. After that, she was going to work on a night shoot for a new film. "Wish me luck," she said, winking and left.

When Jean failed to come home the following day, a distressed Sophie went down to the Wilshire Division of the LAPD and filed a missing persons report. The police took down the details, but knew that the young starlet was probably just out on a fling and would probably show up in a day or two. They had not even put her name on the police teletype as a missing person. The following day, an alarmed employee at Griffith Park reported finding Jean Spangler’s purse near the Fern Dell entrance to the park.

Investigators converged on the scene and what they found sparked one of the biggest manhunts in LAPD history. The purse’s double handles had been ripped off at one end, intimating the possibility of violence but it was the note inside the purse, written in Jean’s hand, that intrigued the detectives even more. It read: "Kirk – Can’t wait any longer. Going to see Dr. Scott. It will work out best this way while mother is away…"

The unsigned note ended with a comma, indicating that Jean had not had time to finish her thoughts.

After a 60-man search of Griffith Park turned up no additional clues, investigators went to work reconstructing Jean’s last hours before her disappearance. Dexter Benner denied having seen Jean for weeks, a story backed up by Benner’s new wife. A check of the studios determined that no movies had been in production that night of the seventh. Jean had last been seen at a local market where the clerk said she appeared to be "waiting for someone."

Robert Cummings, star of Pretty Girl, the last film Jean had been working on, threw some light on who the "someone" might have been when he told police two weeks before her disappearance he had been sitting on his dressing room steps at Columbia Studios when the pretty starlet had walked by whistling. "You sound happy," Cummings remembered telling her.

"I am," Jean replied. "I have a new romance."

"Is it serious?"

"Not really," Jean told the popular star. "But I’m having the time of my life."

The only clue the police had to the identity of Jean’s romantic interest was the name "Kirk." Hearing news reports about the case, actor Kirk Douglas phoned investigators from Palm Springs where he was vacationing, and volunteered that Jean may have worked as an extra in his last film, but claimed he barely remembered her. "I didn’t remember the girl until a friend recalled that it was she who worked as an extra in…one of my pictures," Douglas told the Los Angeles Police Department Deputy Chief Thad Brown. "If she’s the one I’m thinking about, IO do recall talking to her that day. But I never saw her before or after that and have never been out with her." (Today, Mr. Douglas offers that "the incident was so long ago, (I) have very little recollection about it," but nonetheless "wishes me success" with this investigation.)

Jean’s mother wasn’t much more help. "I heard her talk about a ‘Kirk’ she knew around the sets," she said. "But she was at first one studio then another. I simply can’t remember."

The plot thickened when one of Jean’s girlfriends revealed that Jean had told her she was pregnant, adding a possibly ominous significance to the love affair and Jean’s urgency in seeing the mysterious "Dr. Scott." The reference about things working out better while her mother was way made sense in that context, too, in that Jean’s mother had been visiting relatives in Kentucky during the time Jean disappeared.

None of Jean’s relatives had any idea as to the identity of "Dr. Scott" and police questioning of every doctor in Los Angeles area with that last name turned up nothing. Canvassing the bars and nightclubs of the Sunset Strip Jean frequented, detectives learned of a shadowy ex-medical student known as "Doc," the allegedly profligate son of a wealthy Eastern family, who hung around the Strip and performed abortions for a fee. They were not able to locate him, however.

The detectives traveled to the desert to check out the Palm Springs watering holes Jean and other Hollywood stars and would-be’s frequented on weekends away from the klieg lights — the Chi Chi, the Dunes, the Doll House, the Saddle & Sirloin. Nothing.

The only "Scott" the investigators could come up with in Jean’s past was a handsome air corps lieutenant named "Scotty" with whom Jean had carried on an affair while her husband was in the army in the South Pacific. Jean’s former lawyer told police that "Scott" had beaten up Jean when she tried to break up with him and threatened to kill her if she left him. As far as the lawyer knew, however, Jean had never seen the lieutenant after her divorce in 1945.

After three weeks, the case seemed to be at a dead end. "The only thing we’ve been able to find out," one detective said tiredly, "is that this girl really got around." Among the many people she "got around" with — a wealthy nightclub owner, a rich playboy, a prominent educator, an assortment of actors and jet-setters, all of whom were linked to the actress at one time or another during the investigation — was David (Little Davy) Ogul, the henchman of notorious gang boss Mickey Cohen, who disappeared coincidentally two days after Jean Spangler, while under indictment for conspiracy charges. The detectives returned to Palm Springs when an informant told them that Jean had been seen with Ogul in the desert only days before her disappearance.

Mickey Cohen and his crowed had a long history of vacationing and partying in the Springs in those days. One of Cohen’s boys, in fact, had worked the door of the illegal gambling club, the Cove (now the Elks Club in Cathedral City), while he’d been a fugitive from justice. Cohen himself frequented Palm Springs, but kept a low profile. He tried to enter the Racquet Club once, but was asked to leave by manger Frank Bogert. "Mickey was around quite a bit, but usually stayed at people’s houses," Bogert recalls. "He wasn’t seen much in public."

But not so with his less well-photographed underlings, who liked the loose and laid-back attitude of Palm Springs in the ‘40s, where they could go out and not get harassed by the police. Although Jean had been seen in Ogul’s company in the Springs, as well as that of Mike Howard, another Cohen employee, nothing concrete materialized.

Four months later, the cast took yet another twist when it was reported that U.S. Customs agents in El Paso had shadowed a woman whom they thought was Jean Spangler in the company of Davy Ogul and Frank Niccoli, another Cohen associate who had also been under indictment for conspiracy and who had also vanished a month before Ogul. (The only trace police ever found of Niccoli, incidentally, was his car keys in a sewer on Santa Barbara Street in Los Angeles.)

An employee at the hotel where the trio stayed also identified Jean Spangler from her photograph. The Customs agents told the Los Angeles cops that they had reason to believe that Jean had left El Paso for Las Vegas. Eyewitness reports continued to pour in to police detectives. Jean Spangler had been seen in Northern California, Phoenix, the San Fernando Valley, Mexico City and several times in her old haunt, Palm Springs, but all leads led to naught.

Jean’s ex-husband Dexter Benner, got custody of Christine but two years after the dark-haired beauty’s disappearance, an attempt by Benner to have the child adopted by his new wife on the grounds of abandonment was blocked by the court, the judge ruling that there was no proof that Jean Spangler was alive or dead. Jean’s mother by that time had given up hope that her daughter was alive, however. "I’m sure she would have communicated with us if she was alive and free. And nobody can tell me should have left her baby unless she was forced to."

For years, police continued to circulate Jean Spangler’s picture. Louella Parsons went on television offering a $1,000 reward for any information about the missing starlet’s whereabouts, and, for years, on the anniversary of her disappearance the Los Angeles Times ran a story about the case, but no trace of Jean Spangler was ever uncovered.

That did not mean theories about the disappearance of the starlet did not abound: Jean was done in by the mysterious "Kirk" who killed her when she tried to blackmail him. Jean was killed in a mob hit on Davy Ogul and Frank Niccoli, who were going to testify against Mickey Cohen and the three share a grave in the desert near Palm Springs. Jean was killed by her ex-husband, who wanted custody of their child. Jean’s old lover Scotty resurfaced and murdered Jean in a fit of jealous rage. Jean abandoned her child and her aspirations of stardom to run off with Ogul and is still alive today.

Nearly 50 years later, the still-open case remains one of the mysteries linking the dark side of Hollywood to the night side of the desert.

oldies4mari2004 - September 27, 2007 03:36 AM (GMT)
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oldies4mari2004 - September 27, 2007 03:37 AM (GMT)
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oldies4mari2004 - September 27, 2007 03:41 AM (GMT)
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Spinning Fiction from Fact
About five years ago, I found a passing reference to the disappearance of actress and dancer Jean Spangler in a piece on Hollywood’s unsolved cases. Her story was so sad, this divorcée struggling to support her 5-year-old daughter and still pursue her own dreams, taking every small part, dancing in revues. Then, on October 7, 1949, she walked down the front path of her apartment building and into ... well, the Big Nowhere. The more I read about her (though there’s not too much available to read), the more I became entranced. She seemed like a woman leading two lives--this home life with her daughter, mother, and sister-in-law, all crammed into one apartment--and this glittering life in Hollywood: dating movie stars, nightclubbing on the Sunset Strip. It was this unbearably sad personal story at the same time as the plot of a film noir.

Hooked, I found one of the movies in which Jean Spangler had a bit part: The Miracle of the Bells. You see her onscreen for just a few seconds and she has one line (“They’re turning”), but knowing what happened to her later, it becomes this truly haunting moment. She’s supposed to look startled and she does. She looks terrified. I watched those few seconds of film dozens of times. I guess I thought if I looked hard enough, I’d find something in her face, some kind of answer.

Then, I started thinking about how quickly, merely by knowing she’d disappeared and watching her onscreen for the moment, I’d begun to dream up all kinds of things about her. And it struck me that that’s what many of us do with these missing-person stories. We project ourselves onto the missing person--our own private dramas, especially, it seems, when it’s a beautiful young woman. Part of Spangler’s mystery, glamour, and appeal is that, because she’s gone, she can’t violate our vision of her, can’t interrupt the fantasy. It seemed such a central premise of mystery and of noir in particular--we tell ourselves it’s about the crime, the case, a solution. But really, it’s all about us.

burnsjl2003 - October 8, 2008 05:40 PM (GMT)

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Beautiful Starlet Vanished Into Thin Air
Denise Hamilton • Bio • Email

It was 59 years ago today that brunette starlet Jean Spangler vanished, leaving behind a young daughter, gangster pals, movie star connections and a mystery that remains unsolved more than a half-century later.

On October 7, 1949, the beautiful 27-year-old divorcee, who lived in an apartment near Park La Brea, told her mother she was meeting her ex-husband, then heading off for a night movie shoot. Jean kissed her 5-year-old daughter Christina, waved goodbye to her mother and clip-clopped off in her high heels. She was never seen again.

Used with permission from Larry Harnisch's Daily Mirror blog.

When Jean failed to return the next morning, her mother began calling around. No one had seen her and the studios said she wasn’t on the list of movies shooting the previous night. The police were reluctant to investigate – most missing persons turn up alive and perhaps they figured pretty young Jean, an admitted party girl, had run off with a boyfriend. But Jean’s mother maintained that her daughter would never abandon her child. With the shadow of the unsolved Black Dahlia murder hanging over Los Angeles, she demanded answers.

When the LAPD began probing, they learned some interesting things. Jean’s estranged husband had threatened her in the past. And she'd been partying in Palm Springs nightclubs with two henchmen of gangster Mickey Cohen right before she disappeared. Those gangsters had also gone missing.

At the time, Mickey Cohen and Sicilian gangster Jack Dragna were in the middle of a gang war for control of the LA rackets. There had been shootouts on the Sunset Strip, bombs, assassinations. Could Jean had been at the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong men?

Two days later, a city worker found Jean’s purse, its strap torn, in the Fern Dell part of Griffith Park. Inside was a note that said: "Kirk, Can't wait any longer. Going to see Dr. Scott. It will work best this way while mother is away."

Who was Kirk, the police wondered, and what kind of doctor was Jean going to see?

Could she have been pregnant by “Kirk” and gone off to have an illegal, back-alley abortion the night she disappeared? What if something went wrong and the abortionist disposed of her body?

Police learned that Jean didn’t have any boyfriends or pals named Kirk, but she'd worked as an extra on the movie “Young Man With A Horn,” which starred Kirk Douglas. When Douglas heard about the case, he called the police and explained that he knew the starlet casually from the set but that was as far as it went. Douglas was soon cleared of wrongdoing.

Jean’s ex-husband was also cleared. And police weren’t able to verify the abortion theory.

For years afterward, there were rumored sightings of Jean as far away as Mexico and Texas, but none of it led anywhere. No body ever turned up either, and as anyone who watches CSI knows, without a crime scene and body, it’s hard to do much except wonder.

Or maybe to spin these gripping, horrific, tantalizing facts into a novel, which is what I did in my latest book, “The Last Embrace.” Recently, I spoke to an LAPD cop, who told me the Spangler murder remains open, with a detective still assigned to the very cold case.

Without a deathbed confession or evidence, the case will probably never be solved. Only in fiction do we have that luxury. But today, scribbler and mother that I am, I can’t stop thinking of Jean and especially of her daughter.

After Jean’s disappearance, her ex-husband got custody of Christine and moved out of California and out of our collective narrative. Christine would be 64 and a senior citizen, if she’s even still alive. I wonder what happened to her. I’m saddened to think of her life, which must have been greatly shadowed by her mother’s disappearance and presumed murder.

The life of novelist James Ellroy has also been shadowed by a gruesome event – his mother was brutally murdered when he was 11. Yet somehow Ellroy was able to channel his anguish into writing, transforming himself into a fierce, uncompromising chronicler of humanity’s dark side.

Art can save us. But only if we find it in time.

I hope that Jean Spangler’s daughter, Christine, found a light in the darkness, a spark to warm her and keep her soul alive.

October 7, 2008 11:04 AM • Native Intelligence • Email the editor

burnsjl2003 - October 8, 2008 05:44 PM (GMT)

Los Angeles Times file photo

Jean Spangler in a photo published in The Times in 1949

monkalup - October 8, 2008 06:50 PM (GMT)
Wow, I am glad to see a new story. Wish they would do many more stories on old cases. So many could still be solved.

monkalup - February 25, 2009 04:40 AM (GMT)
This is a different photo of Jean Spangler.

Jean Spangler was a bit-part actress in Hollywood. She left her young daughter in the care of her sister-in-law on October 7, 1949. She said she was going to meet her ex-husband to talk about an overdue child support payment and later, to work at a movie set. Two days later, her purse was found near the entrance of Griffith Park. It contained an unfinished note addressed to a “Kirk,” which read, “Can’t wait any longer, Going to see Dr. Scott. It will work best this way while mother is away,”. No one knew who “Kirk” or “Dr. Scott” was, and no body was ever found.

monkalup - February 5, 2012 09:55 PM (GMT)
It was one of those cases that seemed straight out of pulp fiction, a noir mystery written by one of those hard-boiled scribes who liked to surround damsels in distress with mobsters and movie stars.

Yet it was real life. And it defied solution.

Not because there were no clues. Perhaps because there were too many--all pointing in different directions.

The damsel was aspiring actress Jean Spangler, 26, whose mysterious 1949 disappearance is still considered an "open case" by LAPD's cold case unit.

"It's absolutely a classic noir mystery," said Denise Hamilton, a former LA Times reporter turned novelist. She reveals that her mystery, "The Last Embrace," was inspired by the Spangler case.

"You have a beautiful, young starlet. Brunette. She's sultry. She's tall. She's leggy. And she's trying to make it in Hollywood," Hamilton said.

Black and white images from the Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection reinforce Hamilton's description of Spanger, who appeared in half a dozen movies, just bit parts.

The late 40's was a time when the studios still reigned over Hollywood, the mob ruled the Sunset Strip, and crooked politicians and police brass ran Los Angeles.

A divorced mother of a five year old, Spangler was still looking for her big break, and making time for an active social life.

"She's a party girl. She goes out with a lot of people: gangsters, movie stars, Hollywood executives. They found her little black book after she disappeared, and there were a lot of prominent names in it," said Hamilton.

She was last seen near her Park LaBrea area apartment on the Friday evening of October 7, 1949.

Over that weekend, a Griffith Park Ranger found a purse near the entrance to Ferndell. Inside was Spangler's ID, and also a cryptic note addressed to someone named Kirk.

"Kirk: Can't wait any longer," it began. "Going to see Dr. Scott. It will work best this way while mother is away."

Perhaps it was written in a hurry. It was not signed.

"Well, The supposition was that she was pregnant by this Kirk and that she was going to have an abortion," said Hamilton. One acquaintance said Spangler was coming to the end of the first trimester.

The most famous Kirk then in Hollywood was the actor Kirk Douglas, who had just finished
filming, "Young Man with a Horn," in which Spangler had a small role.

Douglas spoke twice with LAPD investigators, insisting there was no personal relationship. Detectives believed him, and Douglas was cleared. Since abortion was then illegal, it was assumed that Dr. Scott was a phony name, and who he might have been was never pinned down.

Hamilton speculates there may have been a medical complication, perhaps it was fatal, and perhaps Dr. Scott--whoever he was was--decided to hide the remains.

This was less than three years after the infamous Black Dahlia murder. The remains of victim Elizabeth Short had been surgically severed.

The Black Dahlia case has never been solved officially. And the possibility Spangler died during an illegal abortion remains a possibility never proven.

The discovery of the purse did prompt a massive search of Griffith Park. But no other clues were found. How the purse got there remains just one of the mysteries.

Detectives at the time pursued other leads. Shortly before her disappearance, Spangler had been seen partying in Las Vegas with two hoods named Frank Niccoli and Davey Ogul, henchman for LA mob boss Mickey Cohen.

They also disappeared about the same time. Like Spangler, they were never found. Perhaps Spangler got caught in the wrong place with the wrong people at the wrong time.

Possible, but never proven.

Spangler had spoken of expecting to come into some money, prompting speculation that perhaps she was planning to blackmail someone. Perhaps that someone responded by killing her. Again, possible, never ruled out, but never proven.

Finally, there were ongoing tensions with her ex-husband, Dexter Benner. After their divorce, the child custody dispute over their daughter had been fierce. Benner accused Spangler of being an "unfit mother," and the sensational headlines in the local papers gave her more name recognition than she had gotten for her budding movie career.

Spangler's sister in law recalls that on that fateful final Friday evening, Spangler said she was going to meet with Benner to discuss overdue child support. Detectives contacted Benner and his new wife.

They said they had been together all evening, and they never saw Spangler. Detectives believed them. Not long after, Benner moved his family out of Los Angeles to the other side of the country, re-settling in Florida. Benner lived to the age of 87. He died five years ago.

In the years that followed Spangler's disappearance, reported sightings popped up in the media--as would happen later with Elvis. But none proved out.

"We never get to the bottom of it," observed author Hamilton, while re-visiting Ferndell, where Spangler's purse was found. "At every step along the way in this case there are more questions."

Hamilton suspects we may never learn what happened to Spangler. That of course, is part of the enduring fascination.

"The Jean Spangler case is a cautionary tale for all of us," Hamilton said. And we're drawn to the darkness like moths to a flame."

Follow NBCLA for the latest LA news, events and entertainment: Twitter: @NBCLA // Facebook: NBCLA

Ell - June 1, 2014 03:21 PM (GMT)
First a cadaver dog, now chemical analysis support the suspicions of a retired police detective that human remains were buried in the foothills above Hollywood decades ago, NBC4 has learned.

Analysis of soil taken from a location indicated by the cadaver dog found chemical markers for human decomposition, said the scientist who performed the labwork at the request of the retired detective.

It's the theory of former that as many as 10 long-unsolved slayings of young women in Los Angeles in the 1940's were committed by a single serial killer.

What adds poignance to Hodel's suspicion is his personal connection to the suspect he's identified: the late medical doctor George Hodel -- the retired detective's father.

"I see him as Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde," said Hodel, alluding to the fictional split personality depicted in one of Hollywood's first horror films. "Unfortunately, the monster, Mr. Hyde, was stronger and

over-ruled the good."

Hodel's suspicions date back more than a decade. After his father's death, going through possessions, Hodel came across evidence that implicated his fatherl in the infamous 1947 dismemberment murder of a young woman named Elizabeth Short, remembered to this day as the Black Dahlia.

Writing books and continuing his research, Hodel came to suspect his father had killed repeatedly before fleeing to Asia in the late 1940s.

During that decade, the Hodels lived in what is now regarded as a Hollywood landmark, the Sowden House designed by the famed architect Lloyd Wright in the distinctive Mayan block style that was developed by his even more famous father Frank Lloyd Wright.

Records long stored in the District Attorney's office confirm that the doctor had come under suspicion in the Dahlia case, and that police had planted a listening bug in the house. Transcripts reveal that detectives heard him discussing the Dahlia at one point. At another time, they heard from the basement what sounded like a woman being attacked.

Hodel believes his father committed murders in or near the house, and in some cases buried the remains nearby in unmarked graves.

In 2012, Hodel was able to return to the Sowden house when he was invited to participate in a TV program being recorded there. Hodel got permission to bring along another retired cop, former Mammoth Lakes Police Sgt. Paul Dostie, who has worked extensively with Buster, his search dog.

Buster indicated a scent of human decomposition at several locations, including in the alley behind the house. But where the scent is picked up does not necessarily mean that is where the

chemical remains are located; carried over time by water or gravity, the marker molecules can migrate considerable distances, according to forensic anthropologist Arpad Vass, PhD, a pioneer in chemical analysis of human decomposition.

A soil sample was taken from the alley, and late last year Vass used gas chromatography and mass spectrometry to identify the chemicals in it.

"The soil came up positive for human remains because there are a number of human specific markers," said Vass from his laboratory in Oak Ridge, Tennessee.

What is more difficult is narrowing down how long ago death occurred. Vass's estimate: 20-100 years ago.

The chemical analysis cannot help determined cause of death, or even whether or not it was homicide, Vass noted. But he said his findings are "consistent" with Steve Hodel's theory of homicide victims buried in shallow graves 70-80 years ago.

"We're talking about clearing potentially 10 cases," Hodel said.

But who?

Definitely not Elizabeth Short, Hodel is quick to say, pointing out that all of her remains were accounted for.

But the possibilities include actress Jean Spangler, then 26, her career on the rise in 1949 when she vanished. Nothing more than her purse was found days later in Griffith Park, not far from the Hodel home. A note inside hinted she was going to have an abortion, then illegal. Dr. Hodel was one of the few physicians who then performed abortions in Los Angeles, Steve Hodel found in his research. He also discovered Spangler and his father had a mutual friend.

Hodel hopes to search further for the human remains, but has been unable to get permission to go onto the privately owned hillside.

After repeated attempts by Hodel the past decade to interest LAPD in following up on his civilian

investigation, LAPD passed again.

"Too old, too cold." was the feedback Hodel said he got.

But if it appears the ageless sleuth is running out of leads to pursue--don't count on it.

His research has led to three books, Black Dahlia Avenger, Black Dahlia Avenger II, and Most Evil, in which Steve Hodel lays out his case that when his father traveled to northern California in the 1960s he committed the infamous Zodiac murders.

Steve Hodel still hopes to find the source of the scent of human decomposition near his childhood Hollywood home.

"I'm going to keep digging," Hodel vowed--figuratively, if not literally

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