Tragic Details About Susan Cabot's 1986 Killing

The paramedics arrived at the slightly decrepit but elegant house perched on a hill in Encino, California, overlooking downtown Los Angeles on the night of December 10, 1986. They met with a young man who was waiting outside for them. He seemed "cool and calm" as he described being knocked out by a man dressed in a ninja costume who may have also hurt his mother, the paramedics would later testify (via the Los Angeles Times). The two paramedics went in and found a house in disarray, with heaps of trash and piles of dirty clothes everywhere and the incessant barking of three guard dogs locked up in a bedroom (per The Atlanta Constitution).

They located the 59-year-old victim in the home's master suite sprawled across the bed with a blood-soaked piece of cloth draped over her face. Blood covered the walls and ceiling (via "The World's Most Bizarre Murders"). The woman would turn out to be a faded movie actress named Susan Cabot, whose career encompassed both big Hollywood productions and B movies. And it didn't take the police very long to suspect it was Cabot's 22-year-old son, Timothy Scott Roman, who was behind his mother's death.

An unhappy childhood 

Before Susan Cabot's gruesome demise, her complex relationship with her son, or her acting career, she was a girl named Harriet Pearl Shapiro, born in Boston on July 9, 1927. Her father abandoned the family, her mother had to be institutionalized, and her two aunts refused to take her in. The state put her in foster care where, according to her psychiatrist, she was "emotionally and sexually abused," leading to post-traumatic stress disorder, per "Hollywood's Hard-Luck Ladies: 23 Actresses Who Suffered Early Deaths, Accidents, Missteps, Illnesses, and Tragedies."

By the 1950s, she was in Hollywood and looked to be on her way to a successful career, acting with the likes of Humphrey Bogart and Lee Marvin. But Universal, which held her contract, typecast her into playing Native Americans in Westerns and similar "exotic" roles (per "Hollywood's Hard-Luck Ladies"). In 1954, she left Hollywood for the New York stage, but by 1957 she was back and had begun working with the B-movie film director Roger Corman. She starred in six of his low-budget films. In 1959, Cabot began a relationship that changed her life — and may have inadvertently led to her death.

King Hussein's child? 

Susan Cabot met Jordan's King Hussein at a dinner party in Los Angeles arranged by the CIA in an attempt to tighten ties with the Middle Eastern royal. Their initial meeting went so well that the CIA put her up in a hotel under an assumed name in New York City during his visit there as well. In 1964, Cabot gave birth to a son named Timothy Scott, who was long-rumored to be King Hussein's child.

The birth was difficult, and he was born prematurely, with some resulting brain damage and lifelong seizures attributed to acute hypoglycemia. "Both the baby and I barely made it," Cabot told a reporter (via "Hollywood's Hard-Luck Ladies"). "The poor little fellow spent his first four months in an oxygen tent." Her son also had dwarfism, and Cabot gave him an experimental hormone treatment that may have affected his mental state, including by causing severe mood swings.

A ninja burglar 

When the Los Angeles Police arrived at Susan Cabot's home on the night of December 10, 1986, they became suspicious of Timothy Roman's version of events almost immediately. He told detectives he'd woken up around 9:30 that night when he heard someone attacking his mother (via "The World's Most Bizarre Murders"). He purportedly went into the kitchen, where a Hispanic man with long hair assaulted him, knocking him out. "Initially, he said a burglar did it," LAPD Detective Joe Diglio told the Associated Press at the time. "He gave us a complete description of the burglar, who looked like a ninja warrior." Roman also said the burglar stole $70,000.

But as Roman told his story to the police, they noticed major inconsistencies in his version of events. Added to this, while his mother was violently beaten to death, he only had superficial wounds. "He said he was knocked out, but there didn't seem to be enough of a blow to do that," John Beiner, a paramedic at the crime scene, later testified, per the Los Angeles Times.

Arrest for murder

The LAPD arrested Timothy Scott Roman and charged him with first-degree murder early the next morning following a three-hour interrogation. Afterward, police took him back to the house to get his needed medications, and without prompting, Roman showed them where he'd hidden the barbell and a scalpel he'd used to kill his mother (via "The World's Most Bizarre Murders").

Roman would later testify that on the night of the killing, his mother's mental state had deteriorated to where she didn't seem to know him and was screaming and talking to herself. She attacked him in his bedroom with the barbell and scalpel when he tried to call paramedics, he said. Roman claimed he didn't remember killing his mother (per the Los Angeles Times). "If he flamed out, how do you explain that the murder weapon got from his bedroom to hers, where she was beaten to death?" Deputy District Attorney Bradford Stone told the Los Angeles Times. "That takes some degree of thinking and planning." Roman spent nearly 2.5 years in jail before he learned his fate.


Timothy Scott Roman's murder trial began in May 1989, with his attorneys going for an insanity defense, claiming that the experimental drugs Susan Cabot gave to her son led to his violent mood swings (per the Los Angeles Times). "Mr. Roman is probably, really, an experiment of the human race," his attorney Chester Leo Smith said during a court hearing (via the Los Angeles Times). The defense also alleged Susan Cabot's emotional instability and overprotective nature contributed to Roman's behavior. A month into the trial, Judge Darlene E. Schempp granted the defendant a mistrial after one of his attorneys was hospitalized with "stress-related heart problems," according to the Los Angeles Times.

A second trial before the same judge — but without a jury — ended with Schempp convicting Roman of involuntary manslaughter and giving him a sentence of three years of probation. In court, the judge pointed to testimony about Cabot's depression and suicidal ideation in the days before her death and the deplorable state of her home. "It was beyond my imagination that a person of such success and notoriety at one time could live in such indescribable conditions," Schempp said in court, per the Los Angeles Times.

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

If you or someone you know needs help with mental health, please contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741, call the National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), or visit the National Institute of Mental Health website.