Suspicious Things Surrounding Superman Actor George Reeves' 1959 Death

On June 16, 1959, Superman actor George Reeves was found dead of a gunshot wound at his home, aged just 45. The case was officially ruled a suicide despite some of the strange evidence at the scene.

Reeves's role on the television show "Adventures of Superman" made him super-famous. However, he was reportedly pretty badly paid for the role, and worse still it damaged his career by leaving him typecast and without many opportunities. Shortly after he passed, his fiancé, Leonore Lemmon, told the press that his struggle to find work — along with his trouble with an old girlfriend — had contributed to his early death.

Those who do not believe Reeves died by suicide often argue that he showed no obvious signs of suicidal ideation. This is perhaps the weakest argument made about the case — many people experience smiling depression and do not show signs of distress to their loved ones. On the other hand, the crime scene itself was extremely peculiar, and the actor had recently gained the ire of a powerful Hollywood fixer with serious mob connections. In any case, many friends of Reeve's continued to believe that he was secretly murdered.

The night's strange events

George Reeves died at an unlikely time — while guests were still hanging around downstairs. That night, Reeves had gone to bed around midnight after most of his guests had left, leaving just his fiancé Leonore Lemmon to stay up with writer Robert Condon (per Los Angeles Times). Around 1 a.m., more guests — William Bliss and Carol van Ronkel — showed up at his house despite the late hour. Reeves briefly reappeared downstairs, apparently drunk and annoyed, and asked the intruders to go home. After arguing with Bliss, he once more retired upstairs.

According to the official story, when Reeves walked off, Lemmon made the seemingly prophetic announcement that he was going to shoot himself, and a moment later, the guests heard Reeves rummage around in a drawer. Lemmon went on to comment, "Now you will hear the shot"— and sure enough, the group heard the gun fire. When Bliss ran upstairs to check on Reeves, he was already dead. Lemmon later explained to police that she had been joking, but the strange commentary seemed suspicious in retrospect.

The strange bullets

At the scene of the shooting, George Reeves was found lying naked on his bed with a gun resting on the floor between his legs (via Unsolved Mysteries). Some things about the scene proved to be a little strange. Firstly, Reeves had left no fingerprints on the gun, although it has been argued that this was simply because the gun had been recently oiled. The bullet that killed Reeves was also found lodged in the ceiling, but the bullet case was found underneath his body.

According to the Los Angeles Times, police also found two additional bullet holes under the bedroom rug. Lenore Lemmon claimed responsibility for one of these — stating she had let off a shot by accident when she was fooling around with the gun a few days before. Coupled with her strange comments at the time of the shooting, some people have theorized that Lemmon accidentally shot Reeves and somehow clumsily covered it up.

Was Reeves assassinated?

Some sleuths believe the key to the mystery of George Reeve's' death lies in his romantic history. Before he got together with Leonore Lemmon, he was romantically entangled with Toni Mannix, the wife of powerful MGM "fixer" to the stars Eddie Mannix, who is rumored to have had a serious mob connection. Reeves eventually left Toni for the much younger Lemmon, which has in turn sparked rumors of a lingering resentment that eventually led to Reeve's murder. Toni was famous for her firebrand temper, and her husband was just the sort of person who could make difficult problems disappear.

While that all sounds like wild speculation, Toni's husband was by all accounts a frightening figure, and he was rumored to have killed his first wife in 1937. Worse still, for one reason or another, Toni herself seems to have believed that Reeves was assassinated. The night of the shooting, she allegedly phoned another "Superman" star, Phyllis Coates, at 4.30 a.m. "hyperventilating and ranting." According to Coates, she proclaimed (per The Guardian), "The boy is dead. He's been murdered."

True or not, the rumors about Toni were given new life in 1999 when publicist Edward Lozzi claimed that he had heard her confess the murder to her priest. The jilted ex supposedly admitted that her and Mannix had orchestrated the killing, hoping to clear her conscience shortly before she died.

The questionable investigation and autopsy

Murder or not, the investigation into George Reeves' death was not particularly thorough. The police don't seem to have sufficiently examined all the evidence, and they did not take into account the strange behavior of Reeves' house guests. Although he left no note, the case was simply declared a suicide with no fanfare. According to StarNews, for reasons unknown, it took Reeves' friends at least an hour to call the police after they found him dead. In the weeks that followed, Leonore Lemmon also skipped town entirely, escaping to New York after breaking the evidence seal on the property and taking $4,000 in traveler's checks with her (per The Guardian).

Aside from the shady people in Reeves' life, his body was also just not carefully examined. The Los Angeles Times noted that bruises found on his corpse were never explained, and police never bothered to check for powder burns that would have proved he held the gun. The body was simply cleaned up and made ready for the funeral service. Reeves' mother, who never believed that he died by suicide, resorted to hiring a lawyer, Jerry Giesler, and calling for a second autopsy, which found additional bruising. Before the investigation got anywhere, Giesler mysteriously dropped the case (per The Telegraph).

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