The Biggest Hollywood Mysteries That Are Still Unsolved

With all of its promised fame and fortune, it's no wonder that many people have flocked to the bright lights of Hollywood over the years. But time has also proven that the glamorous entertainment industry can have a dark side. After all, even those who have risen to the heights of fame and artistic glory can encounter serious roadblocks. What's more, some of the most dramatic or downright sordid tales of Hollywood have left us with haunting unresolved endings that few scriptwriters would dare write.

Some of these unsolved mysteries of Hollywood involve highly publicized deaths, from the sudden end of one of the first actors to play Superman, the oftentimes beleaguered George Reeves, to the still-controversial and highly examined death of actor Natalie Wood in 1981. Others include abrupt and mysterious disappearances, like the sudden exit of Hollywood extra and aspiring actress Jean Spangler. Yet more include odd occurrences on set, such as a now-notorious batch of clam chowder that was served to the cast and crew of the "Titanic" movie, as well as the possibly paranormal goings-on that may have plagued the set of landmark horror film "The Exorcist." 

Despite the high levels of attention and the work of both professional and amateur sleuths who have zeroed in on many of these cases, all still contain lingering questions to this day.

How did George Reeves die?

The death of George Reeves was, to many, a shock. The actor, who had played the Man of Steel on the 1950s television show "The Adventures of Superman," was part of the Hollywood scene since his breakthrough with a minor role in 1939's mega-hit, "Gone with the Wind." He was reportedly plagued by Superman-influenced typecasting before the series was canceled in 1957, at which point Reeves was back into professional and personal doldrums. Being Superman hadn't paid all that well anyway and demanded much of his time. Then, after Reeves took up with Leonore Lemmon, previous girlfriend Toni Mannix began to harass him, to the point where he filed a restraining order against her.

On June 16, 1959, Reeves was found dead at home. Police said he died by suicide, but others maintained that it wasn't such an open-and-shut case. Wasn't it odd that Lemmon and three friends were downstairs when Reeves died? Lemmon even allegedly told the guests that Reeves was going upstairs to harm himself, though his mother told reporters he was in no such state of mind.

Police also allegedly discovered odd bruises on Reeves' body, as well as unexplained gunshot holes in the bedroom where he was found. Moreover, law enforcement was only called 45 minutes after Lemmon and company heard gunfire. Today, no one's sure if it really was death by suicide, murder at the hands of a disaffected Lemmon, a hit put out by Mannix, or something else.

Joe Pichler abruptly disappeared

During the '90s, things must have been looking fairly rosy for child star Joe Pichler. By the middle of the decade, he had moved to Los Angeles and, by 2000, he was in the third movie of the "Beethoven" film franchise, coming back for the fourth in 2001. Yet, the next year, he returned to his hometown of Bremerton, Washington. It wasn't quite his idea, as his mother Kathy admitted it was at her urging that he stepped back from his film career. "He's a good boy and took it well," she told the Kitsap Sun, "but he wasn't really happy about it."

The adult Pichler reportedly planned to return to acting after he had his braces removed. By early 2006, though he had recently taken a new job, he seemed intent on returning to California. Then, he went missing. He last spoke to a friend via telephone in the early morning hours of January 5, 2006. On January 9, his unoccupied car was found in Bremerton and his apartment had been found unlocked and with the lights on. However, Pichler had at least apparently taken his wallet and car keys with him.

Pointing to a downbeat note that Pichler wrote and left in his car, investigators suggested that he had died by suicide. However, his family pushed back against the idea and no one found either his remains or any definitive evidence of what happened to him. Pichler remains among the celebs still missing today.

Who dosed the cast and crew of Titanic?

The filming of 1997 mega-hit "Titanic" was a heinously complicated affair that included a massive 775-foot recreation of the doomed ship, a tank that held 17 million gallons of water, and a ballooning budget that allegedly had studio executives sweating. Workers also told tales of injuries and implied that director James Cameron had begun to emulate the insane character of Kurtz from Joseph Conrad's novella "Heart of Darkness."

But all of that faded when "Titanic" became the first movie to earn over $1 billion worldwide and rocketed actors Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet to superstardom (though Winslet, who was only 22 at the time of filming, found the media attention to be nothing short of awful). Moreover, those woes had a definitive trail ... except for the infamous drugged chowder incident.

It happened during filming on August 9, 1996. Cast and crew dined on clam chowder that was seemingly a legitimate product of craft services. But as the evening wore on, many began to have disorienting, hallucinatory experiences. Many of the affected, including Cameron and actor Bill Paxton (who told the Los Angeles Times he rode it out while drinking a case of beer) were sent to the hospital for suspected food poisoning. Later testing revealed the culprit was PCP in the chowder. Despite a police investigation, no one's sure who's responsible, though many suspect it was someone who'd been fired by the prickly Cameron or perhaps a seriously misguided party animal.

William Desmond Taylor's murder has many strange details

At first, it may have seemed to be a straightforward if tragic affair. Hollywood actor and director William Desmond Taylor was dead, and the police officers who responded to his bungalow in 1922 were initially told that it was a natural death. Yet, upon discovering Taylor's body, they found he had been shot in the back. Even more suspicious: the realization that other Hollywood types were on scene and going through his things.

The matter of who killed Taylor and why soon became a major news story. Actor Mary Miles Minter suffered a serious career hit after a love letter from Taylor to her (as well as her nightgown) were found in the bungalow. Her mother, Charlotte Shelby, was known to threaten others for getting too close to her daughter. It's also reported that the person who provided an alibi for Shelby the night of Taylor's death received a mysterious but hefty payout.

Yet, there was speculation that Taylor was gay and at least some of the people digging through his belongings were covering up that fact ... and perhaps even planting the women's nightgown. Some pointed to Taylor's valet, Henry Peavey, a Black man who was also reportedly gay and who, they say, may have carried on an affair with Taylor and killed him out of jealousy. However, that's purely speculative and the reality is that no one was ever convicted of the director's sudden and persistently mysterious murder.

What happened to Jean Spangler?

There's no denying that Jean Spangler had a tough time in 1940s Hollywood. She'd landed a few bit parts, sure, but had to turn to less prestigious dancing to keep her career going. Spangler also had a daughter, Christine, with ex-husband Dexter Benner, but had been embroiled in a nasty custody battle for years. By October 7, 1949, she had Christine at her apartment, along with Spangler's sister-in-law, Sophie. Spangler left, telling Sophie that she was going to work. However, Spangler was on no call sheet that night and Sophie claimed that Spangler had given her a wink while saying this.

Spangler never made it home. By Sunday, her handbag was found in Los Angeles' Griffith Park, sporting a broken handle and a note in Spangler's handwriting. "Kirk," it read, "Can't wait any longer. Going to see Dr. Scott. It will work best this way while mother is away." Despite a police investigation and a $1,000 reward, no more was found of Spangler.

So, who were Kirk and Dr. Scott? Investigators suspected actor Kirk Douglas, who had starred in "Young Man With a Horn," where Spangler had been an extra. He remembered speaking with her, but little else. Likewise, no Dr. Scott contacted by the LAPD knew anything of the missing woman. Others pointed to organized crime, a failed back-alley medical procedure, Spangler's ex-husband, and even the Black Dahlia killer as agents of Spangler's end, but no clear evidence has ever emerged.

Was The Exorcist set really cursed?

It's seemingly easy to tease up rumors of cursed sets, turning common work incidents from routinely busy filming environments into evidence of something more sinister and mysterious. Yet, even the most skeptical may look at the roundup of woes that hit the filming of "The Exorcist" and wonder if there really is something to the stories.

First, it seems, was the matter of much of the set burning down just as production was about to begin. Then, deaths in the families of both Linda Blair (who played the demon-beset Regan MacNeil) and Max von Sydow (Father Lankester Merrin) meant both actors delayed their start times. Coupled with the loss of a major prop during transit, these were all annoying setbacks for the crew, but things got more sinister thereafter. According to actor Ellen Burstyn, who played Regan's mother Chris MacNeil, nine people related to the production (including a camera operator's newborn) died during filming. Others experienced significant injuries, from the loss of a carpenter's thumb to a broken back suffered by Blair during a particularly intense scene. 

However, many of the cast and crew remained skeptical, dismissing the upsets as common for long and involved film shoots. Others asked a priest who consulted on the film to perform a real-life exorcism, but he declined for fear of making everyone all the more riled up. He also suggested that the trouble was due to a series of unfortunate mishaps rather than the work of supernatural evil.

Natalie Wood's death raises unanswered questions

Though it happened back in 1981, actor Natalie Wood's tragic death remains one of the most enduring Hollywood mysteries. In November 1981, Wood, husband Robert Wagner, and fellow actor Christopher Walken took a brief jaunt on the yacht Splendour, captained by Dennis Davern. On November 28, all four enjoyed a boozy dinner. They made it back to the Splendour fine, but by 11:05 in the evening, Wood and the yacht's small dinghy had gone missing. No one bothered to call the Coast Guard for four hours. Her body was found in the water the next morning. An autopsy revealed Wood had a blood alcohol level of 0.14% and sported bruises the medical examiner said were consistent with a fall.

But while some accepted that conclusion, others weren't so satisfied. Some even suggested Wood was murdered. But by whom, and why? Reportedly, Wagner and Walken argued over how intensively Wood should have pursued her career, but it wasn't clear how that could have affected Wood's demise.

In 2011, an addition to the autopsy suggested that the bruising may have happened before Wood entered the water. It also noted conflicting witness statements, which muddied the timeline of her disappearance and couldn't reveal whether or not Wagner and Wood argued that fateful night. Still, though in 2013 the LA County Sheriff's Department officially changed her cause of death from accidental drowning to "drowning and other undetermined factors," no one has ever been charged with harming Wood.

How did Thelma Todd really meet her end?

Thelma Todd arose from an obscure beginning in Lawrence, Massachusetts, to become a highly successful comedic actress. Todd's life included an on-again, off-again affair with the married director Roland West as well as a short-lived marriage of her own to producer and petty criminal Pasquale DiCicco. After her divorce was finalized in 1934, Todd opened Thelma Todd's Sidewalk Cafe, a restaurant in Pacific Palisades, with West.

By December 1935, Todd might have been feeling spread thin. Perhaps on the evening of December 15 she welcomed a night out at the Trocadero club. Yet, while a driver later told police he had dropped her off safely at home close to 4:00 a.m., Todd was found the next morning in the garage, slumped over in the front seat of her car. She was apparently dead of carbon monoxide poisoning, still dressed in her jewelry and evening wear.

An autopsy and grand jury concluded that Todd's death was an accident, speculating that she had been locked out of her home. Not wanting to wake West — who was also a neighbor — for a key, she may have attempted to keep warm in her running car. But others claimed that remaining fuel in the car and injuries on Todd indicated some sort of conspiracy. Was it the ex-husband? West's jealous wife? A vengeful mobster who had been shut out of Todd's restaurant operations? Or had Todd died by suicide? No one knows, even today.

Sean Flynn's disappearance remains unsolved

In another timeline, Sean Flynn might have had a highly successful movie career. After all, he was the son of two actors: Lili Damita and screen swashbuckler extraordinaire Errol Flynn. The younger Flynn had also appeared in a bit role in 1960's "Where the Boys Are" and had a considerably larger part in "The Son of Captain Blood" two years later. Yet, it soon became clear that he was more interested in being a wartime photojournalist, which turned into a growing career that sent him to Cambodia in April 1970. There, in the midst of the Vietnam War that had spilled over into the neighboring nation, the 28-year-old Flynn and fellow wartime photographer Dana Stone suddenly went missing. They had last been seen on a motorcycle, driving off to investigate a Viet Cong checkpoint.

The most likely conclusion: Flynn and Stone had been captured and killed by unfriendly combatants. Though their remains were never recovered, Damita had her son declared dead in 1984. Unconfirmed reports supported this idea, with some claiming that the two photojournalists had been in Viet Cong and then Khmer Rouge custody before they were executed. However, no remains have been definitively identified as those of Flynn's; remains uncovered in 2010 proved to have different DNA than Flynn's family, leaving the question of his final resting place still unanswered. Critics also claimed that the original excavators had hopelessly muddled evidence in the graves of other missing journalists.

Who killed Bob Crane?

Bob Crane's interests weren't exactly a secret. Though he was widely known as the namesake star of 1960s TV hit "Hogan's Heroes," those who were closer to him also knew that Crane had a dark side as a womanizer with a serious appetite for extramarital affairs and pornography. Crane's quasi-secretive interests eventually came to the attention of tabloids and studio executives, arguably precipitating a career decline. Yet Crane was reportedly hopeful in 1978, telling his son that he was cutting out longtime friend and enabler John Henry Carpenter and looking to produce a play.

Then, Crane was found dead. He was found in his Scottsdale, Arizona, apartment, brutally beaten by an unknown assailant who left behind a gory crime scene. That scene was contaminated by all manner of visitors whom police let into the apartment, including Crane's adult son, Robert, Crane's business manager, and his lawyer. Many suspected Carpenter, who had recently been seen feuding with Crane and whose car contained traces of type B blood — the same as Crane's. Yet there was little else to go on. Even years later, DNA tests of crime scene evidence were inconclusive, and Carpenter was acquitted of charges in 1994. Others have wondered if Crane's killer was a woman's angry partner, a person involved in his amateur X-rated film work, or even someone sent by Crane's soon-to-be-divorced second wife. But with muddled and inconclusive evidence left behind, we may never know the truth of Crane's sudden end.