How A Notorious PI Found The Missing Remains Of Elizabeth Taylor's Late Husband

In addition to her body of work, which includes films like "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" and "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" Elizabeth Taylor's personal life was the subject of a lot of media attention — some of the attention pleasant and flattering, and some quite the opposite. That includes her marriage to producer Mike Todd (above).

According to Biography, one of the most infamous Hollywood love scandals developed following her husband Mike Todd's 1958 death in a plane crash. Taylor started a relationship with her late husband's friend, singer Eddie Fisher. Fisher divorced his then-wife Debbie Reynolds (who was a good friend of Taylor's) and married Taylor just a year after Todd's death.

While Todd's death is often associated with the Elizabeth Taylor-Eddie Fisher scandal, there is a strange extension of the story that happened almost two decades later. It involves the disappearance of Todd's charred remains and the private investigator who found the body under circumstances that could be described as questionable, to say the least.

The life and death of Mike Todd

According to Chicago, Mike Todd's real name was Avrom Hirsch Goldbogen. He was Taylor's third husband (of seven) and was an award-winning film and theater producer. In 1957, Todd's film "Around The World In 80 Days" won an Oscar for best picture, a controversial victory over classics like "The Ten Commandments" and "The King and I." According to The Hollywood Reporter, in the years since, it's been argued that Todd may have bought his way to an Oscar, while others have pointed to a shrewd marketing campaign to promote his movie.

In 1958, Todd took off in his airplane, a Lockheed Lodestar named "The Lucky Liz," after his wife. He was en route to New York, where he was going to be honored at the famous Friar's Club. Elizabeth Taylor had fallen ill with one of history's most fortuitous cases of bronchitis and couldn't make the trip.

The Lucky Liz never made it to New York. It crashed in New Mexico, killing everyone on board. The nature of the crash meant that hardly anything was left of the victims, who were identified using dental records. What little of Todd's remains could be collected were put in a rubber bag, which was placed in a heavy bronze casket and buried. Todd's funeral was held in Chicago, and that's where his remains were buried ... until they weren't.

Mike Todd's body disappears

Elizabeth Taylor had a layover in Chicago on June 24, 1974 (via Chicago). This gave her a chance to do something she hadn't done in years: visit her late husband's grave. Todd was buried in Waldheim Cemetery, a Jewish cemetery in Forrest Park, Illinois (per Find A Grave). Taylor managed to have an uneventful visit to pay her respects, and she left a dozen roses and an American flag on her third husband's grave.

On June 26, just two days after Taylor's quiet visit to Waldheim Cemetery, another visitor made a startling discovery. Todd's tombstone had been knocked over, but making matters worse and certainly more unsettling, they noticed that his casket had been dug out of the ground and was sitting empty. The police were called, and word of the theft quickly got to Taylor. She released a statement through a spokesperson saying that she was "very upset and as baffled as anyone over the motive."

Police didn't have much to work with in the early stages of the case. They had an empty casket and a missing bag of dust and bones that should have been in that casket, but not much else. Early theories ranged from run-of-the-mill — though considerably macabre — vandalism, that the theft may have been the start of an extortion plot aimed at Taylor, or that the motive for stealing the bag containing Todd's remains was possibly anti-semitic.

Anthony Pellicano offers answers

Anthony Pellicano (above) — who, according to Chicago, was born Anthony Joseph Pellican Jr. — is known as a notorious Hollywood private investigator who worked for the likes of Michael Jackson and producer Brad Grey (via Variety). He was born in 1944 and grew up In Chicago. He dropped out of school and joined the United States Signal Corps. After being discharged he found work as a skip-tracer, which involved tracking down people who hadn't paid their bills. Perhaps it was that experience that led to Pellicano taking up the profession he would become known for. In 1969 he opened a detective agency.

Pellicano was known to occasionally use methods that toed the line of legality and also had alleged close ties to powerful figures in Chicago's criminal underbelly. On June 28, 1974, Pellicano called Bill Kurtis, a TV news anchor who had recently done a story on Pellicano's company and some work they had done for a U.S. House of Representatives committee. Pellicano told Kurtis that he thought he knew where Mike Todd's remains could be. Kurtis must have sensed a good story at his fingertips because he rounded up a cameraman and rushed to meet Pellicano at Waldheim Cemetery.

At the cemetery, Pellicano told Kurtis, as well as police who he had also called to the scene, the instructions he had allegedly received. Eventually he wandered over to a pile of brush a mere 75 yards from Todd's gravesite (via L.A. Observed). There he found the missing rubber bag containing Mike Todd's remains.

Everyone was understandably suspicious of Pellicano's discovery

Even in 1977, Anthony Pellicano had amassed a reputation that preceded him, and that was likely why just about everyone was suspicious of his miraculous discovery. It seemed unimaginable that investigators working on such a high-profile case would've missed something so close to the epicenter of the crime scene. "They had looked all over the cemetery," Kurtis told Chicago, "and now [Pellicano] walks right up to it. It must have been embarrassing to the policemen [who had conducted the search]."

According to L.A. Observed, Pellicano told police that he had been told that the grave robbers were after Todd's 10-carat diamond ring that had been given to him by Taylor, a ring that they believed was in Todd's casket. There was no diamond ring in the casket, nor the bag with Todd's remains. The only ring known to have survived the crash was Todd's wedding ring, which was found in the plane's wreckage and given to Taylor.

As for where the mysterious tip Pellicano received may have come from, he claimed it wasn't from the grave robber or robbers themselves, but someone who knew them. "I think they felt they made a tremendous mistake," he told The Chicago Sun-Times (via Chicago Magazine). "The information was volunteered to me. I'm a public figure, and I've handled many, many missing figures."

Who robbed Mike Todd's grave?

Who stole Mike Todd's remains is unknown to this day, although here are some theories that are certainly popular.

According to L.A. Observed, one of the most popular theories suggests that in 1983, a mob informant told police that two mobsters had committed the grave robbery itself. But the story goes a bit further and suggests that they were working on behalf of Pellicano, who had staged the robbery in an attempt at getting some publicity that would lead to being hired to work on the high-profile Helen Brach case. Brach disappeared in 1977 and was the heir to the Brach Candy Company fortune, according to ABC 7 Chicago. Her body was never found, but she was eventually declared legally dead.

That theory has never been proven despite widespread belief. "I've been hearing that story for years. It's a great story, but there's no way I would know if it's true. The guy is a legend here," lawyer Glen Crick told L.A. Observed. Crick was at one point the director of the state agency in charge of issuing private investigator licenses.

According to Variety, Pellicano was arrested in 2002 on charges of ​​wiretapping, racketeering, conspiracy, and wire fraud completely unrelated to the Mike Todd case. He spent 16 years in federal prison before he was released in 2019. In a January 2021 interview with Daily Mail he said he has a new firm, Pellicano Negotiations, specializing in such things as crisis management.