Beauty Queens Who Died Tragically

While beauty pageants can be a bit controversial these days, in the past they were huge, with the winners becoming celebrities on everything from a local to a worldwide level. Even now, the biggest events are televised, and competitions like Miss America say that they are working hard to move with the times, hoping to keep beauty pageants relevant.

While beauty queens represent the pinnacle of traditional femininity, with their classically beautiful features, heavy makeup, and elaborate gowns, after the show ends, things often turn out much uglier for the women who walked away with the crown. Like ... so often it is enough to scare any young woman off competing in ever competing in a beauty pageant again. For whatever reason, dozens of former pageant winners met really bad ends. Here are some of the many beauty queens who died tragically.

This article contains references to addiction, physical abuse, and suicide.

Miss Venezuela Monica Spear

Monica Spear was crowned Miss Venezuela in 2004 and went on to become a successful soap opera actor. But after moving to the United States, Spear's life was tragically cut short in 2014 on a return visit to her home country.

The BBC says she was one of many victims in a country with the second-highest murder rate of any nation in the world not currently at war. Spear, her partner Thomas Berry, and their 5-year-old daughter were traveling at night when they had to pull over after hitting something in the road that punctured two of their tires. Before help arrived, the family was attacked by a large gang known to be active in the area. All three were shot, with only the little girl surviving. Spear died at the scene; she was 29.

Her killing saw protests against Venezuela's out-of-control crime rate. Ten people were charged with the murders of Spear and Berry.

Miss Universe Hillevi Rombin Schine

Hillevi Rombin Schine was a classic overachiever. According to Vestkusten (via the California Digital Newspaper Collection), already a national decathlon champion, Hillevi Rombin won the title of Miss Sweden in 1955. She went on to compete in that year's Miss Universe competition, where she came out on top as well.

A film career in Hollywood was within her grasp, thanks to a contract with Universal and a small role opposite screen icon Errol Flynn, but Hillevi left it behind to marry producer David Schine. In between raising six children (all born within five years!), she chaired the costume department at the Los Angeles County Museum and got her pilot's license.

The beauty queen was not the only pilot in her family. In fact, her husband and most of her children knew how to fly. In 1996, it was Hillevi's son Frederick at the controls of a single-engine plane on its way from Burbank, California to San Francisco, with his mother and father as passengers, when they crashed immediately after takeoff, killing all three. Hillevi was 62.

Miss USA Cheslie Kryst

Cheslie Kryst made history in the predominantly white world of beauty pageants. In 2019, the Miss North Carolina won the Miss USA crown. That same year, Nia Franklin and Kaliegh Garris won Miss America and Miss Teen USA, respectively. According to the BBC, this marked the first time all three major beauty pageant winners were Black women.

Besides being beautiful and a role model, Kryst was an athlete, a lawyer working on prison reform, and a presenter on the entertainment TV show "Extra," per the BBC. However, you can never be sure from outward appearances what someone is going through on the inside, and Kryst had been open about her struggles with mental health.

Kryst died by suicide on January 30, 2022. She was 30 years old. Her family released a statement saying, "Her great light was one that inspired others around the world with her beauty and strength" and that she "embodied love and served others."

If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline​ at​ 1-800-273-TALK (8255)​.

Miss Alabama Zoe Sozo Bethel

Zoe Sozo Bethel was crowned Miss Alabama in 2021. Raised in a militant Christian family, as an adult, Bethel was involved in controversial conservative groups and organizations including Project Veritas, Liberty University, Right Side Broadcasting Network, and Turning Point USA, according to the New York Post.

In February 2022, Bethel sustained serious head injuries under mysterious circumstances that, as of this writing, have not been fully explained. What is known for sure is that she fell off her brother's 3rd-floor balcony in Miami. After a week in a coma, she died from traumatic brain injuries. She was 27.

Other than that, it's not clear how or why this occurred. Tabloids were all over the strange details, with the Daily Mail obtaining the police report, which stated Bethel had taken some kind of drug, may have suffered a breakdown, and run "full speed" at the balcony railing. While originally ruling it death by suicide, the police later changed their determination to accidental death. Bethel's family insists she was not suicidal. The police consider the matter closed, so we may never know why this tragedy really happened.

Miss Honduras Maria Jose Alvarado

Maria Jose Alvarado won the title of Miss Honduras in 2014 and should have been in competition for Miss World in December that same year. But the 19-year-old, who had dreams of being a diplomat, would never get the chance.

In November, according to Newsweek, Maria attended a party with her sister older Sofia Trinidad Alvarado, and Sofia's boyfriend Plutarco Antonio Ruiz. Police told the publication it's believed Sofia danced with another man and Ruiz used this as an excuse to kill her. Sometime after the sisters left the party, Ruiz shot Sofia to death, then Maria, and buried them with the help of accomplices.

It was six days before the women's bodies were found. In 2017, Ruiz was found guilty of both murders, with Sofia's being ruled "femicide," meaning it was a hate crime based on her gender.

If you or someone you know is dealing with domestic abuse, you can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−7233. You can also find more information, resources, and support at their website.

Miss Poland Agnieszka Kotlarska

Agnieszka Kotlarska won the Miss Poland title in 1991, per the AP, and went on to become a successful model for brands like Versace.

For about six weeks in 1996, Kotlarska must have felt extremely lucky that she escaped a horrible death. The model was originally scheduled to fly on TWA Flight 800, which crashed on July 17, killing everyone on board. But she had canceled her reservation at the last minute, saving her life.

Unfortunately, on August 27 that same year, she could not escape her stalker. According to the Polish publication Super Express, a man they call "Jerzy L." had been obsessed with the beauty queen for a long time and imagined they had some sort of relationship, even after she married and had a child. It's possible he discovered where Kotlarska was living from news reports about her narrow escape from the TWA crash. He accosted her family outside their house, stabbing Kotlarska to death in front of her husband and 3-year-old daughter. Kortlarska was 24.

Miss Russia finalist Svetlana Kotova

Svetlana Kotova was a finalist for Miss Russia in 1996, but she did not have long to enjoy her success. On New Year's Eve, according to the Hoover Institution, she met Alexander Solonik (a.k.a. Sasha Makedonsky) who they describe as "Russia's number one professional killer." Less than a month later, she joined him at a fancy villa in Greece.

Five days after she arrived, hired killers arrived at the villa, strangled Solonik, and killed Kotova. She was 21. The Scottish Daily Record (via The Free Library) reported that it took three months before her remains were found – workmen made the grisly discovery of the beauty queen's dismembered body in a shallow grave, with the Greek publication Kathimerini recording her remains were stuffed in a suitcase.

In 2016, hitman  Alexander Pustovalov was convicted of six murders, including those of Kotova and Solonik. However, more than one person was involved, and in 2022, it looked like another of her killers had been finally been arrested, although The National Herald says it turned out to be mistaken identity.

Miss Russia Alexandra Petrova

Alexandra Petrova, also known as Sacha, was crowned Miss Russia in 1996. According to an article in the Russian state publication Trud, written by a friend of Petrova, she did a bit of modeling and entered other beauty pageants, but nothing panned out and she returned to her hometown and enrolled in college.

In 2000, Petrova was just two days shy of her 20th birthday, and her friend had been planning to attend her party, but instead found himself at her funeral. The Scottish Daily Record (via The Free Library) reported that Petrova was in the wrong place at the wrong time, or rather, with the wrong people. Police believe a professional hit was put out on Radik Akhmetov and Konstantin Chuvilin, saying, "This well-planned crime was aimed at the two men, who were both known leaders of criminal groups in Cheboksary." The Russian mafia was trying to take over control of the town's market and saw market chief Akhmetov as standing in their way. Petrova was at his apartment when the hitman arrived and was shot to death, simply because she was there.

Miss Hungary Csilla Molnar

While trolls and harassment have found new avenues to destroy lives in the age of the internet, horrible people were perfectly capable of being their horrible selves long before then. Miss Hungary 1985 Csilla Molnar found this out the hard way. The country was still under communist control then and, according to the Los Angeles Times, beauty pageants were seen as suspect, made worse for the teenager after her win when rumors started that her dad knew members of the judging panel.

"I don't know whether I can bear this," she said in a radio interview. "Everybody is harassing me. They ask: 'Where and from whom did you get those beautiful clothes? Who helped you? Do you or your father have special connections with the jury?' And so on."

The harassment proved too much for the young girl. Molnar died by suicide in July 1986. She was just 17.

If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline​ at​ 1-800-273-TALK (8255)​.

Miss Mauritius Viveka Babajee

Viveka Babajee was crowned Miss Mauritius in 1993. While winning the title was a huge achievement, by 2010, things in Babajee's life were not going great. According to DNA India, she'd started a business that was not doing well and had a failed Bollywood movie career, plus was upset about her father's death (per NDTV). But the biggest problem seemed to be her turbulent and short-lived relationship with stockbroker Gautam Vora.

The Times of India reports that Vora initially denied the pair had been more than friends, although others close to Babajee said that even though they had only been dating a couple of months, they had been talking about marriage. Vora admits they had a fight on June 24, 2010, during or after which things in Babajee's apartment were smashed, and he left. Babajee died by suicide shortly thereafter. She was 37.

The police were initially suspicious of Vora, but he was cleared of any wrongdoing.

If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline​ at​ 1-800-273-TALK (8255)​.

Miss International Zambia Mofya Chisenga

Mofya Chisenga won multiple beauty pageants in the mid-2000s, including Miss International Zambia 2004, going on to represent her country in contests including Miss Tourism Queen International, Miss Leisure World, and Miss Universe, per the Lusaka Times. After her own pageant days ended, she went on to be a judge at the Miss Southern Africa Zambia contest in 2010, as well as working in modeling, TV presenting, and business, while also getting involved with charity work for orphans.

But she found happiness outside of work too, getting pregnant in 2011. However, the Post Zambia reported (via Bella Naija) that, while pregnant, Chisenga went to the hospital suffering from malaria. Three weeks after she was discharged for that issue, she returned with fluid in her lungs. Doctors successfully performed an emergency delivery of her baby, but Chisenga died less than 12 hours later from complications. She was 28.

While Chisenga's infant daughter survived the traumatic and premature birth, the Zambia Daily Mail Limited reported that, tragically, the girl died eight years later from undisclosed causes.

Miss India Nafisa Joseph

1997's Miss India winner Nafisa Joseph was a child model who went on to become a successful actor and TV presenter, according to China Daily. But Joseph's personal life was not so successful, with The Telegraph India reporting she'd had two serious relationships that ended in breakups before meeting businessman Gautam Khanduja.

The couple planned to get married in 2004, but only a month before their wedding, questions were raised by Joseph's family about if Khanduja, who had been married previously, had ever actually gotten divorced. In response, Khanduja allegedly called off the wedding, and Joseph got into a huge argument with her mother. Shortly after, Joseph died by suicide. She was 26 years old.

Her friends and family were shocked, with one saying she "had everything going for her." Alex Kuruvilla, Joseph's boss at MTV India, said, "We will always remember Nafisa as a warm, friendly, and cheerful person."

If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline​ at​ 1-800-273-TALK (8255)​.

Miss Argentina Solange Magnano

Solange Magnano was crowned Miss Argentina in 1994 and went on to have a long and successful modeling career before opening her own modeling agency, according to CNN. But by the time she was in her late 30s, being in a line of work where aging is frowned upon may have become difficult. For whatever reason, in 2009, Magnano decided to get plastic surgery.

She should have been in good hands. CNN says that Argentina had become a world-class destination for plastic surgery, with some of the most experienced doctors on the planet, and foreigners flying in to get cheaper work than in other locations, while an estimated 1 out of every 30 Argentinians had undergone some kind of elective surgery themselves. But during Magnano's butt lift procedure, something went wrong. She was rushed to the hospital but died there shortly after. Magnano was 37, and left behind 7-year-old twins.

Messages on social media pointed out what a tragedy it was. "You couldn't be any more beautiful than you already were," one person wrote. "You had to pay with your life."

Miss World Brazil finalist Mariana Bridi da Costa

Mariana Bridi da Costa competed in various international beauty pageants, including Miss Bikini International, and CNN reports that by the time she was 20 years old, she had already been a finalist in the Miss World Brazil competition twice. But a seemingly minor illness would cut her career and life tragically short.

In December 2008, da Costa felt sick and went to the doctor, where she was originally misdiagnosed with kidney stones. Finally, they realized da Costa really had a urinary tract infection, but according to WebMD, it was an unexpectedly serious one, caused by a rare and dangerous bacterium. By the time she was diagnosed, less than a month after feeling absolutely fine, da Costa was in real danger. The infection had developed into septicemia, which was causing necrosis.

Attempting to save her life, doctors eventually removed part of da Costa's stomach and both her kidneys, and amputated both her hands, then her feet. She was in a coma and needed a respirator to breathe. Sadly, da Costa died on January 24, 2009, aged 20.

Miss All South Texas Sweetheart Irene Garza

Irene Garza was crowned Miss All South Texas Sweetheart in 1958, before going to college and becoming a schoolteacher, Texas Monthly reports. In 1960, she left for church to give confession, then disappeared. Her body was discovered almost a week later in a canal, and a postmortem showed she'd been "beaten with a hard object and suffocated" as well as sexually assaulted. There was also evidence Garza may have been held captive for a day or so before she was killed. She was 25.

The priest at Garza's church, Father John Feit, was the obvious suspect from the beginning, according to CBS News. He admitted being the last known person to see her alive and changed his story multiple times. But it's now come out that the church protected Feit, even trying to get him moved to a monastery after the institution was aware he had murdered Garza.

Feit eventually left the priesthood, got married, and had children. In 2002, more evidence emerged he was Garza's killer, but it was not until 2017, when Feit was 85 years old, that he was convicted. He spent barely two years in jail before he died of a heart attack in 2020.

Woman of Sinaloa Maria Susana Flores Gamez

Maria Susana Flores Gamez had been competing in beauty pageants for a few years and going to college to prepare for a career in media. She'd taken the crown in Mexico's 2012 Woman of Sinaloa beauty pageant, although she failed to win the Our Beauty Sinaloa pageant, which CBS News says is "more prestigious" and feeds into the Miss Universe pageants.

But Flores Gamez had bigger problems than not getting every crown she competed for. In countries with big narcotics operations, drug cartels often recruit beauty queens, according to author Javier Valdez, who wrote the book "Miss Narco" on the subject. "There is a relationship, sometimes pleasant and sometimes tragic, between organized crime and the beauty queens, the pageants, the beauty industry itself," he explained.

Flores Gamez had gotten caught up in that world. In November 2012, she was involved in a shootout between the drug gang members she was with and the Mexican military, when she was killed. It's unclear if she fired a weapon herself, although an assault rifle was found near her body.

Little Miss Colorado JonBenét Ramsey

The most famous beauty pageant queen to die tragically, by far, was also the youngest. According to CNN, on December 26, 1996, the Ramsey family says they awoke to find the 6-year-old JonBenét missing, and a ransom note demanding $118,000. However, once the police were called, the girl's body was found in the basement of the house.

The murder quickly became a sensation, with pictures of the victim dolled up for various pageants splashed across the front page of every paper and magazine. JonBenét had many crowns to her name already, including Little Miss Colorado, Little Miss Charlevoix, Colorado State All-Star Kids Cover Girl, America's Royale Miss, and National Tiny Miss Beauty.

While true crime fans have been obsessed with her murder for decades now, it has never been solved. Suspicion fell on JonBenét's mother and brother at various times, although Patsy died of cancer in 2006 and Burke has sued over claims he might be the killer. In 2006, a man named John Mark Karr confessed to the crime, but after he was brought back to the U.S. from Thailand, DNA evidence ruled him out. As of December 2021, the Boulder Police Department says they are still actively working on the case using new technology.

America's Junior Miss Kiersten Rickenbach Cerveny

In 1995, Kiersten Rickenbach was crowned America's Junior Miss. NJ.com reports she went on to get a medical degree, became a successful dermatologist in New York City, got married to Andrew Cerveny, had three children, and lived in a million-dollar house on Long Island. On Facebook, her life looked "picture-perfect," according to the New York Post.

So her loved ones were shocked when Kiersten died from "acute cocaine and alcohol intoxication." A night out in the city with her girlfriends ended in the apartment of a drug-dealing ex-con in the company of a married, Emmy-winning TV producer. The men were seen carrying her body, in a state of undress, to the entrance of the apartment building before leaving her there, although one did call 911 first. Kiersten was pronounced dead at the hospital. She was 38.

The men Kiersten was with when she overdosed were sentenced to one year and five years in prison, for being an accessory after the fact and maintaining a drug distribution house, respectively.

If you or anyone you know is struggling with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

Miss Sucre Damarys Ruiz

Damarys Ruiz was 26 in 1973 when she represented the state of Sucre in the Miss Venezuela pageant. While she didn't win, the British tabloid the Daily Mail reports she had a lot more going for her, including a law degree.

But by 2000, Ruiz was living on the streets in Caracas. In 2005, she gave a rare interview to the TV program "100% Venezuela" (via El Farandi) explaining her situation. Ruiz claimed that she'd lived with her brother, and he'd been so abusive that she chose to become unhoused rather than stay with him. Ten years later, she was still unhoused when she died, her body found in a Caracas park. Ruiz's death was confirmed in various Spanish-language publications, including Mexico's Caras. She was 68.

While her family might not have cared, Ruiz did have friends later in life. One, Rosalba Gomes, who said she spoke with Ruiz a few times a week, was quoted in the Daily Mail as saying, "My cute little old lady. This lady was wonderful, educated, and a great conversationalist. She was a lawyer and studied several years in the university and had opinions about everything."

If you or someone you know is dealing with domestic abuse, you can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−7233. You can also find more information, resources, and support at their website.

Miss Williamston Leslie Mazzara

Leslie Mazzara won the Miss Williamston crown in 2002 and went on to compete in the Miss South Carolina pageant, according to WIS10 News. Two years later, after graduating from the University of Georgia, she made a big move across the country to California.

But she had been there less than six months when she was the victim of a horrific and senseless crime. On Halloween night in 2004, Mazzara was murdered, along with her roommate Adriane Michelle Insogna. A man broke into the home they were renting together in Napa Valley and stabbed both the 26-year-old women to death. A third roommate heard the attacks and was able to escape to safety.

ABC News reports it took almost a year before a suspect was arrested – and it turned out to be Eric Copple, an acquaintance who had been at the women's housewarming party and who, two months after he committed the murders, married a friend of the victims. He even invited Adriane Michelle Insogna's mother to give a reading at his wedding. SFGate reports Copple pleaded guilty to avoid the death penalty and was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. He didn't give a motive for the murders, although one police officer testified Copple told him he'd gotten drunk and didn't remember killing the women.

Miss Tourism Genesis Carmona

In 2013, Genesis Carmona won the Miss Tourism competition for the Venezuelan state of Carabobo, a big deal in a country that really loves its beauty pageants. But it would be coming fifth a year later during a very different event that would bring her a new level and type of fame.

According to the International Business Times, Carmona participated in the 2014 protests against Hugo Chavez's successor as Venezuelan president, Nicolas Maduro. Carmona was the fifth person to die due to the unrest, in her case, shot in the head by an unknown gunman during a protest in support of opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez.

A photo of the beauty queen being driven to a hospital in the arms of a man riding on the back of a small motorcycle became an iconic image of the fight against a tyrannical government. Despite being rushed into surgery and then to intensive care, Carmona died of her wounds. She was 22 years old.

Ulster Rose Of Tralee Michaela McAreavey

In 2004, according to the Irish Independent, Michaela Harte represented the province of Ulster in the Rose of Tralee pageant. She already had a taste of fame through her father, a successful Gaelic football manager. But her tragic death would bring notoriety of the worst kind.

After her wedding in 2011, the beauty queen became Michaela McAreavey, and the BBC reports that she jetted off to Mauritius with her new husband John for their honeymoon. What should have been a dream vacation ended in horror when she was found strangled in her hotel bathtub less than two weeks after she said, "I do." She was 27.

While two men who worked at the hotel were arrested and tried, they were found not guilty in 2012. Since then, the trail has gone cold. In June 2021, the Mauritian government agreed to reopen the case, but only a few months later, one of the key witnesses died, per the BBC. Michaela's widower John has vowed to get justice, despite the setback.

Miss Hollywood Jill Ann Weatherwax

Jill Ann Weatherwax was crowned Miss Hollywood in 1991 and subsequently got a recording contract. According to the Tri-County Times, she led a "jet-setting life," recording two albums and working on a third, but at some point, things seem to have gone wrong. The Los Angeles Times reports she was arrested three times in the year before she died, for drug possession and public intoxication.

In 1998, Weatherwax was seen leaving a motel and getting into a car with three men in Fresno, California. Her body was found the next day in a muddy field behind an animal shelter. She had been stabbed to death. Weatherwax was 27. "It's one of those tragic endings that we often see when someone becomes involved in a spiral of drug use that turns into prostitution, that ultimately ends in murder," Police Lt. Jerry Davis said at the time. Her father rejected this explanation, however, saying the family had spoken to Weatherwax the night before she died and that just because her body was dumped in that area did not mean she had been engaging in sex work.

Despite a flurry of reports on the murder over the years in magazines, books, and the TV shows "E! True Hollywood Stories," "Inside Edition," and "America's Most Wanted," the murder of Jill Ann Weatherwax has never been solved.