The Truly Horrific Crime Scene Of The Dorothy Stratten Murder

This story contains graphic details of intimate partner abuse, violence, and sexual assault.

In 1980, 20-year-old Dorothy Stratten seemed set to have a long, successful career in Hollywood ahead of her. Seemingly plucked from obscurity as a teenager living in Vancouver, British Columbia, in 1977, in practically no time at all she began appearing in Playboy and booking movie roles after moving to Los Angeles in 1978. But her life came to an abrupt end as the victim of a murder-suicide at the hand of her estranged husband, Paul Snider.

The story of Stratten's murder, in a lot of ways, was intrinsically tied to her status as a rising star. Snider was not only Stratten's husband — he was also the one who "discovered" the then-17-year-old Stratten while she was working behind the counter of a Dairy Queen in Vancouver. From there, Snider — a man with an undeniably seedy past — passed her photos along to Playboy, which proved to be the catalyst for her career in modeling, and later, acting. Sadly, In a strange circular way, the man who started her career also ended it (via ABC News).

Dorothy Stratten meets Paul Snider

According to a 2020 piece by Global News, Stratton was born Dorothy Ruth Hoogstraten in 1960. Her parents were immigrants who had come to Canada from the Netherlands. To help them pay the bills, Stratten got a part-time job at Dairy Queen as a teenager, a position she held throughout high school, per ABC News.

Around this time, Paul Snider, then 26, was working as a promoter for car and motorcycle shows — but on the side, he also operated as a pimp. According to The Village Voice, Snider was known around town for his flashy style, which included fur coats, expensive jewelry, and driving a black Corvette. Though Snider spent some time in Los Angeles before meeting Stratten, in 1978, he was back in his Vancouver hometown. 

It was around that time he, along with a friend, fatefully walked into a Dairy Queen and spotted Stratten behind the counter. Per The Village Voice, Snider immediately spotted how Stratten's beauty could serve as a vehicle to his own fortune and fame; per the publication, Snider told his friend that the teen "could make me a lot of money." Indeed, Snider had just found his ticket in the form of a young Dorothy Hoogstraten, who would quickly become Dorothy Stratten.

Dorothy Straten in Hollywood

Paul Snider eventually convinced Dorothy Stratten to pose nude so he could have her professionally photographed and enter her for consideration as a model for Playboy magazine, per The Village Voice. The gambit worked. She subsequently appeared in the magazine as Playmate of the Month for August 1979, and then started working as a Playboy Bunny at the Playboy Club in Los Angeles. According to ABC News, Snider and Stratten eventually married, though Snider was unliked by just about everyone in the Playboy circle, including its founder, Hugh Hefner.

Snider had been Stratten's manager from the jump, but as her career heated up, those duties were taken on by people more qualified to handle them. It also took away a large part of the control he had over her. Stratten was named Playmate of the Year in 1980, the same year she began to pursue (and get) parts in film roles. One film, "They All Laughed," saw her onscreen alongside big names like Audrey Hepburn and John Ritter, and under the direction of another Hollywood legend, Peter Bogdanovich.

By this time, Stratten's marriage to Snider was falling apart, and she began an affair with none other than Bogdonavich. According to Global News, Snider grew increasingly jealous as his wife needed him less and less, eventually hiring a private investigator to follow her.

The grisly murder of Dorothy Stratten

On August 13, 1980, Paul Sniders' jealousy reached its peak when he purchased a 12-gauge shotgun from a private seller he found in a classified ad. The next day, August 14, 1980, Stratten arrived at the home she used to share with Snider to discuss the terms of their impending divorce. According to ABC News, she had kept quiet about her plans to meet Snider, as everyone close to her — including Hefner and Bogdonavich — advised her not to go anywhere near her estranged husband.

Later that night, two of Snider's roommates went to check on both Stratten and Snider and found both of them lying naked on the floor, dead. It was later reported that Snider had sexually assaulted Stratten before shooting her in the face with the shotgun. He then turned the gun on himself.

Patti Laurman, a woman who had also been "discovered" by Snider and was living with him at his residence, was one of the first to come across the murder scene. "It looked like it was a horror movie — a staged horror movie," she said, per ABC News. "That's a picture that never goes away, a mental picture that's stuck in here forever."

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.

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).