Saturday, June 29, 2024

Hope Springs Eternal — Despite Bob Crane's Unsolved Murder

Nearly fifty years ago, sometime before dawn on Thursday, June 29, 1978, in Scottsdale, Arizona, Bob Crane was murdered. 

The Hogan's Heroes star went to sleep just a few hours before, wearing only a pair of boxer shorts, and exhausted from the events of the previous day. He had been starring in and directing his play, Beginner's Luck, at the Windmill Dinner Theatre. After that evening's performance ended, he signed autographs in the theatre lobby. He loved his fans, and he enjoyed connecting with them. 

Immediately following, he met up with John Henry Carpenter, a Sony rep who was more of a hanger-on than his so-called "best friend." For nearly a decade, Carpenter routinely traveled cross-country to meet up with Bob in various cities while Bob was performing in his play. The pair had one thing in common—they liked video equipment and having sex with women. Lots of women. Women from every walk of life, from the very, very rich, to those with barely two nickels to rub together. All of it was consensual. No force or drugs were involved. No money exchanged. The women who agreed to participate also often took part in Bob's amateur pornography. Again, all was consensual. All willingly. They all knew and were willing participants, facts proven during the murder investigation and again confirmed in recent years. It was, as Bob wanted, all for enjoyment and a good time.

But something was bothering the famous actor. It was no longer a good time for him. He had begun to realize that his lifestyle was taking over his life, personally and professionally. Both of his marriages had suffered from it. His children were starting to ask questions that he could not answer honestly without calling himself a good father. And if there was one thing Bob Crane prided himself on, it was being a good father to his children. He was losing out on landing acting roles. Disney had fired him for it. His edge in Hollywood was slipping. The very institutions in which he had been most successful—radio and television—had started to shun him. He needed to make a change. So he reached out for help from an addiction counselor. Privately. Without fanfare or announcement. And with that first step, had started to receive that help.

So on the night of June 28, 1978, their plans did not include finding women to bed. First, he and Carpenter discovered that his rental car, parked outside the theatre, had a flat tire. After getting the car to a service station not far from the theatre and having the tire changed, they went out to eat at a local restaurant, Bobby McGee's. A waitress working that night observed their behavior. They seemed cold, argumentative, and tense in each other's company. Unlike Carpenter's other visits with Bob on the road, instead of carousing the town looking for women, Carpenter was getting the cold shoulder. It is suspected that during this encounter, Bob told Carpenter he was done with this lifestyle of casual sex. Bob was cutting him out. As his counselor had explained to him, he had to "do surgery." Surgery is painful. And Carpenter did not seem pleased. This likely was upsetting to Bob. He wanted to be friends with everybody. He didn't want to anger anyone. He never wanted to intentionally rock the boat.

They left the restaurant and returned to Bob's condo at Winfield Place, where Bob was staying during the run of Beginner's Luck. There, Bob took a call from his estranged wife, Patricia Olson (Sigrid Valdis, "Hilda" on Hogan's Heroes), back home in California. Carpenter would later testify that they argued over the phone. Bob's neighbors in the condominium complex also reported that they heard him shouting, and they thought, "If he keeps this up, he won't be able to perform in his play tomorrow night."

Their concern foreshadowed an ominous ending. Bob Crane would not be able to perform in Beginner's Luck the following night—or any night—ever again. For sometime after Carpenter allegedly left the condo and returned to the Sunburst Hotel just a few blocks away, Bob had been savagely beaten to death with what police believe was a camera tripod. The murder weapon has never been found. Hit twice on the head, the first blow caused instant brain damage. The second blow ended his life. A nearby electrical wire was tied tightly around his neck in a symbolic bow. A white, flakey substance was found on his thigh. A mysterious black bag had gone missing.

The crime scene was grisly and not for the faint of heart. Victoria Berry Wells, the actress starring in Beginner's Luck with Bob, discovered his body the next day. She had gone to check on him after he missed an appointment with her to record a demo for a new pilot he was working on. It was unlike him to ever miss a professional appointment. He also missed a luncheon appearance. Upon entering the bedroom, she thought she saw a woman with long, dark hair in his bed. At first, she thought she found a woman dead in his condo. Only it wasn't a woman. It was Bob Crane. What she first thought was long, dark hair, was Bob's blood from the contusions, seeping out across the pillow and sheets. The castoff blood stained everything in close proximity to his lifeless body. Perhaps the only consolation in Bob's murder is that he never knew what hit him. He went to bed, went to sleep, and never woke up. He likely felt no pain. Just instant death. Fast. Like a lightning bolt.

Bob Crane was only 49 years old, just two weeks shy of his 50th birthday on July 13th. He left behind grief-stricken family, friends, and colleagues, and stunned and heart-broken fans. Yet in the wake of his murder, his privacy was invaded. Every single aspect of his life was examined and put on display for public analysis and judgment. And the public consumption of the murder of Bob Crane and the sex scandal that was born from it has been nothing short of a feeding frenzy, a money maker, and click bait.

To this very day, what remains of Bob Crane's legacy is not his unprecedented work in radio (his colleagues called him a radio genius); his generous contributions to charities, including veterans organizations, fund raisers for those in need, the Cerebral Palsy Foundation, and more; his genuine love of his family; his caring concern and love of his friends; his gift of drumming and music; his talents as an actor; his adoration of his fans; and his struggles to become a better person. Instead, what remains is a shell—a tale of three aspects: the star of Hogan's Heroes, a murder victim, and a tabloid headline. All perspective lost, he became the butt of jokes. A punchline to incessant mockery. 

This unhappy anniversary unleashes a deluge of commentary, from the kind-hearted to the obscene, all with opinions about what they think they know. Many are steeled against the truth about Bob Crane because they refuse to see past their own skewed, false narrative. We are here to set the record straight. You can help.

Notes on the Annual Fortnight of Willful Ignorance
(TL;DR — the trolls are coming as Bob’s death anniversary and birthday approach. What does that mean to us as fans?)

It’s that dreaded time of year where we have to be on a special lookout for the willfully, proudly, insistently ignorant.

Yes, that’s right—June 29th marks the anniversary of Bob Crane’s murder, and on the 13th of July, it’s his birthday (this year he would have been 96).

During this time, there are some well-meaning posts by people seeking to remember Bob kindly, and for his timeless work as Colonel Robert E. Hogan from Hogan’s Heroes

Without a single exception, there are also the trolls, from every corner of the Internet: armchair detectives, social media keyboard warriors, and uninformed news outlets looking for clicks. You’ve all see the comments:
  • “Bob was a freak.”
  • “Bob was murdered because of his sex stuff. What did you expect?”
  • “I think Bob was gay. And killed by a drug dealer. Didn’t he do stuff to kids?”
  • “Didn’t his wife do it?” and “It had to be his best friend.”
  • “Watch the movie. It tells you all you need to know.”
Want to help defend the real Bob Crane against the trolls? Let us help you with some truths:
  • Bob was a sex addict. An addict. Like drugs and alcohol, or gambling, or food. YES, we have spoken with the experts—psychologists, addiction therapists, and Bob's own counselor. NO, his addiction was not an excuse to cheat on his wife. If that were the case, it would have been one or two women, even ten. Not hundreds. And yes, he was seeking help for his addiction, which he came to understand as such, even though in those days, very little was understood about it. He kept his struggles and counseling sessions to himself. 
  • We don’t know why Bob was murdered. All we know is that it had to be someone who had a very deep, personal hatred of Bob. The murder was very personal, and the after-events point to it being a bit more than just some passing event.
  • No, Bob was definitely not gay. Even if he were, why would it matter? 
  • It is suspected that Carpenter was angry with Bob for cutting him out of his life. Carpenter may very well have been upset, but upset enough to kill him? What is not widely known is that Carpenter had many other celebrities he glommed onto, including Richard Dawson. His connection with Bob Crane may have been ending, but his lifestyle of carousing with other stars who enjoyed a lifestyle of casual sex in order to get the "leftovers" was not. 
  • No, he was not killed by a drug dealer (Bob didn’t do drugs and he didn’t drink). 
  • No, he was not killed by the mob (a mob hit is clean; this was a messy crime scene).
  • No, he was not killed by his wife. First, Patty had an iron-clad alibi and was placed very specifically in another state at the time of his murder. Further, police forensics indicated it could NOT have been a woman. Ultimately, there was nothing to be gained by her from his death—there was no money to be had. In fact, Bob's business manager was embezzling from him, which kept him on the road with Beginner's Luck and taking guest-starring roles just to keep the money coming in. Following the murder, Patty and their son Scott had to move out of their upper-class home into a lower-class neighborhood, and eventually out of California altogether. (Listen to Scott tell you himself here.) Patty was well aware of her husband's proclivities, and sources (immediate family members and corroborated in print by his relatives in Connecticut) stated she and Bob were trying to reconcile shortly before he was killed. Bob himself noted in his datebook how he and Patty were working on reconciliation. Finally, there is a video filmed in Scottsdale less than two weeks before his murder, which we have and that Scott Crane has also shared publicly on occasion, showing Bob and Patty spending a very loving, gentle Father’s Day weekend together.
  • “Best friend” is the term people usually use to describe John Henry Carpenter. He wasn’t Bob’s "best friend." Bob had many friends who adored him. His true best friends was his school friend Charlie Zito and California neighbor Harvey Geller and his cousin Jim Senich. Carpenter was merely a hanger-on. Outside of Carpenter being an enabler, Bob didn’t need him. Bob allowed him to hang around because they shared a similar interest in womanizing, and Carpenter was a Sony rep who supplied Bob with parts for his video equipment. In return, Carpenter got, for lack of a better term, Bob’s “seconds."
  • “The movie” about Bob… isn’t really a movie about Bob. It’s called AutoFocus. The film's producer and star have admitted it’s full of lies, half-truths, and exaggerations. Because who wants to know about the good Bob? That would be boring! (We think the whole movie was boring, and a bit of a train wreck, but then so did Hollywood, so we’re not alone there). Learn more about that here
What can you do?
  • SPEAK UP. When someone says they were told by Bob’s sister that A,B, C, happened, speak up—Bob didn’t have a sister
  • Be insistent! It’s TRUE! Addiction is addiction, no matter what type it is. 
  • Bob’s wife was two states away. 
  • Police botched the crime scene. 
  • It could not have been a woman.
  • Bob was not gay. 
  • Carpenter was not his best friend. 
  • Lead them to the sources.
    This one holds them all:
No, we don’t “plug our book." We lead to the truth. We are endorsed and supported by the Bob Crane Estate and other members of his family. We give away most of our information, and we do not take ANY profits from sales of the book. This was 12 years of hard work researching talking with hundreds of people from his life, from birth to death, and another two years writing, and it is ongoing, all aimed at setting the record straight. 

On our website, you’ll find podcasts, radio shows, and television programs on which we have been guests (discussing many different aspects of Bob’s life and death), as well as our own (Flipside: The True Story of Bob Crane)—where you will find different topics covered, such as Bob’s radio career, his work on Hogan’s Heroes, his early life, his murder (separating fact from fiction), “that movie,” breaking down the TV show Autopsy: the Last Hours of Bob Crane (on which Linda Groundwater was interviewed), and more. There are excerpts of the interviews that we did for our book, as well as a rare interview with Bob’s son Scott, who ONLY talks with us.

All of this exists, and yet people insist we don’t know what we’re talking about. They tell us we’re lying to plug the book. They tell us that we are whitewashing the truth. None of that is true

In Closing
Two days before his murder, Bob told a local newspaper reporter, Jimm Ingolio, that if he had to write his autobiography, he would have called it Laughing All the Way to the Grave. When we talked with Ingolio for Bob Crane: The Definitive Biography, he told us that Bob "was affable, humorous, and seemed to enjoy our conversation. I kept the questions light and let him cover the points he wanted to make. There was no hint of stress or anxiety. He didn't rush through my questions, and it ended quite cordially. He was looking forward to his next show and was eager to speak with me."

A couple of weeks earlier, when Bob arrived in Scottsdale to start the run of the play, he told Rod McCann, a Phoenix television host, that he was an optimist. "Hope springs eternal," he said. "I'm the guy who assumes there's a pony buried underneath all of that stuff." Listen to this interview here.

Bob loved life, and he had a whole life ahead of him. He loved his work. He enjoyed his fans. He loved his family and cherished his friends. He recognized his struggles and was trying to become a better person. He didn't expect to be murdered and didn't want to die. In his very short 49 years, he gave us all he could. 

Let’s give something back.