Homicides in Tinseltown are nothing new. With an estimated annual average of 300-400 killings per year in the city of Los Angeles, we hear about a new murder occurring there practically every day. But yet there are those cases that stand out and, for whatever reason, seem to stick with us. Whether it’s because the details are particularly gruesome or the perpetrator was never caught — perhaps the victim is our favorite movie (or porn movie) star — something about these particular tragedies strikes a chord.
Here are six notorious gay-related (or, in some cases, gay-speculated) murders that continue to fascinate us.
Ramón Novarro was a handsome Mexican-born actor whose career began in silent films. He worked with both Greta Garbo and Joan Crawford, and during his lifetime was best known for playing the title role in the 1925 version of Ben-Hur. Nowadays, his name sadly conjures up a more grisly memory: that of his brutal murder at age 69. Unable to reconcile his Catholic faith with his love of men, the aging Novarro sought comfort in alcohol and hustlers. On the night of October 30, 1968, Novarro hired two young brothers, aged 17 and 22. Exactly what happened isn’t known, but it’s believed the young men were after a big wad of cash they thought was hidden in the house, and the defenseless actor was reportedly tortured for hours in the hopes he’d give it up. While rumors that he was suffocated with a lead dildo molded from the penis of his friend Rudolph Valentino have never been confirmed, Novarro did, in fact, die from choking on his own blood and the killers walked away with $20. Both were soon apprehended, convicted, and then later paroled.
The head and feet of gay porn model Billy London (who also worked as a producer under the name Bill E. London; his true name was William Arnold Newton) were found in a dumpster in an alley behind Santa Monica Boulevard on October 28, 1990. The star of Bulge: Mass Appeal, Hard Choices, Head of the Class, Hot Wired, Imperfect Strangers, and Sex Drive 2020 had reportedly been kidnapped prior to his murder and dismemberment. The case was never solved, though the original lead detective, Wendi Brandt, announced in 2005 that she was reinvestigating the case after being made supervisor of the LAPD Homicide Unit, Hollywood Division.
On the night of February 12, 1976, fifties teen idol and Rebel Without a Cause star Sal Mineo returned home following a rehearsal for the play P.S. Your Cat Is Dead. After parking his car in the carport below his West Hollywood apartment, the 37-year-old actor was stabbed in the heart by a mugger who quickly fled the scene. Police pursued all kinds of leads but assumed the crime to be the result of some sort of “homosexual motivation.” Three years later, pizza deliveryman Lionel Ray Williams was convicted of the murder and a number of local robberies. Williams, who claimed he had no idea who the actor was at the time of the stabbing, had bragged about the murder and his wife later confirmed that on the night Mineo died, Williams had come home with blood on his shirt. He was paroled in the early 1990s. Learn more about the investigation in Michael Gregg Michaud’s definitive biography Sal Mineo.
Best known for his portrayal of Barnaby Tucker in the 1969 film version of Hello, Dolly!, actor and dancer Danny Lockin’s final performance occurred on an August 21, 1977 taping of The Gong Show, where he and his dance partner tied for first place. To celebrate their victory, the pair decided to go for a drink at The Mug, a gay bar in Garden Grove. Danny was later seen leaving the establishment with a 34-year-old regular named Charles Leslie Hopkins. Hours later, Hopkins called police to say he’d been robbed. But upon showing up at his apartment, cops found the body of Lockin, who’d been stabbed nearly 100 times. Since only six of the stab wounds turned out to be fatal, it was believed Danny had not only bled out but that he’d been tortured and stabbed repeatedly after his death. Despite the discovery of what the press referred to as a “torture diary” (which featured Polaroids of the murder and led authorities to believe the crime was premeditated) at the residence, police had failed to secure a proper search warrant and the book was ruled inadmissible. Hopkins was found guilty of voluntary manslaughter and was sentenced to four years in jail.
Ned Doheny & Hugh Plunkett
Gifted to Edward L. “Ned” Doheny, Jr. by his oil magnate father, Greystone Mansion was California’s second largest home (after William Randolph Heart’s castle at San Simeon) when it was built in 1928. And four months after Ned, his wife Lucy, and their five children moved in, it became the scene of one of Hollywood’s most notorious and unsolved double murder cases. On February 16, 1929, Doheny Junior and his boyhood-friend-turned-personal secretary Hugh Plunkett were found in and near a guest bedroom, the apparent victims of a murder-suicide. At the time, it was believed Plunkett murdered Ned over a salary dispute, then turned the gun on himself. However, the fact that the devoutly Catholic Doheny was not laid to rest in a Catholic cemetery and was instead buried a few yards away from Plunkett in Glendale’s secular Forest Lawn, gave rise to speculation that the two were more than friends and that the quarrel hadn’t been over money — and that Doheny’s wife Lucy might have killed the less-than-discreet pair. Years earlier, both men had been embroiled in a scandal along with E.L. Doheny, Sr., involving a $100,000 cash bribe to President Warren G. Harding’s Secretary of the Interior, Albert B. Fall over the leasing of oil reserves in Wyoming. (This, too, was shrouded in mystery: In 1929, Fall was convicted of accepting bribes from the elder Doheny, while a year later Doheny was found not guilty of paying them.) Doheny’s widow remarried and remained in the house until 1955. Greystone Mansion became a city park in 1971.
William Desmond Taylor
Director and occasional actor William Desmond Taylor was rich and very powerful in the movie industry, having worked with and won the admiration of the day’s top stars like Mary Pickford, Wallace Reid, and Mary Miles Minter. He also had a reputation as a ladies man, so when the 49-year-old Taylor was found shot in the back in his L.A. bungalow on the morning of February 2, 1922, it was easy to assume a disgruntled mistress had pulled the trigger. But were his womanizing ways a front? Was the director secretly gay? Was his openly gay valet, Henry Peavey — on whose behalf Taylor was scheduled to appear in court on a sexual misconduct allegation the following day — responsible for procuring men for the handsome director? Was Taylor being blackmailed? One day before he was killed, the famous director had taken $2,500 from his bank account — which he mysteriously re-deposited in the final hours of his life. Nearly a century later, Taylor’s murder remains officially unsolved yet continues to inspire writers to speculate, as evidenced William J. Mann’s sensational new suspense novel Tinseltown.