Jenny Maxwell was the bubbly blonde actress from Blue Hawaii whose sudden and savage demise remains one of Hollywood’s many unsolved mysteries.
1. She Remains A Mystery
The life and ultimate demise of Jenny Maxwell has fascinated Hollywood historians and internet sleuths alike for the better part of five decades. Her sudden rise to fame and familial connections to A-listers made her fodder for the tabloids. But it was ultimately her brutal demise at the hands of an alleged burglar that really made her famous.
2. She Had Humble Beginnings
Jenny Maxwell had very humble beginnings as the daughter of a Norwegian construction worker. We don’t know much about her childhood except that she was an only child and her parents “coddled” her. But to really understand Maxwell’s story, we have to start at the end: the brutal, bloody, and barbaric afternoon of June 10, 1981.
3. Her Husband Wasn’t Usually Chivalrous
Maxwell’s estranged husband, Ervin “Tip” Roeder, surprised her with an uncharacteristic display of chivalry. He offered to drive the 39-year-old former starlet home following some minor surgery at Cedars-Sinai hospital.
Against the advice of her friends, Maxwell accepted Roeder’s unexpected offer and he picked her up around midday on June 10, 1981. Only hours later, both Maxwell and Roeder would be in desperate need of a hospital once again.
4. She Had A Pleasant Afternoon
By all accounts, Maxwell and Roeder enjoyed a pleasant afternoon together—one of the few times they were not fighting like cats and dogs. Roeder had taken Maxwell to lunch and then drove her back to her condo where she had been living for almost a year as their divorce played out.
As a true gentleman, he made sure to walk her through the lobby to the elevator. But they were both going down.
5. She Lost Her Head
Without warning, a burglar appeared in the lobby. The unidentified assailant confronted a stunned Maxwell and Roeder. Then the situation quickly deteriorated. Within minutes, Jenny Maxwell’s lifeless body lay on the ground in an ever-expanding pool of blood, with a dire head injury.
Next to her, Roeder screamed for help as he, too, bled out on the ground. This was not how Maxwell’s Hollywood story was supposed to end.
6. She Was Descended From Hollywood Royalty
By all accounts, Maxwell was born a long way from the glitz and glam—or the blood-and-thunder—of Hollywood. Her parents didn’t know anything about show business or the seedy characters that came with it and she wasn’t born with a silver spoon in her mouth. But she was a lot closer to Hollywood royalty than even she knew.
7. She Had A Familiar Look
When she did, eventually, find her way into Hollywood it didn't take Maxwell long to dazzle audiences. Her blonde hair, “wide-set eyes,” and “thin, mischievous smile” fascinated movie and television audiences alike. They just couldn’t help but feel like they had seen her distinctive look somewhere else before. Perhaps in another blonde beauty.
8. She Had A Famous Cousin
Without even knowing it, Maxwell was practically Hollywood royalty—even before she stepped in front of a camera. Newspapers and television shows revealed that Maxwell’s mother had been born in the same remote Norwegian town as another famous blonde’s mother. Between her familiar looks and similar heritage, there was no denying a connection.
9. She Was A Mini-Monroe
Thanks to an admittedly “convoluted tale," the tabloids linked Maxwell to a consummate blonde beauty. None other than Marilyn Monroe herself. Both of their mothers had been born in the same small Norwegian town, making it an almost certain fact that Maxwell and Monroe were distant cousins. Evidently, tragedy ran in their family’s genes.
10. She Didn’t Have To Work Hard
Despite her familial connections, Maxwell had to make it in Hollywood all on her own. Thanks to those signature Norwegian looks, however, she was more than capable of forging her own path. In fact, much like her more famous cousin, all she really had to do to break her way into the industry was look at a camera. Her blonde locks did the rest.
11. She Came Running
Maxwell got her big break before she got her driver’s license. In 1958, famed Hollywood director Vincente Minnelli spotted Maxwell at her drama school in Brooklyn. He knew immediately that he had found a star and invited her to Hollywood to audition for a role in Some Came Running. She definitely did go running.
Running right to fame, fortune, and a fatal finale.
12. She Got A Taste Of Fame
Minnelli wanted Maxwell to audition for the role of Dawn Hirsh in Some Came Running. If she landed the role, she would have starred alongside none other than Frank Sinatra—in her on-screen debut, no less. The film would have turned her into an overnight sensation. Unfortunately, she didn’t get the role. But she did get a taste of fame.
13. She Made It On The Silver Screen
Even though she didn’t get to star opposite Sinatra for her big screen debut, Maxwell still hung around in Hollywood. With her blonde locks and vivacious personality, she easily landed roles in some of the biggest hit television series of the time. The only thing more important than landing TV roles, however, was landing a man.
14. She Wrapped Up Rapp
While working her way through the television circuit, Maxwell met Paul W Rapp. Tabloids had linked the up-and-coming assistant director to yet another bodacious blonde, Sandra Dee. In the end, however, Maxwell was the one calling it a “wrap” on Rapp. Their nearly four-year marriage was scandalous enough to keep the tabloids in business.
15. She Was Too Young
Different sources give different dates for Maxwell’s marriage to Rapp. According to some, the little starlet was just 16 when the couple said their “I dos”. According to others, they dutifully waited until her 18th birthday. Either way, the couple married without informing Maxwell’s parents. And the little blonde was too young for the stresses of their marriage.
16. She Was Impish
Those who knew Maxwell even before she became famous described her as a “bubbly, strong-willed, and charismatic imp”. Her somewhat devious charms made her an instant success in the City of Stars and she made friends with some of the biggest stars in the sky. Or, technically speaking, on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
17. She Had Famous Friends
Even though she was married, Maxwell was still a “party girl”. As her career took off, she began hanging out at all of the hottest Hollywood haunts in the company of her famous friends. The tabloids frequently spotted her out and about with the likes of Sharon Tate and Peggy Lipton. Much like Tate, Maxwell would meet her end in a pool of blood thanks to a crazed madman.
18. She Starred Alongside “The King”
Considering how turbulent it would have been, Maxwell and Rapp’s marriage lasted longer than anyone had anticipated. Surprisingly, she even found time between her rows with Rapp to further her acting career. In fact, her close working relationship with the “King of Rock and Roll” might have contributed to her marital troubles.
19. She Made Her Husband Jealous
Maxwell finally got her big break in 1961 when she starred alongside none other than Elvis Presley in the hit film, Blue Hawaii. In the movie, Maxwell shares an iconic cinematic moment with the King of Rock and Roll that was sure to make her husband, Rapp, turn Hawaiian blue with jealousy. She had a habit of making her husbands jealous.
20. She Was Naughty
Cinephiles know Maxwell most for two things: the mystery surrounding her grizzly demise and the moment she shared on screen with Elvis Presley. In a memorable scene in 1961’s Blue Hawaii, Presley gives Maxwell’s spoiled brat character a playful smack on the rump while at the beach. The flirtatious scene titillated audiences but it enraged Maxwell’s husband.
21. Her Husband Was “Fanatical”
It wasn’t until Maxwell filed for divorce in 1963 that the world learned how horrible her marriage to Rapp had been. She testified that, during the four years of their marriage, Rapp had been “extremely possessive and overly jealous, to the point of being fanatical”. The only good thing to come out of their marriage was their son, Brian.
But Rapp tried to deny her even that.
22. She Lost Her Baby
Messy divorce proceedings became a theme in Maxwell’s brief life. Her divorce from Rapp turned ugly when he tried to take full custody of their son, Brian. Because he had a more stable career, the courts granted him custody while only giving Maxwell visitation. To make matters worse, her career stalled. But she was a fighter.
23. She Started To Lose Everything
The early 1960s should have been Maxwell’s time to go from starlet to supernova. Instead, however, her life fell apart. With her marriage in shambles, her career took a nosedive and she lost custody of her son. She even became estranged from her parents who looked down on her high-flying Hollywood lifestyle. She was just never one to give up.
24. She Made A Comeback
Maxwell quickly put the pieces of her broken life back together again. She reconciled with her parents and landed major roles in Take Her, She’s Mine and My Three Sons. With a more stable career, she regained custody of her son and secured monthly support payments from Rapp. Her sudden resurgence in film, however, only confirmed one thing for her.
25. She Gave It All Up
By 1968, Maxwell had Hollywood eating out of the palm of her hand. With a breakthrough role in the hit television series The Wild Wild West, she was on her way to superstardom. Then she stunned the world when she announced that she would be stepping back from the limelight in order to focus on raising her son.
She had less time with him than she imagined.
26. She Had To Find A Man
Maxwell’s film and television career ended just as abruptly and unexpectedly as it had begun. But just because she had retired early didn’t mean that she had given up on life in the fast lane. Following her early retirement, Maxwell began dating a man who was wrong for her in every way. She had no idea how wrong he truly was.
27. She Got A “Tip”
At just 27, Maxwell still had her looks and all of her bubbly charms. The one thing she didn’t have, however, was a way to support herself and her son, Brian. That’s why she quickly began dating Ervin “Tip” Roeder, a man who was more than 20 years older than she was. You could assert that Roeder robbed her of her youth—and significantly curtailed her life.
28. Her Boyfriend Had Elite Friends
Not only was Roeder much older than Maxwell, he was also just the wrong match for her. As a notorious attorney for the stars, Roeder had connections to Hollywood’s most elite circles. Some of his friends and clients included the likes of Stanley Kubrick, Lana Turner, and Berry Gordy. It seems, however, that he also had friends in low places.
29. She Might Have Married A Monster
While Maxwell hung out around at the trendy places in Hollywood, her new beau frequented more seedy joints. One of Roeder’s favorite hangouts was La Cienega, a steakhouse with ties to the mob. For his part, Roeder did nothing to dispel the rumors that he had mob connections. In fact, he even used them to his advantage.
30. She Made A Fatal Mistake
Maxwell knew all about Roeder’s questionable connections but it didn’t stop her from falling madly in love with him. Quite the opposite. She might have felt that his associations to the mob offered her a level of protection. If she did truly believe that, however, then she would soon find out that she was mistaken. Fatally so.
31. She Married A Mob Man
Regardless of how she viewed Roeder’s possible mob connections, Maxwell still wanted to marry him. And marry him she did. The two got married in February of 1970. We can only imagine that the guest list would have included some of Hollywood’s biggest stars (minus her bestie, Sharon Tate, whose own bloody demise had occurred mere months earlier).
32. She Was In The Middle Of Another Unsolved Mystery
Maxwell had no idea who she had just married. One of Roeder’s biggest clients and closest friends was the child star turned tragedy, Nick Adams. Roeder had been the one to discover Adams’ lifeless body on the night of February 7, 1968, sparking one of Hollywood’s longest enduring mysteries. And at least one theory pinned Roeder as the prime suspect.
33. Her Husband Offed His Bestie
A going theory in the untimely and unexpected demise of Nick Adams paints Maxwell’s husband as a man desperate to retain money and power. Allegedly, Adams had become aware that Roeder had been misappropriating his money. To silence Adams, Roeder is then supposed to have arranged for the former child star’s demise—apparently, something he did well.
34. She Married A Monster
In his 1992 book More of Hollywood’s Unsolved Mysteries, the author John Austin fingered Roeder for Adams’ demise. He claimed that Roeder, likely with the assistance of his mob associates, gave Adams a lethal dose of paraldehyde and promazine. True or not, it speaks to the fact that Maxwell had unwittingly married a monster.
35. She Entered The Lion’s Den
Following their nuptials, Maxwell and Roeder moved into their Cherokee Lane home in Beverly Hills. At first, it seemed like wedded bliss. Maxwell settled into her newest role as a Beverly Hills housewife. She redecorated the home with a safari theme. It’s pretty safe to say that she had entered the lion’s den.
36. She Was The Perfect Wife
Maxwell spent the early years of her marriage to Roeder doing what her role required of her. She raised her beloved son, Brian, hosted family dinners, and planned vacations at their holiday home in Idyllwild. It all seemed so peaceful. But there was trouble brewing beneath the surface of their ostensibly perfect Beverly Hills life.
37. Her Husband Was Never Home
Friends and family suspected that there was something not quite right about Maxwell’s marriage to Roeder. Despite their outward appearance of normalcy, there was some obvious tension between the two. Maxwell frequently hosted Hollywood parties at their Beverly Hills home but Roeder rarely, if ever, attended. He clearly had better things to do.
38. She Kept Secrets
Even as they kept up appearances, Maxwell and Roeder were both leading almost completely separate lives. While they managed to keep the details of their marriage out of the papers, they did confide in their friends. As it turns out, they were both keeping some truly shocking secrets. Secrets that would help shed light on the events of that one fatal afternoon.
39. She Told Her Husband Everything
In interviews given decades later, Maxwell’s and Roeder’s friends revealed what the couple had confided in them. Throughout their marriage, both Maxwell and Roeder had carried on extramarital affairs. The real kicker? Maxwell used to boast about her romantic conquests to Roeder, providing him with an in-depth analysis of the details, as it were.
40. She Had To Stay Alive
By 1978, Maxwell had had enough of her harmful marriage. She wanted out. But she also wanted a massive payday. Acting on the advice of her attorney, Maxwell remained married to Roeder for another couple of years in order to increase her alimony payment. There was just one catch. She would have to be alive to cash those cheques.
41. Her Husband Didn’t Want To Get Anything
When the ten-year mark of her marriage to Roeder finally rolled around in 1980, Maxwell immediately filed her divorce papers. Roeder, however, filed papers of his own. He wrote a new will, excluding Maxwell altogether. “It is my intention,” he wrote, “that Jennifer Helene Roeder will receive nothing upon my passing. I do not want a lying, cheating, deceitful woman to profit”.
He would go to extreme lengths to prevent her from getting a red cent.
42. Her Husband Began Behaving Strangely
Shortly after Maxwell filed for divorce, Roeder’s behavior began to raise some eyebrows. He showed up one day with a wound that sources described as a “superficial graze”. As Roeder explained it, a prowler in his backyard had opened fire on him but he refused to report the curious incident to the authorities. Then things got really suspicious.
43. Her Husband Tried To Off Himself
Roeder’s mysterious injury came shortly after he had changed his will to exclude Maxwell. And his reluctance to report the alleged attack to the authorities had everyone wondering. Many of his associates began to suspect that Roeder had, in fact, inflicted the injury on himself in a botched attempt to end his life and deprive Maxwell of his fortune.
He certainly had a penchant for self-harm.
44. Her Husband Had Been Up To Something
Maxwell’s divorce proceedings had pushed Roeder over the edge. When his apparent attempt on his own life failed, he decided that he needed to shift the focus—to Maxwell. Decades later, associates of Roeder’s provided shocking new information to a detective named Mike Thies from the law enforcement department in Los Angeles.
45. Her Husband Plotted Against Her
According to Thies, three of Roeder’s associates made chilling new revelations about his behavior after Maxwell filed for divorce. They claimed that Roeder had approached them in the weeks and months leading up to the fatal night of June 10, 1981 with a wild proposition. Roeder, they said, wanted to hire someone to bump off Maxwell and one of her lovers.
46. She Had No Reason To Be Suspicious
Fortunately for Maxwell, all three of those associates had turned down Roeder’s totally unhinged offer. Furthermore, when Roeder offered to take Maxwell home from the hospital after her surgery, she had no reason to be suspicious of him. Except, perhaps, for the fact that he would do anything (anything!) to prevent her from getting his money.
47. Her Husband Wanted To Avoid Suspicion
Roeder’s former associates later confessed to Thies that they believed Roeder had found someone to carry out the deed. Only, he had to alter the plan to avoid suspicion of wrongdoing. As per Thies’ theory, Roeder arranged to have this unknown assailant dispatch Maxwell before turning on him and inflicting a non-fatal wound.
But the plan went south.
48. She Lost More Than Just Her Life
As Maxwell’s lifeless body continued spilling blood in the lobby of her condo building, Roeder lay bleeding out. Within just minutes, he, too, had drawn his last breath. The alleged burglar fled the scene without taking any valuables off the deceased couple. Unfortunately for Maxwell, she wouldn’t be taking any valuables off of Roeder either.
49. She Left Nothing Behind
Because Maxwell departed minutes before Roeder, he technically inherited all of her considerable assets. Subsequently, because Roeder had written her out of his will, all of his assets (which now included hers) passed to his children from a previous marriage when he bled out on the lobby floor. Brian, Maxwell’s beloved son, was left with nothing.
50. Her Case Is Still, Technically, Open
Thies’ theory, however likely, was never tried and proven in court so Maxwell’s savage demise technically remains unsolved. Decades later, however, her extended family launched an investigation of their own that came to many of the same conclusions as Detective Thies. “I feel,” Thies said, “we achieved a level of satisfaction in ferreting out the underlying issue in the case”.