Jean Spangler was a 1940s dancer and actress, well on her way to Hollywood stardom. Then she vanished into thin air. Spangler’s disappearance remains one of Hollywood’s most enduring mysteries—with a laundry list of potential suspects that range from Hollywood hunks to mob meanies. Here are some mysterious facts about Jean Spangler, Hollywood’s missing starlet.
1. She Was Sleepless in Seattle
Jean Spangler was born in Seattle, Washington in September of 1923. From her teenage years, Spangler seemed destined for fame as a dancer with the prestigious Earl Carroll Theater. While she would start her career as an actress, Spangler would become famous for a much darker reason: an unsolvable whodunit mystery.
2. She Was A Looker
Spangler could have become a major Hollywood star based on her looks alone. One source described her as a “sultry blue-eyed” beauty. Her sizzling good looks landed her some modeling and dancing gigs as she tried to build her career as a major actress. But her good looks also attracted a lot of the wrong kind of attention.
3. She Was A Good Time Gal
Fresh out of high school in 1942, Spangler burst onto the scene. The party scene, that is. Apparently, at just 19 years of age, Spangler had already developed a reputation in Hollywood as a “vivacious party girl.” From the looks of it, during her late-night escapades, Spangler quickly began brushing shoulders with the seedy underbelly of Hollywood.
4. She Was Into Plastic
Despite her heavy partying, Spangler managed to meet a nice man. In 1942, she met and married Dexter Benner, a plastics manufacturer in his early twenties. The details of the marriage are scarce but it clearly wasn’t a happy one. Spangler gave birth to a daughter in 1944 and the marriage was over by 1946. But the plot was only just starting to thicken.
5. Her Boyfriend “Mobbed” Her
Around the time of her divorce, it seems like Spangler fell back into her party-girl ways—if she ever abandoned them in the first place. Allegedly, Spangler became involved with the mob enforcer known to authorities only as “Scotty”. He was a henchman of the infamous mob boss Mickey Cohen and, if the rumors are true, a very, very bad boyfriend.
6. She Tried To Escape
It didn’t take long for Spangler to see through Scotty’s roguish charm. Allegedly, the budding actress and glamor girl tried to leave the mob heavy-hitter on several occasions. Unfortunately, whenever Spangler tried to leave Scotty, she met his violent side—the side that made people disappear for good if they crossed the mob.
7. She Made A Lifelong Enemy
In addition to her boyfriend troubles, Spangler was dealing with the fallout from her messy divorce. She and her ex-husband spent the better part of two years bickering over custody of their only child. Thankfully, Spangler eventually won full custody of their daughter, Christine. But she also won herself a lifelong enemy in her ex-husband.
8. She Met A Hollywood Hunk
In 1948, Spangler’s career began to take off. She landed a number of uncredited roles in major productions. One of her promising cameos, however, was in Young Man with a Horn where she shared screen time with Hollywood hunk, Kirk Douglas. Later on, some evidence suggested that she might have shared a little more than just the screen with the actor…
9. She Was About To Make It Big
Everything was coming up Spangler and it looked like superstardom was just one breakthrough role away. Famed Hollywood reporter, Denise Hamilton, put it best when she said, “You have a beautiful, young starlet. Brunette. She’s sultry. She’s tall. She’s leggy. And she’s trying to make it in Hollywood.” Then it all suddenly came to a mysterious end.
10. She Landed The Role Of A Lifetime
On the evening of October 7, 1949, Spangler had no idea that she was about to land the role of a lifetime. Sadly, no one would ever see her performance. On that cool October evening, Spangler was allegedly dressed to impress before she left her home on Colgate Avenue where she lived with her mother, brother, sister-in-law, and daughter.
11. She Had One Last Shot
Before she left, everything seemed normal. Spangler gave her daughter a goodnight kiss and explained to her sister-in-law that she was going to see her ex-husband about a late child support payment. Then, apparently, she would be rushing off to a nighttime shoot for a new film that she was working on. From there, it would be “Lights. Camera… Whodunit?”
12. She Just Needed Luck
For all intents and purposes, Spangler’s sister-in-law Sophie was effectively in charge of the house. Spangler’s mother, Florence, was out of town at the time, visiting family in Kentucky. But Sophie trusted Spangler to take care of herself. With a sly wink and a casual, “Wish me luck,” Spangler glided out the door—never to return.
13. She Wasn’t Coming Home—Ever
Just a couple of hours after leaving, Spangler placed a call to her home. She spoke briefly with her daughter once again, likely telling her to catch some Zs because mommy wouldn’t be back until late. On the call, she explained to Sophie that she wouldn’t be back at all that night because she would “have to work the full eight hours.”
14. She Said Her Final Goodbyes
It’s not entirely clear where Spangler placed the call to her home. She could have been calling from her ex-husband’s home phone. Alternatively, she might have placed the call from a public payphone. One can practically picture the phonebooth, illuminated by a lone flickering streetlight. Either way, it was the last time Spangler spoke to her family.
15. She Just Vanished
When Sophie awoke the next morning, she knew that something wasn’t right. The usually busy home on Colgate Avenue was unusually quiet. And one person, in particular, was nowhere to be found. Despite promising to be back first thing in the morning after her late-night shoot, Spangler had not returned home. Nor had she called.
16. She Was Responsible(ish)
Despite the fact that Spangler was a party girl who kept, shall we say, questionable company, she was still usually quite responsible. Especially where her daughter was concerned. It was very unlike Spangler to fail to return home when she promised that she would. Struck by the odd behavior, Sophie immediately hit the panic button.
17. She Reminded People Of The Black Dahlia
At the time, tensions in the city of Los Angeles were high and young women, in particular, were on high alert. The infamous and gruesome Black Dahlia case was still unsolved and at the forefront of everyone’s mind. Any missing young woman conjured up images of sirens, yellow tape, and horrifying scenes of dismembered limbs. But that couldn’t be the case with Jean Spangler, could it?
18. Her Sister-In-Law Panicked
The very morning that Spangler failed to return home, Sophie rushed to the authorities. In a state, Sophie filed a missing person’s report for the budding starlet. Despite the fact that it hadn’t been 24 hours, she had the sinking feeling that something had gone terribly wrong. And, unfortunately, she was right.
19. She Became A Star Victim
The authorities didn’t waste any time getting started on Spangler’s case. For one, the Black Dahlia perpetrator was still at-large somewhere in the city of Los Angeles. They also probably knew about Spangler’s connections to unsavory mob characters. Without a moment’s delay, they began retracing her final, fateful steps.
20. She Had The LAPD Running Wild
Spangler hadn’t shared with her sister-in-law what film she was supposedly working on when she left on the evening of October 7th. So, naturally, the authorities followed up with all of the major studios and Screen Extras Guild, asking what film Spangler was working on. But instead of getting answers, they only got more questions.
21. She Was A No-Show
When the authorities questioned the studios and the representatives from the Screen Extras Guild, they learned that Spangler must have been lying. Apparently, Spangler wasn’t on any call sheet for any major motion picture on the night of October 7—the night she disappeared. But that’s not the only thing Spangler had been lying about.
22. She Had No Reason To Lie
It’s possible that Spangler might actually have been working on a film set after all. She could have picked up with an indie film director, but it’s highly unlikely. Around the time of her disappearance, Spangler’s career was just starting to take off and an indie film would have been a step backward. But then, why would Spangler lie?
23. She Left Behind A Killer Clue
Initially, authorities had a hard time trying to retrace Spangler’s footsteps. And then, after a few days, they got a lucky break. A city worker in Los Angeles’ Griffith Park found a woman’s handbag in Fern Dell. The discarded purse was a curious thing in and of itself—but its contents and location made it downright sinister.
24. She Might Have Been In A “Dump”
The authorities knew that Spangler and mob associate “Scotty” were romantically involved. Given that fact, the Fern Dell trail should have been one of the first places they looked. As it turns out, around the time of Spangler’s disappearance, the Fern Dell trail was a favorite dumping ground for the mob. And we’re not talking household trash.
25. She Didn’t Leave A Trace
Along with over a hundred volunteers, the LAPD scoured the entirety of Griffith Park in search of clues (or a body). But, if the mob had disposed of Spangler’s body in their usual dumping site, they did a good job of hiding it. Despite their best efforts, the authorities were unable to discover any additional clues. But the purse was more than enough.
26. She Didn’t Have A Dime
Spangler’s handbag contained one particularly scandalous clue. But it was what the purse didn’t contain that helped authorities most. Apparently, after searching the contents of Spangler’s handbag, the LAPD did not find a single dollar. Not even a red cent. That evidence (or lack thereof) suggested that Spangler had been the victim of a snatch-and-grab.
27. She Traveled Light
Upon further investigation, however, the LAPD’s snatch-and-grab theory quickly fell apart. The authorities followed up with Sophie, Spangler’s sister-in-law, and confirmed that Spangler had left home that fateful night without any money in her purse to begin with. So the attention of the investigation turned to her ex-husband.
28. Her Alimony Was Phony
On the night of her disappearance, Spangler was supposed to have gone to her ex-husband’s house to talk about child support payments. But, apparently, she never made it there. In fact, Benner claimed that he hadn’t spoken to Spangler in several weeks. An alibi that his new wife confirmed. So, once again, all eyes turned to the mob.
29. She Forgot To “Strap” In
Not only had Spangler’s purse shown up in the mob’s favorite dumping site, but there was another clue that she had fallen victim to foul play. Somehow, someone had torn one of the straps on Spangler’s handbag, indicating that there had been a struggle in her final moments. But the contents of her purse told a different story.
30. Her Purse Was A Pandora’s Box
With the discovery of her torn purse, the authorities thought that they were getting closer to solving the mystery of Spangler’s disappearance. But they were wrong. As with any truly unsolvable mystery, every clue that the LAPD uncovered only presented more questions than it answered. And the clue inside Spangler’s purse was a real doozy.
31. She Left Behind A Note
The authorities combed through the contents of Spangler’s handbag only to discover a curious hand-written note. While the LAPD were able to confirm that Spangler had, indeed, written the note herself, the cryptic message might as well have been written in an unbreakable code. A code that potentially pointed to a very famous suspect.
32. She Was Supposed To Meet Kirk
The note in Spangler’s handbag turned the focus of the investigation from the underbelly of society to the rich and famous. It read, “Kirk: Can’t wait any longer, Going to see Dr. Scott. It will work best this way while mother is away.” That short, cryptic little note turned the whole investigation upside down and inside out.
33. She Was Close To A Hollywood Hunk
There was definitely no shortage of “Kirks” in Hollywood at the time of Spangler’s disappearance. She could have addressed her note to any one of them. But, realistically, there was really only one likely candidate. As you’ll recall, Spangler worked with Hollywood heavyweight Kirk Douglas on the set of Young Man with a Horn.
34. She Was Seeking An Abortion
By the time they uncovered her note, the LAPD had essentially confirmed that Spangler was not working on a film the night of her disappearance. But what was she doing? Her cryptic note suggested that she was seeking a back-alley abortion for her secret love child with Kirk Douglas. And there was even a potential eye-witness.
35. She Was Last Seen…
Sophie might have been the last one to speak to Spangler before her disappearance, but she wasn’t the last one to see her alive. A saleswoman at the local farmers’ market a few blocks from Spangler’s home remembered seeing Spangler that evening. According to the saleswoman, Spangler “appeared to be waiting for someone”.
36. She Was Waiting For A Mystery Man
That night, Spangler could have been waiting for any number of people. She could have been waiting for Benner, Scotty, Douglas, or even a cab to take her to a film set. However, most believed that she was waiting for a mysterious figure that locals called “Doc,” a former medical student who performed back-alley abortions around Griffith Park.
37. Her Hollywood Hero Had An Alibi
Before the speculation could get too far out of hand, Kirk Douglas wanted to clear his name of any potential involvement. Early in the investigation, Douglas called the authorities with an alibi, saying that he was in Palm Springs when Spangler had disappeared. Of course, Douglas’ unsolicited plea of innocence only raised more suspicion.
38. Her Co-Star Didn’t Even Know Her
Douglas distanced himself further from the investigation. Not only did he have an alibi for the night of Spangler’s disappearance, but he denied having had any previous romantic relations with her. Douglas claimed that, though Spangler might have worked as an extra on one of his films, he didn’t know her—and certainly hadn’t gotten her pregnant.
39. She Was A Flirt
Public pressure was mounting on the LAPD to get answers. Feeling the heat, they questioned Douglas further and managed to get a confession—to perfectly innocent behavior. However, Douglas did confess that he knew Spangler better than he’d let on, having “talked and kidded with her a bit” while on set. But that, he swore, was the extent of it.
40. She Was Having The Best Time Ever
The LAPD received another piece of incriminating evidence against Douglas. A few weeks before her disappearance, Spangler confided to fellow actor Robert Cummings that she had “a new romance.” She seemed happy but was cagey about the mystery man’s identity, saying only that she was “having the time of [her] life.”
41. She Didn’t Abort Anything
Ultimately, Douglas’ firm denial cast doubt on the theory that Spangler had been the victim of a botched back-alley abortion. Or, at least, that Kirk Douglas knew anything about it. Additionally, the LAPD doubted that an abortionist would go through the trouble of hiding Spangler’s body only to leave her purse, with identification, in plain sight. But what else could it have been at this point?
42. She Hung Out With The Heavies
The LAPD was running out of leads when they received a peculiar tip. Allegedly, someone had spotted Spangler in Palm Springs a few days before her disappearance. But she wasn’t with Kirk Douglas. The witness claimed that Spangler had been hanging out with notorious Mickey Cohen associates “Little Davy” Ogul and Frank Niccoli.
43. She Was Everywhere—And Nowhere
Once again, it looked like Spangler might have run afoul of the mob. And, suspiciously, after her disappearance, Ogul and Niccoli also vanished into the wind. That’s when the investigators received reports from witnesses claiming to have seen Spangler with Ogul in various locales, from San Francisco down to Mexico City.
44. She Was A Good Girl (Gone Bad)
It was tempting to believe that Spangler had run off (either willingly or not) with one of her mob boyfriends. But that theory quickly fell apart. Despite the fact that Spangler did have relations with Cohen associate Scotty, her mother denied further involvement with the mob. She said, “Jean was not the kind of girl to get mixed up with people like that.”
45. She Didn’t Associate With Baddies
The more the LAPD investigated the matter, the more it seemed that Spangler only frequented the same locations as the supposed mob heavyweights. In fact, it was looking more and more like Spangler, though a party girl, kept herself largely out of trouble. Any connections she had to Ogul and Niccoli were fleeting at best.
46. She Wasn’t With Ogul Or Niccoli
In addition to the fact that Spangler barely knew Ogul and Niccoli (if she knew them at all), the mob figures also had alibis for her disappearance. Very airtight alibis. According to the LAPD’s sources, Ogul and Niccoli couldn’t be suspects in Spangler’s disappearance because they were, apparently, decomposing in a tub of acid.
47. Her Trail Went Cold
Just like that, Spangler’s trail went cold. Like, ice cold. Newspapers and tabloids continued linking her disappearance to the infamous Black Dahlia case. But, without evidence—or a body—it was impossible to say what had happened to Spangler. Despite the lack of evidence, however, Spangler’s mother Florence refused to give up the search.
48. She Got Her 15 Minutes Of Fame
Along with the famed Hollywood reporter Louella Parsons, Florence offered a cash reward of $1,000 for any information that led to her missing daughter. The reward was generous and the media attention was feverish but, following their initial tips, investigators never received credible information about Spangler’s disappearance.
49. She Loved Her Daughter
It’s possible Spangler ran away on her own and staged her purse to make it look like something nefarious had happened. But Florence refused to believe that. She said, “I am sure she would have communicated with us if she is alive and free. And nobody can tell me that she would have left her baby unless she was forced to do so; she loved her too much.”
50. She’s Out There Somewhere
More than 50 years later, Spangler’s disappearance remains one of the most unsolvable mysteries in Hollywood history. Despite the fact that no new evidence has come up in the intervening years, the LAPD still hasn’t closed the case. But, if you try, you can still catch glimpses of Jean Spangler in the background of major motion pictures.