On the night of April 4, 1958, Hollywood was rocked by a shocking incident that would forever be etched in its history. Johnny Stompanato, a notorious figure in the underbelly of Los Angeles, met his untimely demise at the hands of Lana Turner’s teenage daughter, Cheryl Crane. The tale of Stompanato’s death is a story of passion, jealousy and murder, set against the glamorous backdrop of Hollywood’s Golden Era.
A tumultuous love story
To understand the tragic events that unfolded that night, we must first discuss the rather turbulent relationship between Johnny Stompanato and Lana Turner. Turner, the glamorous and iconic Hollywood actor, was known for her beauty and talent. She was a true Hollywood legend, having starred in numerous films during the 1940s and ’50s, including The Three Musketeers (1948), The Merry Widow (1952) and Flame and the Flesh (1954).
Johnny Stompanato, on the other hand, was a different kind of character. Born in October 1925, he was a former US Marine who had dabbled in various criminal activities before entering the world of organized crime. He was known to have connections with the Los Angeles underworld, which made him a dangerous man to go against.
The paths of Turner and Stompanato crossed in the mid-1950s, when the former was at the height of her career. Stompanato, with his rugged charm and connections, managed to capture her heart. Their relationship was passionate but tumultuous and marked by frequent arguments and violent outbursts.
Jealousy and violence
One of the defining elements of Lana Turner and Johnny Stompanato’s relationship was the latter’s jealousy. He was possessive of Turner and often suspected her of infidelity, which led to intense and explosive confrontations. On one notable occasion, the actor even accused Stompanato of drugging and taking nude photos of her while she was unconscious.
It was during one of these heated arguments in 1958 that Stompanato’s violent tendencies came to the forefront. On the night of April 4, 1958, an altercation between Turner and Stompanato turned deadly. According to Turner, Stompanato threatened her, her daughter and her mother with a knife. In her mother’s defense, Cheryl Crane grabbed a nearby knife and fatally stabbed him.
“There’s a knife on the counter,” Crane recalled many decades later. “I picked it up, ran back up the stairs. Her door suddenly flies open. I see John coming toward me. He’s got his hand up… I raised the knife and he walks right into it. And he looked at me. and he said, ‘My God, Cheryl, what have you done?'”
The incident occurred in Turner’s Beverly Hills home and became one of the most sensationalized scandals in Hollywood history.
A coroner’s inquest is called
Lana Turner was taken into custody, and the coroner’s inquest that followed captivated the nation. It became a media circus, with journalists and spectators flocking to the courtroom to witness the drama unfold. During the inquest, Turner testified on behalf of her daughter. She recounted what had occurred on April 4, 1958, beginning with the shopping trip she and Stompanato had taken and ending with his death.
Her 62 minutes on the stand took their toll on the actor, who collapsed into tears after recounting what she’d witnessed. Other members of the family also testified, while Crane herself wasn’t present.
In the end, the jury acquitted Crane of all charges; the jury believed Stompanato’s death was a justifiable homicide to protect herself and her mother from his violent outburst. A hearing held in juvenile court ordered Crane to visit with a psychiatrist alongside her parents.
Lana Turner’s reputation was permanently scarred
Following her daughter’s acquittal, Lana Turner’s career continued to thrive, and she remained a beloved figure in Hollywood, with her first role following the inquest being the Imitation of Life (1959). However, the events of Johnny Stompanato’s death haunted her for the rest of her life; the incident left a scar on her reputation and personal life.
Cheryl Crane, who had bravely testified on her mother’s behalf during the trial, struggled with the trauma of that fateful night for years to come. She later published a memoir, Detour: A Hollywood Story, in which she reflected on her experiences and the impact of Stompanato’s death on her family.