Marilyn Monroe died of a drugs overdose in 1962. The official verdict at the time was probable suicide, but there are many who believe she was murdered.
Now, until recently I knew little more about Marilyn than the fact that she was found in the nude, and that she lived her life like a candle in the wind. However, I decided to investigate the mystery of her death on behalf of my readers. I borrowed a stack of books from the library, and I have spent hours trawling around the internet to find out exactly what the conspiracy theorists believe, and why they believe it.
I now have a pretty firm grasp of what might have happened, and, yes, I have formed an opinion. The story is a fascinating and shocking story – one I would like to share with you.
~ Steve Sunday, July 2013.
During my investigation I have looked for the answers to the following questions:
- What are the undisputed facts of Marilyn Munroe’s death?
- What are the suspicious circumstances of Marilyn Munroe’s death?
- What do the conspiracy theorists believe?
- What is the evidence?
- What do I think happened?
The difficulty I have found with this investigation is knowing which sources to trust. Most of the “facts” available to me come from books written by journalists who have a vested interest in proving that there was more to the death than meets the eye. Any author who concluded that Marilyn died of a straightforward overdose with no sinister figures lurking in the shadows might find his book did not sell at all. Other websites have done investigations and I have looked at what they say, but I suspect most of these sites are just regurgitating the same theories that the aforementioned biased authors published in their books. What about Wikipedia? Can that be trusted? I am not sure.
Let’s start at the beginning of the list shall we?
What are the undisputed facts of Marilyn Munroe’s death?
Sergeant Jack Clemmons received a call at the West Los Angeles police station at 4:25am on Sunday August 5, 1962, from Dr Engelberg, saying that Marilyn Monroe was dead at her house.
- Clemmons went to the house where he found 36 year old Marilyn dead in the bedroom of her home, naked, and lying face down on her bed with a telephone receiver in her hand.
- Five other people were present at the house when Clemmons arrived. They were Marilyn’s psychiatrist Dr Greenson, her practitioner Dr Engelberg, her press agent Pat Newcomb, plus Marilyn’s housekeeper Eunice Murray and Eunice’s son-in-law Norman Jefferies (the handyman).
- Two days before her death, Marilyn had taken out a prescription for 25 Nembutal (a strong barbiturate, used as sleeping pills) tablets. This pill bottle is found empty at the scene of death.
- Her death was ruled to be “acute barbiturate poisoning” by Dr. Thomas Noguchi of the Los Angeles County Coroner’s Office and listed as “probable suicide”.
What are the suspicious circumstances of Marilyn Munroe’s death?
- No suicide note was found. Marilyn had attempted suicide before, and always left a note.
- Jack Clemmons, the first LAPD officer to arrive at the death scene believed that she was murdered. He claimed that it seemed to him that the scene had been “arranged”. Marilyn’s body was not in the position one would expect a victim of painful poisoning to be in – her legs were parallel and she looked peaceful.
- There were inconsistencies in the stories told by witnesses, and some of them changed their stories under questioning regarding the timeline. Initially the housekeeper told Sergeant Clemmons that she had become worried about Marilyn at around midnight, and had called the two doctors over then. The doctors confirmed this, leading to Clemmons querying why they had waited four hours before calling the police. The next day however, for the official report, the housekeeper said it was 3:30am when she called the doctors.
- Neighbors however, reported seeing an ambulance outside the house at around 10pm the night before. The ambulance driver came forward years later to report that he had attempted to treat a comatosed Marilyn at her home that night, but that Dr Greenman had taken over and tried unsuccessfully to save her. Walter Schaefer, the owner of the respected ambulance service, eventually admitted that it was true that one of his ambulances had been there (after denying it for many years) although his version of events was at odds with the ambulance driver’s.
- Sergeant Clemmons’s superior officer (Chief Parker) insisted that the case be investigated as a suicide. Clemmons was told to keep quiet. When he refused he was dropped from the force.
- When her body was found, there was no glass of water in the room, meaning that she would have had to have swallowed the pills dry, or chewed them. However, after this was pointed out, a glass was found under the bed, despite witness accounts that it had not been there earlier.
The pathologist, Dr. Thomas Noguchi, could find no trace of capsules, powder or the typical discoloration caused by Nembutal in Monroe’s stomach or intestines. For many years this fact was seized upon by conspiracy theorists as vital evidence that the drugs that killed her had not been swallowed, but injected, or because of the lack of needle marks noticed in the autopsy, given to her some other way (more of which later).
- There was a strange bruise on her left hip, a common location for an injection, or possibly a sign of a violent struggle.
- Medical samples, photographs, slides of those organs that were examined, and the examination form showing bruises on the body all disappeared shortly after the autopsy, making it impossible to investigate the cause or time of death.
What do the conspiracy theorists believe?
There are a number of theories, but most people seem to think that her former lover Bobby Kennedy was involved.
At the time of Marilyn’s death, Bobby was the Attorney General and the brother of the president John F Kennedy. He would later become a senator, and a presidential candidate himself, until his own assassination by a Palestinian terrorist in 1968.
On the afternoon before Marilyn’s death, Bobby claimed to be in San Francisco with his friend John Bates. Bates confirmed this, but several witnesses claim that he actually visited Marilyn at her home in LA, and that after the visit she was very upset.
Some conspiracy theorists believe that he actually arranged to have her murdered in order to prevent her from going public about their affair, and revealing damaging information about him and his brother.
Another key player was Peter Lawford, a successful actor (his movies include the original “Oceans 11”) as well as a member of the “rat pack”, and a famous friend and supporter of the Kennedy’s – at the time, he was married to John and Bobby’s sister, Patricia Kennedy. Lawford was a friend of both Marilyn and the Kennedys.
Just before she died, Marilyn phoned Lawford. Many believe Lawford was one of the first to discover her dead (or possibly dying) body and that he was heavily involved in the cover-up. It has been claimed that in the delay between discovering the body and reporting it to the police, Lawford arranged for Bobby Kennedy to quickly leave the city, and that he was responsible for the removal of the suicide note and anything linking her to the Kennedys, including her red diary which was said to include many secrets that Bobby had told her.
For such a big conspiracy to work would require many officials in the corridors of power to be working together to play down the drama and hope that the public would get bored. Some of the officials often named, all friends of the Kennedys, include Police Chief William Parker, Captain James Hamilton, Coroner Theodore Curphey, Chief Daryl Gates, John Van Kamp, and Ira Reiner.
There is another theory that the mafia and Frank Sinatra were behind the killing, and that Peter Lawford was actually working with them to frame Kennedy for it. Although this theory can be made to fit all the main facts, it is a bit far fetched for all but the most enthusiastic conspiracy theorists.
The first major publication that cast doubt on the official story was 1974’s The Life and Curious Death of Marilyn Monroe by Robert Slatzer, and it implicated Bobby Kennedy.
In 1975 though, author Norman Mailer wrote Marilyn: A Biography, in which he put forward the theory that it was actually the Kennedys’ enemies who were behind it. He suggested that their plan had been for the autopsy to reveal it was murder not suicide, so that suspicion would fall on the Kennedys. However the plan did not entirely succeed because the Police Chief, who was friend of the Kennedys, pushed so hard for the suicide verdict.
In 1983 the BBC documentary Say Goodbye to the President by Anthony Summers, obtained a candid confession from Eunice Murray that Bobby Kennedy was involved in the death.
However, in 1993, respected publishing firm HarperCollins published Marilyn Monroe: The Biography by Donald Spoto, which accused Dr Greenson and Eunice Murray of killing Marilyn with a barbiturate enema (it is claimed this is the only possible explanation because of the lack of pills in the stomach and the absence of needle marks) as revenge for her apparently having fired the pair of them.
In 1998 Donald H Wolfe published The Last Days of Marilyn Monroe in which he claimed to have interviewed the handyman Norman Jefferies and obtained the full story for the first time. He said that on the Saturday night, Bobby Kennedy turned up at Marilyn’s house with two agents, and murdered her with an injection of barbiturates. Eunice and Dr Greenson were not involved in the murder, but did cover it up.
What is the evidence?
Well, that’s the problem isn’t it? There was very little evidence at the time because so much of it mysteriously disappeared, and there was no official investigation because the authorities insisted on treating it as a suicide.
According to Wikipedia, the FBI released a report in 2006 under the Freedom of Information Act that says that Bobby Kennedy was behind the whole thing. According to the report, Bobby needed to silence Marilyn to stop her going public over their affair. With the help of Peter Lawford, her psychiatrist Ralph Greenson, her housekeeper Eunice Murray, and her secretary/press agent, Pat Newcomb, she was encouraged to stage a “fake” suicide attempt (something she had done before) to get sympathy, but this time she was allowed to die.
An “almost” source of evidence came from a private investigator called Fred Otash who claimed to have been bugging Marilyn’s home. Fred was employed Bernard Spindel, who he believed had been hired by Jimmy Hoffer, one of Kennedy’s enemies, although it has been speculated that the CIA might really have been behind it. For many years after the Marilyn’s death, the whereabouts of the tapes were a source of great interest. There were claims that Bobby Kennedy tried to buy them from Spindel, but he refused, and their whereabouts today are unknown.
No, the only evidence we have is the testimony of the witnesses, most of whom gave many interviews in the years following the death, and many of whom eventually changed their stories and admitted there was more to it than was originally let on. The video below includes statements from all of the key witnesses who have come forward over the years. Not all of them can possibly be telling the whole truth – you can decide for yourself which ones are not, though the interviewer clearly does not believe John Bates, the businessman who gave Kennedy his alibi.
I am convinced that Bobby Kennedy did in fact visit Marilyn on the afternoon of the day of her death. Her death later that evening would produce panic among certain people who, even though they probably did not believe Bobby was involved in murder, were worried that the Kennedys were going to be brought down just by their association with the scandal, and this resulted in a huge cover-up. I am convinced that the witnesses were told to delay reporting the death to enable Bobby to return to San Francisco and establish an alibi. It appears that the police knew about Bobby’s afternoon visit, and that his friends on the force arranged for the suspicions of foul play to be overlooked because they believed it was a suicide but also knew that any investigation at all would be embarrassing for the Kennedys.
Where it becomes less clear to me, is what happened after Kennedy left that afternoon. How did actually Marilyn die? Was she injected by an assassin, given a barbiturate enema by her own employees, tricked into taking an overdose, or was it simply a deliberate suicide?
The first theory I eliminated was the Greenman/Murray barbiturate enema theory. It just does not ring true. How would Greenman and Murray think they were going to get away with it? Why would they anticipate the fact that everyone would cover the whole thing up to protect Kennedy? Another reason for discounting this theory is that the author of the book does not strike me as particularly credible. He actually argued that Marilyn had not had affairs with either of the Kennedys at all (which she obviously did); he accused other authors of dishonorable behavior, and he actually had to pay at least one of them damages when his accusation proved incorrect.
Then there is that “FBI file” that says Marilyn was encouraged to stage a fake suicide. At first glance, the existence of such a file seemed to me to be pretty damning – an FBI file! However, on further reflection there are a few problems with it:
- The story appears on Wikipedia, but has not been picked up by any of the serious news sites. The link that Wikipedia offers as its source is an Australian tabloid.
- The file was conveniently by “an anonymous FBI man”.
- Look at the list of people who were in on it. Almost everybody Marilyn trusted? Come on.
No, I think that one is a straightforward hoax.
*STOP PRESS* – The Wikipedia page has now been altered to remove the comment on the FBI file. I think we can all agree to forget about that.
~ Steve 2015
I would really like to believe Wolfe’s story – the one obtained from Norman Jefferies, that Bobby Kennedy and his two goons returned in the evening and killed Marilyn with an injection of barbiturates. Wolfe’s book was well written, well researched, and he had a very sensible approach all the way through. However, for me, there is something a little too neat about a new witness suddenly speaking out after decades of silence, but only speaking to one person, then dying before being able to speak to anyone else. Perhaps if there was a tape of the interview I might feel differently. Respected British newspaper The Independent believed Wolfe’s story, and allowed him to report the it as a news event. However, I think there are a few things that do not fit with his version of events, such as the phone call she made to Peter Lawford. Also it seems very unlikely to me that Bobby Kennedy would turn up in person to an assassination.
For me, the most likely version of events is the one put forward by Dr Engelberg. I think that after Kennedy’s visit, Marilyn was so upset that she took an overdose. After all she had attempted suicide before. The fact that there were no pills in her stomach is unusual, but people do absorb things at different rates, and addicts (like Marilyn) do absorb drugs quickly.
Marilyn phoned Peter Lawford as she was dying, perhaps hoping he would save her, but he arrived too late, and she died, probably in the living room. Lawford, or someone else loyal to Kennedy, persuaded witnesses to delay officially reporting the death to allow Kennedy to get out of town, and the body was moved (though they overlooked moving the water glass) in order to fit with the story that Marilyn died in the night. Lawford most likely took the suicide note, perhaps because it mentioned Kennedy, and the whole investigation was rushed through and things were hushed-up in order to hide Kennedy’s involvement completely.
That’s what I think anyway. I believe it is the solution that fits all the facts, explains why people lied, and has the minimum amount of fantasy. What do you think?