The murder of Bob Crane in 1978 shocked a nation. Was he killed by his best friend? or did his sordid secret life get him killed? Best known for his role on Hogan’s Heroes, Crane was killed in his sleep on June 29, 1978. To this day, over 40 years later, the case has never been solved. Here Unsolved Casebook takes a look at the murder of Robert Edward Crane.
Early Career And Hogan’s Heroes
Bob Crane began his working career in the early 1950s obtaining a gig as a DJ at a minor New York radio station. By the time the early ’60s rolled around Crane had become the host of the hit breakfast show on KNX radio in LA and was earning a $150,000 a year.
The truth was though that Crane was looking to become an even bigger star, setting his sights on an acting career. Bob Crane took on several roles in small theatres during his free hours to try and garner some attention. His role as host on the morning show also helped him to make connections thanks to some of his guests.
One such guest was Carl Reiner. Whilst Reiner was a guest on Crane’s radio show Crane talked Reiner into giving him an appearance on the Dick Van Dyke Show.
During his guest role on the Dick Van Dyke Show, Crane was spotted by Donna Reed and she proceeded to give him a recurring role on the Donna Reed Show. Crane worked on the show for around a year, alongside his breakfast show, before quitting in 1964.
Not long after Bob Crane would catch his big break in the world of acting. Crane was offered the main role in upcoming war comedy TV series Hogan’s Heroes. He was convinced this was his big break and handed in his notice at KNX. Crane was right.
Cast as Colonel Robert Hogan, the role would see Bob Crane become a nationwide star. Crane was twice nominated for an Emmy for his role in the show, which had become a huge hit.
It was during his time on the show that Bob Crane would meet the man he would forever be linked with.
Bob Crane And John Carpenter
John Henry Carpenter was a salesman working for the giant Japanese company Sony. Carpenter had numerous celebrity clients including such names as Elvis Presley, Alfred Hitchcock and Richard Dawson.
Dawson may not be as famous or well known as Hitchcock or Presley but the reason I include him is that Dawson was also a cast member in Hogan’s Heroes. Dawson, who played Peter Newkirk in the show, would introduce and help to begin the friendship between Bob Crane and John Carpenter.
Despite his marriage to his teenage sweetheart Anne Terzian and the couple’s three children, Robert, Deborah and Karen, Bob Crane had a sordid side to his personal life.
Sex, Lies, and Videotapes
Crane had often cheated on Terzian throughout the couples 20-year relationship. Not only was Crane a serial cheat but he was also in the habit of taking pictures of his many sexual encounters.
After telling Carpenter of his exploits Crane’s new best friend gave him some advice. Carpenter didn’t advise him to stop cheating on his wife but instead focused on how he could film himself having sex with the use of a video recorder.
Due to his fame, Bob Crane had no problem when it came to attracting female attention. Along with John Carpenter, the pair would frequent the bars and clubs in pursuit of the next women they could sleep with. Crane would introduce Carpenter as his manager to help his pal to pick up females too.
By 1970 Bob Crane would separate from his wife Ann Terzian after just short of 21 years of marriage. Just 4 months later he would marry for the second time, this time to his Hogan’s Heroes castmate Patricia Annette Olsen, who was better known by her stage name Sigrid Valdis.
The couple would have a son, who they named Scotty in early 1971 (Scotty would be there only birth child but the couple went on to adopt a daughter, Ana Marie). None of this, however, would put an end to Crane’s sexual activities.
Bob Crane’s Steady Decline
Hogan’s Heroes would also come to an end in 1971 after 6 seasons. The cancellation of the show would see the beginning of a decline in Crane’s career.
In 1973, Crane would play the title role in the Disney movie Superdad. Then starting in late 1974 he returned to TV in his own show, The Bob Crane Show, this would last for just 13 episodes before been cancelled.
Crane would go on to appear in another Disney film in 1976 called Gus. It would be his final movie role. He would go on to have guest roles in several well-known shows including The Love Boat and Quincy M.E. But from this point on Bob Crane was no longer a national star and he soon turned to making his living from acting on the dinner theatre tours in the region.
Despite his fame being on the decrease Crane’s lust for the ladies certainly wasn’t. Along with Carpenter, Crane would continue to pick up women and make sex tapes.
One such filmed encounter showed the friends in a threesome with a woman Crane had chatted up. Crane never missed an opportunity and took his video equipment with him everywhere.
It is unclear whether the tapes were always made with the consent of those involved. In later years Bob Crane’s eldest son Robert Crane was adamant that his father always had the consent of those involved.
On the other hand, it has been claimed that several of the women involved were never aware of the existence of such tapes. It was only when the police told them during the investigation into the murder of Bob Crane that they found out.
Welcome To Scottsdale, Arizona
By 1978 Bob Crane had separated from Patricia Olsen and was starring in a tour of the play Beginner’s Luck alongside Australian actress Victoria Berry. By June 6, 1978, the tour landed in Scottsdale, Arizona. It would be the last place Bob Crane would ever perform.
On June 25 Bob Crane was joined in Scottsdale by his buddy John Carpenter. Carpenter was there on a four-day business trip for Akai Corporation, who he now worked for as a sales manager. Crane was quick to show Carpenter a photo album full of images of naked woman he had had sex with during his three weeks in Scottsdale, Arizona.
Carpenter went and booked into his motel, not far from the apartment in which Crane was staying, and then went to the Windmill Dinner Theater to watch his friend perform. Once the play had finished the pair, as was the norm, hit the bars hoping to pick up some women.
On the third night of John Carpenter’s visit, Crane drove Victoria Berry back to the apartments in which they where staying after that night’s performance. Whilst with Crane, Victoria Berry heard him having a heated argument on the telephone with his ex-wife Patricia Olsen.
The Final Night
Just before midnight eager for some company, Crane met his sidekick John Carpenter and the men headed to Bogarts Nightclub in pursuit of a female companion for the night.
Around 2 am Crane and Carpenter found themselves at the Safari restaurant having a bite to eat and a coffee with two women. Carolyn Baare was a woman who Bob Crane had previously met and Crane had asked to join him. Carole Newell was a woman that the men had met at the Bogarts Nightclub.
Carpenter went of with Carole Newell and took her back his motel room. Despite his advances, Newell rejected Carpenter and instead asked him that he take her home at around 3 am. Carpenter begrudgingly agreed to her request.
Upon his return to the motel, John Carpenter decided to phone his pal and see if he had had better look. Just like his friend, however, Crane too had failed with his sexual advances towards Baare.
The following morning marked the end of Carpenter’s visit and 4 days stay in Arizona. Upon waking at around 8: 30 am he returned his rental car and caught his flight back to LA.
Bob Crane’s Death
That same day, June 29, 1978, Victoria Berry made her way to the apartment Bob Crane was staying in at around 2 pm but failed to get an answer when knocking on the door.
Sure that he would be there Berry tried the door. Upon finding it unlocked she went inside. Inside the apartment, it was here Victoria Berry would discover the bloody body of her co-star Bob Crane.
The police arrived on the scene at around 3 pm and Berry told them the identity of the victim was Bob Crane. Lt. Ron Dean began to take a statement from the Australian actress when suddenly the phone rang.
Strangely Lt. Dean told Berry to answer the phone despite the phone not been checked for prints or any other forensic analysis. Berry did as she was told. It would be one of several strange decisions made in regards to the crime scene.
On the other end of the phone was John Carpenter. The Lt. took the phone from Berry and informed Carpenter there had been an incident in the apartment but would give no further details.
Carpenter told the Lieutenant that he had been with Crane the previous evening until around 1 am when they went there separate ways. He then informed Dean that he had then taken a morning flight back to LA.
The phone rang several more times. First, a female friend of Crane’s who he met whilst in Arizona rang. Next was his eldest son Robert David Crane, whom Carpenter had contacted after his initial call. Finally, John Carpenter would call for a second time.
Throughout the conversations, a suspicion came down on one of the callers… John Henry Carpenter.
Lt. Ron Dean found it extremely odd that at no point, according to Dean at least, did Carpenter ask to speak to Bob Crane, see if his friend was ok or enquire as to what crime had been committed.
Carpenter, however, told a different story. He claimed that during the initial call he was given no answers. This led to Carpenter calling Bob Crane’s son to let him know he was worried something was wrong.
Murdered In His Sleep
Bob Crane’s body was discovered curled up in his bedroom. Wearing a pair of shorts and his undershirt, he was covered by a bloody bedsheet. An electrical cord had been tightly tied around Crane’s throat and his skull viciously smashed in.
There was blood on the covers and splattered up the walls near the headstand of the bed. Blood was also on the door handle on the inside of the room. Fragments of skull and brain on the pillow.
The medical examiner determined that Bob Crane’s cause of death was the result of blunt force trauma. Crane had been struck with an undetermined heavy object, such as a tyre iron or wrench, around the side of the head, at least twice.
With no signs of a struggle and from all the gathered evidence around the scene, it appeared Bob Crane had been murdered whilst he slept.
The Investigation Begins
Lt Ron Dean and the chief case officer Dennis Borkenhagen led the investigation. They quickly ruled out a robbery gone wrong as no items of value appeared to be missing. There was also no sign of any disturbance or struggle at all.
Neither the front door or the sliding glass door in the apartment showed any signs of been forced and both were unlocked. Crane was known to keep the doors locked. This led police to the theory that the killer had a key or had previously accessed the room and made sure the doors weren’t locked somehow. The lead investigators became convinced the killer was someone Crane knew.
Upon further investigation of the premises, the investigators would finally uncover Bob Crane’s dark secret. Police discovered a large collection of Crane’s personal pornographic tapes and photo’s.
A makeshift darkroom was also found in one of the bathrooms. The negatives of yet more images of naked women waiting to be developed.
Amongst all the findings it was later discovered one collection was missing. The photo album which Bob Crane had shown John Carpenter when he first arrived in Scottsdale was missing.
Several questions have been asked over the years about the early investigation due to the following:
- Berry had in her possession a rather large handbag. Yet, it was never checked by any of the officers on the scene.
- Victoria Berry was allowed to answer the phone as previously mentioned despite this being a crime scene.
- Robert David Crane, Bob’s eldest son, was allowed to remove items from the apartment before they had been checked for prints.
- Evidence was collected in the same bag, possibly allowing for the contamination of evidence.
- They failed to search the motel room of John Carpenter despite him being there prime suspect from an early stage.
Who Killed Bob Crane?
Police spoke to over 50 associates of Bob Crane’s in the days following the actor’s murder. They would soon discover that the seemingly lovable Crane had more than his fair share of enemies.
A few months prior to his death Crane had been involved in a violent argument with a fellow actor whilst in Texas. The actor in question had sworn to get his revenge following the incident.
Patricia Olsen, Crane’s second wife had also been heard arguing with Crane loudly in the days before his death.
There was also the dozens of partners whose girlfriends and wifes had been seduced and had sex with Crane over the many years. Could vengeful partner have killed Bob Crane?
The women in the tapes were also possible suspects. Perhaps one of Crane’s conquest didn’t know they had been recorded until after the fact. Maybe they feared been blackmailed and so they had murdered Bob Crane. These weren’t motives without merit.
Victoria Berry also revealed she had lied to police during her initial statements. Berry had told officers Crane was like a brother to her but it actually turned out that she too had a sexual relationship with the actor. Why did Berry lie to the police?
None of this really mattered though as investigators had made up there mind who there chief suspect was and that person was John Henry Carpenter.
Investigators knew that Carpenter had spent the early morning with Crane. They also knew that he had spoken to him on the phone that same morning at around 3 am.
Police traced the Chrysler Cordoba rental car which Carpenter had driven during his time in Scottsdale. Investigators discovered a small bloodstain was inside the vehicle on the passenger side. Could this be the lead Dean and Borkenhagen where looking for?
The blood sample was sent off for testing. When the results came back is was revealed that the sample was from an individual with blood group type B which was only found in 10% of the population. Bob Crane was in that 10% of individuals.
Sadly though this was way before DNA testing is where it stands today, so there was no way to prove the blood found in Carpenter’s rental car definitely belonged to Bob Crane.
A further lead and glimmer of hope came from a maid working at the Sunburst Motel, the place Carpenter had stayed during his visit. The maid stated that whilst cleaning Carpenter’s room she discovered a bloody pillowcase and washcloth.
Unfortunately for Dean and Borkenhagen, the maid said she had got rid of the items. Despite another tantalizing lead, the pair were again left with no hard evidence against Carpenter.
Interview With John Carpenter
Dean and Borkenhagen decided they needed to speak to John Carpenter. After escorting the suspect back to Arizona from LA they again failed to gather any proof that would link Carpenter to the murder of Bob Crane.
The only possible clue that came from the interview was in relation to the missing photo album. Carpenter stated that the album of naked pictures Crane had shown him was present in the apartment the day before Crane’s murder, however, it wasn’t amongst the items at the crime scene.
Did the album genuinely exist? or was it a story fabricated by Carpenter? All we know is that the album was never found.
The funeral of Bob Crane took place in Westwood, Los Angeles at the St. Paul The Apostle Catholic Church on July 5, 1978. In attendance were over 200 friends and family members. Bob Crane was buried at Oakwood Memorial Park in Chatsworth.
Police spoke to Carpenter again on July 14, 1978. Again John Carpenter was adamant that he had no involvement in the murder of his best friend. Carpenter was even willing to take a polygraph test to prove his innocence, though police turned down the offer.
During the interview, Carpenter made clear why to him killing Bob Crane would have made no sense, saying:
“He was my friend and he was the goose who laid the golden egg for me, in terms of meeting ladies.”
Dean and Borkenhagen didn’t buy Carpenter’s story. Both men were confident that Carpenter was the man responsible for the murder of Bob Crane.
The investigators took their evidence to the State Attorney Charles Hyder. They hoped to be granted an arrest warrant for Carpenter. Hyder refused. There just wasn’t any substantial evidence against Carpenter.
Over 2 years after Bob Crane’s death, police once more went to the State Attorney looking to prosecute there chief suspect John Carpenter with Crane’s murder.
The State Attorney was now Tom Collins, who had replaced Charles Hyder in the role, but the verdict remained the same. There just wasn’t enough evidence with which to charge John Carpenter.
John Carpenter Arrest
12 years later, in 1992 police would finally get there wish. On June 1 John Carpenter was arrested and charged with the murder of his friend Bob Crane.
From 1989 the case had been reviewed under the orders of the new State Attorney Richard Romley. The ongoing review finally uncovered new evidence which led to the arrest of Carpenter.
Detective Barry Vassell and Court Attorney Investigator Jim Raines believed that Crane had become tired of Carpenter and was about to cut the cord on the pair’s friendship.
Distraught that the man he had openly admitted was the Golden Goose was no longer going to supply Carpenter with countless women, he took the decision to kill Bob Crane.
The investigation team had found several witnesses confirming their belief. This included one who saw the men arguing outside one of the nightclubs they had visited in the days before Bob Crane’s death.
The Trial Of John Carpenter
On September 12, 1994, the trial of John Carpenter, charged with the murder of Bob Crane, began.
The first piece of evidence against Carpenter that the prosecution showed was a picture of the blood found in the rental car which Carpenter had driven.
Prosecutor’s stated that the only person with blood type B who had been a passenger in the vehicle with Carpenter was Bob Crane. They also presented evidence from experts claiming that the blood was from brain tissue, likely from Bob Crane’s skull.
The defence countered the evidence. Firstly there was nothing to prove that the blood wasn’t from a previous rental of the vehicle (the speck of blood was only one-sixteenth of an inch in size so could have been missed when cleaned).
Secondly, there was no way of knowing it belonged to Bob Crane. Remarkably, despite it been the main piece of evidence, in the years following Bob Crane’s death the sample had been lost.
The Murder Weapon
Prosecutors then revealed evidence pointing towards a camera tripod been the murder weapon. A wound very similar to the one found on Bob Crane’s skull was recreated in a forensics lab with the use of a tripod
Patricia Olsen also stated to the jury that her husband always took his camera equipment with him, including two tripods. Only one tripod was located at the crime scene.
A blood splatter expert also revealed his findings. The blood patterns on the bedsheets were consistent with the pattern you would expect from a tripod.
To further prove that the tripod existed a further piece of evidence was displayed. A videotape showing Carpenter and Crane having a threesome with an unnamed female was shown to the jury which featured both tripods.
The Prosecution then laid out their theory for the jury. They believed that Bob Crane had become tired of his friendship with John Carpenter and was about to end it. Carpenter couldn’t except this decision and thus killed Crane.
Bob Crane’s son Robert David Crane testified that his father had said just as much to him in the weeks before his death, adding that his dad felt Carpenter had become a nuisance.
Stephen Avilla, the defence lawyer of John Carpenter, was quick to point out that there was not a single piece of hard evidence against his client. Avilla stated the Prosecutions whole case relied on speculation. He was right, everything the prosecution had was all just circumstantial.
The defence team also laid into the investigation as a whole. They painted the picture of an inept police force, especially pointing out the mishandling of evidence which included the most vital piece – the blood sample from the rental car.
Avilla also called out the focus on Carpenter throughout the investigation. He claimed the sex tapes were just as likely to have revealed the killer.
The defence lawyer pointed out that women who had been taped could have feared blackmail and committed the murder. Husbands and boyfriends of the women should also have been closely looked at as they could have killed in an act of revenge. Avilla also spoke of the actor who had sworn vengeance on Crane.
A Key Witness
Matters were made worse for the prosecution when the defence called their first witness. Walter “Lee” Fetty.
On the morning of Bob Crane’s murder, Fetty had been working. He was moving furniture at the apartment complex where Crane had been staying. Fetty told the jury he had seen a man, who he described as around 5 ft 9 and had black hair with grey streaks, coming out of Bob Crane’s apartment. The man took a look around and then re-entered the apartment.
Walter “Lee” Fetty then said a short amount of time passed before the man left the apartment for a second time. Fetty spoke to the man briefly when he asked for a light for his cigarette before the man complained that Fetty’s truck was obstructing his car. When asked if Carpenter was the man he had spoken with that day Fetty said:
“That ain’t the man who came out of that apartment, and that ain’t the man I lit the cigarette for.”
John Carpenter was acquitted on the Halloween of 1994 after a six-week trial. After 16 years as a suspect, John Carpenter had been found not guilty. He was in the eyes of the law innocent of any involvement in the murder of Bob Crane.
After the verdict Carpenter’s lawyer Stephen Avilla gave his stinging thoughts on the outcome:
“They may have bungled this case so badly they’ll never find the killer.”
Four years after been found not guilty of Bob Crane’s murder John Henry Carpenter passed away. Carpenter was 70 years old when he passed away on September 4, 1998. No one else has been charged and the murder remains unsolved.