Behind his endearing smile and catchy jokes, who was Bob Crane? Was he someone who simply enjoyed fulfilling his wild and sexual fantasies? Or was he a man who abused his star status and took advantage of the women he slept with?
Another burning question remains: who murdered him? Was it John Henry Carpenter, his partner in crime and longtime friend? Or was it some revenge-seeking husband of one of the women he lured in between the sheets?
To this day, Bob Crane’s murky murder case still haunts Hollywood…
How Did Bob Crane Die?
On a hot summer afternoon, on June 29, 1978, actress Victoria Ann Berry waited patiently for Bob Crane to show up for their lunch meeting. They had scheduled a get-together to discuss their show, Beginner’s Luck. Yet minutes turned to nearly an hour, and Bob still hadn’t arrived.
Concerned by his absence, Victoria went to his house to check on him. It was around 1:00 in the afternoon when she knocked on his door. No answer. She noticed that the morning paper was outside his door, so she assumed he might still be sleeping.
She Slowly Entered the Room
Victoria turned the doorknob, and the door creaked open. The apartment’s interior was completely dark, and she couldn’t see much without turning the lights on because Crane had his windows covered with really thick drapes.
With the lights still off, Victoria tip-toed her way around the room calling, “Bob? Bob?” She entered his bedroom and saw an outline of someone on the bed. At first, she assumed it might have been a woman he had slept with the previous night.
She Thought of Every Possible Scenario
As her eyes adjusted to the darkness, Victoria noticed bloodstains on the bed. She thought, well, maybe he had been out with a troubled woman who had cut her wrists in despair. It seemed like the last thing on Victoria’s list of possible scenarios was finding Bob Crane dead.
Tragically, that’s exactly what she found. Victoria spotted Crane’s head, completely deformed and battered, and an electrical cord tied around his neck. The blows to his face had been so bad that only one side was identifiable.
The Crime Scene Was Flooded With People
The actress ran out of his house screaming, crying, and panting. She alerted his neighbors and collapsed to the floor. It didn’t take long for the police to arrive, and with them, the rest of the town. People gravitated towards Crane’s home, each one of them eager to catch a glimpse of the crime scene.
This was one of the criticisms surrounding the way this case was handled. There were people all over the crime scene – walking, chatting, smoking, and talking on the phone. As people piled onto Bob Crane’s front yard, detectives took the opportunity to check if anyone had heard or seen anything suspicious that morning.
His Partner in Crime, John Henry Carpenter
At the time of his death, Crane was planning on making some notable changes to his life. The actor was two weeks away from turning 50. He was planning on divorcing his second wife, Hogan’s Heroes co-star Patricia Olson, as well as cutting off bad influences like John Henry Carpenter from his life.
Carpenter, a video equipment salesman who worked for Sony Electronics, ran into Crane on the set of Hogan’s Heroes. They struck up a friendship and started hanging out, clinking beer glasses in bars, and picking up girls.
He Videotaped Them in Bed
Crane’s star status drew in the ladies, and Carpenter introduced himself as the star’s manager. Together, they would videotape their sexual encounters with different women. (Some people claim it was done without their consent.)
They seemed to be a match made in heaven, each one feeding into each other’s perverted fantasies. But a little while before Crane’s death, the close-knit friends had been seen arguing. Later in the investigation, police would find blood-type B in Carpenter’s rental car. The same blood type as Crane’s.
Who Killed Bob Crane?
Blood on the walls, blood on the floor, blood on the sheets. Bob Crane’s room looked like a hellish bloodbath. The primary suspect? John Henry Carpenter. Crane’s son, Robert, was also suspicious of his dad’s friend, who had called him that same day around 3:00 in the afternoon.
Carpenter phoned Rob and told him “Hey, let me know if you need anything.” This was before Rob knew of his dad’s death. So, he thought to himself, well, that’s pretty odd. He then dialed his dad’s number and was greeted by Victoria Ann Berry, who picked up and said, “Bob isn’t here.”
How Robert Found Out
That same day, Robert drove over to his mom’s house to pick her up. When he got there, his stepdad ordered him to come in. “Call your dad’s attorney, now,” he urged. Crane’s attorney broke the news:
“There are rumors that your dad has been shot,” he told Rob. The news was hard to take in. He looked up and saw his mom, his grandma (Bob’s mom), and his sister, Karen, all crying in the living room, struggling to make any sense of what had happened.
“We Don’t Have a Father Anymore!”
Debbie Crane, Bob’s daughter, was 19 years old when her father died. She remembers receiving Karen’s frantic call in which she yelled, “We don’t have a father anymore! Dad has been killed.” She couldn’t understand who would have wanted her father dead.
Police wondered the same, and they began speculating. Either an angry lover, they suggested, or even more reasonable, an angry lover’s boyfriend or husband. Crane’s sexual escapades might have made him the target of some really angry man.
Specks of Blood in Carpenter’s Vehicle
The only piece of evidence detectives found pointed straight at Bob’s longtime friend, John Henry Carpenter. Robert Crane said that his dad might have been growing sick of Carpenter, and that this likely caused a huge rift in their relationship.
Two days after Bob Crane’s body was discovered, police spotted blood on the door panel of the vehicle Carpenter had rented. Even though the blood typed matched Crane’s, it couldn’t be conclusively linked to him, so they weren’t allowed to arrest Carpenter just yet.
It Was Ruled a Murder
Scottsdale, Arizona’s police officially ruled Bob Crane’s death a murder. And this wasn’t a case of a robbery turned homicide. There weren’t any signs of forced entry, nor was anything of value taken from his apartment.
The police weren’t able to identify any murder weapon, but it looks like Crane was beaten to death with a blunt object. Police speculated it was a camera tripod. The actor owned two in his apartment, but police could only find one.
A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing?
Bob Crane’s death unearthed some hideous truths. As mentioned above, Crane and Carpenter would videotape women during their sexual encounters, and while there is nothing wrong with taping yourself in action, there’s everything wrong about doing so without consent.
Crane’s son, Robert, insists that each woman his dad recorded had consented to the situation. But without any testimonies, we’ll probably never know what went down behind closed doors.
Carpenter Met With Crane Right Before His Death
As police intensified the investigation, they found out that John Henry Carpenter flew to Arizona to visit the actor on June 25, four days before his body was found. Scottsdale officials tracked down his rental vehicle, where they found several blood smears that matched Crane’s blood type.
However, because DNA testing wasn’t available in 1978, they refused to files charges against Carpenter. Tragically, Bob Crane’s case remained cold until the early ‘90s, when detectives decided to re-examine the evidence.
Years Later, They Arrested Him
Officials persuaded the county’s attorney to reopen the case. Going through the files again, they uncovered a suspicious photo found in Carpenter’s car of what appeared to be a piece of brain tissue.
While the actual tissue sample recovered from Carpenter’s vehicle was no longer available after so many years, the photo was enough evidence to arrest him. 14 years after Crane’s murder, Carpenter found himself in court, having to defend himself.
Prosecutors Had an Uphill Battle
Convincing the jury of Carpenter’s guilt wasn’t an easy feat. During the trial, several witnesses came forward to say that Crane and Carpenter were on good terms and even had a nice, friendly dinner the night before the killing.
Moreover, Carpenter’s attorney insisted that the missing tripod wasn’t the murder weapon and suggested instead that an enraged, revenge-seeking husband could have attacked the actor. The defense also reminded the jury of the lack of evidence involved in the case.
It Was Nearly Impossible to Get a Conviction
In the end, Carpenter was acquitted by the jury. “We did the best we could,” detective Barry Vassal told the media, “We went through all the evidence. We talked to all the witnesses that we could possibly talk to, and we came up with what we came up with.”
A lot of the time, when it comes to old, cold cases such as Bob Crane’s, it’s incredibly difficult to get a conviction. But Vassal believes it “would have been a slam dunk with the DNA testing.”
If Not Carpenter, Then Who Was It?
Bob’s son, Robert, has suggested another theory over the years. He pointed the finger at someone close to the family – his stepmother, who died of lung cancer in 2007. “She was in the middle of a divorce with my dad,” he explained.
“If there’s no divorce, she keeps what she gets, and if there’s no husband, she gets the whole thing,” he continued. Robert tried telling the Scottsdale officials, but none of the cops had ever taken his accusations seriously.
Bob Got the Hollywood Treatment
About 200 mourners attended Bob Crane’s funeral on July 5th, 1978, at the St. Paul the Apostle Church in Westwood, California. The guests included John Astin, Patty Duke, Carroll O’Connor, and his castmates on Hogan’s Heroes.
For many of them, standing above the grave of their friend whose murderer had been shelved was unbearably frustrating. Regardless of the questionable deeds Crane did in his life, the fact that his family still hasn’t received their closure is tragic.
The Family Struggled to Open Up
Bob’s death has created a rift in the family. His son, Robert Crane, refuses to speak to his step-siblings. And his mother and sisters also refuse to talk about what happened so many years ago.
“It’s bizarre to me,” Robert said about his family’s reluctance to open up, “I’m not expecting a let’s-hold-hands-at-the-table, but we’ve just never talked about it.” Above all, however, he’s upset about never knowing what happened to his dad.
“Time Is Just Taking People Away”
“I don’t know what else to do,” Robert admitted in an interview; “Carpenter’s dead. Patti’s dead. Time is just taking people away.” If closure isn’t an option, Robert said he would like nothing more than to have a simple conversation with his dad again.
The last time they talked was when Bob called him to wish him a happy birthday two days before the murder. “I think about all the things he missed,” Robert shared. “He loved technology, and he missed out on CDs, cellphones, digital.”
Who Was Bob Crane?
Crane rose to stardom in the 1960s, when he starred in a cheesy WWII war series called Hogan’s Heroes. The show centered around a group of inmates in a German POW camp. It debuted on CBS in the fall of 1965 and became an overnight hit.
The show made Crane, who starred as the womanizing Colonel Robert Hogan, a household name across the states. Before becoming a TV star, Crane had established his name as a radio host, interviewing the likes of Marilyn Monroe, Bob Hope, and Charlton Heston on CBS’s KNX station.
Funny (?) German Soldiers
Crane ended up interviewing the iconic TV writer Carl Reiner, who liked him so much that he gave him a guest gig on The Dick Van Dyke Show. This brief stint led to a regular role on The Donna Reed Show.
Finally, he was sent the script for Hogan’s Heroes, which the actor mistook for a heavy drama. But his agent chuckled and said, “Bob, what are you talking about? This is a comedy. These are the funny Nazis.” (Cringe…)
The Actors Were Holocaust Survivors
Bob wasn’t the only one who was confused by the show. WWII, one of the most horrific, hideous, unbelievable events in human history, had taken place only 20 years before the sitcom aired. The trauma was still alive and very much kicking.
To make matters weirder, three of the show’s funny fascists – Werner Klemperer (who played Colonel Klink), John Banner (who played Sergeant Schultz), and Leon Askin (who played General Burkhalter), were Jewish Holocaust survivors.
Bob Had the Money to Indulge His Appetite
Robert Clary (Corporal LeBeau) had lost his parents at Auschwitz but still made no apologies about the show. “It was well-written, well-directed, and well-acted,” he said in an interview. “It was a great group to work with. [Including] Bob, [who] never said, ‘Hey, I’m Hogan and I’m the star.'”
But Bob Crane really was a star, and fame gave him the money and the freedom to indulge his appetite. He was married at the time to his high school sweetheart, Anne Terzian, with whom he had three children (Robert, Deborah, and Karen), but he used his celebrity status to meet other women.
Women Loved Him
“There were no drugs, no coercion, none of that,” his son, Robert, would later explain. “Women just liked him… They found him handsome.” But Crane’s sexual behavior did have an effect on his castmates.
He had an affair with co-star Cynthia Lynn (who played Helga the secretary in the first season), and then moved on to her replacement, a woman named Patricia Olsen, who stepped in to play Hilda the following year.
Olson Hated the Influence Carpenter Had Over Crane
Patricia Olson, who also called herself Sigrid Valdis, ended up being more than just an affair. She became his second wife in 1970, shortly after he divorced Terzian. They had two children – Scott and AnaMarie.
Olson, like many others, hated the influence Carpenter had over her husband. Their troubling dynamic was captured in a 2002 film about his case, starring Greg Kinnear as Cane, Maria Bello as Patricia, and Willem Dafoe as Carpenter.
A Small Part of a Bigger Pie
Carol Ford, the writer who co-authored the book “Bob Crane: The Definitive Biography,” said that the film overemphasized Bob’s sex fetish. “As far as the amateur pornography, that was a small part of a bigger pie, you might say,” she explained.
“Bob was chronicling and writing down and filming every single thing in his life,” Ford added. “So when you look at it in the grand scheme of things, it’s just a small slice.” And it was a slice that the world simply couldn’t tolerate.
Bob Made Some Bad Moves
“He made some bad moves,” Bob’s son, Robert later admitted, “He collected photos of women and put together these books.” He had pictures of “Sally from Jacksonville, Florida,” for example, which he would show off to people he knew.
Another bad move in Bob’s repertoire had to do with the people he showed the pictures to. He was filming a Disney film at the time called Superdad, and, not thinking too much of it, he walked around Disney Studios and showed photos of the women he had been with to people on the crew.
Was Bob’s Dark Side Really that Dark?
Robert argued that his dad’s sexual endeavors never veered into dangerous territory. “To find out that the all-American Hogan has this ‘dark side’, but I don’t think of it as a dark side,” he said. “My dad loved women.”
Robert suggested that his dad might have been overcompensating for years of lacking love from women and lacking the solid career he had always strived for. Meeting a woman at a nightclub surely fed his ego.
Bob Took His Son to a Questionable Premiere
Robert Crane isn’t embarrassed by his dad’s “sleazy” enthusiasms. In one interview, he chuckled as he recalled when his dad took him, then a 21-year-old, to the premiere of 1972’s Deep Throat. The theater was packed with porn stars, and Bob loved every minute of it.
But by the early ‘70s, Bob’s status was no longer what it had been when he first started out. Hogan’s Heroes had wrapped up the previous year, and the culture had somewhat changed. Jobs were no longer knocking on his door.
He Was One of the Most Popular Kids In School
So, who was Bob Crane? Born in Waterbury, CT, on July 13, 1928, Crane actually grew up in Stamford, CT, and graduated from Stamford High in 1946. His peers said he was one of the most popular kids in school.
Straight out of high school, Crane served in the U.S. National Guard in Stamford and worked in a jewelry store to supplement his income. Dreams of becoming a famous star would evolve later on in his life.
A Life-Long Drummer
One of Bob’s favorite hobbies was playing the drums. He was inspired to pick up the drumsticks after watching Gene Krupa in 1939 at the World’s Fair. Since then, Bob was rarely seen without his drumsticks.
He became a life-long drummer who played with many different bands on the East Coast. He ended up playing with some of his idols, including the New Tommy Dorsey Band and the Harry James Orchestra. Fun fact, he even performed a drum battle with Gene Krupa on the radio!
His Brother Served in WWII
Bob Crane’s older brother, Alfred, served in the Navy throughout World War II. Alfred was severely injured during one of the battles, but thankfully, he survived. Still, Al’s time in the war affected everyone in Bob’s family.
Bob would later look back at this time of their lives and say that it greatly impacted him. And although Hogan’s Heroes was intended as a comedy, Bob said that he took the war seriously and that he frequently thought about Al’s time out on the battlefield.
He Spent Fifteen Years in Radio
Crane worked for fifteen consecutive years in radio. Many of his broadcasting colleagues felt that he transformed the industry and considered him a radio genius. Bob’s radio show was such a hit that by the time he was working at KNX, advertisers had to buy airtime during his program (in addition to other time slots they had to pay for other than Bob’s).
Apart from doing things in radio that had rarely been done before, Crane was also a talented voice impersonator. The radio station, KNX, called him radio’s “Man of a Thousand Voices.”
Bob Didn’t Want to Be a Talk Show Host
Bob interviewed a handful of celebrities on his KNX radio show, including stars like Marilyn Monroe, Jack Lemmon, Ronald Reagan, Jonathan Winters, Dick Clark, Jayne Mansfield, Ron Howard, Jerry Lewis, Dick Van Dyke, and more.
Deep down, he wanted to act, so he rejected several offers to turn his radio show into a television talk show. He didn’t want to be seen as a host. He wanted to become an appreciated actor.
He Took Acting Classes With Stella Adler
A year before he landed the role on Hogan’s Heroes, Crane took an acting course directed by Stella Adler. Bob also talked to numerous Hollywood stars at the time, asking them for advice on how to perform well and how to get into character.
During the first season of Hogan’s Heroes, he turned to Donna Reed for advice. Bob was clearly a good student who did his homework because he played his part to perfection.
He Asked for Soldiers’ Approval Before Signing on the Show
Bob Crane was a big supporter of U.S. veterans. Before taking the role of Colonel Hogan on Hogan’s Heroes, the actor insisted that a trailer of the show be shown to veterans and former prisoners of war.
Bob valued their opinions and wanted to make sure they approved of the show’s premise before signing up for the role. As it turns out, they loved Hogan’s Heroes, explaining that without humor, they wouldn’t have survived the war.
He Loved Doing Theater
Bob kicked off his acting career in 1959 when he performed in a community theatre version of Tunnel of Love. Bob loved the stage, and performed in theaters throughout most of his life, even at the peek of his career on Hogan’s Heroes.
Bob received great critical reviews for nearly all his theater productions. Before agreeing to act on Hogan’s Heroes, Bob was offered the lead role in several other series, including Please Don’t Eat the Daisies and My Mother the Car.
Hogan’s Heroes Revue Almost Happened
Crane wrote an ending to Hogan’s Heroes called Hogan’s Heroes Revue, which was supposed to have been performed in Las Vegas. Actors Robert Clary and Werner Klemperer were hired to star with him in the live show, as well as Bob’s close friend and a magician, John Thompson.
In the end, Hogan’s Heroes Revue never came to be because Bob didn’t agree to what he would later call a dishonest business contract with the casino.
He Was in Good Spirits Before He Died
In 1978, Bob appeared in an episode of The Love Boat. In it, his character breaks down in tears. Many viewers assumed it was an indication of his state of mind during that period. But that wasn’t entirely true.
In between takes, Bob was friendly, humorous, and got along well with The Love Boat cast. Bob wasn’t someone who couldn’t keep it together at work, and he was planning on taking on more serious roles. Sadly, he didn’t have a chance because he was murdered shortly after The Love Boat episode.
The Celebrity Cooks Scandal
Contrary to popular belief, Bob Crane didn’t exhibit any inappropriate behavior on Celebrity Cooks. The whole story was fabricated for ratings and money. Celebrity Cooks officially disputed any claims that the actor behaved inappropriately on set.
The show stated that Bob was one of their friendliest guests, and the way the episode he starred in is depicted in Auto Focus is entirely false.
He Co-Wrote a Movie
Throughout the 1970s, Bob rejected many offers to star in TV shows and game shows, as well as offers to appear on talk shows. Instead, the actor agreed to take on the lead role in Second Start, which was renamed The Bob Crane Show.
Bob Crane also tried his hand at scriptwriting. The gifted star co-wrote the 1975 TV film Mobile Two, the pilot film for the TV series Mobile One, starring actor Jackie Cooper, Julie Gregg and Mark Wheeler.
A Selfless Philanthropist
Bob Crane was a controversial figure. But what many people don’t know is that he was a selfless philanthropist who devoted a lot of his time and profits to several charities. He received very little recognition for it because he never demanded it in the first place.
These organizations included: the U.S. Armed Forces Radio Network, United Cerebral Palsy, the Arthritis Foundation, and Operation Entertainment. Bob also met regularly with U.S. veterans and performed at military bases all across the nation.
He Was Trying to Better Himself
At the time of his death on June 29, 1978, Crane had a new TV series in the works and was completely focused on turning his life around and overcoming his sex addiction. Bob Crane received a lot of backlash for videotaping women during sex.
Some sources claim that the women knew they were being videotaped, and others argue that they didn’t. In truth, we’ll likely never know. Regardless, Bob was a great actor who was working on bettering himself but was ruthlessly murdered before he was able to do so.