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Marilyn Monroe (1926–1962) was an American Hollywood actress and sex symbol known for her comic roles, and if you believe the conspiracy theories, she was murdered by John F. Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy, J. Edgar Hoover, the FBI, the CIA, organized crime, the Illuminati, etc, etc.
Conspiracy theories involved various totemic and probably mythical objects, including her missing "red diary" and recordings of her talking, which she had possibly made for her psychiatrist Ralph Greenson. Purported transcripts appeared 40 years after her death, but the tapes have never been found.
Monroe died on or about August 5, 1962, and her body was found at her home in Brentwood, Los Angeles, California. The official story is that she died from an overdose of prescription drugs: chloral hydrate and pentobarbital (Nembutal) were found in her body. In the day before her death, she had received a few visitors: one of her doctors Ralph Greenson, photographer Lawrence Schiller, and publicist Patricia Newcomb. Her housekeeper Eunice Murray stayed overnight and found her body. An autopsy was performed by deputy coroner Thomas Noguchi. The Chief Coroner, Theodore Curphey, decided that Monroe had committed suicide: the drugs were taken quickly and apparently all at once, she had made previous suicide attempts, and various circumstantial factors indicated depression.
Due to conspiracy theories, the police reopened the case in 1982 but found no evidence of murder. There was no evidence that the drug had been forcibly administered (no needle marks). One discrepancy raised by later writers is over the lack of barbituate in her stomach, surprising with an oral overdose, which as well as conspiracies has led to theories that the drug may have been administered as an enema. Aside from that, the only real doubt was whether it was accidental or deliberate overdose, but evidence pointed to the latter.
- John F. Kennedy was President of the US at the time. No proof has ever been provided that he had been having an affair with Marilyn; but on May 19, 1962, a few weeks before her death, she had "crashed" the public birthday party of the President and gave a very sexy performance of a song, "Happy Birthday, Mr President", which did amuse the president. This event has fueled the rumor of an affair. Archived White House records of the daily and hourly minutes of the President, along with all phone call records (24/7), have never corroborated any additional synchronized meetings or opportunities where he could have met with Marilyn. This conspiracy theory is one of the most popular.
- Jackie Kennedy, John's wife, whose motive would be jealousy.
- Robert F. Kennedy, John's brother RFK, who, according to Evan Thomas's well researched RFK autobiography, and using daily minutes and schedules from White House and Congressional archives, notes that RFK could not have had an affair with Marilyn since his whereabouts does not coincide at anytime with hers. Thomas also notes that RFK only met Marilyn three times, all of which were public or semi-private attended functions. When Marilyn died, RFK was 400 miles distant, in San Francisco, with his wife and entourage for a public function held that evening. Fueling this conspiracy, RFK's sister Jean Kennedy Smith hinted at a possible affair in a letter published in 2016.
- Peter Lawford, an actor, husband of John F. Kennedy's sister Patricia, and an associate of Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack. He spoke by phone to Monroe on the day she died.
- Frank Sinatra, getting really improbable here, but there were circumstantial facts to delight conspiracy theorists: he and Monroe were both being treated by Greenson, and Sinatra had links to the mob as well as to Lawford (with whom he had a well-publicised falling-out in 1962).
- Fidel Castro, whom she also had a relationship with according to the serious nutters. She didn't.
The conspiracy theorists
- Frank A. Capell. The Strange Death of Marilyn Monroe, self-published in 1964, set the template for future conspiracy theories. He claimed that Robert Kennedy was responsible, to protect his own reputation after an affair which Monroe had taken more seriously, but he also wove it into a larger story of a communist plot involving the Kennedys. Capell didn't appear to have much in the way primary sources: some information came from the notoriously right-wing gossip columnist Walter Winchell, although he also received information from Los Angeles police sergeant Jack Clemmons (see below). Like Clemmons, Capell was a fervent anti-communist, editor of Herald of Freedom, a self-described "national anti-Communist educational bi-weekly"; he claimed to "maintain files on two million people who have aided the International Communist Conspiracy." In 1965, Capell pled guilty to spreading false stories that liberal senator Thomas Kuchel had been caught in a homosexual act; Clemmons was also involved in the case but escaped charges after resigning from the police force.
- Jack Clemmons was the first police officer on the scene. His account changed considerably over the years after Monroe's death, with claims that he could just tell there was something suspicious about Monroe's death. Clemmons was a member of anti-communist group The Police and Fire Research Organization, and his fervent anti-communism probably explains why he got on so well with Capell.
- Norman Mailer, the larger-than-life American novelist, claimed in Marilyn: A Biography in 1973 that Monroe was killed by the CIA or FBI following an affair with Robert Kennedy. It wasn't even clear why they had her killed — not to protect Kennedy but to get some kind of leverage over him. He drew his account from earlier biographies by Fred Lawrence Guiles and Maurice Zolotow, leavened with his own interpretation; Pauline Kael accused him of performing "character assassination with the freedom of a novelist who has created fictional characters". Mailer rapidly retracted his allegations, which was probably taken by many people as a sign not of their ridiculousness but that somebody had got to him and he had been silenced.
- Robert F. Slatzer published an account based on Capell's, which was chiefly notable for one incredible claim — that he had been married to Monroe in Mexico in 1952.
- Anthony Scaduto, a music journalist, made similar claims writing under the pseudonym Tony Sciacca in soft porn magazine Oui in 1975. He added another key detail to future theories with his claim that Monroe kept a secret "red diary". There was no evidence for the existence of the diary, or any of his other claims. But doesn't the fact that the diary has never been found prove how important it was?
- Milo Speriglio, a private detective hired by Slatzer, published his own book in 1982. Marilyn Monroe: Murder Cover-Up claimed she was killed by union leader Jimmy Hoffa (who had conveniently vanished in 1975) and gangsters. He drew heavily on earlier books but also published claims by Lionel Grandison…
- Lionel Grandison was an actual near-witness who might have had knowledge of Monroe's death due to his work at the Los Angeles County coroner's office. He claimed in Speriglio's 1982 book that he had seen her body and she was badly bruised. Tarnishing his reliability, he was fired from his job for stealing from dead bodies. There was also the long delay between her death and his comments.
- Anthony Summers, a British tabloid journalist investigated the case in the 1980s and wrote Goddess: The Secret Lives of Marilyn (1985). In his story, Robert Kennedy and Peter Lawford were keeping her drugged, to shut her up about her and Robert's affair, but she was given too much and died on the way to hospital. Her body was brought home and set up to look like suicide.
- Jeanne Carmen, who claimed to be a friend of Monroe, and was used as a source by Summers. There is debate over how well she knew Monroe.
- Donald Spoto wrote a 1993 biography which sought to debunk earlier conspiracy theories while introducing a little one of his own. He claimed that she died accidentally and her death was covered up by her doctors Greenson and Engelberg: Engelberg had prescribed Nembutals and Greenson a chloral hydrate enema administered by the housekeeper Murray, which together had killed her. The men wanted to cover up their mistake and lied about her mental state. A large part of Spoto's book is devoted to criticisms of Summers, although critic Mark Lawson reckoned Spoto focused on the minutiae without discrediting some of Summers' main points. In addition, there is no evidence that Murray acted as Monroe's nurse or administered enemas.
- John Miner, a prosecutor involved in the original investigation into her death, stated in the 2000s that her death was the result of an accidental overdose from an enema given by the housekeeper Murray (there was some question over the lack of drugs in her stomach). Miner claimed that there were irregularities with the autopsy and that most of her important internal organs had mysteriously disappeared. He also claimed to have transcripts of tapes Monroe had made just before her death for her psychiatrist Ralph Greenson, which proved she had not committed suicide because she was planning for the future. He said that Greenson had destroyed the actual tapes, and there is no evidence that they ever existed apart from Miner's claims. It isn't clear when exactly the transcripts were made. He made the transcripts available shortly after being declared bankrupt, and had a chequered career before then.
- Matthew Smith in The Men Who Killed Marilyn claimed the CIA killed Monroe as revenge on Robert Kennedy for the Bay of Pigs fiasco. It seems like a lot of trouble to go through. His later book Victim: The Secret Tapes of Marilyn Monroe drew on Miner's transcripts to elaborate the theory. He also published claims that John F. Kennedy was killed by the CIA.
- Normand Hodges, a CIA agent, made a deathbed confession to the murder, according to the satirical publication World News Daily Report. Snopes has debunked this claim, which is linked to spurious rumors that she had sex with Fidel Castro.
- Steven Greer claimed Monroe was killed because she threatened to reveal evidence of the existence of UFOs, which she had learnt from the Kennedys. This claim featured in the 2017 film Unacknowledged that was directed by Michael Mazzola.
- 7 Conspiracy Theories About Marilyn Monroe's Death From Murderous Kennedys to UFOs, SF Gate, 1 June, 2017
- New Chapter in the Mystery of Marilyn: Her Own Words? by Robert W. Welkos (August 05, 2005) Los Angeles Times.
- See the Wikipedia article on Death of Marilyn Monroe.
- Hard-Boiled Hollywood, Jon Lewis, University of California Press, 2017
- See the Wikipedia article on Happy Birthday, Mr. President.
- RFK, The FBI were warned about book detailing Marilyn fling, New York Post, October 10, 2017
- The Strange Death of Marilyn Monroe, Frank A Capell, online text at archive.org
- Marilyn: A Biography by Norman Mailer (1973) Hodder & Stoughton. ISBN 0340181044.
- See the Wikipedia article on Marilyn: A Biography.
- Marilyn: A Rip-Off With Genius, Pauline Kael, New York Times, July 22, 1973
- Marilyn Monroe: Murder Cover-Up by Milo Speriglio (1982) Lawman Press. ISBN 0930990773.
- Goddess: The Secret Lives of Marilyn by Anthony Summers (1985) MacMillan. ISBN 0026154609.
- Marilyn Monroe: The Biography by Donald Spoto (1993). Chatto & Windus. ISBN 0701140259.
- BOOK REVIEW / Some like it hot, some like it dull: 'Marilyn Monroe' - Donald Spoto: Chatto, 17.99 pounds, Mark Lawson, The Independent, 17 April 1993
- John Miner dies at 92; investigator of Marilyn Monroe's death, LA Times, March 4, 2011
- Matthew Smith, Spartacus
- Seven Year Snitch, Snopes, 16 April 2015
- A New UFO Documentary Suggests Marilyn Monroe Was Killed Because She Knew About Aliens, io9, 22 May 2017