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NY Post
New York Post
17 Feb 2024


NextImg:The tragic Lana Turner love affair that ended up in murder.

On March 26, 1958,  Lana Turner returned to the Hotel Bel Air from the 30th Academy Awards. Nominated for “Peyton Place,” she lost the Best Actress Oscar to Joanne Woodward for her performance in “The Three Faces of Eve.” 

But as Casey Sherman writes in “A Murder in Hollywood: The Untold Story of Tinseltown’s Most Shocking Crime” (Sourcebooks), the drama was just beginning. 

After putting her daughter Cheryl to bed, Turner walked into her own room. “The room was dark, but she could see the figure of a man sitting on a chair by her bed. Lana’s heart sank,” writes Sherman. “She flicked on the light switch, and there he was, Johnny Stompanato,” Turner’s temperamental boyfriend. 

California gangster Johnny Stompanato (l) with mafia chief Mickey Cohen; the duo intended to extort Lana Turner, but Stompanato ended up falling in love with her. Courtesy Associated Press/

A fight ensued. Stompanato slapped Turner, punched her in the face and then produced a knife. “No one will ever want to look at that pretty face again!” he raged.

All the while, young Cheryl cowered in her room.

Sherman chronicles a crime that shocked show business and laid bare the abusive relationship between one of Hollywood’s brightest stars and a liar, a crook and a conman.

Born in Woodstock,Ill., in 1925, Stompanato was a former Marine turned gangster and worked for Mickey Cohen, head of the notorious Los Angeles-based Cohen crime family. 

In 1957, the pair hatched a plan to blackmail Turner, who was known for her taste in the wrong kind of men. “The two gangsters reverse engineered the classic honey trap scheme, using Stompanato as bait to lure Lana into bed,” Sherman writes. 

“But that was not enough. They would need to stage a threesome of some kind while Cohen’s men surreptitiously filmed the sex act. They would then use that fear, hanging it over the actress’s head while siphoning off loads of cash from her bank account.”

Turner and Stompanato in happier times with Turner’s daughter Cheryl Crane. Courtesy Associated Press/

Using the alias “John Steele,” Stompanato bombarded Turner with calls, flowers and gifts. Later he charmed Cheryl by letting her ride his horse and new Thunderbird convertible. “Call me John,” he told her.

What Cohen hadn’t counted on was his right-hand man falling in love with Turner. “The game had changed. He was no longer interested in blackmail or sex movies.”

But over the course of a torrid year, Stompanato made Turner’s life a misery.

He abused her psychologically and routinely assaulted her. He also drugged her and took nude photographs of her while she slept.

It was only when her friend, actor Mickey Rooney, showed her an old copy of Confidential magazine, revealing “John Steele” was actually the gangster Johnny Stompanato that Turner tried to end the relationship.

But Stompanato wouldn’t accept it.

Turner’s Beverly Hills mansion — AKA, the scene of the crime. photo by Casey Sherman

In 1957, for example, he became convinced Turner was having an affair with up-and-coming Scottish actor Sean Connery, whom she was working with in England on “Another Time, Another Place.” 

Although Turner tried to dissuade him, Stompanato used a fake passport to fly across the Atlantic to confront her and in a row, tried to strangle her. 

Two weeks later, Stompanato turned up on the movie set and threatened Connery with a gun. “Stompanato pulled the revolver out of his pocket and aimed it at the actor’s chest. Lana let out a bloodcurdling scream,” writes Sherman.

Connery didn’t cower. 

Instead, he grabbed Stompanato’s wrist, twisting it behind his back. As he dropped the firearm, Connery punched him hard in the face, knocking him over, his nose gushing with blood. 

Turner takes the stand in her daughter’s trial in 1958. Bettmann Archive

Although banned from the studio, Stompanato showed up again days later, threatening to kill Turner. But thanks to a tip-off about Stompanato’s fake passport, police officers were there to escort him to the airport and on to a plane back to Los Angeles.

Still she couldn’t avoid him.

When filming ended Turner traveled to Copenhagen to make a connecting flight to Acapulco, Mexico where she intended to recuperate alone.

But waiting at the foot of the aircraft’s stairs, carrying a single yellow rose, was Stompanato. “Lana,” he said. “You know in your blood I’m never gonna let you go.”

Later, in Mexico, she awoke one night to find Stompanato at the foot of her bed, pointing a gun at her. “If you aren’t going to be with me, you’re not gonna be with anyone else,” he whispered. 

Turner’s daughter Cheryl Crane is led from a Los Angeles jail to Juvenile Hall in April 1958. Bettmann Archive

For her own safety, Turner resorted to playing the part of doting girlfriend. “She put her body on autopilot while her brain worked out some way to get rid of him forever,” writes Sherman.

The affair ended on April 4, 1958, a few weeks after Oscar night.

That evening, Stompanato turned up at Turner’s Beverly Hills home and threatened to kill her. 

When Turner tried to hide in her bedroom, Stompanato barged in. 

Turner and Cheryl descend from an airplane in 1946. Bettmann Archive

It was then that Cheryl Turner intervened, plunging an 8-inch butcher’s knife into the gangster’s stomach. “With one thrust, the blade penetrated his abdomen, slicing into one of his kidneys, striking a vertebra, and puncturing his aorta,” writes Sherman.

“Seconds later, Johnny Stompanato, gangster, conman, and abuser, was dead.”

When the case went to trial, Cheryl Turner was acquitted of murder, the jury ruling it was a “justifiable homicide” committed purely to save her mother’s life.

Stompanato was buried at LA’s Oakland Cemetery. Soon after, it was revealed his entire estate was worth just $274, which included $50 in cash.

As one newspaper headline eulogized: “He Lived Big and Died Little.”