Mob, megastars and note riddle – actress simply vanished after cryptic wink

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Jean Spangler dreamed of being a famous movie star.

The striking, tall brunette was making her way in Hollywood, getting small parts in big films, and earning a dollar or two dancing at a nightclub popular with A-List celebrities.

One afternoon in 1949 she left her five-year-old daughter with her sister-in-law, who recalled: "She came down the stairs and asked how she looked. She smiled at me, and then her little girl, Christine, asked where she was going. 'Going to work,' Jean answered again, but she winked at me when she said it."

She later called to say she would be working the whole night. She was never seen or heard from again.

The mystery of the 26-year-old's disappearance still haunts Hollywood. Theories include that she was killed by the mob, died in a botched abortion or was the victim of the infamous Black Dahlia serial killer.

When she never returned home, the police were called. Her handbag – with a broken strap – was found in a local park.

It contained a note she had written: "Kirk, Can't wait any longer. Going to see Dr. Scott. It will work best this way while mother is away."

The hunt for her killer started.

Attention turned to mega star Kirk Douglas who Jean had recently appeared in a film with.

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He was on holiday but told police: "I didn't remember the girl or the name until a friend recalled it was she who worked as an extra in a scene with me. I recalled that she was a tall girl in a green dress and that I talked and kidded with her a bit on the set. But I never saw her before or after that and have never been out with her."

Who was the mysterious Dr Scott? Jean had told friends she was three months pregnant and was considering getting an abortion, which was illegal at that time.

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Police said they knew of a Dr Scott "known to Miss Spangler and her coterie of nightclubbing friends" but officers could never track him down.

The only other Scott in her life was a former lover she had an affair with while her ex-husband had been in the Air Force during World War Two. He said he hadn't seen her for years.

Were the mob involved? Jean had recently been seen partying with mobsters "Little Davy" Ogul and Frank Niccoli, who vanished around the same time.

It was later reported by a mob informant that Niccoli had been strangled in a mob hit and was buried in a mail sack in a vineyard, while Ogul met a similar gruesome end.

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Was it a more commonplace tragic crime? Jean had been involved in a bitter custody battle with her violent ex husband but police could find no evidence linking him to the crime.

Or was she another victim of one of Hollywood's most mysterious killers?

In a case which soon became known worldwide as the Black Dahlia murder, Elizabeth Short was another aspiring Hollywood actress.

Her mutilated body was discovered in a park having been bisected at the waist. The corpse had been sickeningly "posed", with her hands over her head, her elbows bent at right angles, and her legs spread apart.

This theory was supported by one man who claimed he knew who the mystery Black Dahlia murderer was – his own father.

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In his book Black Dahlia Avenger, former LAPD homicide detective Steve Hodel claimed his father, Dr George Hodel, was the Black Dahlia killer.

He claimed his father ran an illegal abortion ring for the rich and famous and the "Kirk" in the letter was one of his accomplices who was subsequently arrested for performing the illegal operations.

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His dad had told friends he was dating an actress named Jean, her purse was found near his home, and a gas station attendant said he had seen a scared looking Jean in a car with a man looking like the doctor. She had shouted to him "have the police follow this car!" but by the time officers arrive they had vanished.

The truth is 72 years on we will probably never know what happened to Jean Spangler, another tragic starlet who found more fame dead than alive.

  • Hollywood
  • Missing Person
  • Serial Killers

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