From the 7/24/00 issue of USN&WR|
The butler didn't do it
King Tut | Alexander the Great |
Genghis Khan | Queen Elizabeth I |
Edgar Allan Poe | Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid |
But then who did? A compendium of curious celebrity corpses
BY THOMAS K. GROSE, KATHLEEN M. HOGAN, MARGARET HUME, ART SAMUELS, AND VICTORIA VANTOCH
Not every famous dead person is a riddle shrouded in an enigma. The unstrange
truth is that Adolf Hitler slew himself in his bunker and Evita Perón's body rests in a
Buenos Aires cemetery (though for a time it sat on a dining table in Madrid). But others
could easily star in a Whodunitor a Where's the Body?
Glenn Miller | Joseph Force Crater |
Phar Lap | John Dillinger |
Bruce Lee (Li Jun Fan)
c. 1342-1324 B.C. A king at age 9 or so, Tutankhamen and his vizier Aye canned monotheism,
a pet project of Tut's dad.
OFFICIAL CAUSE OF DEATH: Thought to be tuberculosis.
BUT: Egyptologist Bob Brier says a 1969 X-ray of Tut's skull suggests a hard blow to
the back of the head. The aged Aye, as vizier, could have let a hit man into Tut's bedroom.
A commoner, Aye succeeded childless Tut by wedding his widow (and half-sister), who vanished
after the nuptials.
Alexander the Great
356-323 B.C. King of Macedonia, conqueror of the Persian
Empire, classical playboy.
OFFICIAL CAUSE OF DEATH: A fever, sudden abdominal pain, and two weeks later "invincible"
Alex was a goner. Theories include poisoning, pancreatitis, alcoholism aggravated by a
broken heart after the death of his lover, fellow warrior Hephaestion.
BUT: Maybe it was typhoid fever, proposed the New England Journal of Medicine in
June 1998. The infectious disease can cause a perforated bowel (and so, abdominal
pain) and ascending paralysis, which could explain the odd legend that Alexander's
body did not decompose. Unable to move, the king of the world might have seemed
dead before he really was.
1162(?)-1227. Ruthless ruler of the Mongol
Empire who conquered almost 70 percent of the known worldnearly all of
Asia. After defeating the Tatars, he slaughtered all those taller
than the height of a cart axle (i.e., adults) so the next generation of
Tatars would be loyal only to him.
OFFICIAL CAUSE OF DEATH: Possibly malaria. But one Mongol account suggests a
rival chieftain's wife mortally wounded Genghis during a tryst.
WHERE'S THE BODY? In the Mongolia steppes, somewhere on a mountain known as
Bhurkajn Khaldun. But no one can identify the mountain. Mongol soldiers slew
the 2,000 folks who escorted Genghis to his tomb, where he was supposedly buried with
treasure, then were themselves killed. That's one way to keep a secret.
LATEST TWIST: Khan-crazed Chicago lawyer/multimillionaire Maury Kravitz, 68, is
leading an expedition to Mongolia this month to find the grave. Kravitz, whose team
will use ancient texts that measure distances in pony strides, claims he has a secret clue.
Queen Elizabeth I
1533-1603. Daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, the "Virgin Queen" ruled England from
1558 until her death.
OFFICIAL CAUSE OF DEATH: Old age.
BUT: Research for a Discovery Channel documentary is reviving the rumor that Good
Queen Bess was a good ol' boy. The story: Elizabeth died at age 9 of disease. Unwilling to
tell Henry and face his wrath, the girl's guardians subbed a lad from the nearby village of
Bisley. Once the masquerade had begun, it could not be undone. If true, the tale would
explain why Bess never wedand why she had ordered no autopsy upon her death. In
1870, a respected vicar, Thomas Keble, reportedly discovered remains of a female
child garbed in royal-style clothes, while work was being done on Elizabeth's
Gloucestershire house. Keble reinterred the bodybut nobody knows where.
Edgar Allan Poe
1809-1849. American writer of macabre stories, including "The
OFFICIAL CAUSE OF DEATH: Thought to be complications from alcoholism.
BUT: Maybe a mad cat-or bat-bit him. Doctors studying Poe's medical records
point to waves of delirium and seizures he suffered in the days before his death as
a possible sign of rabies. Poe reportedly had been on the wagon for six months
before his demise.
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
Cassidy (born Robert Leroy Parker), 1866-?; the Kid (born Harry Long-a-baugh), 1870-?.
Led the Wild Bunch, a gang of bank and train robbers in the western United
States during the 1880s and '90s. With Pinkerton detectives on their heels, the two
fled to Argentina.
OFFICIAL CAUSE OF DEATH: No one knows for sure. But two unidentified bandits stole a
company payroll in November 1908 on a Bolivian road, then died two days later in an
army shootout. That might have been Butch and the Kid. But Cassidy's youngest sister
told researchers her brother came back to the United States and died in 1937.
BUT: Independent historians Daniel Buck and Anne Meadows found a November 1908
edition of the Tupiza, Bolivia, newspaper, listing guests at the Hotel Términus, including
one "Santiago Lowe." James Lowe was a Butch alias; Santiago is a Spanish
version of James. Buck and Meadows say in a new article that Butch's sister eventually
"implied to at least two researchers that she was just having fun with her stories."
They also note that the Kid's letters home stopped after the Bolivian shootout.
1904-1944. American bandleader and composer.
OFFICIAL CAUSE OF DEATH: Flying to Paris to plan a Christmas concert for the troops, he
crashed in the English Channel in a dense fog. The Nazis claimed Miller's death in a Paris
brothel was covered up by the Allies. No one believed them.
BUT: An RAF logbook shows a fighter jettisoned unused bombs, accidentally hitting a
plane. Was it Miller's?
Joseph Force Crater
1889-1930(?). Allegedly corrupt New York State Supreme Court
judge who vanished soon after then Gov. Franklin D. Roosevelt
named him to the bench.
OFFICIAL CAUSE OF DEATH: Unknown. After dining with friends on August 6 at a West
45th Street chophouse, he hailed a cab around 9 p.m. and was never seen again.
WHODUNIT: Initial evidence suggested the judge skipped town to escape a corruption scandal.
On the day he disappeared, he allegedly packed up private files and withdrew more than
$5,000 (about $50,000 in today's dollars) from the bank. But Alice Amelar, a Crater
buff who has been researching the judge for 20 years, believes "the Democrats" had
Crater killed, fearing that his testimony in a grand jury investigation of the sale of
judgeships would hurt FDR's presidential hopes: "Mr. Roosevelt hoisted himself
into the presidency on the body of his friend." In the 1950s, a Dutch clairvoyant "sensed"
Crater's body buried near Yonkers.
LAST WORDS: "I'm going up to Westchester for a swim; see you tomorrow."
1926-1932. Beloved Australian racehorse. His obit ran on Page 1 of the New York Times.
OFFICIAL CAUSE OF DEATH: Undetermined, perhaps accidental ingestion of pesticide. Stuffed
and mounted, his body is the most popular exhibit at Australia's Museum of Victoria.
BUT: The Mafia may have poisoned the steed. Target of a failed assassination attempt
in 1930an unknown shooter opened fire but was foiled by
the horse's trainerPhar Lap won so often that Mob-backed bookies didn't want to
1903-1934. J. Edgar Hoover's "Public Enemy No. 1" robbed more than a dozen
banks and broke out of jail twice within 14 months.
OFFICIAL CAUSE OF DEATH: Shot by FBI agents on July 22 outside Chicago's Biograph Theatre.
BUT: The FBI may have killed the wrong man. The missing autopsy report resurfaced 50
years after Dillinger was gunned down. The corpse had brown eyes, but a 1923 Navy
physical examiner described Dillinger's eyes as blue. And scars don't match up. Rumors
persist that the FBI shot Dillinger look-alike and small-time criminal Jimmy
Lawrence, who may have been set up by Dillinger's girlfriend. Jay Robert Nash, who
has written a book on the case, claims Dillinger watched the shootout, then
fled to Oregon.
Bruce Lee (Li Jun Fan)
1940-1973. The martial arts icon made wildly popular B movies in Hong Kong and became a U.S.
movie star with Enter the Dragon, released a month after he died.
OFFICIAL CAUSE OF DEATH: Brain swelling, an adverse reaction to the painkiller Equagesic,
given to him by a friend rumored to be his mistress.
LATEST TWIST: The story making the rounds in Hollywood these days is that Lee may
have died of adrenal gland failure, perhaps exacerbated by overuse of cortisone, or
that jealous and corrupt Hong Kong movie moguls might have poisoned his marijuana stash.
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