The glamorous life of Hollywood’s ultimate blonde Sweater Girl star Lana Turner took a harrowing turn in 1958 — with her daughter Cheryl Crane at the front lines.
As a star at MGM for 17 years, Turner had already moved through a successful life of film and TV. She was best known for her roles in Peyton Place (1957) and The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946) making herself a household name.
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Turner’s private life drew in the public eye from her many marriages and romances, hitting its sensational peak when her lover, Johnny Stompanato, was stabbed to death by the actress’ 14-year-old daughter.
At the time, this Hollywood tragedy caused a media frenzy. Read on for an inside look on what really happened that night at Turners’ home and why this continues to be one of Hollywood’s wildest tales.
What was Crane’s childhood like as the star’s daughter?
While Turner was off starring in movies and going through various husbands, Crane was left feeling powerless to win her mother’s love. Just to feel her mother’s presence, the daughter would sometimes sneak into her Turner’s closet to “inhale her essence,” she told PEOPLE in 1988.
Even when Crane would try to reach out to her mother for a hug, she would find herself pushed away at the cost of her mother’s perfectly coiffed hair. “Sweetheart, the hair,” her mother would say. “The lipstick.”
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Crane’s devotion finally came into play on April 11, 1958, when she took action and stood up to her mother’s lover.
Why did she stab Johnny Stompanato?
At just 14 years old, most would not picture such a young girl having enough rage to stab another human. But what many people didn’t understand of the night of Stompanato’s death, was the nature of the stabbing itself.
“I went upstairs to do a book report and mother came in and said, ‘I’m going to ask John to leave. I don’t want you to come downstairs but if you hear us arguing that’s what it’s about,’” Crane recalled to KMIR 6 News in 2009.
While Crane was up in her room, she began to hear the heated argument going on downstairs. Unfazed at first, Crane decided to take action when she heard Stompanato threaten to disfigure her mother and destroy her family.
How did the stabbing really happen?
“I ran down the stairs into the kitchen. I don’t know what I was looking for but I found a knife,” Crane recalled of the night in the Beverly Hills home.
“I ran back upstairs, the door burst open and mother was there looking at me and John was coming toward me. I stepped through the door and he literally ran into the knife.”
Stompanato had been stabbed in the abdomen from what was discovered to be a butcher knife. Turner’s boyfriend fell to the ground, unable to survive such fatal wounds.
“You want to protect your mother, I was the only one there and I had to do something,” Crane said.
Did the incident go to trial?
Crane confessed to being responsible for Stompanato’s death before the end of the night, explaining that she wanted to protect her mother. Shortly after, she was placed in a juvenile hall for three weeks.
“I had no attorney, no one to speak for me. My mother and father were in custody battles with each other … I knew nothing,” Crane told KMIR.
A week after the stabbing, Turner was called to the stand to deliver an hourlong recitation of what had happened the night of the incident, as well as the nature of the relationship she had with her late lover, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Turner revealed that Stompanato was capable of violent behavior and described his as hyper-possessive. She added that he once said he would, “cut you just a little now to give you a taste of it.’”
She continued to describe the night of the incident, explaining that she couldn’t stop her daughter from entering the scene.
“I swear it was so fast, I … I truthfully thought she had hit him in the stomach. The best I can remember, they came together and they parted. I still never saw a blade,” Turner said.
After Turner’s testimony, the 12-member coroner’s jury reached a unanimous verdict of justifiable homicide, and Crane was released without trial. She was placed in the custody of Tuner’s mother, at Crane’s request, the Los Angeles Times reported.
What was Crane’s life like after the incident?
In 1988, Crane finally broke her silence on the action. She wrote an autobiography, Detour: A Hollywood Story, which marked the first time she went on record about her story from that night. She also alleged that Stompanato was sexually abusing her.
Crane’s demons caught up with her throughout her life, leading her to two suicide attempts, she shared in her book.
Crane, now 74, married female model Jocelyn “Josh” LeRoy in 2014 and works as a real estate agent.
Turner continued her Hollywood acting career following Stompanato’s death. In her final years, she starred on the TV show Falcon Crest from 1982-1983. Years later, the star died in 1995, having been married seven times.