This Date in Criminal Justice History: April 11, 1958
The Cheryl Crane inquest is held on this day in Los Angeles. Cheryl Crane was the teenage daughter of movie star Lana Turner. A week earlier, on April 4, 1958, Cheryl stabbed her mother’s boyfriend, Johnny Stompanato, to death.
Cheryl had grown up in the shadow of her beautiful, actress mother Lana Turner, who built a successful movie career based on her glamour. Turner was discovered in 1937 by a reporter as she sipped a soda in a Hollywood ice cream parlor while cutting a secretarial class at her high school. The encounter led to her first film role in “They Won’t Forget.” Future performances would include the role of the unfulfilled wife who persuades a drifter to kill her husband, in “The Postman Always Rings Twice” (1946), a rebellious student in “These Glamour Girls” (1939), a shallow performer in “Ziegfeld Girl” (1941), and an alcoholic actress in “The Bad and the Beautiful” (1952).
Miss Turner was nominated for an Academy Award in 1957 for her portrayal of a neurotic mother in the film adaptation of Grace Metalious’s novel “Peyton Place.” In many later movies, including remakes of “Imitation of Life” (1959) and “Madame X” (1966), she played heroines racked by sacrifice and suffering.
The actress led a very stormy personal life, featuring many marriages and publicized romances. She was married to and divorced from the band leader Artie Shaw, restaurateur Stephen Crane (who was the father of her only child), sportsman Bob Topping, Tarzan actor Lex Barker, and three other man. In her 1982 memoir, “Lana: The Lady, the Legend, the Truth,” Turner told about her eight marriages (twice to Stephen Crane) and many romances, but also included details about a suicide attempt, two abortions, three stillbirths, alcoholism, and her religious awakening in 1980.
Perhaps the most sensational incident in Lana Turner’s life occurred in 1958 when her lover, Johnny Stompanato, threatened to disfigure her and was stabbed to death with a carving knife by her 14-year-old daughter, Cheryl Crane. Stompanato was a minor hoodlum in the Los Angeles underworld and he was, at least at one time, a bodyguard for gangster Mickey Cohen. Stompanato was abusive and threatening, and on a couple of occasions threatened her with a gun – once even showing up with a gun on the set of a movie Turner was making. She tried to break off the relationship, but Stompanato was too controlling to let this happen. It was on the night of April 4, 1958 that Turner and Stompanato were in a fight that was becoming physical when Cheryl walked into the room with a kitchen knife and Stompanato ended up dead.
The coroner’s jury exonerated Cheryl with a finding of justifiable homicide, because Cheryl was trying to protect her mother from her abusive boyfriend. Following Stompanato’s death and the inquest, Crane was made a ward of the State of California and sent to an all-girls boarding school, from which she fled in 1960. She was found and then released to return home in 1961. In 1988, Cheryl Crane wrote an autobiography (Detour: A Hollywood Tragedy – My Life With Lana Turner, My Mother), in which she discussed the Stompanato killing publicly for the first time and admitted to the stabbing. She further alleged that she was subject to a series of sexual assaults at the hands of her stepfather and her mother’s fourth husband, actor Lex Barker.
Lana Turner died in 1995 from complications related to throat cancer. Today, Cheryl Crane is a successful real estate broker in Palm Springs, California, and she published a mystery novel in 2011.