Cold Case: The Murder of Hogan's Hero

Oct 14, 2009 - by Denise M. Clark - 0 Comments

Bob Crane

Bob Crane

There's more than enough blame to explain why the 1978 murder of Bob Crane goes unsolved.

by Denise M. Clark

The 1978 murder of Bob Crane, the likable actor who played Col. Robert Hogan in "Hogan's Heroes," goes unsolved. The truth behind his murder is lost in a web of lies, ineptitude, and downright carelessness. Who's to blame? The Arizona Department of Safety, charged with examining the evidence? The Scottsdale Police Department? The Maricopa County District Attorney's Office? There's more than enough blame to go around.

 

Sex, Lies & Videotape

Bob Crane was 49 when he was found bludgeoned to death in his Scottsdale apartment on the morning of June 29. Though he spent years searching for stardom, Crane's rise to notoriety as the charming, clever and always funny Col. Hogan was not an overnight success. He spent years playing bit parts in small theaters in the Los Angeles area. He made a living as a disc jockey for KNX in Los Angeles from 1956 until he caught his major break in 1965 when he was cast into the new television sitcom that propelled him into the spotlight and made him an international star.

Behind Crane's dimpled grin and wise cracking persona lay a darker side. He was obsessed with sex, cameras, and videos. He had countless extramarital affairs, taking hundreds of photographs of his escapades with women. When Crane traveled, he took his cameras with him. He developed his own film and photographs, and he didn't hesitate to show them to his friends.

Being a television star enhanced Crane's ability to pick up women. But his success in television didn't last long. After a six-year run, "Hogan's Heroes" was cancelled in 1971. And though Crane next launched his own series titled, "The Bob Crane Show," it was a short-lived attempt that lasted only 14 episodes before being cancelled. His decline into obscurity was as abrupt as his rise to stardom, forcing the middle-aged actor to resort to performing at dinner theaters to pay the bills. Days before his murder, Crane told a Phoenix radio station, "Since we stopped filming ("Hogan's Heroes"), I don't think I've been in the right place at the right time."

In June 1978, Crane's play, Beginner's Luck came to Scottsdale. He took an apartment at Winfield Place Apartments on East Chaparral, using the bathroom for his makeshift darkroom. Hundreds of women posed for Crane, and some even agreed to allow him to videotape their sexual encounters. But many did not. Crane spent hours editing thousands of feet of videotape, and on the day of his murder, negatives of nude women sat waiting to be developed. Propped on the back of the toilet in his apartment's bathroom was a photo enhancer.

A ladies man, Crane had only a few male friends. His proclivity for flings and sex proved devastating to his first wife, Ann Terzian, Crane's high school sweetheart. Though they had three children together, the couple divorced in 1970. He turned around and married Patti Olsen, who used the stage name Sigrid Valdis. Olsen played the part of Hilda on "Hogan's Heroes." But his affairs continued. Olsen filed for divorce six months prior to Crane's murder, but subsequently reconciled according to Crane's son Scotty Crane, who was interviewed in connection with this article. According to police reports, Crane had "personal encounters" with at least eight women in the last three weeks of his life. But while Crane's charisma and magic with women gave him the attention and sex he craved, it quite possibly also brought about his violent demise.

 

The Crime Scene

Crane's co-star in Beginner's Luck, Victoria Berry, knocked on Crane's door at around 2 in the afternoon of June 29. The door to apartment 132-A was closed, but Berry told police that she found it unlocked. She entered the apartment and found the room dark. She walked into the bedroom: "… At first, I thought it was a girl with long dark hair, because all the blood had turned real dark. I thought, 'Oh, Bob's got a girl here. Now where's Bob?…' I thought, 'Well, she's done something to herself. Bob has gone to get help.' At that time, I recognized blood… it was like a strange feeling."

She took a closer look and realized what she was looking at. "…the whole wall was covered from one end to the other with blood. And I just sort of stood there and I was numb. He was curled up in a fetus position, on his side, and he had a cord tied around his neck in a bow." Oddly, Berry is the only one who recalled seeing the cord tied in a bow. The crime scene photos and police reports reveal no bow.

No physical signs of a struggle were apparent, and a later autopsy determined that Crane had been asleep when the fatal blow to the left side of his head was struck. The police investigation determined that two separate parts of a camera tripod struck Crane's head, inflicting two separate wounds. Paulette Kasieta, the first Scottsdale police officer to arrive on the scene, immediately secured the area. At approximately 3 p.m., Scottsdale's Police Lt. Ron Dean arrived at the apartment and took over.

 

Investigation

The initial suspect in the case was Crane's long-time friend John Carpenter. He and Crane were introduced by another star of "Hogan's Heroes", Richard Dawson. The two men shared a common passion: women. They both enjoyed chasing and sleeping with any woman who showed the least amount of interest. But more often than not, Carpenter was relegated to Crane's leftovers since, due to Crane's popularity and legendary charm, there were plenty of women to go around. In return, Carpenter showed Crane how to operate the most up-to-date video equipment.

On the evening before Crane's murder, Carpenter sat with Victoria Berry at the Windmill Dinner Theatre while she wasn't onstage. Berry claims that after the show, she saw Crane and Carpenter walk together to Crane's car, where Crane called to her to not forget "their appointment" the following day.

While Berry wrote out her statement in the kitchen of Crane's apartment at around 3:15 p.m., the phone rang. Lt. Dean told her to answer the phone but not to say anything about Crane. John Carpenter was calling from Los Angeles. The police lieutenant took the phone, identified himself, and told Carpenter that the police were at Crane's apartment investigating "an incident."

Carpenter told Dean he had been out with Crane until around 1 a.m. but later changed the time to 2:45 a.m. He then said he'd driven by himself to the airport later in the morning for his return flight to Los Angeles.

Carpenter called Crane's apartment again at 3:30. Dean said later that he found it strange that Carpenter had not asked him why the police were in Crane's apartment or where Crane was.

In 1978, the Scottsdale Police Department did not have a homicide unit. Dean's chief case officer, Dennis Borkenhagen, commenced the investigation at the apartment. He concluded that nothing of value had been taken. He observed some blood on the inside of the front door, but found no indication of forced entry. The glass door leading from Crane's apartment to the swimming pool outside was unlocked.

Later that day the police interviewed some of Crane's colleagues and friends, discovering that though Crane was personable, charming, and fun to be around, he had made enemies. There was also a fellow actor who had argued with Crane in Texas and later had sworn vengeance. And, inevitably and unsurprising, given Crane's reputation with the ladies, there were numerous angry husbands and boyfriends.

Still, Carpenter remained the prime suspect. Some who had been interviewed claimed that Crane's relationship to Carpenter had begun to show some strain, though actual evidence of any rift was not readily available. Any physical evidence that might have tied Carpenter to the crime was also scarce, as was the motive that would have compelled him to murder his best friend. But the possibility of a loan and one bit of compelling evidence, however slim, seemed to point to Carpenter.

Rumors flourished that Carpenter had borrowed $15,000 from Crane. Crane may have been demanding repayment. Perhaps even more compelling, the police discovered a small blood smear on the passenger side door of Carpenter's rented vehicle. Carpenter had complained about a problem with the electrical wiring with the car and it had been sent for repairs at the Phoenix dealership. Scottsdale Det. Darwin Barrie inspected the vehicle and claims to have noticed a small amount of dried blood in the interior. His commanding officer, Dean, ordered the car towed to the DPI compound in Phoenix. The car was examined and photographed by criminologist Bruce Bergstrom of the Arizona Department of Public Safety. Bergstrom's job was to find and process any blood or tissue evidence found in the car. And it was there that the investigation phase of the case began to fall apart even before it really got started

The blood in Carpenter's rental car was tested and determined to be Type B -- the same blood type as Crane. Carpenter had the far more common Type A blood. Type B is found in only slightly more than 10 percent of the population. Though its presence in Carpenter's car was suspicious, the police, in these pre-DNA testing days, had no way of positively identifying the blood as Crane's.

 

The Suspect

Carpenter was an expert in the then-growing video-technology industry. In the mid-1960s, he was one of Sony's first American-based sales reps. At the time of his friendship with Crane, Carpenter was also what could loosely be termed a sex addict, and one who taught Crane about how to use video cameras to record his sexual escapades.

After Carpenter was informed that he was a preliminary suspect in Crane's murder, he voluntarily returned to Scottsdale to answer questions. He declined to contact an attorney and told police that he had arrived in Phoenix on June 25 to visit Crane, something he often did during the course of their 10-year friendship. Carpenter said Crane picked him up at the Sky Harbor Airport that day and drove him to the Sunburst Hotel where Carpenter was staying. After Crane was through with his evening performances at the Windmill Dinner Theatre, they hit the town.

Carpenter's last evening in town was June 28. Because Crane's car had a flat tire, the two drove to a gas station to have it repaired. Afterward, they returned to Crane's apartment, where Crane engaged in a phone argument with his estranged wife. Upset by the phone call, Crane hit the town early and before midnight the two drove in Crane's car to a Phoenix disco called Bogart's. There the men met two sisters, Carole and Christi Newell. Though Crane wasn't particularly interested, Carpenter hooked up with Newell while Crane called another woman, Carolyn Baare, a woman he'd met some time earlier in the Valley. They all agreed to meet at the Safari Coffee Shop in Scottsdale for an early breakfast and said their good-byes at around 2 a.m. June 29. Crane went home alone, though he made plans to meet Baare for lunch the following day. Carpenter drove off with Newell, but failed to entice her to stay with him in his room. He told the police that he ended up driving her home at around 3 a.m. According to the coroner's report, Crane was killed sometime between 3 a.m. and 8 a.m., but closer to the 3 a.m. time. Carpenter stated that after he returned to his hotel, he called Crane to find out if he had "scored" with Carolyn Newell. Crane said no, that he was in the process of editing the swear words out of a movie so his son could watch it. Carpenter then told Crane he would get his own transportation to the airport later in the morning.

Records show that Carpenter left the Sunburst Hotel at 8:24 that morning and turned in a Cordoba at an Avis counter in the hotel, along with the complaint about the electrical wiring. He then stated that he took a cab to Sky Harbor Airport and caught his flight to Los Angeles.

In 1978, Carpenter was separated from his wife and lived with a 20-year-old woman from Inglewood, Calif. On the evening of July 1, the day after the blood smear was found in Carpenter's rental car, it was she who answered a knock at Carpenter's door. The visitors were Dean and Borkenhagen from the Scottsdale Police Department. Carpenter wasn't home but happened to call moments later. He told Dean he was at his mother's house about 70 miles away, but that he would drive back right away and meet with the detectives. When he arrived home, Dean read Carpenter his Miranda rights. At that time, Carpenter told the detective to ask whatever he wanted.

He told the detectives that he had kept the Cordoba locked all the time and had no explanation for the blood found in it. He agreed to fly back to Phoenix the following morning to answer more questions in Scottsdale. On July 2, he returned to Arizona with the two detectives, again waiving his rights to an attorney and agreeing to answer all questions.

According to Dean, he and Borkenhagen wanted to arrest Carpenter then, but Maricopa County Attorney Chuck Hyder declined to authorize the arrest due to lack of evidence and motive.

 

Errors in Judgment

During his first meeting with the police, Carpenter volunteered to take a lie-detector test, to take a sodium pentothol test and/or to be hypnotized, anything to help police to find Crane's killer. He still hadn't hired an attorney. For obscure reasons, the police department declined to take Carpenter up on his offer to take either a polygraph or a sodium pentothol test. Why didn't they? Fifteen years later, Dean says, "I believe you have to know two or three things more than the bad guy does… we wanted to know a few more things before we put John on the machine." But those elusive facts they were looking for never materialized.

Carpenter returned to his Inglewood apartment, but on July 12 Dean and Borkenhagen returned to speak with him. Again, Carpenter agreed to meet with them at an Inglewood police substation. On the evening of July 14, the previously cordial relationship between Carpenter and the police rapidly deteriorated. The investigators pushed Carpenter for a confession, but he maintained his innocence. The police were forced to release him. It would be the last time they spoke directly to him.

Just days after Crane's death, the usual bane of law enforcement politics developed into a rift between the Scottsdale Police Department and the Maricopa County prosecutors office, which did nothing to aid the resolution of the weak case. County Atty. Hyder antagonized the Scottsdale police by suggesting that a more experienced agency aid them in their investigation.

As it turned out, Hyder may have been making a legitimate suggestion. The Scottsdale police proceeded to contaminate what physical evidence there was by tossing all of it indiscriminately into about 10 boxes in the property room. It is doubtful any of that tainted evidence would have been admitted at trial.

 

Chasing Tails

Nothing happened with the case until three years later, in 1981. The Scottsdale Police Department and the county prosecutor's office, under new County Atty. Tom Collins, took another look at the case. Collins had run a successful campaign to take Hyder's seat the previous November by promising Scottsdale voters that he would "take a new look at the Crane murder." Though they remain unnamed, there were some Scottsdale police officers who were still frustrated and angry that previous County Atty. Hyder never pressed charges against their prime suspect, Carpenter, compelling them to cast their votes with Collins. True to his word, Collins paired Chris Bingham from the Scottsdale Police Department with Ron Little from the prosecutor's office and told them to reinvestigate the case. While the end result never changed, something curious did come to light.

Twenty-one color photos had been taken of Carpenter's rental car in 1978, one of them being a photograph of a speck of tissue on the inside passenger-door panel of the rental car, yet neither Bingham nor Little mentioned the "speck" photo in the separately written reports each filed. Why didn't the 1978 original police reports mention the photograph of the speck of tissue? And what happened to the negatives of the photographs taken of Carpenter's rental car? And why and how could such a photograph been overlooked in the first place? Still, by June of that year, both the police department and the county attorney agreed that there wasn't enough evidence to compel Collins to file charges.

As the years passed, the Scottsdale Police Department occasionally reviewed the Crane case, but even as great strides in forensic science were made, there was still not enough evidence to point the positive finger of guilt at someone.In 1990, with the possibility of DNA determination, the 11 ½-year-old blood sample was sent to a private laboratory in Maryland for testing, but it was determined there wasn't enough material to test.

Scottsdale Police Cap. Page Decker, the latest to head up the investigation, was convinced Carpenter was the guilty party, but both Hyder and Collins had declined to prosecute him. The Maricopa County attorney at the time, Richard Romley, formed a committee to again look at the case in early 1990. During the same year, Jim Raines, heretofore a homicide detective with the Phoenix Police Department, went to work as a county investigator for the County Attorney's Office. His first assignment:

Find enough evidence to bring Crane's murderer to trial. Days later, he opened a box labeled "Crane Homicide" and removed the original police reports, newspaper clippings and the 21 photos – including the "speck" photo that no one seemed to have noticed earlier. He took that particular photo to the Maricopa County chief medical examiner, Dr. Heinz Karnitschnig, who stated that the tissue speck "was consistent with human adipose tissue, or fat." Unfortunately, several issues stood in the way of presenting this new evidence:

  1. The Arizona Department of Public Safety did not have the tissue.
  2. The DPS couldn't find any written record of the tissue speck found on the inside of the passenger door.
  3. The DPS didn't have the 21 negatives of the original car photos, leading some to reiterate that the tissue speck photo had been fabricated.
  4. In 1988, the DPS had destroyed its reports on the murder.

Doug Ferguson, who worked at the DPS in 1978, was now working at the Phoenix Police Department. In his first interview in 1990, he said he only recalled "seeing the blood marks on the inside of Carpenter's passenger door." He said he then called DPS criminalist Bergstrom. Bergstrom, he claims, told him to remove the door panel for analysis. Ferguson also said that up until that time that anything found on the door should have been placed in a vial before the door panel was removed and sent to the lab. At the time of the interview, Ferguson said a man named Janik had taken the car photos. Janik, who then worked for the Tempe police, said he didn't, though he could have held the ruler used in the photos. Janik "vaguely" recalled someone placing a tissue speck in a vial.

When retired DPS criminalist Bergstrom was interviewed in 1990, he said he had been "quite certain" the photos and fingerprinting had been finished before he took the door panel to the lab. None of these men made any mention of the tissue speck in their notes. Later, Ferguson stated that he called Jim Raines and said Raines remembered that he had taken the photos.

Two pathologists testified that the tissue speck would have stayed moist for only hours in the June heat before it began to deteriorate. But the police report states that the photos taken of Carpenter's rental car were taken more than a day after he had turned it in. Dean says he never saw the "speck" photo, only three or four photos of Carpenter's car. The tad of tissue, according to the "new" photo, was still sticking to the door panel.

Also in late 1990, Dr. Vincent DiMaio, chief medical examiner for Bexar County, Tex., had looked at the "speck" photo, Crane's autopsy slides and photos, and then the sides of what Dr. Karnitschnig had already said was human tissue that was found on a pillowcase near Crane's smashed head. DiMaio also concluded that the speck was '

"most probably blood-encrusted brain…" though he couldn't rule out "subcutaneous tissue, such as was found on the pillow." Next, Dr. Patricia McFeeley, at the time chief medical examiner for New Mexico, looked at the photo. She decided the speck was "a piece of human tissue…" but could not say so with absolute certainty without serologic tests or a microscopic examination.

To further complicate matters, Carpenter's defense team, which was kept abreast of the on-going investigation, did know of at least one other man who could have had a motive for killing Crane. His name: Alan Wells… the business manager, boyfriend and husband-to-be of Victoria Berry. The defense team stated that Wells was driving a white Cadillac in 1978. Police never interviewed Wells, but one of the witnesses said Wells was not the man he had seen around Crane's apartment in '78 anyway.

Still, the police seemed inclined to dismiss other possibilities as well. For example, in 1990, investigators interviewed a man who clams to have seen a man leaving Crane's apartment on the morning of June 29, 1978. The man was not Carpenter. Two other witnesses told police that they saw a man drive away from Crane's apartment in a white Cadillac. The investigators did not follow up in either case.

 

The Arrest

In 1992, Rick Romley was in the process of running for reelection as county attorney. Perhaps worried that he might lose his position, he decided to show the public that unsolved murders would not be permitted within his jurisdiction. In the spring of 1992, Maricopa County Prosecutor Myrna Parker was certain she had enough evidence to proceed against Carpenter, though that evidence was microscopic. Romley and Parker decided to go after Carpenter. But in April, 12 years after the murder, they encountered a major detour when Ferguson told investigators that he -- not Raines -- had taken the tissue speck photo. In pursuing this false revelation, the investigators also found out that Ferguson had lied to the police about his working the Crane case. Both in 1978 and 1990, Ferguson was to have compared Carpenter's fingerprints to all others found in the Crane apartment and the rental car. On both occasions, Ferguson had failed to complete the task but lied and said he had. After the information was revealed, he was forced to resign from the Phoenix Police Department. Though Ferguson shattered his credibility as a key prosecution witness in the case, Parker was convinced she could still win a case against Carpenter.

On June 1, 1992, Parker filed a direct complaint against Carpenter instead of taking the more normal route of sending the case to a county grand jury. At Carpenter's preliminary hearing, the testimony was focused on the critical tissue speck photo. But the prosecution team's love affair with that particular photo actually damaged its case in several ways. At the preliminary hearing:

  • Ex-DPS investigator Bergstrom repeated that he had examined the door panel of Carpenter's car and had not seen tissue or brain matter. He stressed that he had examined the car panel with a microscope and magnifying glass and hadn't seen any tissue.
  • Doug Ferguson insisted he had taken 21 photos of the car, "about 2 weeks" after the murder, not the 36 hours that the police records indicated.
  • Ferguson then said he couldn't remember taking the tissue speck photo, though he did recall taking some photos of blood on the door panel.
  • Ferguson then stated that he had stored the photos in his locker at the DPS for at least five years. He didn't say how they'd gotten to Scottsdale and the County Attorney's Office, nor could he explain the missing negatives.

As these revelations unfolded at the month-long preliminary hearing, Superior Court Judge Gregory Martin was irritated with the prosecution's handling and presentation of the case. Judge Martin cited "sloppy work" by the police department, in addition to mishandling, misplacing and destroying evidence (including the critical speck of brain tissue the prosecutor claimed to have). The defense had done well enough for itself that many speculated that Judge Martin would dismiss the case. But, as Judge Martin stated, "…it would not be appropriate to comment on whether the evidence as presented at this hearing would be sufficient to…convict beyond a reasonable doubt." Loosely translated, one can see how close the judge was to throwing out the case. Despite his misgivings, and despite the fact that much of the testimony that had been presented before him exposed evidence of law enforcement misconduct, the judge inexplicably concluded the preliminary hearing by ruling that a jury "should decide the merits of the new evidence. …this case boils down to the blood and tissue-speck photo." Martin ordered Carpenter held over for trial on March 11, 1993 on a charge of first-degree murder.

Carpenter was formally arrested in Los Angeles for Bob Crane's murder. Maricopa County Prosecutor Parker arrived at the Los Angeles Municipal Courthouse and said, "We have medical experts who will testify to what was found in the (Carpenter's) car," while her boss, Maricopa County Atty. Romley spoke of "new" evidence in the case. He told "Good Morning America" that "brain tissue had also been found in (Carpenter's) rental car."

Between the preliminary hearing and the trial, several incidents took place that should have served as a red flag for the prosecutors preparing for trial.

  • In July of 1993, Jim Raines stated in an internal report that Bergstrom suddenly recalled "observing the tissue from the Cordoba door panel in a test tube at the Department of Public Safety in 1978 – but claims that he made no mention of it because he didn't realize the importance of the tissue at the time.
  • Former Department of Public Safety technician, Doug Ferguson, stated he had taken the photos of Carpenter's car in 1978, but didn't recall the tissue speck. In addition, two other criminalists from the DPS say they never saw a speck of tissue either.
  • In two of the photos taken of the tissue speck, the ruler in one did not match the ruler in the other. In addition, the angle in which the ruler was held in each separate photo was different. Because of this discrepancy, there were cries of foul by the defense. Carpenter's defense attorney, Steve Avilla, claimed that someone in the police department had manufactured the story, and due to the ineptness of the on-going investigation, there were many who believed it.

Despite these discrepancies between previous testimony given and what could be expected to be testified to at the upcoming trial, Parker forged ahead.

 

The Trial

As Carpenter's trial approached, the prosecution team was adrift on a sinking ship. Parker, the eager prosecutor, bailed out by suddenly resigning and moving with her husband to Navaho County. That left K.C. Scull, a chief of Romley's Felony Bureau, to prosecute Carpenter.

The trial lasted weeks, with none of the promised "new" evidence emerging. During the trial, nothing was exposed except the ineptitude of the entire investigation and some of Crane's videos. After so many years, it seemed as if no one really cared. About the only excitement was the day Judge Martin allowed the prosecution to play a video that showed Crane and Carpenter having sex with women in one bed. Though the prosecutors denied charges by the defense that such "evidence" could serve only to prejudice the jury against Carpenter, the prosecutors claimed they showed the video only to display a camera tripod in the background that they contended was the murder weapon.

Oddly enough, Carpenter's trial received little attention, and though one could have expected the courtroom to be crowded, on the morning closing arguments were given, only 15 curious onlookers visited the large courtroom. Deputy prosecutor Robert Shutts gave the closing argument for the state's lame case and said in part, "Cowardly acts committed in the dead of night seldom have any witnesses." How true. And in this case, the person who committed the cowardly act got away with murder. After weeks of testimony, jurors took three days to find Carpenter not guilty.

After the acquittal, Carpenter returned to California, financially ruined and avoided by former friends. He was able to find only part time work at a stereo repair shop. In 1998 and the age of 70, he died of a heart attack.

Bob Crane's murder will probably never be solved. Police, friends and family members have long wondered if an irate husband/boyfriend/lover of one of Crane's many women decided to put an end to Crane's secret hobby. That possibility seems most likely, considering the amount of women involved with Crane. Then again, the Scottsdale Police Department could have been right all along about Carpenter being the killer. He did owe Crane $15,000 and his rental car did have a trace of Crane's rare blood type in it. Carpenter, though, never acted like he was guilty. He was steadfastly forthcoming and available to police, volunteering to undergo a lie-detector or any other type of truth test they wanted to give him.

All that is really known about Crane's murderer is that whoever it was he or she got away with it. Case closed.

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