The Murder of Sal Mineo

Oct 14, 2009 - by Denise Noe - 0 Comments

May 1, 2003

Sal Mineo
(photo courtesy

Residents of New York City's crime-ridden Hell's Kitchen neighborhood predicted that Salvatore Mineo Jr. would come to a bad end. The slight boy they called "Junior" in elementary school was a playground brawler, thief, and gang member, according to Marvin J. Wolf and Katherine Mader in Fallen Angels. The biographers wrote that acquaintances predicted he would wind up on the wrong end of a knife.

by Denise Noe

"He'll end up with a knife in him."

But questions cluster around the beginning of Sal Mineo's life as they do around the tragic end to it. John Seger, owner of Sal Mineo's official website (, says that "According to Sal's family, Mineo was never arrested. The entire juvenile-delinquent angle was something made up for publicity."

Mineo was born Jan. 10, 1939 to Salvatore Mineo Sr., a coffin maker from Sicily, and his wife Josephine. He was the third child and third son. His sister was born four years later.

Mineo took dancing classes as a prepubescent and the people who saw him dance then knew the boy had talent and that he loved dancing. But, according to biographer H. Paul Jeffers, there was a downside to being a dancer in his macho neighborhood. The other boys in his gang no longer wanted him with them and taunted him as a "sissy." Outraged, Junior fought the teasers with his fists.

The dancing lessons paid off, landing Mineo a gig on a local TV program called "The Ted Steele Show."

At 11 years old, Mineo won a part in The Rose Tattoo, a Tennessee Williams play appearing on Broadway that starred Eli Wallach and Maureen Stapleton. Mineo had a single line: "The goat is in the yard."

His stint in The Rose Tattoo led to his becoming the understudy for the role of the crown prince in a production of The King and I. In August 1952 the boy who played the prince went on vacation and it was Mineo's turn to show what he could do. He did so well that he was given the part.

In private life, the pubescent Mineo was discovering that a handsome boy with olive skin, large, soulful eyes, and pouty lips was attractive to some adult men. The discovery disturbed him. To scare off potential pedophiles, he began carrying a realistic-looking toy gun.

As Mineo entered his teenage years, television was just becoming a part of American life. As a teenager, Mineo got parts on "The Hallmark Hall of Fame," "Omnibus," and "Janet Dean, Registered Nurse." These appearances led to a role in a motion picture starring Tony Curtis called Six Bridges to Cross. Then Mineo played a military cadet in the movie The Private War of Major Benson.

The next movie Mineo made – Rebel Without A Cause – would become a classic and make him a star.


Rebel's Plato

Rebel Without A Cause would establish James Dean as a movie icon, kick off a phenomenon called "Mineo Mania," and become a landmark in its portrayal of adolescent angst.

James Dean, then 25, played Jimmy Stark, a troubled teenager who is new in town. One way that the film shows its age is in the depiction of Stark's parents. Their marriage embarrasses Jimmy because the mother (Ann Doran) appears dominant in the relationship and her hen-pecked husband (Jim Backus) wears an apron while doing household chores.

Stark's ostensible love interest is Judy (Natalie Wood), a girl alienated from her family. Dean and Wood had a genuine chemistry: Sparks flew in their love scenes.

The relationship between Jimmy and a lonely young man played by Mineo named Plato is necessarily more ambiguous. In the story line, Plato hero-worships Jimmy. Many observers, however, consider Mineo's greatest achievement playing American film's first gay teenager. Although no clear reference to homosexuality is ever made, the eroticism between Plato and Jimmy is palpable.

Mineo and Dean became fast friends off screen. That, plus their obvious onscreen chemistry and Dean's known bisexuality, led many people to believe they had an affair while Rebel was being made. Mineo always denied a physical relationship between them. He said he was not yet conscious of the sexual nature of his attraction to other men. He did acknowledge that he was in love with Dean, but said his lack of understanding of his sexuality prevented him from acting on it. Jeffers recounts Mineo saying, "If I'd understood back then that a guy could be in love with another one, it would have happened. But I didn't come to that realization for a few more years and then it was too late for Jimmy and me."

In Rebel, Jimmy Stark feels he must prove his courage through a "chickie ride" in which he and another teenage boy race cars toward a cliff. That boy is Buzz (Corey Allen), the leader of a gang at their high school, and Jimmy's ostensible rival for Judy's affections. In a chickie ride, the one who jumps out of his vehicle first is a the "chickie." Jimmy believes his "honor" is at stake in this foolish game. The other boy racing in the chickie ride is killed because his sleeve gets caught and he can't pull away in time to leap out of his vehicle.

The teenagers are aghast and frightened. They believe that a guilt-ridden Jimmy is going to tell all to the police and a group of them are determined to prevent that. Plato wants to protect Jimmy and fetches a gun from home.

Plato, Jimmy, and Judy meet in an abandoned mansion that Plato had previously told Jimmy was his favorite retreat when things were going badly. The outside world seems to be pressing in on them, so the teenagers appear to retreat to childlike make-believe as Plato pretends he's a real estate agent showing a prized home to a couple of newlyweds. But the three look like a kind of ambiguous family in and of themselves. Plato can be seen as the child of Jimmy and Judy. She hums a lullaby and Plato falls asleep.

He wakes to find Buzz's gang outside. Plato believes Jimmy has abandoned him. Ironically, he uses the gun he wanted to protect his friend to shoot at Jimmy as well as another gang member. A police officer shoots Plato dead.

Many critics believe that Plato had to be killed off at the end because a "queer" could not survive in a movie. His death leaves viewers believing that Jimmy will grow into a "normal" heterosexual adulthood through his relationship with Judy.

Rebel Without A Cause was a sensation. It got a poignant publicity boost just before its release when James Dean careened to his own death in his newly acquired sports car. The irony of his character's surviving the movie's "chickie ride" added an enormous tragic weight to a movie already rich in emotional power.

Natalie Wood was nominated for the 1955 Academy Award for best supporting actress and Mineo was nominated for best supporting actor. Neither won. "Mineo Mania," nonetheless, took on a life of its own, making the handsome heartthrob the subject of many movie magazine articles. Fan letters streamed in from thousands of female admirers. Young women mobbed the actor in public appearances. According to Jeffers in Sal Mineo, "He dated the most beautiful women in Hollywood and New York."

The newly minted star bought his parents a $300,000 mansion in the Mamaronek suburb of New York that had formerly been the home of silent screen high priestess Mary Pickford.

In the interim before the release of Rebel Without A Cause and Dean's death, both Dean and Mineo worked on Giant. Mineo's role was small but his name appeared on advertising to lure in his many, often female, fans.

Many of Mineo's parts after Rebel were versions of Plato. He played young but vulnerable toughs in movies like Crime in the Streets, The Young Don't Cry, and Dino. He was nicknamed "The Switchblade Kid" for his depictions of juvenile delinquents.

An indication of the strength of Mineo Mania can be seen in the response to a Bob Hope joke. "No school tomorrow kids," Hope joshed in 1959 on his TV show. "It's Sal Mineo's birthday. All those in the Bronx can stay home." The next day, absences in Bronx schools skyrocketed.

Trying to break out of typecasting, Mineo played an Indian brave in the 1958 film Tonka and the title character in a television "Du Pont Show of the Month" drama called "Aladdin." His first truly adult role, and the one in which he left Plato-incarnations behind, was that of drummer Gene Krupa in The Gene Krupa Story. For Mineo, an accomplished drummer in his own right, the role was a near perfect fit. He and Krupa were the same size and shared the same Italian-American heritage.

In 1960 Mineo played a Jew in Exodus who had survived the Nazi death camps and, after World War II, wanted to fight for a Jewish homeland in what was then known as Palestine. In this film, homosexuality was explicitly mentioned, albeit in the most negative possible context.

Mineo's character, Dov Landau, admitted that he had cooperated with his Nazi captors. He had used dynamite to help the murderers make mass graves for his fellow Jews. He had shaved the heads of the other captives.

He had done more, he confessed to the Zionist officer questioning him. Dov wept as the words spilled out: "They used me. They used me like you use a . . . a . . . woman."

Dov makes up for his humiliation as a courageous fighter for the Zionist Irgun.

For this performance, Mineo won a Golden Globe Award for best supporting actor, and was again nominated for an Academy Award for best actor in a supporting role. His hopes were high that he would win. "The first time, when I got a nomination for Rebel," he recalled. "I was very excited . . . but I knew I did not have a chance." When nominated for Exodus, "I felt that at this point in my career winning an Oscar would firmly establish respect for my acting ability." To his bitter disappointment, the award went toPeter Ustinov for his role as a slave dealer in Spartacus.


A Man's Man

As more significant dramatic roles were coming his way in the early 1960s, Mineo's private life was undergoing a major transformation. Years later, he would describe this encounter to his biographer H. Paul Jeffers: As Mineo was strolling along a beach close to his home, he met an adoring fan as he had so often before. But Mineo felt something special for this particular young man that he could not, or did not want, to deny. He admitted to himself that he was sexually attracted to the man. He invited the fan to his home. The man accepted and Mineo discovered to his delight that his feelings of erotic attraction were reciprocated. Jeffers would write that Mineo looked back on this incident "with astonishment" because, in Jeffers words, it allowed the actor to finally realize "his true sexual nature."

This experience apparently made Mineo want more like it because he started regularly looking for male sex partners. Like any actor of the time period, he realized that he would have to keep his sexual preferences from becoming public knowledge if he wanted to continue as a star.

In 1962, Mineo tried to get a part in David Lean's Lawrence of Arabia. The director refused the actor's services. Mineo attributed this disappointment to his having played Dov Landau. "I lost because I had appeared in a pro-Jewish picture," he claimed, "played a sympathetic Jewish boy, and shot four Arabs."

Mineo appeared in John Ford's Cheyenne Autumn in 1964. Sporting a black wig with large braids, he played Red Shirt. To get around Mineo's pronounced Bronx accent, Ford did not have Red Shirt say a single word in English.


The End of Mineo Mania

By the mid-1960s, Mineo found his career stymied. He had been best in the roles of delinquent yet sensitive adolescents. Now in his mid-20s, he was no longer young enough for that sort of role and could not be comfortably cast as a leading man in many movies.

He was baffled by the difficulty he had in getting the roles he wanted. "It's a situation I've never been able to fathom," he told a columnist. "One minute it seemed I had more movie offers than I could handle, the next – no one wanted me." Mineo Mania was over.

While Mineo's career was not what it had been, neither was he completely washed up. In 1964 he starred as a disturbed busboy named Lawrence Sherman in Who Killed Teddy Bear? His character is a stalker and would-be rapist. Mineo turned in a good performance but believed that playing the deranged, evil character harmed his career. "I found myself on the weirdo list," he commented about Hollywood's ranking of him.

Mineo's social life was more active than ever. It was, after all, the '60s, a congenial time period for someone as sexually adventurous and freewheeling as Mineo. He is believed to have dabbled in the common recreational drugs of the time period. When asked by Boze Hadleigh, "Do you believe in trying everything once?" Mineo replied with a shrug, "You mean drugs, don't you? Why not? Once, anyway. I'm not into heavy drugs." He spent a lot of time in nightclubs, enjoying the loud rock and camaraderie. Often he went from one to another, ending up in a gay men's bar. He rarely went home alone.

During the same period that the actor was getting comfortable with his penchant for same-sex trysts, he made a disquieting discovery about his financial situation. The government investigated his tax returns and his records revealed that he no longer had the funds to support a lavish lifestyle. Mineo was baffled. "I made millions," he said in disbelief. "Not one million. A few million." But most of it had been spent or taxed. He sold the Mineo mansion in suburban New York. He also sold several cars and a boat. Badly needing money, he was doubly frustrated that he was no longer a Hollywood hot property.

His finances got a needed boost when he got the small role of Uriah in The Greatest Story Ever Told, making enough money from that film to rent a nice home in Hollywood Hills, buy a couple of new cars, and throw the parties that he always relished. Frugality was not for the extroverted actor. "A movie star shouldn't be stingy," he commented to a friend who thought he might be spending too much.

Mineo continued making the rounds of the gay bars and having affairs with a series of attractive men. He did not want a steady boyfriend. Jeffers quotes him as saying, "I've found a lifestyle that is much more satisfying in total to me than complete commitment to one person. I really do dig freedom – I always have." In his interview with Boze Hadleigh, Mineo described himself as "polygamous."

Believing it was time to branch out, Mineo decided to try his hand at directing. He chose a play, Fortune and Men's Eyes, that would operate as a vehicle for his own "coming out." Set in prison, the play has an onstage homosexual rape scene. As well as directing, Mineo cast himself as a prisoner who rapes a convict played by Don Johnson. It also gave Mineo an opportunity to express his deep feelings for the late James Dean: The program dedicated the play to him.

Mineo's version of Fortune and Men's Eyes opened in Los Angeles where it garnered many positive reviews, especially from the gay press.

Then Mineo took the play to New York. When the play traveled, Mineo made the rape scene longer to emphasize its brutality. The respected New York Times critic Clive Barnes wrote a scathing review of Fortune and Men's Eyes that took its director/star to task. "How far can you go?" he asked. "Or, if you think it is more pertinent, how far are we going? . . . Sir or Madam, I suggest that if this is the play you would like, you need a psychiatrist a lot more than you need a theater ticket." Barnes wrote, "I am not sure what kind of reputation Mr. Mineo has – he is a minor Hollywood player, I believe – but I am perfectly certain what reputation Mr. Mineo deserves. I consider the changes Mr. Mineo has made in this play have been made in the interest of sexual titillation – chiefly of the sadomasochistic variety – rather than in the interest of drama."

Mineo was hurt by this criticism and retorted that Barnes's reaction was "based on his own insecurities." He also found it curious that the reviewer seemed unfamiliar with him. "After I've been 18 years in the business, show business, and he doesn't know the name?" he asked incredulously. "And as for the reputation I've gotten from the play, I don't care. It's on that stage, and if you want to identify me with it, okay."

He continued pursuing an active social life in the late 1960s and early 1970s. At one point, he and Rock Hudson were dating. There were rumors that Mineo was into sadomasochism. He often wore leather, a clothing choice that can be simply a fashion preference but is frequently favored by S&M aficionados. He told friends and acquaintances that he felt a special attraction to Englishmen.

His sexual preferences remained a subject of some dispute. Mineo never called himself gay but said he was bisexual. Some people – ignoring the complicated nature of human sexuality – scoffed at this as a cop-out because, for the last years of his life, he allegedly had sex only with men. It is possible – because he had sex with so many women during the years of Mineo Mania – that he had a sense of "been there, done that" with heterosexual relations. Thus, he preferred to concentrate on exploring the side of his sexuality that he had denied for so long. That would not make it a subterfuge when he said he was "bi" but a realistic recognition that his affairs with women were neither experiments that failed to take nor attempts to cover up his orientation. Rather, they were authentic expressions of yearnings that were as strong and genuine as those desires he had for men. He may have not felt the need to continue them because the heterosexual part of his sexuality had gone as far as it could go.

The year 1973 was a difficult one for Mineo. He was unable to make a film about drug trafficking he had hoped to direct, The Wrong People. Mineo wanted to make it on location in Morocco but an official of that country refused permission to film it there because of the subject matter. Israel also turned Mineo down. Mineo saw a play he directed, The Children's Mass, flop.

Those disappointments paled beside the devastating grief of learning that his 59-year-old father was dying. Mineo spent five days at Salvatore Mineo Sr.'s bedside. The actor gave a eulogy at his father's funeral.

Mineo said he came away from this grief determined to make the most of his own life. "Being in the same room with him," he remembered, "and looking at him, I realized that one day I would be in the same position as he, facing death. Before it happens I mean to do the things I want to do. I will not end up saying, 'I wish I had.'"

In 1976, Mineo was in a San Francisco production of a quirky comedy called P.S. Your Cat Is Dead. He played Vito, a bisexual burglar caught in the act by Jimmy and his girlfriend. Jimmy ties Vito up, then begins interrogating his captive. A frustrated, would-be writer, Jimmy decides that Vito's life story is just the material he needs to write a winning book.

The play was well reviewed and Mineo's performance especially lauded. Theater critic Bob Kiggins wrote that "Mineo all but steals the show with his outlandish, marvelously antic gestures, his facile facial contortions and his robust delivery." In Touch magazine did a profile of him entitled "Sal Mineo, the Eternal Original." Gratified to be starring in a hit, Mineo looked optimistically to the future. He believed his flagging career would revive and he would get more and better parts.


Knifed in the Heart

P.S. Your Cat Is Dead wrapped up its San Francisco run and moved to Los Angeles. Mineo went with it. He rented an apartment in West Hollywood. On Feb. 12, 1976, he was at the rehearsal early because his dinner date had canceled out at the last minute. His co-star recalled Mineo as being in "tremendous spirits" when rehearsal ended just after 9 p.m. A happy Mineo hopped into his blue Chevelle and drove home.

Nine-year-old Monica Merrem was sitting at her desk in her bedroom when she heard a loud, frantic plea. "Oh, no!" a man shouted. "Oh, my God! No! Help me, please!" She looked out her window and saw a man running away. She would recall him as a white man with an unusually pale complexion.

From another apartment, Ron Evans heard a man scream. He ran in the direction of the sound to the alley. He saw Mineo bleeding on the ground. Evans, who was acquainted with the actor, exclaimed, "Sal, my God!"

Evans turned Mineo onto his back. The actor's shirt was soaked with blood and he was having trouble breathing. Evans tried to give him mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.

A group soon gathered around the injured actor. Someone called for an ambulance, but it arrived too late. Mineo was dead at the scene. He was pronounced dead at 9:55 p.m. A single stab would that had cut into his heart killed him.

Others besides little Monica saw a man flee the scene of the crime. Security guard Stephen Gustafson would remember a white man with dark blond or brown hair. Scott Hughes would say he thought the man was Italian or Mexican. He also said he believed the man jumped into a yellow Toyota to make his getaway.

Who had killed Mineo and why? An early hypothesis was that the murder was drug-related. There was gossip that Mineo was an addict and even that he was a dealer. In all likelihood, both were wrong. While he probably took drugs on occasion, he had none of the symptoms associated with hard-core addiction. His modest financial situation at the time of his death argues against his being much of a dope merchant.

Another possibility was that the crime was related to his sexuality. Some speculated that the killer might have been a hustler Mineo picked up. Retired silent screen star Ramon Novarro had been murdered in 1968, when he was 69, by two brothers he had picked up for prostitution but who robbed and killed him. Had history repeated itself? Friends said Mineo had casual encounters but did not make a habit of paying for them.

Some wondered if he had died because of an S&M scene that went haywire. Still another theory was that a rejected or jealous lover had killed him.

Because the killer had not taken his wallet, police ruled out theft as a motive early in the investigation.

A special phone number was set up to collect tips. Investigators pursued leads that took them to Arizona, Nevada, Washington, New York, and Florida. They came up empty-handed.

Over a year passed and it looked like Mineo's murder would remain a mystery like the 1922 unsolved killing of silent movie director William Desmond Taylor.

But an unexpected break came in May 1977. Theresa Williams went to the police and recounted how her husband, Lionel Raymond Williams, had come home with blood on his shirt on the night of Mineo's stabbing death in February 1976. She claimed that her husband confessed to her that he had stabbed someone. Later that evening when they were watching television, a news report about Mineo's murder came on. Theresa said Lionel told her, "That's the dude I killed." She also claimed her husband had used a recently purchased $5.28 hunting knife in the murder. She recalled that he had told her he had used that same knife in a series of robberies.

Police had doubts about Theresa's veracity partly because she had waited so long after the alleged confession to report it and partly because her husband did not fit the description of the man witnesses had seen fleeing the crime. Lionel Williams was black and most witnesses thought they had seen a white man, although one had said he could be Mexican.

Williams was a 21-year-old career criminal who regularly robbed and had a penchant for violence. Indeed, he was much like "The Switchblade Kid" characters Mineo had played in his youth and like the kind of man observers supposedly feared the young Mineo would have become had his show business talents not been recognized.

Lionel was also fair complexioned so the detectives believed he could have been mistaken for a white man by eyewitnesses.

He also had an earlier link to the Mineo murder. While in the Los Angeles County Jail on an unrelated charge, Lionel told an officer, "I want to talk to someone about the Mineo case." Lionel claimed drug users had told him that they had been paid $1,500 to murder the actor because he had burned someone in a dope deal.

The officers were leery of Lionel's story. It occurred to them that Williams might have been involved in the crime and was trying to throw suspicion onto others. But without evidence connecting Williams to the murder, the police soon dropped their investigation of him.

After hearing Theresa Williams's claims, police again tracked Williams but could not come up with anything definite. In the meantime, Williams was convicted of check forgery and sentenced to 10 months in Michigan's Calhoun County Jail. He was scheduled for release on January 18, 1978.

While he was serving that sentence, a deputy reported that he had overheard Williams tell his cellmate, "I killed a dude a while back. An actor by the name of Sal Mineo."

Later another guard reported having heard him make the same boast. The officers were uncertain if they were hearing admissions or fantasizing, but they informed Los Angeles authorities of the remarks. The L.A. police got a court order permitting Lionel Williams's cell to be bugged.

Continuing research into Williams's background revealed him to be a veteran robber who was often violent. L.A. Det. Dan Tankersley regretted having dismissed robbery as motive and said if he had not, "We might have solved [the Mineo case] a lot sooner."

L.A. Deputy D. A. Burton Katz took the case. He obtained an indictment against Williams, then sought his extradition from Michigan.

On Williams's return to Los Angeles, investigators questioned him. He strongly denied having had anything to do with Mineo's murder. While interrogating him, an officer noticed a fresh tattoo of a knife on the suspect's arm. Murderers often like to keep souvenirs of their crimes, and the detectives believed that Williams might have created one with that tattoo.

Theresa Williams was not on hand to testify against her husband at the trial. She had killed herself with a shot through the head.


The Trial

Deputy D.A. Michael Genelin prosecuted the case when it came to trial. The charge carried a possible death penalty. Judge Ronnie Lee Martin presided, and a jury evenly divided between men and women heard the case. Mort Herbert was appointed by the court to defend Lionel Williams.

Genelin called 26-year-old Allwyn Williams to the stand. No relation to Lionel Williams, Allwyn had been a partner in crime. At the time he testified before the grand jury, Allwyn was serving time for robbery and kidnapping. When he testified at the trial itself, however, he wore the uniform of a U. S. Marine.

Allwyn testified that Lionel had told him he had killed a celebrity. When Allwyn asked who it was, Lionel had allegedly replied, "Sal Mineo." He testified that Williams claimed he had been driving around looking for someone to rob when he spotted Mineo getting out of his car. Williams approached him with the knife. Mineo cried out and Lionel stabbed him. He fled in panic without bothering to grab his victim's valuables.

Authorities had made a deal with Allwyn in exchange for his testimony. His robbery and kidnapping charges had been reduced and he had received a one-year suspended sentence.

Herman cross-examined Allwyn, getting him to admit that he had embroidered his story in his first dealings with investigators. Then he had claimed to them that Williams had told him he had used a "pearl-handled knife." Now he acknowledged that Williams had said no such thing. He also admitted that he had fabricated a Lincoln Continental getaway car. He said he made things up because "I was hoping to get out of jail" and thought a "strong" story would do the trick.

"Would you lie again," Herbert asked pointedly, "if it was absolutely necessary to get off the hook."

"I guess so, sir," Allwyn conceded.

The prosecution tried to link Williams to the murder weapon in a roundabout way. The police could not find the knife used in the murder. Theresa Williams had pointed out stores that her husband patronized that sold knives. Investigators were able to hunt up a knife sold in such a store that cost $5.28 around the time Williams was likely to have purchased it and which resembled the one that had struck Mineo's heart. They matched that weapon to the wound in Mineo's tissues that had been preserved in formalin. It was a near-perfect fit.

Herbert pointed out that finding a duplicate of the knife that had killed Mineo at a shop his client frequented did not put the murder weapon in the defendant's hand. He emphasized that the witnesses said they had seen a white or Mexican man leaving the scene. Genelin countered by showing a mug shot of Williams from roughly the same time period that showed a fair-skinned man with long, bleached hair.

In his summation, Genelin called Lionel Williams "a predator" and "a man who wants the world to know how tough he is." Later he told the jurors to connect the dots of evidence and the portrait drawn "is the face of the defendant."

Herbert summed up Williams's defense by emphasizing the fact that witnesses said they saw a white man fleeing the crime scene. If a director were going to make a movie about Sal Mineo's murder, Herbert asked, what actor would he look for? Taking the role of that hypothetical director, Herbert continued by reminding them of what eyewitnesses said the killer looked like. "I want him to have large curls," Herbert said. "I want him to look like an Italian. And I want him to have large cheekbones. I want him to have a long nose. I want him to be about five feet ten inches tall. And I want him to be white." His client was "the last person in the world" to be cast for the part, Herbert concluded.

After a trial lasting about two-and-a-half months, the jury convicted Williams of second-degree murder, a crime that does not carry the death penalty, but curiously acquitted him of the attempted robbery charge.

March 16, 1979 was the day of sentencing. Judge Martin offered Williams a chance to speak. Williams criticized both his attorney and Judge Martin. "He wasn't in my corner," Williams said of Herbert. "I didn't want him but you put him on me. I asked you to get rid of the man twice but you didn't do it. I fault you for my going to the penitentiary."

Judge Martin reviewed the defendant's lengthy record and said, "I don't think he's susceptible to rehabilitation considering his escalating conduct of committing more and more serious crimes with more and more violence." She sentenced him to the maximum of 51 years to life. He would be eligible to apply for parole in 14 years.

Williams was paroled in the early 1990s. When he returned to the outside world, he also returned to his criminal ways and was soon back behind bars. He always publicly denied that he murdered Mineo.

Many people, including some of Mineo's friends, were dissatisfied with the verdict. They found the evidence flimsy. His biographer, H. Paul Jeffers, believed that the prosecution failed to prove that "only Williams could have killed Sal Mineo."

In Fallen Angels, Marvin J. Wolf and Katherine Mader wrote that "the prophesies of Sal Mineo's childhood had in the end come true" and that despite his movie career, he "couldn't elude his fate." This implication of this statement is not quite fair. Mineo did not die a criminal, did not die because he had so often played "The Switchblade Kid," nor did he probably die because of his lifestyle. He most likely died the victim of a street crime that happened to catch him in the wrong place at the wrong time.




Interview with Sal Mineo from Boze Hadleigh's Conversations With My Elders, St. Martin's Press' Stonewall Inn Editions, 1988.

Biography for James Dean, Internet Movie Database

Sal Mineo Tribute,

Biography for Sal Mineo, Internet Movie Database

Sal Mineo filmography, Internet Movie Database

Rebel Without a Cause (1955), Internet Movie Database

Braudy, Susan, Who Killed Sal Mineo?, Wyndham Books, New York, NY, 1982.

Jeffers, H. Paul, Sal Mineo: His Life, Murder, and Mystery, Carroll & Graf Publishers, Inc., New York, NY, 2000.

Mader, Katherine and Wolf, Marvin J., Fallen Angels: Chronicles of L.A. Crime and Mystery, Facts on File Publications, New York, NY, 1986.


The author also wants to thank John Seger for email correspondence.

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