THE BOB CRANE MURDER CASE PART ONE
It is 1969, the year of Woodstock, a man on the moon, the miracle Mets and Chappaquiddick. Two middle-aged buddies turn on a tape recorder and discuss their favorite subject--women and how to snag them.
The conversation is ostensibly an "interview" for a Los Angeles singles magazine. John Carpenter is asking questions of Bob Crane, star of the hit television show Hogan's Heroes.
"Are there many single people in show business?" Carpenter asks Crane, tongue firmly in cheek.
"You never really think of the person's home life," Crane replies, in the quasi-earnest manner that made Hogan's Heroes a winner. "As for dating, I've always been the kind of guy that goes with one girl at a time. I'm not the kind to go to single bars. I find someone who I'm happy with and I stay with them. I'm a marriedlike person.
"I'm the type of guy who's married even when I'm not married. I enjoy one person and I go steady. I go steady."
The singles scene has certain pitfalls, Crane confides.
"Eventually, you'll find out there's a husband of theirs that's lurking out there. . . . I think all single people should have a card verified by the pope that they're single, so you don't wake up someday and find a gun to your head because you didn't hear footsteps."
@body:It is Christmas Eve, 1992, at Maricopa County Jail, almost a quarter-century after Bob Crane eerily mentioned "footsteps." John Carpenter is here because authorities accuse him of murdering his friend Crane in a Scottsdale apartment in June 1978.
The longtime electronics-industry manager looks younger than his 64 years, despite a haggard appearance under the stark fluorescent lights. Carpenter's dark eyes are clear and piercing, but his blue jail uniform hangs loosely on him, the result of a 25-pound weight loss during six months of incarceration.
In 1978, Carpenter's most memorable feature was his jet-black, Beatlelike haircut. These days, he still has a full head of hair, but it's trimmed much shorter and is almost more salt than pepper.
A few days earlier, California authorities had shipped Carpenter to Maricopa County to face the murder charge. It marked his first time in this state since a few days after the Crane killing. Since that time, Carpenter says, he had refused even to fly over Arizona.
"It just means a lot of bad things to me," Carpenter explains. "Not only did I lose one of my best friends here, those idiots accused me of doing it."
Carpenter's arrest was a bombshell in a case that has generated more headlines worldwide than any other Arizona case. Bob Crane's murder has remained one of the nation's enduring whodunits, a mystery involving a celebrity who is more popular now than he was when he died.
Hogan's Heroes is in heavy rotation on cable TV these days, and a whole new generation is watching Colonel Robert Hogan's machinations and the avowals of Sergeant Schultz that he knows nothing.
The man accused of murdering Crane had been his good friend for more than a decade. Crane and Carpenter had much in common. Neither man was an intellectual, but each had risen in his respective field by a combination of hard work, guile and good fortune. More important, Crane and Carpenter were alley cats who tried their luck with almost anything female that came their way. Hanging out with Crane provided Carpenter with a ready supply of willing women that surely wouldn't have been otherwise available to him.
With his up-to-the-moment knowledge of video, Carpenter could offer Crane something of value: the technology to churn out homemade pornographic videos of Crane's encounters with women.
As a story, the Crane case was made in heaven: It has sex, sex and more sex. It has a Hollywood star. It has allegations of bisexuality and other unorthodox behavior. It has everything but a motive. Authorities have insinuated that Carpenter's unrequited love for Crane somehow caused him to kill his friend. But prosecutors do not have substantial evidence of homosexual behavior on the part of either man. Even if they did, it remains unclear why that would have led to murder.
Since 1978, police have also tried to prove that Crane was tiring of his friendship with Carpenter. The theory seems to be that Crane told his buddy to take a hike, which angered Carpenter enough to commit murder. But proof of that is wafer-thin, as well.
The most compelling evidence against Carpenter is a small amount of blood Scottsdale police found in his rental car shortly after the murder. The blood matched Crane's type, found in only about one out of seven people.
The presence of the blood, however, wasn't enough for the two Maricopa County attorneys who preceded present County Attorney Rick Romley to authorize a murder warrant. But last June, police arrested Carpenter after authorities claimed to have uncovered startling "new" evidence in the long-dormant case.
The "new" evidence was a previously overlooked color photograph depicting what prosecutors say is a tiny piece of human tissue. They claim an Arizona Department of Public Safety criminologist took the photograph inside Carpenter's rental car in 1978.
Authorities allege the tissue came from Crane's bludgeoned head, and that it stuck to the murder weapon. The weapon, which investigators surmise was a camera tripod, has never been found. Carpenter took the tripod with him as he fled, prosecutors speculate, leaving blood and the speck of tissue on his interior passenger door.
But the Crane case has enormous problems from the prosecution's standpoint. It is rife with police misconduct, including the destruction of the crucial speck of tissue itself and the failure to interview valid suspects other than Carpenter (see next week's story).
Because of the bad police work and the lack of an apparent motive, the odds are great, most courthouse observers agree, that a jury will acquit Carpenter at trial, now scheduled for later this year. Employers, neighbors and even jilted ex-lovers describe John Carpenter as a gentleman, with the accent on "gentle." Police and prosecutors call him a manipulative hedonist whose sole aim in life is to please himself.
Carpenter hasn't spoken with a reporter before, except in two brief, lawyer-orchestrated interviews. But in hours of interviews with New Times over the course of several months, this previously shadowy figure has told the story of his complicated, fascinating life.
"I don't go around and kill my pals," Carpenter says, carefully, precisely and with no particular accent of note. "I played around a lot, balled a lot of women, and I've made mistakes that hurt people close to me. I'm no saint. But I never even had a fight with Bob, goddammit. He was my friend. And he was the goose who laid the golden egg for me, in terms of meeting ladies."
Whether Carpenter is convicted or set free, the truth of who killed Bob Crane--whether it was Carpenter or someone else--will remain a tantalizing mystery.
@body:It is early March of this year, and the prosecution has almost completed its presentation at John Carpenter's preliminary hearing. Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Gregory Martin has adjourned the proceedings, and Carpenter is ready to fly home to California for a long weekend.
Carpenter has been out on bond--his house is the collateral--since Christmas Eve. Carpenter and longtime friend Mark Dawson have checked out of their rooms at a cheap downtown motel on West Van Buren.
It's fitting Dawson is here, since his father introduced Crane and Carpenter in the mid-1960s. Dawson's dad is Richard Dawson, of Family Feud and Hogan's Heroes fame. His mother was Diana Dors, the British version of Marilyn Monroe.
To Mark Dawson, a documentary filmmaker now in his early 30s who seems to have escaped the perils of a Hollywood upbringing, being with Carpenter in Arizona seems the right thing to do.
"He's in the jam of his life, and it's time to pay him back a little for his friendship," Dawson says, as he and Carpenter prepare to board the airplane for Los Angeles. "I have never seen anything of the side of him that Arizona is trying to portray--this murderous monster."
Dawson says he wants to do a documentary film on the Crane case when all is said and done. The preliminary hearing, at which Judge Martin is to decide whether probable cause exists that Carpenter murdered Crane, is providing Dawson with a firsthand look at the state's case.
At Los Angeles International Airport, Dawson leaves with his wife, Cathy, while Carpenter waits for his wife, Diana, to come by. She soon pulls in and warmly greets her husband of 38 years, a period that included a 13-year separation beginning in the mid-1960s.
Though Carpenter has telephoned his wife every night from his Phoenix motel room, she wants an in-person account. Originally, she had planned to accompany her husband to Arizona, but the couple's shrinking finances and her fragile emotional state dictated otherwise.
The last year has taken its toll on Diana Carpenter: Upbeat by nature, she's often depressed and nervous these days. Though she says she knows in her heart her husband is innocent, she assumes the worst--that Arizona prosecutors will somehow finagle a conviction and lock him up forever.
In sprawling Torrance, a suburb south of Los Angeles, Diana Carpenter pulls into the tidy subdivision where the couple has lived since 1990. The couple quickly made friends with their new neighbors, many of whom adorned their homes and trees with yellow ribbons after Carpenter was released from jail. "Not bad for an Indian," he says, chuckling as he gestures at his neatly kept, two-story brick home. Though Carpenter insists his profile resembles the Indian on the old buffalo nickel, strangers often are surprised to learn he is three-quarters Native American: His mother was Iroquois and his father was of Spanish and Native American descent.
The interior of Carpenter's comfortable home contains few hints of his heritage. A "God Bless America" rug hangs on a living-room wall. There are shelves filled with videotapes of old movies. And there are well-defined "his" and "hers" areas.
His is a study with a powerful computer that satisfies Carpenter's need for order and organization. Hers is an upstairs room filled with dolls that look eerily lifelike.
Carpenter's dogs--an Old English sheepdog and a mixed-breed terrier--are thrilled to see their master. He kiddingly refers to the sheepdog as his "son." That's ironic, because John and Diana Carpenter are childless, but John does have a son in his 40s whom he has rarely seen since splitting from his first wife in 1952.
John and Diana Carpenter have stumbled down many rocky roads together--largely because of his numerous episodes of infidelity--but somehow they seem to have remained close friends.
"I want you to know something," she says, out of earshot of her husband. "He has done some things that really hurt me, okay? The fooling around and all that. I don't trust him on that level, and he knows it. But I love that man. I know this sounds funny, but John has been a great husband when he's with me."
@body:It has been almost 40 years since Johnnie Carpenter, as he was known back then, eyed a shapely, 17-year-old young woman at a Los Angeles bar. Diana Tootikian was trying to look older by smoking a cigarette--her first, she says.
The darkly handsome young man with the devilish spit curl grabbed the cigarette out of Diana's mouth and told her she didn't know how to smoke.
"That's how it started," she recalls, giggling a little.
Diana was a decade younger than Carpenter. Until they got to know him, her strict, deeply religious parents insisted an older, experienced man wasn't what they had in mind for their young daughter.
They were right about his experience. By the time he was in his late 20s, Johnnie Carpenter had been around the block more than some men twice his age.
Born in Los Angeles, he was the only child of Molly and Henry Carpenter. Henry Carpenter split for good when Johnnie was about 8, and Carpenter says he saw his father only once after that, about 1950.
Molly Carpenter scrambled to make ends meet during the Great Depression, but she never had much trouble finding work. Among other jobs, she managed a restaurant in downtown Los Angeles and, during World War II, she worked as a Rosie the Riveter in an L.A. factory.
Johnnie Carpenter had his first brush with show business as a youth. Bandleader Roger Wagner chose the Indian boy as soprano soloist for Wagner's famed choral group. The group performed often on radio, and Carpenter was paid in bags of Planters peanuts, the show's sponsor.
Before he was a teen, Carpenter got an unwanted taste of rural Indian life when his mother sent him to the Morongo Reservation in Banning, California. Carpenter says he picked apricots on the reservation after school, a difficult task that made him appreciate urban life when he returned happily to Los Angeles.
But like his mother, Carpenter didn't mind a day's work. As a teen, he hawked newspapers, swept sidewalks and worked as a short-order cook for a downtown hash house. Carpenter wasn't big on book learning, but he was a quick study whose impish appearance and friendly patter won him favor with many young ladies.
In his teens--and, for that matter, for the rest of his life--Carpenter remained split between an insatiable desire for the opposite sex and a yearning for domestic stability.
"I always kind of separated sex and love," Carpenter says. "I never gave cheating a lot of thought. To me it was just sex. Maybe I was wrong. But that's the truth."
Marriage at 18 and early fatherhood didn't resolve that dilemma. Soon after Carpenter returned home from a tour in South Korea as an Army tank commander, his first marriage was history.
Armed with only a high school diploma, he says he had no idea what he wanted to do with his life. But he soon found the burgeoning electronics field to his liking. A television-set manufacturer named Hoffman Easy-Vision hired him, and from there, he went to Lear Aviation, where he installed radios in airplanes. Then he took a job at Hughes Aircraft.
After his regular shift at Hughes, Carpenter would head downtown at night and put on the black jersey of roller derby's hated New York Chiefs. For a few years in the pre-cable-television 1950s, Carpenter was something of a star in the sport, then in its heyday. Fans cheered their favorites and hissed the villains with the same intensity as millions today cheer and hiss professional wrestlers.
Carpenter was an effective enough villain, he says, that fans hung him in effigy in Los Angeles and San Diego. In the mid-1950s, he toured Japan with the Chiefs. "I couldn't understand why they were cheering me," he says. "But black was good over there, and so I was the hero. Weird."
It was about this time that Diana Tootikian met Carpenter at the little Los Angeles tavern. They were married in Las Vegas in December 1955.
Restless at Hughes in the mid-1960s, Carpenter answered a blind ad in the Los Angeles Times for an unspecified opportunity in the electronics field. After several rigorous interviews, he won a job as regional service manager for a Japanese firm that was starting to make inroads in the States.
The company was named Sony. The job would change Carpenter's life.
@body:It's hard to imagine, but videotape equipment has only been commonplace for about a decade. Before then, primitive, bulky VCR units trickled into the States, available only to the rich.
Carpenter's intimate knowledge of the mind-bending new technology was his ticket into the Hollywood scene. One of his tasks at Sony was to instruct customers in how to operate the new machines.
Lyndon Baines Johnson, then president of the United States, was the first person in this country to buy a VCR, Carpenter says.
The second was comedian Red Skelton, then starring in his own show. Carpenter spent a few days at Skelton's home, demonstrating how the thing worked. Later, he personally instructed luminaries, from Alfred Hitchcock to Elvis Presley, in the magic of Sony. Carpenter wasn't the star-struck type, though he says a visit to the King's Bel Air mansion in the late 1960s was memorable:
"I go to the front gate and I'm told, 'Leave your pencils out here. You won't write down what you see in here or what you do in here. You won't talk about it with anyone. But while you're here, your wish is our command.'"
Elvis was an excellent student, Carpenter says--alert and full of life, at that point. Before Carpenter left, he says, Elvis gave him a small painting of himself that a fan had done. Carpenter still has it.
But the most significant person Carpenter instructed--in terms of his present status as a murder defendant--was British actor-comedian Richard Dawson, then appearing as Peter Newkirk on the hot television show Hogan's Heroes.
Dawson and Carpenter hit it off, and started socializing. The pair enjoyed many of the same things--a good pool game, a good meal and a good time with the ladies. Dawson's son, Mark Dawson, recalls meeting Carpenter when Mark was a youngster. "The idea of having home movies instantly was amazing," Mark Dawson says. "John would talk with me and my brother like we were people, not punk kids. He showed us how the machines worked. He treats everyone pretty much the same. You feel like you've always known him."
Now and then, Carpenter would visit Richard Dawson on the set of Hogan's Heroes. On one visit--he says he doesn't recall the moment--Carpenter met the star of the show, Bob Crane.
The two soon recognized each other as kindred spirits. Mark Dawson defines the bond this way: "John Carpenter and Bob Crane were two of the greatest pussy hounds in history. And they enjoyed each other's company as they went for it."
@body:Bob Crane seemed to be everyone's friend. But many who knew him say Crane had only a few truly close male friends. In all ways, he was a lady's man.
When Hogan's Heroes started in 1965, Crane still was married to his first wife, Ann. Soon after his 1970 divorce from Ann, he was married to Hogan's Heroes actress Sigrid "Patty" Valdis.
But his quest for new sexual adventures never ceased. Hitting the jackpot on television did wonders for Crane's already rampant extramarital sex life.
If ever someone was in the right place at the right time, at least once in his life, it was Bob Crane. Born into a middle-class, southern Connecticut family, Crane was a high school dropout whose lack of a formal education didn't stop him from doing what he wanted.
Like Carpenter, Crane developed an early love for music, and he performed musically for the public when he was a youngster. He played drums from his elementary school days, performing at one time with the Connecticut Symphony Orchestra. But his heroes were jazzmen Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich, and his love of big-band music lasted his lifetime.
Also like Carpenter, Crane was married young, to his high school sweetheart, Ann Terzian. The couple had three children together before they divorced in 1970.
A career in radio was a natural for the smooth-talking Crane. He started as a disc jockey in 1950 at a little station in New York state, and worked the East Coast circuit for several years.
In 1956, KNX in Los Angeles hired him as its morning-drive disc jockey. It marked his first big break in the entertainment business.
Crane's radio persona wasn't much different from the one writers conjured later for him as Colonel Robert Hogan. He came across as a smart-alecky but likable sort for whom a harmless scam was an honorable thing.
His show on KNX was a smash, and Crane was earning about $150,000 a year by the early 1960s. But he had other ambitions. While still working in radio, he started acting in little theatres in the Los Angeles area. That led to his first television bit parts, in which he said and did little.
Indicative of his early TV work is an episode of The Dick Van Dyke Show in which producer Carl Reiner cast him as a lousy actor. But Crane persevered, and found a steady, if unspectacular, role as the next-door neighbor on The Donna Reed Show.
In 1965, Crane struck the mother lode. The producers of a proposed new show called Hogan's Heroes cast him as its star. The show was a smash hit. Just like that, Bob Crane had become a national television star. Life at the top opened new doors in Crane's secret life. For years he had been taking Polaroid photographs and home movies of his sexual conquests, sometimes without his female partner's knowledge. Some were simple nudes, but many were far more explicit. One woman who slept with Crane later said he enjoyed taking the erotic shots even more than he enjoyed the sex act itself.
Being Colonel Robert Hogan had its advantages for the wisecracking Lothario. One time, according to Mark Dawson, Crane showed Mark's dad, Richard Dawson, the back seat of his car. It was littered with hundreds of pornographic photographs, many of them showing women performing fellatio on Crane.
Crane wasn't satisfied with documenting his sexual escapades: He wanted to look especially well-endowed as his cameras whirred. Crane paid a doctor to surgically place implants in his penis, probably in the late 1960s, Carpenter says.
Carpenter instructed Crane in how to use a VCR. Wherever Crane went, his machinery would follow. In Texas, several months before the murder, the two friends made a videotape of themselves having sex with a woman Crane had picked up.
While his sex life was flourishing, Crane's professional career went into a downward spiral after Hogan's Heroes ended in 1971. The Bob Crane Show, in which he played a 40-year-old insurance man who returns to medical school, was canceled after 14 weeks. A few days before he was murdered at the age of 49, Crane summed up his post-Hogan's Heroes years in an interview with a Phoenix radio station: "Since we stopped filming, I don't think I've been in the right place at the right time."
A television one-hit wonder, Bob Crane in the mid-1970s was forced to hit the dinner-theatre circuit to earn a living.
@body:Bob Crane's road show as the star of the play Beginner's Luck meshed perfectly into the fabric of Carpenter's life. Then working for the Akai Corporation as its national service manager, Carpenter traveled often.
Throughout the 1970s, Carpenter often arranged his travel schedule to visit his actor-friend on the road. There, he would combine a little work with what he hoped would be a lot of pleasure.
Carpenter usually would fly in during the last week of Crane's engagement somewhere. He had good reason for that: Crane's name had continued to work its magic with women, even after Hogan's Heroes ended.
By the end of a run, Crane often had enough ladies lined up to share with Carpenter. He often would introduce Carpenter as his "manager," a sure-fire way to increase the attention of a potential female score.
But Carpenter says he struck out sexually on his last trip to Arizona. That disappointed him, especially in light of how well Crane had done during his stay. If police reports are correct, Crane had sex with at least eight women in the last three weeks of his life.
By Carpenter's account, his last chance for sexual success during the Arizona trip failed on the night of Crane's murder. Carpenter had met a 20-year-old woman through Crane.
The night before Carpenter's scheduled return to Los Angeles, Carole Newell joined the two men and another new Crane acquaintance at Scottsdale's Safari restaurant. Newell says she went with Carpenter to his hotel room after the meal, at about 2 a.m. on the morning of June 29, 1978.
Carpenter put on his usual array of moves, but Newell wasn't swayed and demanded a ride home. By the accounts of both, Carpenter complied.
He says he then returned to his hotel, about a half-mile from Crane's apartment, and telephoned the actor. First, he asked if Crane had scored with his date, Carol Baare. Crane said he hadn't. Then, Carpenter adds, he told Crane he'd find his own way to the airport later that morning, because he knew Crane had other plans.
The two friends soon said good night to each other, Carpenter maintains.
About 12 hours later, Crane was found dead.
Authorities contend Carpenter waited until Bob Crane fell asleep after the early morning breakfast, then grabbed a camera tripod and bashed it into the left side of his friend's head, killing him almost instantly. They say Carpenter then tied an electrical cord around Crane's neck to ensure his death, and fled.
@body:Even if a jury acquits John Carpenter of murdering Bob Crane, Carpenter's life has been effectively ruined by what has happened.
Late last year, Carpenter lost his hard-earned job as Kenwood USA's national service manager. Kenwood had allowed him to take a six-month emergency leave of absence after his arrest last June. But his boss told him, regretfully, that the firm couldn't hold his position open any longer.
Carpenter is learning that potential new employers are loath to hire 64-year-old defendants in pending murder trials. His wife, Diana, hasn't worked for years, and the couple's once-healthy bank account has shrunk to almost nothing. She's been forced to sell personal items for cash, including her husband's treasured gun collection, some of her beloved dolls and her diamond wedding ring.
Carpenter fears he and his wife will lose their home in Torrance if things continue as they have.
"I worked very hard to get what I got," he says. "No one got me to where I was except for me. We're middle-class, and we like it that way. Whatever happens, it's going to be just like starting over."
Carpenter has also been hit with the double whammy of being labeled a murderer and a child molester by authorities. Late last year, he pleaded no contest in Long Beach, California, to charges of sexually fondling a 10-year-old girl who was visiting the home of his longtime mistress.
Prosecutors in March 1989 declined to file charges, declaring that an investigation had revealed "strong evidence that the victim may not have been telling the truth." But they reconsidered last year, after the girl's friend--then 14--told a Scottsdale police detective investigating the Crane murder that Carpenter had fondled her, too.
The specter of a long prison term persuaded Carpenter to accept a sweetheart plea bargain that demanded no prison time and that will allow misdemeanor instead of felony treatment.
Carpenter knows he won't be so fortunate if a trial jury convicts him of killing Bob Crane.
@body:It is an hour after Judge Gregory Martin has ordered Carpenter to stand trial on a charge of first-degree murder. For the first time since the start of the preliminary hearing, Carpenter looks exhausted. Things had gone well enough for the defense at the hearing that some observers speculated Martin would dismiss the case.
But finding probable cause is far less rigorous than the reasonable-doubt standard that holds sway in criminal trials.
Martin noted that "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." Some considered that a statement to prosecutor Myrna Parker about how close Martin had been to tossing out the case.
Such nuances mean little to Carpenter right now. He leans back in the passenger seat of his parked rental car, takes off his eyeglasses and closes his tired eyes. He knows his future is utterly uncertain.
"I didn't kill the son of a bitch," Carpenter says after several minutes. "He was my friend.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Phoenix New Times' biggest stories.
- Violent Monsoon Microburst That Exploded Over the Valley Caught on Social Media
- Legal Marijuana in Arizona Would Generate $72M Yearly in Tax Revenue, New Report Says
- John McCain Claims to Be Unaware of Arizona's Anti-Islam Movement and That Planned...