Longform

THE BOB CRANE MURDER CASE PART ONE

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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.
@rule:
@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."

@rule:
@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.

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Paul Rubin
Contact: Paul Rubin

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