On October 7, 1949, aspiring Hollywood actress Jean Spangler kissed her five-year-old daughter goodbye and told her sister-in-law she was going to meet her ex-husband to talk about his late child support payment. In a twist straight from a L.A. noir novel, she walked out the door and was never seen again.
The last person to see her alive was a clerk in the local store near her home. She stood outside, he said, like she was waiting for someone to pick her up. When the actress never returned home, Spangler’s sister-in-law, Sophie, filed a police report the very next day.
The investigation immediately turned to Spangler’s ex-husband, a man named Dexter Benner. The two had an acrimonious divorce and ruthless custody battle over their daughter, Christine. But Dexter, who by that time had remarried, claimed to have been at home that evening with his wife Lynn. He said he didn’t know anything about a meeting and hadn’t spoken to Spangler in nearly two years.
Police found Spangler’s purse on October 9th near the Fern Dell entrance to Griffith Park. Both straps were torn, as if the bag had been ripped from a shoulder. There was no money in the purse, but there was a strange handwritten note. It read:
“Kirk: Can’t wait any longer, Going to see Dr. Scott. It will work best this way while mother is away,”. The note ended in a comma, as if the author had been interrupted while writing. Though the Los Angeles police swept Griffith Park, no other evidence was uncovered.
The content of the note led investigators to believe that perhaps Spangler was pregnant and planned to get an abortion—hence, the mention of going to a doctor. When questioned, Spangler’s friends corroborated that she was in fact three months pregnant and planning on getting an abortion. But who was this mysterious Kirk to whom the note was addressed?
Intriguingly, at the time of her disappearance, Spangler was working as an extra on the set of the new Kirk Douglas movie, Young Man with a Horn. When questioned by the police, Douglas said he had heard Spangler’s name, but did not know her personally. Apparently that was enough for the police, and they dropped him as a suspect. But suspicions were raised. What if Spangler and Douglas had been having an affair? Could Spangler have been pregnant with Douglas’ child—and, if so, could this have contributed to her vanishing?
The plot thickened when police discovered that Spangler had been seen around town with a man named Davy Ogul, a notorious associate of mobster Mickey Cohen. Ogul had disappeared without a trace about two days after Spangler vanished—and the police spoke to someone in El Paso, Texas who said he’d spotted Ogul with a woman who matched Spangler’s description. Perhaps they’d skipped town together?
Spangler’s family dismissed that theory. “I am sure she would have communicated with us if she is alive and free,” her mother Florence said. “And nobody can tell me that she would have left her baby unless she was forced to do so; she loved her too much.”
Back in Los Angeles, the police department circulated pictures of Spangler for years. Gossip columnist Louella Parsons even offered a $1,000 reward for any information on the investigation. Alas, the case went cold. Spangler is still listed as a missing person, and every once in a blue moon, the L.A. police department receives calls that she’s been seen—so far, in California, Phoenix, Arizona, and New Mexico.
For Spangler’s family, however, the nightmare continues. After her disappearance, the custody of Christine was transferred back to her father, who refused to let her grandmother see her. Another acrimonious court battle began. When the judge granted Florence Spangler visitation rights, Benner fled the state, taking Christine with him. They were never seen again.
What truly happened to Jean Spangler? Who did she go to meet after kissing her daughter on the cheek and stepping out into the night? We may never know.
This story was first published on The Lineup
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