SIX – Murder of Phil Hartman
Comedic actor Phil Hartman was a well known cast member on the sketch comedy show Saturday Night Live as well as having a recurring role in The Simpsons. Whilst many comedians have been known for their dark personal lives that leave trails of destruction in their wake, Hartman was renowned for his very real “everyman” personality.
Hartman’s career started out graphic arts where he attended the California State University which ultimately afforded him the opportunity to open his own graphic design company. His company was successful, with Hartman’s business helping to create over 40 album covers for various bands.
It was during his time working in graphic design that Phil Hartman finally discovered a passion for comedy when, in 1975, he began attending classes with the comedy group The Groundlings. Thanks to his undeniable charisma and talent, Phil Hartman began to garner more praise and work. Voice work and small roles in films began to come in as well. Hartman even assisted fellow Groundling Paul Reubens to develop his now-iconic PeeWee Herman character. It was then in 1985 that Phil Harman met Brynn Omdahl. The two met at a party. Omdahl had a history of drug and alcohol addiction but was was sober at the time. After working with Reubens on the hit film PeeWee’s Big Adventure, he was hired as both a writer and performer at Saturday Night Live in 1986. After nearly 10 years in New York with the sketch comedy show, Hartman, his wife, and their two children moved back to California where Hartman was able to focus on his latest project, an ensemble comedy show called NewsRadio.
After making the move back to California, Brynn Omdahl began to struggle once again with substance abuse. The two were known to fight and threats were sometimes made and friends and family of Hartman were often not shy about the fact that they found Omdahl to be an unsettling presence.
Brynn backslid into heavy alcohol and cocaine use. On Mother’s Day 1997, Brynn came home plastered, and a furious Hartman insisted she go to rehab. She did, but missing their kids, she left after several days.
On the evening of May 27, 1998, Brynn met a friend for drinks, discussing her career disappointments while downing two Cosmos and half a beer.
At 10:15, she went to the home of an old friend named Ron Douglas. She complained about Hartman’s frequent absences, saying his preference for hanging out with other friends made her feel like “dirt” and bemoaning that his constant marijuana smoking left him “out of it” much of the time. She also drank three more beers. When she left at 12:45, Douglas felt she did not seem especially intoxicated.
We will never know exactly what transpired next, except that at some point after Brynn returned home at around 1 a.m., she retrieved Hartman’s Smith & Wesson .38 and shot him three times as he slept from just 18 inches away, killing him instantly.
Soon after, she returned to Douglas’ home, shoeless and now obviously drunk. She claimed she thought she had killed her husband, but Douglas didn’t believe her. Finally, he followed her home and discovered the truth.
He called the police, Brynn locking herself in the bedroom as he did so. Inside, Brynn called her sister in Wisconsin, told her that Hartman was dead and said, “Tell the children that I love them.”
Police arrived soon after, and as they tried to figure out the next step, Brynn crawled into bed with Hartman’s body, placed her Charter Arms .38 into her mouth and pulled the trigger.
SEVEN – Martha Stewart insider trading
Martha Helen Stewart (nee Kostyra) was born the second of six children to a middle-class Polish family in New Jersey. She first started gaining notoriety while modeling as a teen and doing some television commercials and magazine spreads. At home, Stewart learned how to cook and sew from her mother.
Martha married lawyer Andrew Stewart and began a career as a stockbroker while dabbling in domestic endeavours on the side. Her hosting talents impressed Crown Publishing executive Alan Mirken, who wound up publishing Stewart’s first book. Entertaining was a huge success followed by several others.
In 1990, she launched Martha Stewart Living Magazine and three years later added a half-hour television show by the same name to her repertoire.
Martha Stewart’s brand was soaring after the 1997 launch of her company, Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia. Stewart was the chairwoman, president, and CEO of the thriving company, which included television, print, and merchandising divisions.
And then Stewart became the first female self-made billionaire in 1999 when the company went public. The IPO was $18 per share and by the end of trading reached an incredible $38 per share.
But it was Stewart’s stockbroker past that would eventually come back to haunt her. Ultimately, Stewart wound up going to jail for insider trading.
Stewart’s downfall came after she sold all 3,928 shares of her ImClone Systems stock in 2001 to save herself from a $45,673 loss. She obtained information about the stock illegally from a former broker contact.
After a six-week trial, Stewart was found guilty of felony charges of conspiracy, obstruction of an agency proceeding, and making false statements to federal investigators. She was sentenced to five months in federal prison and two years of electronic monitoring probation.
To the surprise of no one, Stewart was not impressed by the prison aesthetics or her treatment there, where her rumored nickname was “M. Diddy.”
“It was horrifying, and no one — no one — should have to go through that kind of indignity, really, except for murderers, and there are a few other categories,” she told Katie Couric during an interview. “But no one should have to go through that. It’s a very, very awful thing.”
When asked if she learned anything or used the experience for any future good, Stewart insisted there was no silver lining. “That you can make lemons out of lemonade? What hurts you makes you stronger? No. None of those adages fit at all. It’s a horrible experience. Nothing is good about it, nothing,” she said.
EIGHT – Jennifer Hudson’s family murders
She rose to fame in 2004 as a finalist on the third season of American Idol, placing seventh. Hudson made her film debut as Effie White in Dreamgirls (2006), for which she received an Academy Award, a Golden Globe Award, a BAFTA Award, and a Screen Actors Guild Award for Best Supporting Actress.
On October 24, 2008, Jennifer Hudson’s family was shot dead in their South Yale Avenue home in Chicago. The house on the 7900th block was shared by Hudson’s mother Darnell, her brother Jason, sister Julia, and Julia’s son (Jennifer’s nephew) Julian King. The tragedy took place on the morning of October 24, 2008, when the murderer tried making his way into the Hudson home. While details of forced entry are unclear, it is said that the killer first shot through the door, injuring Jason Hudson. After that, he came in and continued firing, aiming at Hudson’s mother who entered the room. While neighbors heard the gunshots, they did not immediately alert police. The news of Jennifer Hudson’s family murders only reached police when a relative found the bodies that afternoon and called them. On investigating, it was found that Hudson’s nephew was missing and authorities immediately issued an Amber alert for him. He was eventually found dead in the back of a car on October 27, 2008. Jennifer Hudson’s brother-in-law, William Balfour was anticipated to be the killer. He was later arrested that same day from his girlfriend’s apartment in the West Side.
William Balfour, the man behind the murder of Jennifer Hudson’s family, was married to Julia Hudson in 2006. The couple had a rocky relationship from the start and separated within a year. Balfour was reportedly disliked by all of Hudson’s family and was thrown out of their family home by her mother at one point in time. Hudson’s sister claimed that Balfour was a “very possessive” husband and could not even stand his own son kissing her! Her estranged husband was previously convicted of attempted murder and the illegal possession of drugs. He was out on parole when he killed Jennifer Hudson’s family on October 24, 2008. After grueling investigations, William Balfour was charged with three counts of first-degree murder, and one count of home invasion, and was denied bail. He was later convicted on all seven counts, including possession of a stolen vehicle. In July 2012, Balfour was also sentenced to three life sentences without the possibility of parole, served consecutively, followed by an additional 120 years for his other convictions. Judge Burns, who presided over the case, reportedly said that Balfour’s heart was like an “arctic night” and his soul was “a barren, dark space.” In spite of strong evidence in favor of his conviction, Balfour claims to be innocent. He also reiterated his innocence in February 2016, in an interview with Chuck Goudie of WLS-TV. He is currently serving his time at Stateville Correctional Center near Joliet, Illinois.
Jennifer Hudson was left traumatized after her family members were brutally killed by her brother-in-law. Her sister, Julia admits she feels guilty for the tragedy, blaming herself and her marriage for the murders, explaining in an interview, “Of course, how can I not go through the what ifs? Because I married him. If I hadn’t saw what I thought I saw in him. And once I did begin to see who he really was, I tried to get out. That was his promise: ‘If you leave me. I’ll kill you. I’ll kill your family first.’” She added, “I left. And he did what he said he would.”
Hudson was present for each day of her family’s murder trial and visited their burial site only after due justice was secured for them. The actress also said that it was her own son that kept her going after the tragedy. She stated in an interview, “I went from being an aunt, having a mom, and being a child to not having a mom, becoming a mom, and raising my own child. I tell David all the time, ‘You saved my life.’”
Hudson, along with her remaining family, opened The Hudson-King Foundation for Families of Slain Victims, in honor of the three victims. The actress, along with her sister, also created the Julian D. King Gift Foundation (in honor of her nephew) which provides Christmas presents and school supplies to needy families in the Chicago area.
NINE – Vince Neil’s fatal drunk driving crash
Vince Neil is best known as the lead vocalist of heavy metal band Mötley Crüe which he co-founded in 1981, but he has also released three albums as a solo artist. He is known for his turbulent personal life which has led to multiple arrests and convictions, including one for vehicular manslaughter.
In late 1984, Finnish hard rock band Hanoi Rocks was on their second American tour and their first to reach California. On the day they arrived in Los Angeles, December 8, Hanoi Rocks drummer Nicholas “Razzle” Dingley and the other members of the band visited Neil’s home and spent the day in Redondo Beach. Sketchy memories from those in attendance suggest that three to four days into the party, on the evening of December 8, with supplies depleted, a trip to buy more booze was mooted. Vince Neil, heavily intoxicated but, inadvisably, keen to show off his orange-red 72 Ford Pantera sports car, set off for the liquor store with Razzle as his passenger.
Almost an hour later McCoy became concerned that the pair still hadn’t returned and, along with the band’s road manager, set about retracing their steps. As they drove they passed a car wreck near Neil’s home in Redondo Beach. Seconds later, and with chilling realisation dawning, they returned to the scene to find Vince Neil in police custody and Razzle’s unconscious body being put into an ambulance. Apparently, shortly after setting off at 6.38pm, Neil lost control of his car in a wet spot while swerving around a stationary fire truck at 65mph in a 25mph zone. His Ford Pantera then careered into the path of oncoming traffic and was struck by two other cars.
The driver of one of them, 18-year-old Lisa Hogan, was rushed in a critical condition to the intensive care unit of the Little Company of Mary Hospital, where she remained in a coma until the end of the month with a broken arm and two broken legs. Brain damage, meanwhile, left her liable to psychomotor seizures. Lisa Hogan’s passenger, 20-year-old Daniel Smithers, suffered a broken leg and some brain damage. The driver of the third vehicle was thankfully uninjured.
Vince Neil miraculously escaped serious injury (suffering only cracked ribs and minor facial cuts), but Razzle was pronounced dead on arrival at Redondo’s South Bay Hospital at 7.19pm. Vince Neil was taken to the police station at nearby Torrance where he was immediately arrested on suspicion of drunken driving and vehicular manslaughter, but was subsequently released on $2,500 bail
Eventually convicted in July 1985, the singer ultimately served just 20 days in jail, was ordered to pay $2.6 million in compensation to the injured parties, completed 200 hours of community service, and attended school and college lectures on the dangers of drugs and alcohol.
The timing of the tragic accident – December 8, 1984 – marked the first day of the USA’s National Drunk Driving Awareness Week. Neil clocked up an alcohol reading of 0.17 – well above the legal limit of 0.10. To make matters worse, neither he nor Razzle were wearing seat belts at the time of the crash.
TEN – The murder of Bonnie Bakley and trail of Robert Blake
Robert Blake was is an American actor whose career started in 1939 as a child actor. He acted up until his last role in David Lynch’s Lost Highway in 1997. He has had one of the longest Hollywood careers to date.
In 1999, Blake met Bonnie Lee Bakley, formerly of Wharton, New Jersey, who had already been married nine times and reportedly had a history of exploiting older men, especially celebrities, for money. She was dating Christian Brando, the son of Marlon Brando, during her relationship with Blake. Bakley became pregnant and told both Brando and Blake that her baby was theirs. Initially, Bakley named the baby “Christian Shannon Brando” and stated that Brando was the father. Bakley wrote letters describing her dubious motives to Blake. Blake insisted that she take a DNA test to prove the paternity. Blake became Bakley’s tenth husband on November 19, 2000, after DNA tests proved that Blake was the biological father of her child, who was renamed Rosie.
On May 4, 2001, Blake took Bakley out for dinner at Vitello’s Restaurant at 4349 Tujunga Avenue in Studio City, California. Bakley was fatally shot in the head while sitting in Blake’s vehicle, which was parked on a side street around the corner from the restaurant. Blake claimed that he had returned to the restaurant to collect a gun which he had previously left inside and claimed that he had not been present when the shooting took place. The gun Blake claimed to have left in the restaurant was later found and determined by police not to be the murder weapon.
On April 18, 2002, Blake was arrested and charged with Bakley’s murder. His long time bodyguard, Earle Caldwell, was also arrested and charged with conspiracy in connection with the murder. A key event that gave the LAPD the confidence to arrest Blake came when a retired stuntman, Ronald “Duffy” Hambleton, agreed to testify against him. Hambleton alleged that Blake tried to hire him to kill Bakley. Another retired stuntman and an associate of Hambleton’s, Gary McLarty, also came forward with a similar story.
According to author Miles Corwin, Hambleton had agreed to testify against Blake only after being told that he would be subject to a grand jury subpoena and a misdemeanour charge. Hambleton’s motives for testifying were called into question by Blake’s defence team during the trial.
On April 22, 2002, Blake was charged with one count of murder with special circumstances, an offense which carried a possible death penalty. He was also charged with two counts of solicitation of murder and one count of conspiracy to commit murder. Blake entered a plea of not guilty to all charges. Caldwell was charged with a single count of conspiracy to commit murder and also entered a plea of not guilty. Three days later, the Los Angeles District Attorney’s office announced that it would not seek the death penalty against Blake if he was convicted, but prosecutors would seek a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Blake posted $1 million bail for Caldwell, who was released, but a judge denied bail for Blake himself. On March 13, 2003, after almost a year in jail, Blake was granted bail, which was set at $1.5 million, and he was allowed to go free to await trial. Blake was placed on house arrest during this time. On October 31, in a major reversal for the prosecution, the judge dismissed the conspiracy charge against Blake and Caldwell during a pre-trial hearing. The junior prosecutor who handled the case, Shellie Samuels, was interviewed by CBS reporter Peter Van Sant for the CBS program 48 Hours Investigates. During the interview, broadcast in November 2003, she admitted that the prosecutors had no forensic evidence implicating Blake in the murder, that they could not tie him to the murder weapon, that they did not have any witnesses, and that they had virtually nothing in the way of hard evidence.
Blake’s criminal trial for murder began on December 20, 2004. The prosecution contended that Blake intentionally murdered Bakley to free himself from a loveless marriage, while the defence challenged all of the evidence, claiming that Blake was an innocent victim of circumstantial and fabricated evidence.
Prosecution testimony began with various witnesses detailing the night of the murder and the murder weapon used. Bakley was shot twice while sitting on the passenger side of the parked car and the passenger window was rolled down, indicating that she may have been familiar with her assailant. The murder weapon was revealed to be a semi-automatic Walther P38 pistol, which was found in a dumpster a few yards away from the parked car where the shooting took place.
On February 7, 2005, Gary McLarty alleged that in March 2001, Blake attempted to contract him to murder his wife; McLarty allegedly declined. McLarty’s testimony was subject to an intense cross-examination, which examined his history of mental problems and his difficulty remembering key details of the alleged contract offer. Then testimony came from Ronald “Duffy” Hambleton, who also claimed that Blake tried to solicit him to murder his wife. His testimony was also called into question during cross-examination when his record of past convictions for various petty crimes including drug and gun possession was exposed.
The prosecution rested its case on February 14. The defence began its case with a series of witnesses, including relatives of McLarty, who contradicted various parts of the prosecution’s case. Then testimony was heard about the effects of chronic drug use on the mind—specifically, the minds of the two key prosecution witnesses, Hambleton and McLarty, who were drug users during their stuntman careers. The lack of gunshot residue on Blake’s hands was also a key part of the defence’s case that Blake was not the shooter. Blake chose not to testify. The defence rested its case on February 23, and after closing arguments were made on March 2–3, the jury retired to deliberate on March 4.
On March 16, 2005, Blake was found not guilty of murder and not guilty of one of the two counts of solicitation of murder. The other count, the solicitation of McLarty, was dropped after it was revealed that the jury was deadlocked 11–1 in favour of an acquittal. Los Angeles District Attorney Stephen Cooley, commenting on this ruling, called Blake “a miserable human being” and the jurors “incredibly stupid” to fall for the defence’s claims. Blake’s defence team, led by his attorney and members of the jury responded that the prosecution had failed to prove its case. One trial analyst also agreed with the jury’s verdict. Public opinion regarding the verdict was mixed, with some feeling that Blake was guilty, though many felt that there was not enough evidence to convict him.
Bakley’s three children filed a civil suit against Blake, asserting that he was responsible for their mother’s death. The trial included an event described as a Perry Mason moment when Eric Dubin, the attorney for Bakley’s family, called the girlfriend of Blake’s co-defendant Earle Caldwell to the stand and asked if she believed Blake and Caldwell were involved in the crime, something no one had asked her before. “Dead silence filled the court”, Dubin recalled. “Tears filled her eyes as she paused for what seemed like a decade, then leaned into the microphone and said that yes, she did believe that they were involved.”
On November 18, 2005, a jury found Blake liable for the wrongful death of his wife and ordered him to pay $30 million. On February 3, 2006, Blake filed for bankruptcy.
Cheat Sheet – https://www.cheatsheet.com/entertainment/why-did-martha-stewart-go-to-prison.html/
Earn the Necklace – https://www.earnthenecklace.com/jennifer-hudsons-family-tragedy-jennifer-hudsons-family-murdered/
The Line Up – https://the-line-up.com/robert-blake-got-off-for-killing-his-wife
Louder Sound – https://www.loudersound.com/features/the-car-crash-that-killed-hanoi-rocks-razzle-vince-neil-never-apologised
NY Post – https://nypost.com/2014/09/06/inside-the-murder-of-phil-hartman/
Wikipedia – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phil_Hartman
Wikipedia – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Blake_(actor)
Wikipedia – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vince_Neil