Jean Spangler – Not So Secret Obsession


Jean Elizabeth Spangler (September 2, 1923 – disappeared October 7, 1949) was an American dancer, model and bit-part actress in Hollywood films and in early television.

Born in Seattle, Washington, Spangler had been with the Earl Carroll Theatre and Florentine Gardens as a dancer. She lived with her mother, five-year-old daughter Christine (born April 22, 1944), brother Edward Spangler and sister-in-law Sophie, on Colgate Avenue in the Park La Brea residential complex near Wilshire Boulevard, in Los Angeles, California.

Spangler had won custody of her daughter Christine in 1948 from her former husband, manufacturer Dexter Benner, (March 20, 1920 – May 7, 2007) whom she had married in 1942 and divorced in 1946.

On October 7, 1949, Spangler left her home in Los Angeles around 5:00 p.m., leaving her daughter with her sister-in-law and telling her that she was going to meet her former husband to talk about his child support payment that had been due a week before, then on to work on a movie set. The last person to see her was a clerk in a store near her home, who said she appeared to be waiting for someone. She has not been seen again. Spangler’s mother was visiting family in Kentucky at the time. Spangler’s sister-in-law, Sophie, went to the police and filed a missing person report the next day.

Spangler had told her sister-in-law that she was going to work on a movie set after she met with her former husband. She had worked as an extra and bit-part actress in movies for several different Hollywood studios. Police checked, but none of the studios had any work in progress or were even open the evening of October 7.

Spangler had been through a long custody battle with her former husband and won custody of the child Christine in 1948. Dexter Benner, her former husband, had been awarded custody in 1946 at the time of the divorce. Police questioned Benner about her statement to her sister-in-law that she was going to meet him about the overdue child support payment. He said that he had not seen his former wife for several weeks before Spangler disappeared. His wife Lynn Lasky Benner stated that he was with her at the time of the disappearance. Benner and Lasky had been married only one month before Spangler’s disappearance.

Two days later, on October 9, Spangler’s purse was found near the Fern Dell entrance to Griffith Park in Los Angeles, with both of the straps on one side torn loose as if it had been ripped from her arm. Sixty police officers and over one hundred volunteers searched the 4,107-acre (16.62 km2) natural terrain park, but no other clues were found. There was no money in the purse (her sister-in-law said that she had no money when she left her house the evening of her disappearance) so the police ruled out robbery as a motive. There was an unfinished note in the purse addressed to a “Kirk,” which read, “Can’t wait any longer, Going to see Dr. Scott. It will work best this way while mother is away,…”. The note ended with a comma as if it had not been finished.

Neither “Kirk” nor “Dr. Scott” could be located, and neither Spangler’s family nor her friends knew anyone by those names. Spangler’s mother, Florence, returned to Los Angeles and told police that someone named Kirk had picked up Jean at her house twice, but he stayed in his car and did not come in. Police searched for Kirk and questioned every doctor with the last name Scott in Los Angeles, but none of them had a patient with the last name Spangler or Benner, Jean Spangler‘s former married name. Spangler had once been involved with a person she called Scotty, who had beaten her, threatening to kill her if she broke the relationship off, but her lawyer said she had not seen him since 1945.

Spangler had completed a bit part in the then unfinished film Young Man with a Horn starring the actor Kirk Douglas. Douglas was vacationing in Palm Springs and heard about the disappearance. He called the police and told them he was not the Kirk mentioned in the note before police knew there was any connection. Douglas was interviewed by the head of the investigating team and stated that he had heard the name and that Spangler had been an extra in his new film, but he did not know her personally.

Friends of Spangler told police that she was three months pregnant when she disappeared and that she had talked about having an abortion, which was illegal at that time. The police talked with several people who frequented the same nightclubs and bars that Spangler did, who told them they had heard that there was a former medical student known as “Doc,” who had said that he would perform abortions for money. Police searched for “Doc” with the idea that Spangler had gone to him to have an abortion and died as a result, but they could not locate him nor anyone who would say that they had actually met him.

Spangler had been seen with Davy Ogul, an associate of Mickey Cohen in Palm Springs, California, who disappeared two days after she did. This led police to investigate the possibility that Spangler and Ogul, who was under an indictment for conspiracy, had left to avoid prosecution. In 1950, a customs agent in El Paso, Texas had reported seeing Ogul and a woman who looked like Spangler in a hotel in El Paso. A hotel clerk in that city identified Spangler from a picture as having stayed in the hotel around that same time. Neither Davy Ogul nor Jean Spangler’s name appeared on the hotel register, and she could not be located in El Paso.

The Los Angeles Police department continued the search and circulated Spangler’s picture for several years in an unsuccessful attempt to find her or any reliable information. There was a nationwide search for Spangler, but no further clues have ever turned up. People reported seeing her in northern and southern California, Phoenix, Arizona, and Mexico City over the next two years, but none of those sightings could be validated. She is still listed as a missing person, and the Los Angeles Police have not closed the case.

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