Marilyn Monroe – Suicide, Accident or Murder?
It may be over fifty years since Marilyn Monroe passed away, but her star continues to shine as brightly as it did in the 1950s. Her life was full of ups and downs, with various scandals along the way, but nothing was bigger than the headlines created by her death one Saturday evening during the first week of August 1962.
Marilyn’s life had been a series of fabulous achievements and tragic let-downs. Her marriages to James Dougherty, Joe DiMaggio and Arthur Miller had failed; her attempts at motherhood had gone unfulfilled; and by 1962 she was alone and living in Los Angeles after a period of creative fulfilment in New York.
At first Marilyn had been perfectly happy to rent an apartment; in fact, she had moved back into the building in which she had once lived in the early 1950s. However, knowing that she had never owned a home by herself, buying a house became something of the highest importance, and the perfect property was found at 12305 Fifth Helena Drive. It was a small, Spanish-style house on a very quiet cul-de-sac, nothing like what you would expect a worldwide star to live in, but it fitted Marilyn’s needs and she felt safe there, which was of the utmost importance.
Being raised as an orphan (though her parents were still alive) and in and out of foster homes for her entire childhood, the actual process of owning a home was a monumental achievement for Marilyn, and during 1962 she busied herself by making big plans for the home. She travelled to Mexico in order to buy furniture, and scoured the market on Hollywood’s Olvera Street for knick-knacks and ornaments. She loved nothing more than planning her home, and during times when she was not working, could often be seen pottering around in her garden, playing with her dog Maf and planting plants and herbs.
Sadly, however, in spite of the positive exterior, there were still dark forces in Marilyn’s life; mainly her problem with prescription drugs; hangers-on; and persistent illness. In May 1962 she infuriated her studio, Twentieth Century Fox, by jetting off to New York during the production of her last film, Something’s Got to Give. The trip was in order to sing “Happy Birthday” to President John F. Kennedy and the studio made no secret of their dissatisfaction, telling her point blank that she was not allowed to go.
This decision was a complete turnaround from one they had made just months before, when they actually gave the star their blessing for the trip. But when shooting on the film got behind schedule, they decided there was just no time for Marilyn to travel out of state and revoked their permission. Always a rebel at heart, this did not deter Marilyn, and instead of obeying their wishes, she shocked everyone by travelling to New York regardless, eventually giving one of her most famous performances at Madison Square Garden.
Back in Los Angeles she resumed work on the film, taking part in a nude swimming scene which she said was designed to “knock Elizabeth Taylor from the front pages”. She succeeded, though her time on set abruptly came to an end not long after her thirty-sixth birthday, when she was fired due – the studio said – to her numerous absences from the set. The newspapers went wild and Fox unfairly blamed Marilyn for every problem encountered during filming. Crew members sold their stories and sarcastically thanked her for losing them their jobs; and Marilyn found herself the butt of many Hollywood jokes and stories.
However, while she may have been out of work, the star was most definitely not about to give up, and for the next few months she took part in various photo sessions, regularly saw her psychiatrist and entertained friends in her new house. She made an effort never to stray far from the public’s consciousness, and appeared in many newspaper and magazines all over the country, giving interviews and declaring her distaste for fame and the studio. Her efforts to stay in the public eye paid off and in the summer of 1962 it was believed that her lawyers were on the verge of securing a new agreement, which would mean a return to the set of Something’s Got to Give.
On 4 August 1962 Marilyn puttered around her home and lounged in bed in her white towelling robe. “She wasn’t ill,” said her housekeeper, Eunice Murray, “she was just resting.” She drank fruit juice and spoke to Mrs Murray about household matters, such as the three shipments of furnishings expected from Mexico, and a carpet which was being specially woven there. “The development of the house was so important to her,” said Murray, before going on to say that in the weeks before her death, Marilyn had everything to live for. “The plans we made were so wonderful,” she later declared.
During the course of the day, Marilyn received several phone calls and visitors, and in the afternoon she telephoned her old New York friend, the writer Norman Rosten, who found her “rambling but pleasant”. She talked of the future and was very excited about visiting New York in the autumn: “Let’s all start to live before we get old,” she told him – words that stuck with him for the rest of his life.
Several workmen came and went, among them Murray’s nephew Norman Jefferies and local mechanic Henry D’Antonio, who had been working on Mrs Murray’s car and returned it some time during the day of 4 August.
All seemed fairly normal until 4.30 p.m. when Marilyn’s psychiatrist, Dr Ralph Greenson, received a phone call, asking him to come to the house. Arriving at 5.15 p.m. he was said to have found his patient in a “somewhat drugged” and depressed state; and was so concerned he decided to telephone Marilyn’s physician, Dr Hyman Engelberg, asking him to come to the home. The doctor denied the request, however, as he was going through marriage problems and was unable – or unwilling – to leave his home at that time.
Concerned for her welfare, Dr Greenson suggested to Marilyn that housekeeper Eunice Murray drive her to the beach and then stay at the house that night – something she had done on numerous occasions in the past. The actress agreed and Mrs Murray prepared herself to stay for the night.
That evening, Marilyn received several phone calls from her friend (and President Kennedy’s brother-in-law) Peter Lawford, along with her stepson Joe DiMaggio Jr. During one conversation with Lawford, however, he became extremely concerned when her voice started to “fade out”. He relayed his worries to friend and showbiz manager Milton Ebbins, who told him he would put in a call to lawyer Milton Rudin, just to make sure everything was all right. Rudin later rang Marilyn’s home himself, but was unable to speak with her. Instead, he was assured by Eunice Murray that the actress was fine. He in turn relayed the information back to Peter Lawford and everyone resumed their evening.
According to Murray, at approximately 9 p.m. Marilyn appeared at her bedroom door and called out: “I think we’ll not go to the beach, Mrs Murray. I think I’ll turn in now.” The housekeeper nodded, bade her goodnight and watched as Marilyn closed the door for the very last time.
At 4.25 a.m., the emergency services received the following call from 12305 Fifth Helena Drive: “Marilyn Monroe has died. She’s committed suicide. I’m Dr Engelberg, Marilyn Monroe’s physician. I’m at her residence. She’s committed suicide.”
When Sergeant Jack Clemmons arrived at the scene, he was concerned to discover Eunice Murray operating the washing machine, even though it was the middle of the night. Meanwhile, doctors Greenson and Engelberg were in the bedroom with Marilyn’s dead body, which was lying face down in the bed; her hair was a mess and the bed-stand was littered with pill bottles.
From the start, the story of Marilyn’s discovery was patchy, to say the least, and changed numerous times from the 1960s to the 1980s when Eunice Murray eventually passed away. At the time of the death, Mrs Murray told police officers that she had awakened at around 3 a.m. and noticed a light and the telephone cord under Marilyn’s locked door. This was an odd statement as Marilyn’s room had a thick white carpet, so it would have been difficult to see a light under the door. Bizarrely, although she was steadfastly adamant that the door was locked when she spoke to police at the time, years later Murray changed her mind and claimed it had actually been closed but not locked at all. This was a startling revelation and has baffled fans ever since. Was her new statement the truth or just the result of old age confusing her memories? We’ll never know.
But back in 1962, when Murray was sure she could not get into the bedroom, the housekeeper said that she phoned Dr Greenson, who instructed her to pound on the door and look through the window. She did as she was asked, firstly knocking unsuccessfully on the door, and then walking round to the front of the house and peering through a gap in the curtain, where she saw Marilyn lying on the bed. This comment is an interesting one as the actress was a well-known insomniac who slept with her curtains drawn tight to avoid sunlight streaming through the window. How could Murray see through the curtains in those circumstances? Only if Marilyn had accidentally left the curtains slightly apart that evening.
However, for now let’s believe that the woman did gape through the curtains and did see Marilyn looking not quite right. Although the window was apparently open, Murray could not push back the curtains by hand in order to get a better look, owing to the fact that Marilyn’s bedroom had wrought-iron grilles covering the front window. According to the housekeeper, she then went into the house and took a poker from the living-room fireplace, made her way back outside and managed to push the curtains back with the rod. That way she managed to take a good look at what was going on inside Marilyn’s bedroom.
Murray said she discovered that the actress was lying on the bed with the phone in her hand, and “looking strange”. She phoned Greenson, who dressed and readied himself for the journey to Fifth Helena, and then Dr Engelberg, who did the same. When Greenson arrived at 3.40 a.m., he used the same poker that Mrs Murray had used to peek through the curtains, in order to break the side window (which did not have a grille) thereby enabling him to enter the room and examine Marilyn. Apparently he then discovered that rigor mortis had already set in and when Engelberg arrived at 3.50 a.m. he immediately declared his patient dead.
It did not take long for the news to spread, and Marilyn’s heartbroken ex-husband Joe DiMaggio flew into Los Angeles from San Francisco, booking himself into the Knickerbocker Hotel where Marilyn had driven him after their first date in 1952. From there he proceeded to arrange his ex-wife’s funeral and burial at Westwood Memorial Village, where numerous members of Marilyn’s family had been laid to rest years before. The evening before the funeral, he is said to have spent the night sitting quietly with her body in the chapel of rest.
So how and why did Marilyn Monroe pass away? Well, after an autopsy was performed and an investigation conducted, the official verdict was probable suicide, following “acute barbiturate poisoning”. However, there are many people who dispute this and every year more and more outlandish stories are revealed, promising to solve her death “once and for all”.
Dr Ralph Greenson said he could not believe Marilyn purposely took her own life, while Milton Wexler, a psychoanalyst who looked in on Marilyn when Greenson was out of town, never believed it either. Despite some hard times in 1962, the professional future actually looked bright for Marilyn. Something’s Got to Give was possibly going back into production and numerous projects were in the pipeline for autumn 1962 right through to 1963.
On a personal level, however, there are pointers to the possibility that Marilyn may have been struggling emotionally, and that she was unhappy enough to consider suicide. There had been various personal bumps in the road that year, including the cooling of her allegedly close friendship with the Kennedy brothers and her dismissal by Fox being spun to depict her as a has-been with her career in free fall. Friendship was always an issue, and Marilyn had few people in whom she could confide: she had virtually no friends who were not employed by her in some way.
To cap it all, ex-husband Arthur Miller had recently remarried, and his wife was expecting a baby – news of which might have served bleakly to highlight Marilyn’s own childlessness. She had suffered several miscarriages during the Miller marriage, one of which had been on 1 August 1957, almost five years to the day before Marilyn died. Could this knowledge have been enough to tip Marilyn over the edge? Alas, we can only speculate.
On the other hand, the possibility that Marilyn was murdered is awash with conspiracy theories that range widely. There is talk that she may have been killed to stop her publicly discussing her relationship with the Kennedys; rumours of Mafia involvement and CIA plots; and even the absurd notion that she had to be silenced because she had found out that aliens had landed in America. Speculation is incessant; the so-called expert witnesses never-ending; the stories ever more outlandish. Without exception, they each raise questions of credibility and often lead us further away from the truth.
So could it all have been a tragic accident? Possibly. There are certainly those who believe Marilyn wanted people to know how desperate she felt, and took an overdose before calling for help. She had been known to do that before, only this time she had not been successful in gaining the help she wanted. Another theory is that Marilyn just lost track of how many pills she had taken during the course of the evening. Perhaps contradicting the suicide story, medical evidence would lead us to believe that it would have been incredibly hard for the drugs entering her body to have done so through her mouth, as there was apparently an absence of pills in her stomach.
So how could the drugs have entered the system? Her autopsy suggested that there were no needle marks, but that is not to say they were not there, carefully hidden from even the most expert of eyes. Also, apparently Marilyn frequently used enemas, including for the administration of prescription pills. This is an interesting comment, suggesting that she may have overmedicated that way, either by giving herself an enema or from someone giving one to her. With that in mind, could this account for Eunice Murray operating the washing machine in the middle of the night? Could the housekeeper have been the one who mistakenly gave her too much medication, and then washed away any evidence before the police arrived on the scene? It doesn’t seem too far-fetched.
But perhaps the truth is that despite everyone having their own theories and suspicions, we will never know for sure what happened on the evening of 4 August 1962. Over the years the stories, lies and fables have spun out of control to the point where the truth is blurred beyond all comprehension. In the end, Marilyn Monroe is the only person who could possibly tell us the real, true story of what happened on that fateful night, but unfortunately when she passed away, she inevitably took all the secrets with her.