The Headline: Star’s Daughter Fatally Stabs Mom’s Boyfriend
It was Good Friday, April 4, 1958, when Lana Turner, the blond “sweater girl” of the ’40s, quarreled loudly with her boyfriend, a small-time hood named Johnny Stompanato, in the bedroom of her Beverly Hills home. Turner’s 14-year-old daughter, Cheryl Crane, overheard Stompanato threaten her mother. Crane grabbed a butcher knife from the kitchen and ran upstairs, where she either plunged the eight-inch blade into Stompanato or he ran into it. Either way, the knife severed his aorta, and he died on the carpet.
Crane didn’t testify at the inquest, but Turner did, giving what many consider the performance of her life. Clutching a crumpled handkerchief, she swore with a trembling voice, “It was so fast, I truthfully thought she had hit him in the stomach.” After less than an hour’s deliberation, the coroner’s jury ruled it justifiable homicide. Rumors flew, but there was no truth to speculation that Crane and Stompanato had been lovers or that Turner actually killed Johnny and let her underage daughter take the rap.
The Last Word: Crane was made a ward of the court, placed into her grandmother’s custody and wound up in a psychiatric center. She later became a real-estate broker in Hawaii, then moved to San Francisco. The scandal jump-started Turner’s career–her next movie, Imitation of Life, was her biggest moneymaker. As for Stompanato, his gangster boss Mickey Cohen reportedly complained, “It’s the first time I ever saw a man convicted of his own murder.”