Marilyn Monroe’s bugs and a .22-caliber killer


Marilyn Monroe, perhaps the most emblematic Old Hollywood screen star, is in the news again, this time because the last house she owned — and the one where she died — is up for sale again. Asking price: $3.6 million.

The New York Daily News report included this in the concluding paragraphs offers this:

One of the more elaborate: when actress Veronica Hamel  reportedly bought the home in 1972, she discovered a telephone tapping and eavesdropping system while remodeling, according to Hamel’s IMDB.com  biography. This ignited the far-fetched rumors that the Mafia may have been responsible for Monroe’s death.

The home was built in 1929 and still has much of its original details, but has been remodeled several times.

First, some background. During esnl‘s years at the Santa Monica Evening Outlook, he spent a fair amount of time looking into organized crime. Two sources had interesting stories to tell about the wiring found in the crawlspace at 12305 St. Helena Drive in Brentwood.

I had two sources: the late Marion Phillips [previously] and a corporate security officer who had once worked as as CIA officer. They told me the same story six years after the discovery of the wires.

The wiring was discovered during renovation work, and both law enforcement and corporate phone security officers examined the find. What they found was two different sets of wires.

Covert operators who install bugs and wiretaps have distinct “signatures” readily discernible to the cognoscenti, involving both the specific types of wires used and the way the wires are installed, ranging from the brand of connectors used to the types of knots, the manner of soldering, and the way the wires are secured.

One set of wires was instantly recognizable as an FBI installation because of the distinct coating of the wires, which was reserved for law enforcement use. The signature of the second set, installed after the FBI wires, was also instantly recognizable.

The second wire man was Bernard Bates Spindel, the tap and bug expert hired out by both law enforcement and organized crime. One of his major clients was mobbed-up Teamsters boss Jimmy Hoffa, who had ample reason to fear illegal bugs.

Robert Kennedy, appointed Attorney General by his presidential brother John, had been waging a relentless “Get Hoffa” campaign as part of his overall attack on organized crime. It was a dangerous and thoroughly illegal war, since it was waged before federal law allowed the FBI to install bugs. FBI bugs exposed the inner workings of the Chicago Outfit, the old Capone gang.

The double-edged sword posed by the bugs was the harsh reality that John F. Kennedy had shared two mistresses with Outfit boss Sam Giancana. The first was Judith Campbell Exner, and the the second was the woman the tabloids dubbed the “Blonde Bombshell.”

Giancana had another tie to the Kennedy administration as well, and to the subsequent administration of Lyndon Johnson: The CIA was paying him, through front man Johnny Roselli, to carry out a “contract” on Fidel Castro.

Just what the feds and Spindel captured on their tapes at the Monroe house

remains a mystery. The actress allegedly killed herself there on 5 August 1962 after returning from the Cal-Neva Lodge at Lake Tahoe, a gambling resort jointly owned by Frank Sinatra and Giancana, and allegations have surfaced that Giancana beat her at his private cabin shortly before she fled back to Brentwood.

Sinatra’s ties to Giancana cost the crooner his gambling license, though a fawning Nevada Gaming Commission would later restore it two decades later, despite massive evidence that Old Blue Eyes always danced to the wise guy’s tune.

Gianana proved a high-profile and somewhat inept mob boss, and few shed tears when he was whacked in the basement of his Oak Park, Illinois, home on the night of 19 June 1975.

In a final twist of fate for esnl, Giancana was killed as as he whipping up a batch of his legendary sausage and peppers. The weapon was a silenced .22-caliber Colt Woodsman semiautomatic pistol modified and fitted out with a custom made silencer by a St. Louis armorer who provided an identical pistol to George Patrick McKinney, the killer whose trial first brought esnl into the Santa Monica courtroom of Judge Lawrence J. Rittenband, the jurist who would besmirch himself 10 months later with his handling of the Roman Polanski case.

Back to Marilyn’s curious bugs

An FBI report dated 2 September 1961 offers some insight into the bugs at Monroe’s house.

Fred Otash, a disgraced Los Angeles Police Detective turned private eye, spent his latter years publishing a trashy Hollywood tabloid, making more money from what he didn’t print that what actually appeared on paper. Otash, Lt. Phillips told me, specialized in digging up dirt on celebrities, then withholding it in return to hefty payoffs.

One of the reasons Freddie was able to thrive as a bottom-feeder was the classic con’s dodge, playing snitch in return for a blind eye from law enforcement.

On 16 August 1961, Otash reported in to his FBI handler to report that he’d been contacted in New York by Spindel, who “made known the fact that Hoffa was about to ‘bury the Kennedys’ and in doing so they were attempting to use every means possible which included the setting up of electronic listening devices on the Kennedys wherever possible.

Spindel’s approach was to determine whether informant would be interested in handling such work for Hoffa on the West Coast, such as developing information concerning the identity of any prostitutes knowqn to have any association whatsoever with either the Attorney General or the President and Spindel was of the belief thois [sic] information could be developed through [name redacted] or Peter Lawford

. . .Spindel indicated they were compiling all possible information for this so-called ‘hate campaign’ and contemplated inclusion of this material in the [Teamsters] Union magazine.

The report concludes: “There is no indication on the part of the informant of emotional instability, unreliability or the furnishing of false information.”

Otash would later play the role of supporting cast in the L.A. noir crime novels of James Elroy, and was featured in this interview by Mike Wallace in 1957.

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One response to “Marilyn Monroe’s bugs and a .22-caliber killer

  1. Pingback: Confirmation: The bugs in Marilyn’s house | eats shoots 'n leaves

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