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. Spangler, who began her career in 1948, disappeared under mysterious circumstances in 1949, and her case remains unsolved.
Life and career
Born in Seattle, Washington, She attended Franklin High School and graduated in 1941. As a teen, Spangler had danced with the Earl Carroll Theatre and Florentine Gardens. In 1942, she married manufacturer Dexter Benner. They had a daughter, Christine (born April 22, 1944), and divorced in 1946. Spangler and Benner engaged in a long custody battle over their daughter, until Spangler was awarded custody in 1948. At the time of her disappearance, she lived with her mother Florence, five-year-old daughter Christine, brother Edward, and sister-in-law Sophie, on Colgate Avenue in the Park La Brea residential complex near Wilshire Boulevard, in Los Angeles, California.
On October 7, 1949, Spangler left her home in Los Angeles around 5:00 p.m. She left her daughter with her sister-in-law Sophie, and said that she was meeting her former husband to discuss a late child support payment; after that, she was going to work on a night shoot for a film. The last person to see her was a clerk in a store near her home, who said that she appeared to be waiting for someone. She was never 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.
Though Spangler had told her sister-in-law that she was going to work on a movie set after she met with her ex-husband, this lead went nowhere. She had worked as an extra and bit-part actress for several different Hollywood studios, but none of those studios had any work in progress or were even open on the evening of October 7.
Police questioned Spangler's ex-husband, Dexter Benner, about her statement to her sister-in-law that she was going to meet him about his child support payments. He said that he had not seen his former wife for several weeks. His new wife Lynn Lasky Benner, to whom he had been married only one month, stated that he was with her at the time of the 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. When Spangler's mother, Florence, returned to Los Angeles, she told police that someone named "Kirk" had picked up Jean at her house twice but stayed in his car and did not come in. Police 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, her former married name. Spangler had once been involved with an abusive man she called "Scotty," but her lawyer said she had not seen him since 1945.
Spangler had recently completed filming a bit part in the film Young Man with a Horn starring Kirk Douglas. Douglas was vacationing in Palm Springs when he heard about the disappearance; he called the police and told them he was not the Kirk mentioned in the note. When interviewed by the head of the investigating team, Douglas stated that he had heard of her name, and knew that Spangler had been an extra in his new film, but that he did not know her personally.
Spangler's girlfriends 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. Witnesses, who frequented the same nightclubs and bars that Spangler did, told police they had heard of a former medical student known as "Doc," who performed abortions for money, but police could not locate him, nor prove that he existed.
Spangler had been seen with Davy Ogul, an associate of infamous mobster Mickey Cohen, in Palm Springs, California, who disappeared two days after Spangler did. This led police to investigate the possibility that Spangler and Ogul, who was under indictment for conspiracy, had fled to avoid prosecution. In 1950, a customs agent in El Paso, Texas reported seeing Ogul and a woman who looked like Spangler in a hotel in El Paso. The hotel clerk identified Spangler from a photograph, but neither Davy Ogul nor Jean Spangler's name appeared on the hotel register.
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 leads. Columnist Louella Parsons offered a $1,000 reward for information concerning Spangler's disappearance or location. Despite a nationwide search, no further clues have surfaced. Possible sightings included 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 LAPD has not closed the case.
A 2001 episode of Mysteries and Scandals featured the case.
Megan Abbott's 2007 noir novel The Song is You centers on the Spangler case.
- Miracle of the Bells (Uncredited, 1948)
- When My Baby Smiles at Me (Uncredited, 1948)
- Chicken Every Sunday (Uncredited, 1949)
- Young Man with a Horn (Uncredited, 1950)
- Wabash Avenue (Uncredited, 1950)
- Champagne for Caesar (Uncredited, 1950)
- The Petty Girl (Uncredited, 1950)