A column I wrote last month mentioning Lana Turner prompted Hammond reader Paul Malarik III to write me with the following question:
"Hello Philip: Your column about Lana Turner brought up an old memory regarding the star. If I'm not mistaken, Lana's beaux Johnny Stompanato, was from Hammond's Sliecher area, just south of the Borman Expressway. My sister Sharon attended grade school at Riley School, it was at River Drive and Columbia Avenue and then Wilson School (now called O'Bannon) with his son Johnny III. Did Lana take the fall for stabbing/killing Johnny because of suspected abuse when they were together? Or is it thought that Lana's daughter really did it? Perhaps you can determine what story is correct. Regards, Paul Malarik III"
This story unfolds on Good Friday, April 4, 1958 when handsome Italian mobster Stompanato (media called him a "gigolo") was found stabbed to death in the pink bedroom of Turner's Beverly Hills home. By this time, the actress had already been divorced four times.
After the incident, Turner waited 30 minutes before calling police, first making calls to her mother and Hollywood attorney Jerry Geisler. It was Stompanato's pal, gangster Mickey Cohen, who came to identify the body at the morgue.
The details of the night were from police investigation and court testimony pointed that Turner's 14-year-old daughter Cheryl Crane stabbed Stompanato with a butcher knife from the kitchen after hearing a fight between her mother, 38, and her younger beaux, who was 32, and described in court as "abusive."
Cheryl, who will turn 70 in July, is the daughter of Turner and actor Stephen Crane, who were married twice. Their first marriage was annulled after only seven months, since Stephen was technically still married to his first wife. But he remarried Turner the following month, when Lana discovered she was four months pregnant. Cheryl's parents divorced permanently in 1944, when Cheryl was one-year-old. Stephen Crane hailed from Crawfordsville, Ind. before moving to LA.
Following the stabbing, during the LA Coroner's Inquest, a trembling and weeping Turner took the stand, while Cheryl did not appear, and was only represented by her written account to police. After less than 30 minutes, the jury determined Stompanato had "run into Cheryl's knife" and the verdict was "justifiable homicide."
But the elder Stompanato was not from Hammond. He was from the small, farming town of Woodstock, Ill. and, after serving in the Marines, returned there and married his first wife Sara Utush in 1946 with son Johnny III then born. He left his family behind to move to Hollywood, leading to the couple to divorce. After courting Ava Gardner and Janet Leigh, he married actress Helen Gilbert, they divorced, and by 1953, married TV actress Helene Stanley, best known for playing wife of Davy Crockett on the Disney TV show of the same name.
By 1954, Stompanato's first wife Sara and his son moved to Hammond to be near family. He never returned to Woodstock for his father's funeral and his last name was changed to Ibrahim, the name of his mother's second husband, to hide from media.