Marilyn Monroe’s Death Remains Mysterious: Interview
Did a “hot shot” kill Marilyn Monroe during the night of Aug. 4, 1962?
Her last hours have animated conspiracy theorists for 50 years.
The many peculiar aspects to her death -- officially a “probable suicide” -- include a strange bruise on her lower back, the number of sleeping pills (more than 50) she supposedly ingested without a handy water glass and the disappearance of her phone records.
J.I. Baker’s “The Empty Glass” is a fast-paced, smart and noirish novel narrated by the deputy coroner who becomes entrapped in a web of deceit involving doctors, the White House and the Mafia.
We spoke over lunch at Bloomberg’s New York headquarters.
Hoelterhoff: So was the suicide verdict widely accepted?
Baker: Yes, but the whisperings started almost immediately. For instance, three days after the death, a New York Daily News columnist named Florabel Muir noted that Monroe’s phone records had gone missing, apparently at the behest of some powerful people, and that this was highly unusual in the case of a so- called suicide.
Hoelterhoff: Your title points to the puzzling absence of a glass by her bedside. How could she chew so many pills?
Baker: Not only that but a) a glass mysteriously later showed up in the room and b) according to the handyman, the water had been turned off in her bungalow because of renovations.
Some experts say that the high level of drugs found in her bloodstream would be absolutely impossible to attain by swallowing pills, as there were massive amounts of poison involved -- only part of which would have killed her before it was all absorbed.
The fact that it WAS absorbed points to a very rapid process, which could be explained by injection, a “hot shot” in police slang.
Hoelterhoff: But the coroner said he didn’t see any needle puncture. Of course, it’s not exactly clear when she died. What do you think happened?
Baker: I don’t necessarily think she was murdered, but it seems absolutely clear that a cover-up of something was engineered -- for instance, her relationship with JFK and his brother Bobby.
Hoelterhoff: What’s a possible scenario?
Baker: She’s an unstable personality. JFK has an affair with her, and she gets weird and clingy. He wants to dump her, so he does what he almost always does when he has a problem: He gives it to Bobby.
Bobby goes out to L.A. to intervene, but then -- perhaps -- begins his own affair. When he also becomes overwhelmed by her persistent fantasies and aggressive instability, he splits up with her, too.
Well, Marilyn wasn’t going to be screwed over by these guys. Did she threaten to call a press conference? Show the world what she knew about the Kennedys? It’s just a scenario, but not an impossible one.
Hoelterhoff: In your novel, Bobby blathers on about the Bay of Pigs and poisoning Castro to impress Marilyn, who prefers his brother.
Did she really think JFK might install her in the White House?
Baker: Marilyn knew what she was doing, and she could turn “Marilyn” on and off like a light, but in some cases I think she lost sight of where the fantasies ended and reality began.
Let’s also remember that she came from a family with a history of mental illness. Her mother was a paranoid schizophrenic.
So is it possible that she somehow convinced herself that JFK might leave Jackie for her? Yes. JFK, too, might have said almost anything to win her, and as we know he was a preternaturally charming man.
Hoelterhoff: There’s a diary in your novel. Is it certain she kept one?
Baker: It’s not certain, though several people claim to have seen it. And a man named Lionel Grandison, who had the deputy coroner position that I gave to my protagonist (though there’s no similarity between the two), claims the diary was found in the Monroe home but later disappeared from the Los Angeles County Coroner’s office.
Hoelterhoff: Are the tapes your invention?
Baker: It’s all circumstantial, unfortunately, but the notorious Hollywood PI Fred Otash claimed that he was hired to bug actor Peter Lawford’s Santa Monica beach house and Marilyn Monroe’s Brentwood hacienda.
He (and others) claimed the resulting tapes included the sound of Marilyn having sex with the Kennedys (though not together, of course).
Hoelterhoff: A lot of folks are taping each other in your book.
Baker: The really intriguing and scary thing is the possibility that a tape exists of Monroe’s death. A number of people claim to have heard it, and they all tell basically the same story -- of Bobby Kennedy and Peter Lawford arguing with Marilyn about something they had come to find.
Well, what was that? The diary? The very bug that was taping them? Again, there’s no hard and fast evidence of this tape -- but there’s enough circumstantial evidence to make you wonder.
(Manuela Hoelterhoff is executive editor of Muse, Bloomberg’s arts and culture section. Any opinions are her own. This interview was adapted from a longer conversation.)
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