John William Tuohy lives in Washington DC

Hollywood scandal: The death of Karyn Kupcinet: How Urban Legends Start

The death of  Karyn Kupcinet: How Urban Legends Start

     It was a commonplace homicide if such things can be commonplace. A young, conflicted and emotionally unstable young woman at the start of her life was strangled to death by persons unknown. However, through an odd assortment of substandard journalism, hyperbole and speculation to the absurd, her death has gone down in history as something much more sinister than it was.  

Karyn Kupcinet, her friends called her Cookie, was a Hollywood actress and the daughter of noted Chicago columnist and television personality Irv Kupcinet.    Called Kup around his beloved Chicago was a gossip columnist who knew everyone in the right places. His close friends included former President Truman, Jack Benny's, Danny Thomas, Joan Crawford’s, Bing Crosby and Bob Hope, all big name sin Hollywood in 1960.

Kupcinet was a pioneer on television, starting a live on air celebrity talk show in early 1945 and then joining CBC’s late night talk show/ news line up in 1952 and in 1957 he replaced Jack Paar on NBC’s “America After the Dark,” which eventually became “The Tonight Show.”   Kupcinet’s Chicago based program ran from 1959 to 1986 in syndication and reached  70 stations nationwide and featured international news makers.

The couple had two children, Jerry and Karyn.

Karyn Kupcinet, who stood five foot one and had an IQ of at least 140, had a reputation for being, difficult, high strung, self-absorbed and obsessive, particularly about her weight which led to abuse diet pills, a problem that began in high school, and other prescription drugs to which she eventually became addicted. 

Star struck from childhood, Karyn had one ambition; to be a movie star. She dropped out of junior college after one year to study acting in New York with Lee Strasberg and moved to Hollywood in 1960 after Jerry Lewis, a family friend, offered her a role in his movie The Ladies Man. Afterwards, with her father help, she also found bit parts in the television show Surfside 6, Hawaiian Eye and Perry Mason.

Sadly, she had chosen the wrong career path. Although she took a beautiful photograph, 
(Several years of plastic surgery on her chin, nose, ears, and eyes,  all of which that resulted in the loss of her natural beauty and expressiveness on camera) Karyn didn’t come across well on film and she wasn’t much of an acting talent either which producers soon leaned. Her lack of ability, combined with her known addiction to Amphetamines, her growing  reputation for being occasionally difficult on set and her often bizarre and erratic behavior around male actors, essentially ended her career before it started.

Within a year, the offers for work stopped and her phone stopped ringing. She stayed largely because she had no motivation to leave. Her parents kept her on a generous allowance which gave her, unlike many young actors trying to break into the business, a comfortable life style. 

There were other issues to, despite her comfortable circumstances she had been arrested at least once for shop lifting.

In December of 1962, Kupcinet made a guest appearance on The Wide Country and met actor Andrew Prine, star of the series.


 The two began a rocky relationship that included Prine’s refusal to making the relationship exclusive and a July 1963 illegal abortion. Pine’s career was on the way up and he was singularly focused on that and wasn’t looking for serious, committed relationship but Kupcinet was and she became obsessed with the actor, clinging to him and demanding his time and attention

 When Prine broke off the relationship, Kupcinet began stalking him (by cab, she never leaned to drive), she reportedly broke into Prine’s apartment to wait for him. When he showed up with a date, she hid in the attic. Shortly afterwords she started sending him threatening letters.

 (The letters consisted of words and letters she had cut out of magazines) The death threats were a mish-mash of words;

You will need protection, Ben Casey [the hero of a then-popular prime-time TV drama about a hospital doctor] caught message for your beau.  You haven't much time for dreams."

"Forget fame and romance with aging Glen [sic] Ford.  Devil must kill you."

"Your lady needs surgery suddenly.  Expect to get bad breaks wherever you go.  Your rich beauty has no time."

"Are you going to Latin America or Florida?  Let your beautiful virgin become lonesome and so easy to make.  Bet K Kup tastes as good as it looks.  Blow."

"You are the certain girl to die."

"You may die without nobody.  Winner of loneliness wants death until someone special cares."

When Prine confronted her about the messages, she lied and said that she had been receiving them as well, however the police found her fingerprints on the papers and the Scotch Tape. (The print taken from Kupcinet's 1962 arrest for shoplifting)

Six days after the JFK assassination, her body was found at her West Hollywood, California home. She had been strangled to death.

Police removing Kupcinet's body

Earlier in the day, Kupcinet arrived an hour late by cab to a dinner party at the home of Mark Goddard, later a Lost in Space cast member, and his wife, Marcia on Coldwater Canyon Drive in Beverly Hills. Goddard's parents were friends of the Kupcinet's back in Chicago.  It was Mark and Marcia Goddard who drove took her to Mexico to have an abortion

Mark and Marcia Goddard

Kupcinet toyed with her food and ate little. The Goddard’s notice that   "... her lips seemed numb. Her voice was funny. She moved her head at odd angles" and that her pupils were constricted. When Mark Goddard asked her what was wrong she began to cry, putting her arm around him and told them that baby that had been abandoned on her doorstep earlier that day. (Kupcinet had told Andrew Prine by telephone the same story) She left the party at 8:30 pm by taxicab and went home.

Before she left she told her hosts that the next day, Thanksgiving, she and Prine were going to Glenn Ford's house for day. Later Prine and Ford said they didn’t know anything about it. She had also told her parents that she wouldn’t be returning home to Chicago for the holiday since she work to do on the program Perry Mason, which wasn't true. 

When she returned home Edward Stephen Rubin, a freelance writer, was waiting by her door. Rubin didn't have a car and said he had walked to Karyn's house from Beverly Hills where he was living with another friend. Rubin wanted to watch TV. Although it’s hard to understand by today’s standards, although most people had a television set, very few Americans had state of the art television sets in the 1960s as Karyn did. Her father’s money had bought it for her.  

At around 9:00 PM, according to Rubin, she said she was feeling jittery and went for a walk around the block where she came across the actor Robert Hathaway, a friend, and invited him up to join her and Rubin. Hathaway and Rubin used to room together and lived next door to Andrew Prine in a duplex.

Back at her apartment, they watched The Danny Kaye Show with Kupcinet, they said,  
till around 10:30 she served coffee and cake and then Kupcinet fell asleep, sitting next to them on the couch. She awoke and went to her room. Andrew Prine returned home from a date with the Bavarian actress, Anna Capri and at about 12 am, he called Karyn spoke for less than five minutes. 

Anna Capri

The two men said that they lowered the TV’s volume (three days later it was still playing with a low volume), and made sure the door was locked behind them before they left the apartment at about 11:15 pm. They said they went to the Rain Check Room on Sunset Strip for drinks. 

Three days later, on November 30, the Goddard’s went to Kupcinet's apartment at 1227 Sweetzer in West Hollywood to check on her and found her nude body lying on the couch, on her side, with flecks of blood on her face and a pillow. The apartment door was unlocked. There was an over turned lamp on the floor.  A coffee pot and a brandy snifter full of cigarette butts overturned on the floor. A cup of coffee, partially consumed, was on a stand across the room. She had been dead for three days.

Mark Goddard initially assumed that she had died from a drug overdose. (Police found prescriptions for Dsoxyn, Miltown, Amvicel, and other medications in the apartment)  
No rape test was done (Due to the technology of the day) and since she had been dead for several days, decomposition was advanced enough so that an autopsy would prove inconclusive. 

There was no signs of robbery but a prescription bottle for 100 Desoxyn, a methamphetamine, filled two days earlier, was found empty in the bathroom.
There was also a note, not a suicide note, written by Kupcinet that went over her emotional problems and issues with her parent, career and her love life.

The note rambled over a dozen different subjects;

“I'm no good. I'm not really that pretty. My figure's fat and will never be the way my mother wants it.”

“Why must I be so alone?”

“What's the use of living with nothing to believe in?”

“There's nothing only phony motives, selfish egoists, selfless people, fat heads and drunks and I want out.”

“I like President Kennedy, Bertrand Russell, Theodore Reiks, Peter O'Toole, Sydney J. Harris, Albert Finney.”

"For me -- [in her italics] I feel self-conscious about this, like I'm going to have to get approval on it eventually.  (Approval it is -- or you're doomed to insignificance).  Everything I've done, supposedly being myself and with the promise of anonymity, I do *for* [underlined] approval ...knowing ... "this'll get 'em"  "They'll love me for this" and "They'll say nice things behind my back."I guess I've been searching for an identity too desperately ...seized the nearest image; whether David [a platonic friend of hers who was a script reader and the brother of movie star Hope Lange] and doing things *his* [underlined] way and *pointedly* not *compromising* with my traditional way -- and using it vs. my parents -- snubbing my nose at their way.  Always hate to be with them after a lengthy visit with "current" boyfriend and theirfamilies -- guilt -- I guess.  Trying to show them I can be something.  Always faking it.  Never tapping my own resources. Afraid of -- what?  Me or that there won't be anything.

My figure's fat and will never be the way my mother wants it.  I won't let *it* be what *she* wants.  How stupid.  I want to be slim and she loves me and wants me to be slim -- intellectualization doesn't mark.

Why must I be so alone?

Have I fallen that short of my ideal? Why does my image of me have to be so aesthetic and perfect? What's the use of living with nothing to believe in?  Have faith in? 
Where's the security -- or habit or order -- oh shit – what good is that going to do?  What happens to me -- or my Andy (Andy Prine)

 Why doesn't he want me?  Why?  There's no GOD [capitals hers].

There's nothing only phony motives, selfish egoists, selfless people, fat heads and drunks, and I want *out.* [underlined] 

The most promising lead when police found a packet of threatening letters that Karyn had sent to herself and to Prine had received, which was unknown to the police until Karyn’s prints were found on the letters.  A police lab crew searched the Karyn’s apartment and found the magazines she used to clip the words for the notes.

The Coroner ruled her death a homicide due to a broken hyoid bone in her throat.  Her thyroid gland, tongue and larynx were crushed in a fit of rage that left her neck bruised and badly discolored. He also estimated the time of death at about 12:30 AM, the same time that her call with Andy Prine ended and that because she was nude and the door was unlocked, police suspected that she knew her killer and that the killer was left handed (None of the later suspect in the case were left handed.)

Police named Andrew Prine as one of their chief suspects along with Edward Rubin and Robert Hathaway and said that the motive was that Prine snapped after he learned that the anonymous threat letters both he and Kupcinet had received were actually sent by Kupcinet.

Famed LA crime writer James Ellroy looked into the case for years and based his conclusions on the extensive police record on Karyn's death. Ellroy concluded that Karyn was probably dancing nude when she slipped and fell, hit her throat on the back of a chair and landed on the sofa.

There were 2 sets of prints not belonging to any of the suspects but strangely none of the prints belonged to Hathaway.  All the suspects all took polygraphs and all came back as "inconclusive."

Prine would be questioned by the police once a week for several months after the murder and according to Ellroy  Prine, Rubin and Hathaway had been questioned by the sheriff's department many times throughout the 1960s until as late as 1969. 

However, in 1988, Kupcinet's father published a memoir in which he said that he believed that Prine had nothing to do with Karyn Kupcinet’s murder and instead he believed that the real murderer was a neighbor in her apartment complex in West Hollywood, California.(There were eighteen apartments in her upper income two story Spanish style building)

"We pretty much know who did it” Irv Kupcinet said “but unfortunately the police couldn't come up with the physical evidence to charge him"

The person he suspected was actor David Lange, 29, the brother of actress Hope Lange. He was a noted heavy drinker and womanizer who lived in the apartment below Karyn Kupcinet. When questioned by the police David Lange said that he was out on a date with his girlfriend, actress Natalie Wood, who conformed his story. Lange said he returned home around 12:30, very drunk and fell asleep.

Irv Kupcinet  believed that the Lange's wealthy family had hired lawyers who blocked sheriff's investigators from questioning him about the killing.   “We offered to hire a private detective,” Karyn’s mother Essee said. “We even tried mystics. When you’re desperate, and your own daughter is involved, you’ll do anything…..We were good friends. She called me sis. I can’t believe it happened so long ago. Oh God, how I miss her.”

 Lange went on to produce the hit films Klute and The Sterile Cuckoo. Lange died at his home in Sharon Connecticut in 2006.

Irv Kupcinet never got over this daughter’s death. In 1966, when the Chicago Tribune syndicate asked Kupcinet to replace the recently deceased Hedda Hopper, offer that included moving into Hopper's Hollywood home which the newspaper owned, he refused saying he would never move to “the Hollywood that had sucked our daughter into its maelstrom.”

Irv Kupcinet died in November 2003, at age 91. His wife Essie, died at age 85, in June 2001.

Apparently police also questioned actor Vince Edwards who was then starring in a hit program called Ben Casey. Reportedly Prine’s wife Sharon Farrell had started an affair with Vince Edwards which led to divorce actions. Prine was asking for $250 alimony from his wife (who was defended in court by Vince Edward's lawyer) Farrell had crossed sued Prine for alimony as well.  



The story is that Karyn Kupcinet made her way onto the set of Ben Casey and tricked Edwards into taking a subpoena to appearance in court in the case. Edwards, a major international star at the time, wasn’t a man to toy with. He had his own friends in Hollywood.  Born Vincent Edward Zoino, Edwards was raised in one of the roughest neighborhoods of Brooklyn, N.Y.

After deciding to become an actor--rather than a "con man or wise guy," as he liked to say, he was often compared to Marlon Brando and James Dean. In early 1961, Edwards went to audition for the part of an airline pilot but walked into the wrong studio and accidently auditioned for the part of Dr. Ben Casey. He got the role. The show ran for five years and rated in the top 10 during the 1962-63 season.

Edward was a degenerate gambler with a preference for racetracks and card games. He became a regular at Hollywood Park race track and when he had no money he borrowed from mob connected off-track bookies. Even that went back to his childhood. Edwards told the story that at age 14, he pawned his twin brother Bob's clothes for spending money and advised his sibling never to borrow $10 from one person; borrow 50 cents from 20 people and "you'll never have to pay them back,".

Unfortunately one of the people Edwards borrowed from was a shylock named Marty Allen. When Edwards stiffed Allen on a loan, Allen called in Anthony “The Animal” Fiato to collect. Fiato didn’t get the money but he beat Edwards senseless.

Police would later hold the subpoena action over Prine's head, claiming her had some sort of Svengali hold on Kupcinet with out understanding how insanely obsessed she was over Prine.

Karyn Kupcinet  was buried back home in Chicago, wearing a white gown. Some 1500 people attended Karyn Kupcinet funeral including the state Governor and the Mayor of Chicago. 

The death faded into obscurity until 1967 when a man named Penn Jones, Jr. published a book in which he noted an AP wire service story about an unidentified woman, in the area code of Oxnard, California, approximately 50 miles north of Los Angeles, who, on November 22, 1963, dialed a telephone operator 20 minutes before President Kennedy was shot to death in Dallas, telling the operator that Kennedy was going to be shot.

The following report ran in the Washington Post:

“Mystery Call Foretold Fate of President”


What could be an intriguing mystery in the President’s assassination might center in the Oxnard-Camarillo area, near Los Angeles.

Fifteen minutes before Mr. Kennedy was shot, an Oxnard telephone supervisor overheard a woman caller whisper to someone:

“The President is going to be killed.”

The strange call was intercepted by supervisors of the General Telephone Co. in Oxnard at 1:10 p.m. EST. The fatal wounding of Mr. Kennedy in Dallas occurred shortly after 1:25 EST.

Telephone company executives said it was impossible to trace the mysterious call other than to know that it originated in nearby Oxnard-Camarillo area.

The state mental institution is located at Camarillo.

Ray Sheehan, general manager of the telephone company there, said: “One of our supervisors picked up the call. The caller kept dialing although her call was connected. Then she started whispering. Another supervisor listened in and was able to hear the woman saying, “The President is going to be killed.”

Sheehan said the mysterious call was reported to police — but after the President had been shot.

The FBI investigated the phone call during its probe of the JFK assassination and concluded that the call lasted ten to fifteen minutes.

 The called had a voice of middle-aged woman

 The call came in at 10:07-10:08 a.m.: “The President is going to die at 10:10” (12:10 CST) but it was said very fast by the caller and it might have been “The Justice, the Supreme Court, there is going to be a fire in all the windows; the Government is going up in flames.” And then named “12 courts in order of importance starting with the Supreme Court to Probate Court and Juvenile Court.”

The caller then repeated “The President is going to die at 10:30” and mentioned the courts again and said “The Government takes over everything; lock, stock, and barrel.” and then mumbled “thermostat, rheostat, heostat.”

 According to the book Legacy of Doubt, Bobby Kennedy was interested in the call and investigated it as well. Supposedly Oxnard Det. Sgt. Ed gave Kennedy documents, phone records, while he was in Oxnard, California, during a campaign stop.

They records revealed that the call had been made from Federal Commissioner Ben Nordman’s and Ventura Superior Court Judge Jerome Berenson’s law office over twenty minutes before JFK was assassinated that “he was going to be killed.” RFK was also given the names of the persons making the phone call.

Jerome Berenson

The author of the story provided no sources or corroboration for the tale. Jones alleged that the caller was Kupcinet, because she lived in the Oxnard area code where the call came from and reasoned that he well connected father, a Chicago news columnist had told her about the pending assassination by the Chicago mob on Kennedy. Jones reasoned that the call was why Kupcinet was murdered.

Jones left out the fact that on November 22, 1963 Kupcinet was in Palm Springs with six friends including Prine. He also omitted the fact that Karyn Kupcinet was murdered almost a week after the JFK assassination and two days after the JFK killing as he had originally written.

The insane and groundless rumor made its way to NBC's Today Show, which presented a list of people who died violently in 1963 shortly after the death of President John F. Kennedy and may have had some link to the assassination. The first name on the list was Karyn Kupcinet. After that, hundreds of books used Karyn Kupcinet's tragic death as proof that there was a conspiracy to kill Kennedy and an urban legend was born. 

Kupcinet's murder remains officially unsolved.