30s star Thelma Todd died at twenty-nine, leaving behind a trail of uncertainties. Despite numerous possibilities unveiled by the investigations, the exact nature of her death remains a mystery.
On December 16, 1935, the world woke up to the news of actress Thelma Todd's death. The shocking reality opened an investigation that remains unsolved to date.
In the years that followed, more details about her life and death came to light, with several people offering various theories that may have led to her demise.
An image of late actress, Thelma Todd | Photo: Getty Images
TODD'S SUSPICIOUS DEATH
Thelma Todd's body was found in her car in a Castellammare garage on that fateful December morning. Mae Whitehead, the actress' maid, found her unconscious in the garage of film producer and director Roland West.
West, a former lover of the actress, resided at 17531 Pasetano Road, a few blocks from the actress' café on Roosevelt Highway in Los Angeles.
When officers arrived, they found the legendary comedienne in the vehicle's front seat, with coagulated blood dotted on parts of her body, her evening gown, and her mink coat. Despite the garage doors being closed, the ignition was also turned on, making it look like a possible suicide.
Actress Thelma Todd in a scene from the movie "The Maltese Falcon" circa 1931 | Photo: Getty Images
Dr. JP Sampson, a physician, summoned by R.H.W. Schafer, manager of Todd's roadside café, examined the body, noticing no signs of bodily injury. He believed the icon had been dead for at least twelve hours before the examination.
INVESTIGATIONS INTO THE SUDDEN DEATH
Following her demise, officers conducted a post-mortem examination on Todd. Autopsy surgeons established her cause of death as carbon monoxide gas poisoning. However, the circumstances leading to her demise were a mystery.
Investigators believed her death was accidental since there was no evidence of foul play. Following further investigations into the death, the Homicide Bureau eventually closed the case, labeling it accidental with possible suicide tendencies.
Actress Thelma Todd in a scene from the movie "The Noose" circa 1928 | Photo: Getty Images
TODD RECEIVED NUMEROUS DEATH THREATS
In the months leading to her death, the Hollywood icon received countless death threats from people trying to extort her. Some of the notes mandated her to pay up to $10,000 in exchange for her life.
Since investigators were unsatisfied with the Bureau's conclusion, they carried on with the quest to find possible answers, including the identities of the threat issuers and the contents of the notes.
THE NIGHT BEFORE
During their investigation, LAPD detectives disclosed that Todd attended a dinner at a Hollywood nightclub the night before she was found dead. She left her apartment at about 8 p.m., arriving at the gay party shortly after.
A portrait of Thelma Todd (1905 - 1935) the perky leading lady and heroine of many two-reel comedies with First National. | Photo: Getty Images
Detectives discovered Todd made a wager during the event, betting that her friends would not visit her the next day. The group of friends never got to honor their end of the bet; as true to her words, Todd was not home to welcome them to her abode when they called but lay dead in the front seat of her vehicle.
Thelma Todd's mom, Alice Todd, believed her daughter's death was not self-inflicted as she loved life and had everything to live for. The woman attributed the star's demise to a heart failure, having been diagnosed with a heart condition weeks prior.
Investigators thought it more likely that Todd arrived at her apartment before dawn but could not go inside because she had no access to her keys. Hence, she had no choice but to wait in her car until the watchman doing his rounds discovered her.
A portrait of Thelma Todd in Vamping Venus a First National Picture circa 1928 | Photo: Getty Images
To make the wait comfortable, detectives think she turned the ignition on to warm the place, eventually falling asleep. However, the engine's exhaust filled the closed garage with monoxide gas, poisoning Todd in the process.
The theory suggests the legend slumped unconscious in her vehicle and struck her head on the wheel, which explained the blood streaks in her clothing.
Additionally, the abrasion on her lips, which was her only visible bruise, may have resulted after the gold inlay on her teeth was knocked loose by the impact, cutting her lips in the process. Other theories suggest a possible foul play even though little or no evidence exists to back them.
Actress Thelma Todd in a scene from the movie "The Bohemian Girl" circa 1928 | Photo: Getty Images
WHO ARE THE SUSPECTS?
Many names have popped up over the years as possible orchestrators of Todd's death, with several theories existing. Interestingly, each of these figures has a motive, making them notable suspects.
Topping the list was Roland West, Todd's occasional lover who lived with his wife in the building Todd's body was discovered. People believe the director frowned upon the star's numerous affairs and complicated relationships with other men.
Seeing her at close quarters daily due to their business partnership and living situation possibly made it impossible for him to overlook her actions. Hence, he decided to end things for good.
Thelma Todd as Lady Pamela Rocburg holding hands with Dennis King as Diavolo in the 1933 film "Fra Diavolo." | Photo: Getty Images
Another suspect was Todd's ex-husband Pat DiCicco, a man with a vast underworld connection. Before their divorce, DiCicco famously battered the actress repeatedly, forcing her to flee the marriage. Perhaps her decision humiliated him enough to seek revenge.
Jewel Carmen, West's wife, had a handful of reasons to take Todd's life. Aside from her husband's affair with the Hollywood legend, Carmen once threatened to kill Todd for squandering her investment in their jointly-owned restaurant.
Thelma Todd ( 1905 - 1935 ) the perky heroine of many two-reel comedies lounging on the floor in front of a fireplace, demonstrating the very latest in lounging pyjamas circa 1931 | Photo: Getty Images
Lucky Luciano, another of Todd's lovers who beat her countlessly during their relationship and introduced her to amphetamines, is another suspect.
Alice Todd naturally made the list of suspects as well, given that she stood to gain the most from her daughter's demise since she was the sole heir to the film player's empire.
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