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Beverly Hills: Triangle Of Terror, 90210

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Perhaps you're familiar with the Beverly Hills Golden Triangle, that section of high-end retail stores centered around Rodeo Drive.  There's another triangle in that gilded ghetto – a "triangle of terror," where numerous grisly goings-on have occurred over the years.  This triangle is in the city's fancy residential neighborhood known as "The Flats," bordered by Sunset Boulevard to the north, Santa Monica Boulevard to the south, Doheny Drive to the east and Whittier Drive to the west.  The area isn't large in geographic terms, but it has a big place in local horror history.

Howard Hughes

On July 7, 1946, aviation and movie pioneer Howard Hughes was piloting his experimental XF-11 reconnaissance plane over West LA when it developed an oil leak.  Losing altitude fast, Hughes aimed for an emergency landing on the golf course of the LA Country Club, west of Beverly Hills.  He didn't make it.  Just a block short of the golf course, the crippled plane skimmed two homes on North Linden Drive before crashing into a third, at 808 North Whittier Drive, igniting a firestorm that destroyed the house.  Despite suffering severe burns and numerous broken bones, Hughes managed to free himself from the wreckage and a passerby pulled him to safety.   Today, one of the homes involved in that crash, at 805 North Linden Drive, is being considered by the city for landmark status, not only because it was designed by a master architect, but also due to its place in aviation history.

Bugsy Siegel

Less than a year after Hughes' near-fatal crash, and just a few houses down the street, at 810 North Linden, another shocker hit the headlines.  On June 20, 1947, west coast mobster Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel met a violent end while reading the evening paper in the living room of his public girlfriend, secret wife, Virginia Hill.  Siegel had fallen out of favor with his east coast bosses, mostly because of the money they were losing on his pet project, the Flamingo Hotel in Las Vegas.  Conveniently, Hill was not home when nine bullets shattered the front windows. Four of the slugs struck Siegel, killing him where he sat with the paper in his lap.  Theories abound as to who killed Siegel, but the case remains unsolved.

Stompanato Murder

Johnny Stompanato was a small-time hood and enforcer for L.A. mob boss Mickey Cohen.  His girlfriend was movie queen Lana Turner.  The one-time "sweater girl" and her 14-year-old daughter, Cheryl Crane, lived in a rented home at 730 North Bedford Drive.  Former KTTV producer Pete Noyes recalls that Stompanato, or "Stomp," was a thug with a temper.  On the night of April 4, 1958, Turner and her boyfriend were having a violent argument in her pink bedroom when Cheryl, holding a recently purchased butcher knife, confronted Stompanato.  At the inquest, a tearful Turner testified that Stomp ran into her daughter's knife.  That remains the official story, although Noyes says that reporters at the time believed it was Lana who did the carving.  Nevertheless, the killing was ruled a justifiable homicide.

Menendez Murders

Several blocks east and three decades later, another murder case involving offspring  took place.  Around 10 o'clock on the evening of August 20, 1989, wealthy executive Jose Menendez and his wife Kitty were killed by shotgun blasts in their home at 722 North Elm Drive.  Their young adult children, Lyle and Eric, placed the 911 call and initially told police they had arrived home to find the murder scene.  For several months, the brothers' alibi seemed to hold.  But after a six-month-long, million dollar spending spree, younger brother Eric confessed to his shrink, blaming his brother. After two trials, and appeals that lasted nearly ten years, the brothers Menendez each received life without parole.

Ronni Chasen

Finally, completing the triangle, is the most recent incident.  Ronni Chasen was a Hollywood film and celebrity publicist whose clients included Michael Douglas.  Just past midnight on the morning of November 16, 2010, Chasen was driving her black Mercedes west on Sunset Boulevard, having spent the night working a movie premiere.  As she stopped for a red light at Whittier Drive, a man ran up to the driver's window, pulled a gun and started firing.  Five shots struck Chasen in the chest.  Still alive, she managed to point the car down Whittier, where it rolled over a curb and smashed into a light standard.  When police arrived, there was no sign of a suspect and Chasen was barely conscious.  She was declared dead at nearby Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.  About a month later, after much public speculation over a motive for the killing, police received a tip, resulting from the Fox TV show America's Most Wanted.  The cops converged on an East Hollywood apartment house, where, in the lobby, they confronted ex-con Harold Martin Smith.  He was holding a gun to his head, and as police moved in, he pulled the trigger.  Turns out it was the same gun used to kill Chasen, and detectives determined the killing was a random act.  The case was closed, and our triangle is complete.

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