Cold Case: Murdered Actor Kept a Secret Now Flaunted by Celebutantes

Millions of fans were charmed by Bob Crane as the wholesome, all-American Col. Hogan he played on the hit show "Hogan's Heroes," only to be stunned by his violent death

For celebutantes Kim Kardashian and Paris Hilton, personal sex videos have not seemed to hurt their popularity. Rob Lowe recovered from an infamous one and resumed his career.

But decades earlier, homemade porn played a pivotal role in the downfall of one of TV's big stars.

Millions of fans were charmed by Bob Crane as the wholesome, all-American Col. Hogan he played on the hit show "Hogan's Heroes," only to be stunned by his violent death and the self-destructive secret it revealed.

"It caused his downfall," said Paul Bond of the Hollywood Reporter.

Bond took a special interest in Crane's saga a decade ago when it was the subject of competing movie scripts, and ultimately became the basis for the 2002 film "Auto Focus."

Radio is where Crane first made his name in Hollywood, as morning drive DJ at pre-news KNX. Think of the early Crane as the Ryan Seacrest of the early ‘60s.

"Famous guest stars would show up -- Sinatra, Marilyn Monroe, Bob Hope," Bond said of Crane's radio show. "He'd play the drums, crack jokes, people loved it."


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It led to TV guest roles and ultimately the starring role on Hogan's.

"Hogan's Heroes put Crane in the stratosphere. He was the star of a hit show. That was the days of only three networks, not 500 channels," Bond said.

Crane's G-rated persona then landed him the starring role in a Disney film, Superdad. But the 1973 movie flopped, and Crane's budding film career never blossomed – perhaps because he was typecast as Col. Hogan.

But there was something else: the sex obsession that, in retrospect, was taking over his life.

"The general public did not know, but insiders did, and then he couldn't get roles," Bond said.
With his career stalled, Crane was reduced to the supper club circuit with a touring show, "Beginner's Luck."

In June 1978, while Crane was in Scottsdale, Arizona, someone entered his rented apartment and bludgeoned him to death.

Inside, police found cameras, video equipment, a makeshift photo lab and dozens of videos of Crane having sex with different women.

Investigators described it as his "hobby," and learned he had pursued it with technical assistance from a video whiz named John Carpenter. They had met while Crane was doing Hogan's Heroes.

They had been seen together in Scottsdale having dinner. Blood stains were found in Carpenter's rental car. Suspicion focused on him, but authorities had trouble making a case.

They hoped to make use of DNA analysis not available at the time of the homicide. But the sample was not adequate to yield usable results.

Charges were not brought for 14 years, and when the case finally went to trial, Carpenter’s defense suggested Crane's obsession likely left a trail of vengeance seekers.

In 1994, 16 years after Crane's death, Carpenter was acquitted.

Afterwards, his defender Steven Avilla declared, "The killer of Bob Crane is still out there. And it's not John Carpenter."

The murder of Bob Crane remains officially unsolved, technically a cold case, though no other suspect has surfaced, and authorities in Arizona stopped pursuing it after Carpenter's acquittal.

They thought they knew the killer, but could not prove it in court.

As a cautionary tale, his home-movie sex now seems almost dated.

"Forty years later, you can get away with it," said Bond, noting that the release of personal sex videos seemed to boost the careers of Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian, among others.

Some might say Bob Crane's misfortune was that his sexual vanity was ahead of its time.

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