The Murder of Bob Crane: Can Modern DNA Science Crack this Cold Case?

Who Killed Bob Crane? by John Hook

In June 1978 headline news shocked Arizona.  49-year-old actor and broadcaster Bob Crane had been found bludgeoned to death in his apartment.  With no murder weapon and seemingly no motive, this was a tragic death with few leads to go on. One man was accused of Bob Crane’s murder, his friend John Carpenter however, when he finally came to trial he was formally acquitted of the crime, leaving it to go cold within police files.

Now thirty-eight years after his death, journalist John Hook has published his two-year investigation into this gruesome murder and the results of a re-analysis of the forensic evidence collected at the time.  Will this killer finally be revealed?

Book Synopsis

The 1978 murder of actor and American icon Bob Crane remains one of the most high-profile unsolved celebrity murders of all time. Thirty-eight years after his brutal murder in Scottsdale, Arizona, millions around the world still want answers. Was John Carpenter the killer? Or did police arrest an innocent man? For nearly 40 years, police remain convinced of Carpenter’s guilt. Early DNA testing, decades ago, was unable to positively link Carpenter to the crime. The two friends lived on the edge, sharing a dark obsession—videotaping women during their sexual encounters. In an unprecedented investigation, reporter John Hook retests the DNA and blood evidence from the murder scene in this haunting cold case. Scientists believe this is the last attempt—the Final Close-Up—using modern DNA science to identify Crane’s killer. And the results are shocking!

“Who Killed Bob Crane?” is Hook’s first-hand account of a two-year investigation and search for the truth. It’s seen though the eyes of the people who were there—witnesses, detectives, prosecutors, jurors, and family members.

He takes readers on an incredible reporter’s journey for an inside look at the sensational physical evidence in a final attempt to learn the truth in “Who Killed Bob Crane?” Learn more about this famous unsolved mystery here.

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Bob Crane was best known for his portrayal of Robert Hogan in the hit sitcom series Hogan’s Heroes between 1965 and 1971. It was during this time that he met John Henry Carpenter, the man who would become the prime suspect in his murder some years later.

Their relationship was a close one and it seems they found a shared enthusiasm for videotaping their sexual relations with various women.

Bob Crane as Robert Hogan in Hogan’s Heroes

On the day of his murder 29 June 1978, Crane missed a scheduled meeting prompting his co-star Victoria Ann Berry to check on him at his apartment located in Scottsdale. What she found was scene of horror. Bob Crane was face down on his bed with severe head injuries and an electrical cord tied around his neck.

John Hook is local veteran reporter from Arizona with plenty of experience covering high-profile crimes including the O.J. Simpson murder case.  His interest in re-investigating the murder of Bob Crane was sparked after he interviewed Crane’s son Robert about the release of his book “Crane: Sex, Celebrity and My Father’s Unsolved Murder”.

“For days after that interview, the story consumed me. I’ve witnessed executions, covered murders, and seen some amazing things in my career, yet I found myself thinking about the “Crane Case” non-stop.” – John Hook

At the murder scene, the apartment had not been broken into as far as police could tell, leading to suggestions that Bob Crane knew his killer and had let them in voluntarily.

The videotapes found in his home gave police their first lead towards 65-year-old John Carpenter who was known to be in the area visiting Crane during that week.

His rental car was obtained by police and searched where they found blood smears. The blood matched Bob Crane’s blood type but in 1978 DNA testing had not yet been developed further for any more detailed analysis to be made.

John Hook holding Bob Crane’s blood for retesting

Who Killed Bob Crane? by John Hook – Excerpt from Chapter 1

 June 29, 1978: The Murder

Who Killed Bob Crane?The door to Bob Crane’s apartment was unlocked. As actress Victoria Berry slowly turned the handle, she was surprised. Bob always locked his door. For a man so reckless in his personal life, he could, at times, be cautious.

It was a quarter past two in the afternoon, and getting hot— already 104 degrees outside. Berry was dressed for it: in high-cut, light blue running shorts, her blonde hair spilling over her shoulders and her breasts protruding from a skin-tight tee-shirt.

Bob had planned for her to come over that day to do a voiceover of a scene from the play they were performing in. Who knows what else he had in mind. After all, she reminded herself, they’d had sex twice before. Both were starring in the cast of Beginner’s Luck, a play that was in its final week at the Windmill Dinner Theater in Scottsdale, a 10-minute drive from the apartment Bob Crane had rented. For Crane, who had been a big TV star, this kind of work was beneath him. But it paid the bills and attracted plenty of women, both within and outside the show. Berry noticed that the morning paper was still on the sidewalk outside his front door. She picked it up and knocked several times on the door of 132-A at the Winfield Place Apartments with no answer. As she looked around, she saw Bob’s car parked in front of the apartment complex. He must be here, she thought. Maybe he’s swimming in the back…

Berry knocked again, slowly turned the doorknob, and gently pushed open the door. She called out “Bob… Bob… Bob?” No answer. She put the paper on the kitchen table and placed the bag she was carrying on the floor as she slowly walked through the apartment.

It was pitch dark. All the drapes inside were closed. As her eyes slowly adjusted to the darkened room, she could make out the video equipment—camera and cables scattered about the living room, as usual. Crane was obsessed with this new technology. Everywhere his acting jobs took him, his video equipment was in tow. Berry called out again: “Bob… Bob?” Again, no answer.

Victoria walked to the arcadia door that led to the pool in the center of the complex. He must be out there… she thought. She pulled back the curtains that covered the arcadia doors, but Bob was not at the pool. She turned back toward the inside of the apartment, and made a right turn toward Crane’s bedroom. The door was slightly ajar. She pushed it open.

Someone was lying in bed, but she couldn’t make out the form. At first, when she saw the dark streaks, she thought it was a woman with long hair lying on her right side. But as her eyes adjusted, she could see it. Blood! Blood was everywhere. All over the pillow, the bed sheets, and spatters of it on the wall above the bed. She let out a scream. Her mind raced Oh my God… what the hell is going on? she thought. As panic set in, she could feel her heart beating in her head, her breathing becoming a pant. At first she thought it might be a woman. One of Bob’s girlfriends who had killed herself? As she fixed her gaze on the lifeless form, she realized it was a man. But was it Bob… or his good friend John Carpenter? Carpenter often stayed with Bob when he was on the road. She didn’t know. The head was bloody and unrecognizable. Blood was pooling and had poured out the victim’s nose. And then she noticed an electrical cord, with the plug on one end, wrapped around the victim’s neck. She let out another scream, backed out of the bedroom and ran outside.

Her heart pounding in her chest, panting, and sobbing she saw Mary Lou Hawkins, a neighbor, walking by. “Can you please help me?” she asked, crying. “There’s a man dead in the apartment. I’m afraid it’s Bob!” Berry followed Mrs. Hawkins to her apartment. She grabbed the phone, and dialed the operator. “Connect me to the Scottsdale Police Department, please!” she shouted. A Scottsdale Police dispatcher came on the line and asked, “What’s your emergency?” Hawkins answered, “There’s a man apparently dead in apartment 132-A Winfield Place Apartments.”

With Bob Crane’s blood thought to have been in Carpenter’s rental car and Carpenter in the area at the time of the murder, all eyes turned to him for the murder.  However, at that time it was deemed there was insufficient evidence against Carpenter to file charges.

Carpenter did go to trial for murder after a former homicide investigator pushed for the case to be reopened. In 1994 Carpenter’s defence argued that the evidence against him was weak and inconclusive.  Bob Crane’s son Robert gave a possible motive for the murder, testifying that his father had become disillusioned with John Carpenter in the weeks before his death and had told him he didn’t wish to continue their friendship.  He said that his father had told Carpenter of this the night before he was murdered.  Carpenter’s defence team also introduced possible other suspects through the various women featured in videotapes and their husbands and boyfriends who may have attacked out of jealousy.

The prosecution counteracted these statements with witness testimony that the pair had been seen dining out the night before the murder and were clearly still friends. John Carpenter was acquitted of the murder leaving the crime officially stamped unsolved.

Sometimes you have, what Oprah calls, “an ah-ha moment.” I had one concerning this baffling cold case. Days after the interview, it came to me, suddenly and quite unexpectedly. I wondered, “What happened to all the physical evidence in the case? Could it be found? And more importantly, was there a chance that we could find the original blood and DNA evidence in the case and possibly retest it?” What would it tell us after all these years. What answers might it yield, with modern DNA testing in 2015, that the scientists couldn’t detect with primitive DNA testing in the late 80’s and early 90’s? This became the premise for the book, “Who Killed Bob Crane?” – John Hook

There has been a great deal of concern raised over the quality of the police investigation carried out by the Scottsdale Police Department. They did not have a dedicated homicide department in 1978 and were not used to murders of this magnitude.  Furthermore, evidence recently published gives some disturbing insight into the examination of Bob Crane’s body at the crime scene, carried out by Maricopa County Medical Examiner, Dr. Heinze Karnitschinig.

Dr Karnitschinig, keen to observe the injuries to Crane’s skull in detail, began to examine Bob Crane while he was still on his bed where he was killed, to the extent that he even shaved a section of his hair behind his ear to get a better look at the wound.  While his intentions may have been honourable, this process introduces contamination at the crime scene making forensic evidence severely compromised.

The formal autopsy of Bob Crane’s body was carried out the day after the murder, by Dr Thomas Jarvis. It confirmed that Crane had died from two heavy and violent blows to his head.  It is thought he was asleep at the time of the attack with no time to respond, dying within minutes.  The electrical cord did not cause Crane’s death and may have been used to prevent any screams from him while he was dying.

In Who Killed Bob Crane? finally some answers to this mystery may be found.  Bob Crane’s children have spent decades not knowing exactly what happened to their father and who was responsible.  As explained by his son Robert Crane, “…after all these years, John Hook has ignited a firestorm in my family. There is hope, interest, and a yearning for a resolution. If John can turn over a leaf and discover one iota of new detail, then his journey has been well worth it.”

Who Killed Bob Crane? The Final Close-Up by John Hook was published on 21 February 2017, published by Get Hooked Media.

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