Dorothy Stratten Crime Scene: What the Coroner Found

dorothy stratten crime scene

Getty Dorothy Stratten

The Dorothy Stratten crime scene was grisly and disturbing, underscoring the horrors that the Playboy Playmate endured in the last moments of her life.

Dorothy Stratten’s star was rising. She had just been named the 1980 Playboy Playmate of the year, she was involved in a love affair with a famous director (Peter Bogdanovich), and her luminous beauty was drawing comparisons to Marilyn Monroe. All of this must have been heady business for a small-town Canadian girl who was discovered in a local Dairy Queen. She was only 20-years-old.

However, Dorothy’s life was snuffed out by the man who discovered her, Paul Snider, who became her husband. He was a small-town hustler and promoter (of auto shows and the like) and a pimp, who was despondent and enraged because Dorothy was having an affair with Bogdanovich (director of a movie she was starring in) and was determined to leave him. Snubbed by Hugh Hefner, Snider was further enraged that he wasn’t allowed to enter the Playboy Mansion without Dorothy at his side, according to an interview Bogdanovich gave to Vulture and court records from a civil lawsuit stemming from the case.

What did the crime scene reveal, though? What did the coroner’s report say?

Here’s what you need to know:

Snider Murdered Dorothy With a Shotgun Blast to the Face in a Horrific Murder Scene

dorothy stratten

GettyMay 1980: Canadian model and actor Dorothy Stratten (1960 – 1980) smiles as she stands in front of a life-size photograph of herself, during a reception honoring her with the ‘Playmate Of The Year’ title, Playboy Mansion West, Los Angeles, California. Stratten wears a gold halter top. She was murdered by her husband in August of that year.

The autopsy report, described in graphic detail by news reports at the time, outlines the forensics and what could be learned at the scene. The Associated Press, in an August 16, 1980 article, outlined what authorities found in the Los Angeles-area home. According to the AP:

Dorothy’s nude body “was found sprawled across a bed near that of her estranged husband.” (This scene is captured in a grisly and disturbing crime scene photo that has been widely shared on the Internet.)

Dorothy had been shot in the face with a shotgun. Paul Snider “was found slumped over the gun.” The bodies had been there for a day. Snider was also naked.

The Village Voice reported in 1980 that investigators found bloody handprints on Stratten’s buttocks. The description in that article is graphic and extremely disturbing.

“Dorothy had, apparently, been sodomized, though whether this occurred before or after her death is not clear,” the article said. “After the blast, her body was moved and there were what appeared to be bloody handprints on her buttocks and left leg. Near her head was Paul’s handmade bondage rack…Loops of tape, used and unused, were lying about and strands of long blonde hair were discovered clutched in Snider’s right hand.”

paul snider

GettyPaul Snider and Dorothy Stratten.

At the time, Police Lt. Dan Cooke told AP that the motive “was apparently that he (Snider) was despondent over the breakup of the marriage.” Stratten died in a home she had shared with Snider but left but she’d returned that fateful day to “talk with Snider about their marital problems,” AP reported.

The Detroit Free Press described on November 16, 1980 how “Stratten’s blond hair hung naturally, oddly unaffected by the violence to her countenance. Her face was shattered and her nude body, mocking the soft, languid poses of her photographs, was in full rigor.”

On August 17, 1980, UPI reported:

Investigators found the 12-gauge shotgun beneath Snider’s body.

Stratten died “from a shotgun blast in the face, apparently inflicted by her estranged husband who later killed himself.” The bodies were found in the house “by friends.”

An Associated Press story from August 1980 reported that the coroner’s report confirmed Stratten had died from a “shotgun wound to the face.” Snider raped Stratten before murdering her.

The coroner found that both Stratten and Snider, who had married in 1979, died “of gunshot wounds to the head.” A Village Voice article on the case, which won the Pulitzer Prize and was the basis for the movie Star 80, says the coroner hedged a bit at first, dubbing it as “questionable suicide, possible homicide.”

According to the book Picture Shows: The Life and Films of Peter Bogdanovich, despite that somewhat ambiguous initial statement, then Los Angeles County Chief Medical Examiner Thomas T. Noguchi later stated, “Paul Snider shot (Dorothy) in the head, then put the gun to his own head and pulled the trigger.”

The crime scene forensic analysis was complicated by the fact that the police claimed “they were unable to determine scientifically whether or not Snider had fired the shotgun, since his hands were coated with too much blood and tissue for conclusive tests to be conducted.”

Mariel Hemingway, the actress who would play Dorothy in the movie Star 80, felt the motive was Snider’s belief that he was losing control of Stratten.

“As she started to slip away, he started to realize he owned nothing,” Hemingway said to ABC. “He wasn’t doing anything, nobody was admiring him. Hugh Hefner’s not going to call him back… and then this deep, deep, deep, freaky thing that was going on inside of him took control and he lost it.”

paul snider

TwitterThe marriage photo of Dorothy Stratten to Paul Snider.

Marc Goldstein, hired by Snider as a private investigator to trail Stratten, had spoken with Snider the day before and Statten was with him. He told the AP, “All I can figure out is that it had to be an act of passion.”

Stratten’s purse was lying in the middle of the living room floor with a note in Paul’s handwriting “explaining his financial distress,” according to the Edmonton Journal. Dorothy’s body was found “crouched across the bottom corner of a low bed. Both knees were on the carpet and her right shoulder was drooping.” The shotgun blast entered above her left eye.

In a statement released after her death, Bogdanovich said, “Dorothy Stratten was as gifted and intelligent an actress as she was beautiful, and she was very beautiful indeed – in every way imaginable – most particularly in her heart.”

The 1980 article in the Edmonton Journal reported that Snider expected “but could not prove” that Stratten was having an affair. Snider had found “poems and love letters” from Bogdanovich to Stratten, according to the Journal, and wanted Goldstein, the private investigator to do more research.

Snider was afraid he would never see her again and that he was losing control, The Journal reported. He had called a photographer friend crying because he could “not touch Dorothy or get near her.” Dorothy had gone on a holiday to London with Bogdanovich.

Knowing that Hugh Hefner was planning a Midsummer Night’s Dream party at the Playboy Mansion, Snider tried to finagle an invite but was told he could only come if he was with Dorothy. Dorothy had told Snider she had moved into an apartment but, in reality, she didn’t go to the apartment. She had moved into the Beverly Hills apartment on paper, but the person who really lived in it was Bogdanovich’s personal assistant, according to Edmonton Journal. She was really living with Peter Bogdanovich in Bel Air.

peter bogdanovich

GettyPeter Bogdanovich (l)

Stratten went to a playmate event out of state and then agreed to meet Snider on August 8, 1980 for lunch. That was a fatal decision. He told friends, “The queen is coming back.” But the lunch unraveled, with Dorothy confessing that she was in love with Bogdanovich and wanted out of the relationship.

Snider then set the murder plot in motion, The Journal reported, buying a 12-gauge Mossberg pump shotgun through an ad, learning how to load and fire it.

Court records in a 1985 suit that Goldstein filed against Peter Bogdanovich and Stratten’s estate provide more details. The court records contain responses that Bogdanovich gave to interrogatories in the court case.

Bogdanovich states in the court records that Snider had purchased a gun and had earlier borrowed a handgun from an individual named “Chip” that he returned to that man. He also tried to purchase an automatic weapon. Snider was “upset and despondent because of, among other things, the marital problems Snider was experiencing with Stratten and that Stratten was romantically involved with Bogdanovich,” the records say.

The breakup of Snider’s marriage to Stratten was “imminent,” Bogdanovich believed. Snider “had been barred from the Playboy mansion unless he was accompanied by Stratten and…this infuriated Snider.” Furthermore Bogdanovich claimed that Snider was involved “with drugs and perverse sex at the time he was upset concerning the breakup of his marriage and looking to purchase a gun.”

Bogdanovich said that Snider had arranged for a meeting with Stratten after he was aware that she “desired to terminate the marriage and after Snider had purchased a gun.” Dorothy Stratten “kept the meeting with Snider as arranged on August 14, 1980.” Snider was “moody, upset and/or despondent” in the days before the death, the court records say.

Paul Snider Became Dorothy’s Svengali After Spotting Her in a Dairy Queen, But He Was Enraged When She Tried to Leave Him

There’s no question that Snider was responsible for “discovering” the young woman then known as Dorothy Ruth Hoogstraten. According to a 1980 Associated Press article written shortly after her death, he walked into the Dairy Queen store in Vancouver, British Columbia where Dorothy was working. She was serving ice cream, according to ABC, which added that Dorothy had worked at the chain restaurant all through high school to help her mother, who worked in a school cafeteria, make ends meet.

Snider convinced her to submit photos to Playboy after seeing an advertisement for the magazine’s 25th Anniversary Playmate search in 1978, IMDB reports. Playboy was interested, although Candy Loving beat her out that year. She became a playmate the following year, however. It was a clash of cultures: The small town girl headed to the big city, still naive and gullible.

“She didn’t believe that everybody lied, and all the liars came to [Los Angeles],” said actor Max Baer Jr., one of Snider’s friends, to ABC. “I said [to Snider], ‘Do you care about her?’ And he said, ‘Yeah.’ I said, ‘Well if you really care about her…take her back to Vancouver. She doesn’t belong here.’ I said, ‘She’s nice. She’s got a great figure, got a beautiful face and this town will destroy her.'”

But he didn’t take her back to Vancouver. Instead, it was Snider who destroyed her.

Her IMDB profile says that Stratten grew up in a rough neighborhood but stayed out of trouble. Snider was described by IMDB as a “promoter and wannabe star.” Snider immediately realized that Dorothy could make him a lot of money, and he plied her with jewelry and promises, the article stated, adding that he was only her second boyfriend and she thought of becoming a secretary before meeting Snider. Hugh Hefner, Village Voice reported, would later describe Dorothy’s “magic” as being a cross between vulnerability and sensual appeal, and she drew comparisons to Marilyn Monroe.

Of Snider, Hefner would say, he was “very sick.”

According to the Village Voice, Snider grew up in Vancouver in a broken home, became a bodybuilder, hit the nightclub circuit, started promoting car shows, earned the label the “Jewish Pimp,” and was known to dress flashy, including wearing a mink coat. He drove a Mercedes with a license plate that read “STAR 80,” which was later the name taken for a Hollywood movie about Stratten.

He tooled around LA in a gold limousine for a time. Teresa Carpenter, who won the Pulitzer Prize for her Village Voice article on the case, told ABC that Snider “made a pretty good living as a promoter for automobile shows and cycling shows.” He didn’t make enough money though so he was literally a pimp prostituting out women, Carpenter told ABC. She added that he could be seen around town flashing his black corvette or jeweled Star of David necklace. He was all flash, craving attention.

“He didn’t keep a low profile,” Carpenter told ABC, which reported that Snider took Stratten to her senior prom when he was 26 years old. “It took him a little while to talk me into agreeing to taking some test pictures,” Stratten said to Canadian television. “I had never taken my clothes off for anyone I didn’t know… It took me about two weeks to agree.”

Snider’s plans for Dorothy worked, and they moved to Hollywood, where Playboy and a few acting roles placed her on the cusp of ultimate fame.

Dorothy was soon was finding a spot in movies like Galaxina. At the time of her death, she had just completed production on her first major film, They All Laughed, by the director Peter Bogdanovich, famous for The Last Picture Show.

Her Playboy stats say that Dorothy stood 5’9″, weighed 123 lbs, and had measurements of 36-24-36. Snider was only 29 years old when he died. She was 20.

The Village Voice article by Teresa Carpenter was turned into the movie on Stratten’s life and death called Star80, according to The New York Times. The actor Eric Roberts played Paul Snider.

You can read the Village Voice article here; it was called Death of a Playmate. When Stratten died, Hugh Hefner rejected the simplistic narrative that Stratten was a small-town girl who died because of the fast lane, saying the death was the fault of Paul Snider alone, calling him a “very sick guy” who “saw a meal ticket” and felt his “connection to power” slipping away.

READ NEXT: Peter Bogdanovich Today.

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