Thelma Todd's tragic death

[ Warning: post contains graphic content ]


It might sound odd, but from my (I believe) 11th year I became thoroughly fascinated by murder cases and the mystery some are shrouded in. Now don't be afraid, it's just a fascination and I have never had the urge to kill and torture, myself. But anyway, if the murder case was set in a bygone era, it attracted me even more ... and when a Hollywood actor or actrice is involved ... it got my full attention. The mysterious death of actress Thelma Todd - the Ice cream blonde - is such a case. Was it murder? Was it suicide? Or was it just a tragic accident? What is determined however, is that she died a poisonous death by Carbon Monoxide.



Thelma Alice Todd was born on July 29 in 1906, as the daughter of John and Alice Todd in Lawrence, Massachusetts. Thelma grew up shocking the community by never wearing underwear and having man after man. Early in life, Thelma decided she wanted to become a school teacher, but when she entered beauty pageants and winning the title of Miss Massachusetts in 1925, she was noticed by a Hollywood talent scout and her movie career set off. The first films Todd starred in, made full use of her beauty and gave her little chance to act. With the arrival of the talkies, Thelma got a chance to expand her roles and could be seen in films next to actors such as Laurel and Hardy. Unlike so many other actors and actresses, Thelma had a successful transition to the talkies and the public loved her voice. In 1931, when Hal Roach was searching for a female version of Laurel & Hardy, he teamed Thelma Todd with actrice ZaSu Pitts for their own slapstick comedy serie. In 1932, Thelma married Pasquale 'Pat' DiCicco. It was not a happy marriage and Thelma got addicted to alcohol and drugs, and got romantically involved with Roland West which led to a role in his film Corsair.


Thelma Todd became well-known as a capable film comedienne, and Hal Roach started to loan her out to other studios where she was cast beside the comedian giants of that time, such as Buster Keaton and the Marx Brothers. 

During her career, Thelma appeared in 119 films, but knew that it wouldn't last forever and in 1934, she opened her own succesful roadside cafe at the Pacific Palisades in Los Angeles, called Thelma Todd's sidewalk cafe. She did this with the help of Roland West, who became her business partner. Her roadhouse cafe attracted many Hollywood elitists aswell as tourists. Also in 1934, Thelma divorced Pat DiCicco after she charged him with physical and mental cruelty. Together with Roland West, she moved into the large apartment upstairs of her cafe, in separate rooms that were divided by sliding doors.

Image source: www.martinturnbull.com

In 1934, Thelma also began a brief affair with American mobster Charles "Lucky" Luciano. It is said that he got her hooked to amphetamines in order to keep her in line. He began persuading Thelma to give him an upstairs room in her cafe, to use as an illicit gambling den, but Thelma refused. When the two had dinner together, Luciano started to persuade Thelma again and she could be heard yelling "over my dead body." It is said that Luciano had replied with "that can be arranged." Thelma also got addicted to diet pills which she washed away with alcohol; this because her contract with Hal Roach had a "weight clause" included, saying that if she did not lose the overweight, she would be kicked out. Suffice to say that she was more than anxious to gain weight.



On the evening before her death, police investigations revealed that Thelma had spent the night at a party in the Trocadero, a popular Hollywood restaurant, which was hosted by Stanley Lupino and his actrice daughter, Ida Lupino. Roland West had told Thelma to be back at home at 2 am, or he would lock her out. 

Roland West did as said and locked the door of the apartment at 2 am, despite Thelma not being home by that time - she left the Trocadero 45 minutes later. Thelma was driven home from the party in the early hours of December 15, by her chauffeur. The studio insisted she would get one, after one of her many drunken car crashes. She arrived at her racy roadside cafe between 3.15 am and 3.30 am; finding the roadhouse all locked and in total darkness. Her chauffeur offered to walk her up the stairs that led her to her apartment, as he always did, but this time Thelma refused. When he drove away, he reported seeing a brown Packard automobile parked with the headlights off.

The stairs that led to her apartment. They are gone now by the way.

It is said that, because she could not enter the apartment, she got into her car and had put the ignition on to stay warm, and fell asleep. But whatever she did, Thelma was never seen alive again and died at the age of 29.

Thelma Todd was found death by her maid on the monday of December 16, 1935, in her car in the garage, slumped over the wheel. Her death was determined to have been caused by carbon monoxide poisoning, and was ruled as "accidental with possible suicidal tendencies."  Her friends, however, stated that, although Thelma had a brief and unpleasant exchange with her ex-husband Pat DiCicco in the Trocadero (in which he repeatedly humiliated her), she was in good spirits and they were not aware of anything unusual in Thelma's life that could have led to a reason for suicide. Later that evening, Thelma's ex-husband DiCicco made a brief call from the lobby and left an hour later with actress Margaret Lindsay. 


Autopsy surgeon, A.P Wagner, examined Thelma's body and said that there were no marks of violence anywhere upon or within the body, with only a superficial contusion on the lower lip. However, skeptics of the coroner's report, claimed that her body showed signs of a beating, a chipped tooth, a broken nose, broken ribs and that Thelma Todd was murdered.

Thelma was still dressed in her saturday ensemble that she wore in the evening of the party at the Trocadero. A dress of silk and tulle, a mink coat and diamond jewellery. Her high-heeled sandals were clean, which was considered unusual; a policewoman of similar build later attempt to climb the steps from the highway and her sandals were dirty. Also were there were found carrots and beans in Thelma's stomach, but these were not on the menu at the Trocadero.

In the end, a verdict of suicide was returned, then overturned in favor of accidental death and on december the 21st, the investigation was dropped by the LAPD.

Warning graphic content below







In the year of her death, 1935, she appeared in what would be her last film, The Bohemian Girl, alongside Laurel & Hardy. Although she died after completing all of her scenes, most of them were re-shot and producer Hal Roach deleted all of Thelma's dialogue and limited her appearance to just one musical number.





Comments

  1. I also love all those murder cases from the past, they are much more mystical!
    And a while ago a saw these photos from her and some other cases, how they solved cases like that in the past, it's just so interesting because they didn't had internet or all those methods like they have now.

    xoxo Emma
    http://littlemissbamboo.blogspot.be/

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    1. They didn't even had DNA analysis! Can you imagine?

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  2. How tragic. Such a wonderful actress and beautiful woman. Thank you for sharing this! E.

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  3. oh my, what a fascinating story! i do enjoy when you share these tragic tales, though i think this particular one has become my very favorite!
    ~Abigail

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    1. So, it appears I am not the only one with such a "weird" interest! ;-)

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  4. Thank you very much for this post, what a sad and really strange story (I mean, first you think of an accident because of the exhaust fumes and then they find dinner in her stomach no-one knows where it came from, bizarre).
    I do much love stories like this, you are really not the only one. It is so interesting how crimes where solved without DNA-analysis, finger prints or digital surveillance. I own a box with facsimile-prints of the Jack-the-Ripper-murders (without the photos though they can be found online, but they are really gory) and it seems so unbelievable how much and at the same time how little they knew (eg his finger prints are known, but nobody kney they were useful for finding him in the late 19th century).
    I am really relieved that there are others out there who share my interest in such stories and who confirm me that I am completely normal being fascinated in such things.
    ette

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    1. Jack the Ripper has my fascination for many, many years now. I bet if the murders took place in the modern times, it wouldn't have been such a mystery as it is now. One side of me is dying to know who it was but at the other side just loves the mystery this case is surrounded in.

      When I was in London, I ofcourse walked the Jack the Ripper route. Very fascinating.

      And, it's really nice to know I am not the only one with this interest! :-D

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  5. NAVADA, a 1928 silent western film, with Gary Cooper and Thelma Todd was the first movie I saw her. I fell head over heals in love with her. Very beautiful eyes and a great smile. Hollywood is tough on beautiful young actresses especially back in her day. It was a man's world and many women didn't have a chance. I will always remember her as she was in NAVADA. I would have loved to have been her protector.

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