October 7, 1949: The Disappearance of Jean Elizabeth Spangler


On October 7, 1949, an American dancer, model, and actress named Jean Elizabeth Spangler disappeared from Los Angeles, California.

She had left her LA home to meet with her ex-husband, according to her sister-in-law, before going to work as an extra on a film set. She was last seen alive at a grocery store. Her destroyed purse was discovered in a park nearly 5.5 miles away from her home, with a letter inside addressed to "Kirk".

Her unsolved disappearance has generated a variety of theories, ranging from death in a botched abortion to fleeing with LA gangsters. No additional evidence has ever been found in the case, and her whereabouts remain unknown.


Jean was born in Seattle, Washington, but moved to LA at some point during her early life. She graduated in 1941 from Franklin High School in Los Angeles. She married a manufacturer named Dexter Benner in 1942, but they divorced in 1946. They were engaged in a long custody battle over their daughter, and Jean was eventually granted custody in 1948.

At the time of her disappearance, she lived on Colgate Avenue in LA with her mother, Florence, her 5-year-old Christine, her brother Edward, and his wife Sophie.

On the evening of Friday, October 7, 1949, Jean told her sister-in-law that she was leaving to meet with Dexter to discuss a late child support payment, and then would be going to a late night shoot for an upcoming film. She left Christine in her care and headed out the door. 2 hours later, she called home and spoke to Sophie and Christine, telling them she would be working all night and wouldn't be returning home that evening.

But the following morning, when Jean still hadn't returned home, Sophie went to the police to file a missing persons report. Concerning her even further, police checked with the studio Jean worked for, which indicated that she had not been working that night. They also questioned Dexter, but claimed that he had not seen Jean for several weeks. His new wife corroborated his story.

A grocery store clerk recalled seeing Jean at around 6pm, noting that she "appeared to be waiting for someone". This is the last known sighting of her.

So, she said that she was going to meet her ex-husband, which didn't happen, and that she was going to a late night film shoot, which didn't happen. So, where did she go?

The day after Jean was reported missing, her purse was found in Griffith Park, about 5.5 miles away from her home. It was tattered - the straps loose as if it had been ripped from her arm. A litany of cops and over 100 volunteers searched the area, but no other clues were found in the park.

Inside the purse, they found a handwritten note that said:

Kirk: Can't wait any longer, Going to see Dr. Scott. It will work best this way wile mother is away,

(Note: The misspelling of "while" and the sentence ending with the comma was how the letter was written.)

But no "Kirk" or "Dr. Scott" in Jean's circle could be found. Neither family nor friends knew anyone by those names. When Jean's mother, who was away, returned home, she said that someone named Kirk had picked Jean up at the house twice, but stayed in the car and did not come in. Police questioned every doctor with the last name Scott in LA, but none of them had any patients with Jean's last name, or married last name.

She had been working on a film recently with Kirk Douglas, but when the story broke, he called the police to clear his name, providing his alibi that he was in Palm Springs at the time of her disappearance. The police accepted this. He later admitted that they had talked and flirted a bit on set, but they'd never met outside of the film production.


Jean's friends told the police that she was 3 months pregnant at the time of her disappearance. They said that she had been considering an abortion, which was illegal at the time. People who attended the same nightclubs as Jean, told the police that there was a sort of under-the-table med student known as "Doc" who performed abortions for money, but the police were never able to locate him or corroborate his existence.

Still, news of her alleged pregnancy made police wonder if she had disappeared under circumstances related to a botched abortion attempt, and the LAPD investigated the theory. A friend of Jean's, Robert Cummings, confirmed that she was having a casual affair at the time, but did not know the identity of her lover.

Some newspapers reported that Jean may have been one victim in a series of serial killings in Los Angeles, possibly related to the murder of the Black Dahlia, who had been killed in 1947, but no official connection was ever drawn between the murder and Jean's disappearance.

Others theorized that Jean was associated with gangsters in LA, and her disappearance was related to those connections. According to a Hollywood historian, Jean worked as a dancer at a nightclub that "put her in the orbits" of various mob and gang affiliates, and had allegedly been seen with high-level mobsters and gangsters in Palm Springs and Las Vegas on separate occasions before her disappearance.

Stranger yet, one of those mobsters, Davy Ogul, an associate of Mickey Cohen, disappeared only 2 days after Jean went missing. Police investigated the possibility that Davy, who was under indictment for conspiracy, fled to avoid prosecution, and Jean joined him.

Though in 1950, Jean's sister testified that neither she nor her sister were ever associated with Cohen or any of his associates, it does seem like she at least ran in the same circle as them at one point in her life.

Though Kirk Douglas was cleared of suspicion in relation to Jean's disappearance, it is certainly possible that he was in some sort of relationship with Jean, and that he was the father of her alleged child. The note that she wrote seems to indicate that she was telling a man named Kirk that she was going to see a doctor to abort her pregnancy. Even if Kirk wasn't the person who actually abducted or killed her, it doesn't mean that Kirk couldn't have been the recipient of her letter? (Also worth mentioning that there are a lot of people who say that Kirk Douglas raped Natalie Wood.)

Also, Kirk was not really a popular name in the 1940s.

But the ripped, abandoned purse seems makes it seem like something else happened to her instead of a botched abortion. But perhaps it was planted to make it look like she had been a victim of a crime of opportunity in the park to shift the scent away from whomever truly killed her? And the letter is weird too. If she was on her way to get the abortion, why would she have just written the letter? It ended in a comma, indicating she wasn't finished. Perhaps she had started it at another time and had completely forgotten about it by the time she was taken.

I'm going to go with the botched abortion theory. Honestly, the timeline makes sense to me. She's 3 months pregnant with a famous actor who does not want her to have the baby (or she doesn't want to have the baby). She lies to get out of the house, and then is spotted at a central location, "waiting for someone". She goes to the doctor's "office", or whatever he is using for these under-the-table abortions. Then, another piece of the timeline: she calls home to let her daughter and sister-in-law know she won't be home. Maybe the doctor told her that she would have to stay there for awhile after the procedure, or maybe then she realized she was in trouble. Then, when she dies (either intentionally, or accidentally), the "doctor" disposes of her body and plants her purse in the park to make it seem like a robbery. He may have never known the letter was in her purse.

This one is yet another case where something that the victim does in their last few days gets entirely over-analyzed after their disappearance. I always wonder when people go missing who had a bizarre letter written, or had an out-of-character trip, or searched something weird on Google if they just happened to do something weird before their disappearance and it had no connection? I mean, have you ever been walking around with a letter to someone, or made a weird search on Google, or traveled out of your way so you could finish a song in your car? Not everything is a clue, but when you go missing, every single thing in your life is analyzed, which sometimes makes cases seem even more mysterious than they truly are.

I don't know. But I will tell you that if I ever go missing and you're wondering, "huh, why did she take such a strange route to get home? Was she going somewhere? Meeting someone?" It was 100% that the song from Hamilton I was listening to wasn't over by the time I got to my house and had to do another loop.




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