When William Bliss discovered George Reeves in the wee hours of the morning on June 16, 1959, the actor laid naked across his bed with a gun at his feet and bullet hole in his right temple. The police quickly ruled the death a suicide, but George’s mother, Helen Bessolo, refused to accept that as the truth. With the help of Milo Speriglio, the man who would later handle the high-profile cases of Natalie Wood and Marilyn Monroe, a more competent investigation was launched. New evidence suggested foul play.
Unsolved Murders: True Crime Stories show hosts Carter Roy and Wenndy Mackenzie examine the motives and means of the suspects in question.
A police officer at the scene questions George’s fiancée, Leonore Lemmon, and doesn’t let her bizarre prediction of George’s death slide while taking her statement. Leonore insists it was only a bad wisecrack. She tells the officer that George wasn’t suicidal. When he suggests murder, Leonore quickly accuses Toni Mannix of the crime.
In a flashback to earlier that morning, one of Leonore’s guests, William Bliss, discovers the naked body of George Reeves in his bedroom. He is sprawled across the bed with a bullet hole in his right temple and a .30-caliber Luger pistol lying on the floor between his feet. There is no suicide note.
William runs downstairs to tell Leonore and Carol, but they do not believe him at first. Once they realize he isn’t joking and get over their shock, they call the police. Police rule the death a suicide, even after finding two additional bullet holes from the same gun underneath a rug. Leonore confesses to fooling around and firing the gun off in the house a week prior, but the third bullet remains unaccounted for.
Unsolved Murders: True Crime Stories show hosts Carter and Wenndy mention that George notoriously loaded the gun with blanks and fired it at his head to prank friends. It’s possible someone sabotaged the gun by replacing the blanks with real bullets.
Despite that possibility, the police stick to their original ruling and George’s body is washed and embalmed without examination. The coroner doesn’t even check his fingers for gunpowder residue. His bedroom, similarly, is poorly investigated.
Helen Bessolo refuses to believe her son committed suicide and takes matters into her own hands. She reaches out to Jerry Giesler, a well-known celebrity lawyer, who briefly petitions for George’s case to be reinvestigated. After a month, he announces his satisfaction with the police ruling. Helen begs him to stay on the case, but he asserts his belief that her son committed suicide.
However, Milo Speriglio believes George was murdered. Noting the lack of powder burns on his face, Milo’s team determines that George would needed to have held the gun a very impractical eighteen inches away from his right temple when he shot himself. The location of the shell casing also raises questions. William Bliss and the police found George laying on his back with the bullet casing trapped underneath him. Self-inflicted gunshot wounds typically propel the victim away from the casing, not on top of it.
Unfortunately, the Beverly Hills Police Department chooses to ignore Milo’s findings.
Carter and Wenndy consider Leonore, the public’s favorite suspect, whose temper and history of violence make her look guilty. More than one source reports that she and George traded cutting insults earlier that evening before William and Carol arrived. George’s colleague and friend, Fred Crane, thinks Leonore killed him and asked her friends to lie for her. Indeed, they waited forty-five minutes after learning of George’s death before calling the police, possibly so they could come up with an alternative story to tell. On the other hand, the delay could be attributed to the fact that William, Carol and Leonore were in shock and very, very drunk, even when the police were finally called.
Wenndy tells Carter that none of the witnesses in the house – William Bliss, Carol Von Ronkle or Richard Condon – were ever serious police suspects. Several weak theories exist claiming that one of them murdered George, but they did not have a motive to kill him. Toni Mannix, however, had both the means and the motive.
The episode flashes back to George and Toni’s last date, and he makes the mistake of breaking up with her over dinner at a restaurant. She hates him for throwing away their eight-year relationship. When George calls for the check, Toni leaves, telling him to get used to buying his own meals.
In the early hours of the morning that George died, Toni surprises Phyllis Coates, the actress who played Lois Lane in the Superman series, with news of his death. Phyllis later comments that Toni’s knowledge of George’s death so early on was suspicious. Jack Larson, another Superman series actor, discovers Toni covering the three bullet holes in George’s room with pieces of paper during their visit to the house. Upset and emotional, Toni tells Jack she was praying. Murderer or not, she never moves on from George’s death and keeps a shrine of him in her home until the day she dies.
In 2006, Beverly Hills publicist Edward Lozzi claims to the Los Angeles Times that he heard Toni Mannix confess to a priest that she and her husband murdered George. Carter and Wenndy then debate whether Eddie Mannix helped his wife kill George. Although confined to a wheelchair at the time, Eddie could have easily ordered his men to do the dirty work to avenge Toni and her honor. In the end, the show hosts agree that the Mannixes had the most reason to perpetrate the crime and the capability. Yet, without sufficient evidence, we’ll never know for sure.
Until next week’s episode of Unsolved Murders: True Crime Stories, join the conversation on our Parcast Facebook page or tweet us @ParcastNetwork.