Recap: E58 Bob Crane

Bludgeoned to death by the very tripod he used in filming his sexual escapades, Bob Crane, star of the famous ‘60s television series Hogan’s Heroes, was mysteriously murdered June 29, 1978 in his room at Winfield Place Apartments in Scottsdale. In the years following Hogan’s Heroes, Crane’s career and personal life spiraled into an addiction for sex. While his amorous extracurriculars were completely consensual, the pornographic films he created during these encounters were not.

On this episode of Unsolved Murders: True Crime Stories, show hosts Carter Roy and Wenndy Mackenzie focus on the actor’s rise to fame before zeroing in on one burning question:

Who killed Bob Crane?

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Bob Crane takes a female companion to his apartment for an intimate evening. She is alarmed when another man with a camera enters the room to film them. Crane attempts to calm and reassure her.

Years before the fame and scandals, Bob Crane enters the entertainment scene as a drummer, disc jockey and radio host. A job offer from CBS changes his life – taking himself, his wife and kids to Los Angeles, where he soon thrives as a morning show host for the KNX radio station. Despite making headlines, Crane longs to become an actor. But his efforts to make that dream a reality are stonewalled by his five-year contract with CBS. Unwilling to give up, Crane bides his time and when renegotiation talks take place, he amends his contract to allow him to pursue acting gigs. He lands his first role in the “Static” episode of the Twilight Zone.

After having Carl Reiner – creator and producer of The Dick Van Dyke Show – on his radio show as a guest, Crane asks if Reiner will write him in as a guest on his show in return. Reiner does and Crane’s performance is a hit, quickly earning him additional bookings on other shows. Most notably of these is The Donna Reed Show, for which he became a series regular. Reed harbors no hard feelings when Crane eventually leaves the show looking to be more than a family man in a family sitcom. He turns down numerous offers from TV show execs pitching that exact role.

It’s not until he meets Jerry Thorpe that he finally gets an offer for a role he’ll accept. At first, when he hears that the comedy is set in a POW camp in Nazi, Germany, Crane declines. He cites his concerns about the show making fun of the war and turning what real POWs experienced into a joke. Thorpe assuages Crane that it’s a satire and convinces him to read the script. Sure enough, after reading the pilot episode of Hogan’s Heroes, Crane falls in love with the story, but before accepting the offer, Crane seeks the blessings of actual war veterans. A special screening of the trailer is very well received by a group of war vets who convince Crane that the comedy isn’t offensive.

After completing a screen test, Crane is hired to play the lead role of Colonel Robert Hogan. Just a week before the show premiers, Crane leaves his job KNX and long radio career behind, unable to keep up with two intense jobs and family life. The show becomes a critical hit and Crane’s celebrity soars.

Crane struggles with one of his lines in his dressing room when Sigrid Valdis, a female co-star, enters and asks if they could practice a romantic scene. Crane compliments her on her ability to stay in character and then suggests they practice the scene out of character. Their affair begins in 1968, and two years later, Crane divorces his first wife. Crane and Valdis, whose real name was Patricia Olson, marry later that year.

When Crane befriends AV expert John Henry Carpenter, they spend much of their time together picking up women at bars. Carpenter helps Crane set up hidden cameras in his room to record steamy sexual encounters. Crane’s discretion progressively lessens in the years following Hogan’s Heroes cancellation in 1971. Frustrated with being typecast and with the flop of his own show in 1974, Crane spirals into what he describes as a “sex addiction.” It impedes his ability to land roles and destroys his relationship with Sigrid.

Desperate, Crane performs in dinner theatre tours, but despite making promises to show producers he’s changed his ways, he continues to film amateur pornography with Carpenter. That is, until he is mysteriously found dead in his apartment on June 29, 1978 – murdered with the very tripod he and Carpenter used to film his sexual escapades.

Crane’s son Robert accuses Sigrid Valdis of murdering his father, pointing out that she got every penny of his estate upon his death. Robert fails to get a rise out of Valdis and District Attorney Rick Romley overlooks the former actress in favor of pursuing John Carpenter as the prime suspect.  

Stay tuned for next week’s episode of Unsolved Murders: True Crime Stories to hear the rest of the story and Carter and Wenndy’s analysis of the suspects.