Murder Haunts the Movie Star

John Virgil Turner was born in Mt Pleasant, Tennessee on September 11, 1894, as shown on his WWI Draft Registration.  After his discharge from the Army he settled in Picher, Oklahoma, where he met the 15 year old Mildred Francis Cowan. The couple eloped to Miami, Oklahoma and married on January 5th, 1920. Sometime after their marriage the couple headed West, where daughter Julia Jean Turner was born on February 8, 1921 in Providence Hospital in Wallace. Julia would later become known as movie actress Lana Turner.

The family left Wallace, some say under cover of night, around 1927 and headed for San Francisco. Life did not go well for them and soon Lana’s parents split up, with both using assumed names.

On December 14, 1930, after a very profitable night of gambling, John called it quits. Stuffing his considerable winnings in his left stocking he headed home.

The next morning his body was found on the street.

His left shoe had been removed and the stocking was gone. His murder remains unsolved.

Turner’s mother, with dyed blond hair, often worked as a nightclub singer in the Ternderloin of San Francisco. Because of her employment she placed Lana in a number of foster homes. When Prohibition ended in 1933, and the speakeasies began to close down, Mildred and Lana packed up and moved to Los Angeles.

At age 16, while sipping soda at Currie’s Ice Cream Parlor, Lana was discovered by Billy Wilkerson. Soon she was signed to Warner Bros., launching a career that would make her one of the most acclaimed and highest paid professionals in the USA. 

Her private life was marred by scandal, rumor, five divorces, and then, once again, the horror of murder.

On the night of April 4, 1958 Lana’s 14-year-old daughter, Cheryl Crane, used a butcher knife to stab to death her mother’s boyfriend, Johnny Stompanato, after over-hearing an argument between them. Stompanato had been a bodyguard and enforcer for mobster Mickey Cohen.  Cheryl was acquitted by the court, citing “justifiable homicide.”

A persistent heavy smoker and former drinker, she was diagnosed in April 1992 with laryngeal cancer. Unable to withstand the battle she succumbed on June 29, 1995 in Century City, CA.  Her ashes were scattered over Oahu, Hawaii.  She was 74.

From Wallace to Hollywood, sorrow followed Lana Turner!

Cynthia Ackley Nunn, Post Falls, ID

Author of Lana Turner: A Silver Valley Childhood, available February 24th, 2020.