Coroner Remembers Marilyn’s Death

Former coroner Bob Dambacher has spoken to Jeff Jardine of the Modesto Bee about his memories of investigating Marilyn’s death.

“Bob Dambacher’s phone rang sometime about 7:30 a.m.

His orders? Double-time it over to the Westwood Mortuary and pick up a body from an apparent suicide. Normally, Los Angeles County’s coroner division handled only homicides. It let the mortuaries deal with suicides, sending over a doctor to do the autopsy.

Not this time, though — not when the victim was Marilyn Monroe.

‘They told me to get her downtown, and now,’ Dambacher said.

Dambacher and deputy coroner Cleet Pace headed to Westwood, driving up to the mortuary’s door unencumbered. Word spread quickly. By the time they carted her body out the door minutes later, an army of reporters and photographers lined up outside.

‘(The autopsy’s) manner of death says she died of an overdose, and that it was suicide,’ he said. ‘It probably was suicide. I don’t have knowledge of anything else.’

There would be accusations of needle marks, and that someone had injected adrenalin into her heart to kill her. Or used an enema to deposit drugs into her system. Dr. Thomas Noguchi performed the autopsy in the coroner’s lab in the basement of the downtown Hall of Justice. He reportedly used a magnifying glass to search for needle marks and found none.

Dambacher stepped in periodically to observe the autopsy.

‘There was no indication of foul play,’ he said. ‘And nobody could force that many drugs down her throat without a fight. If that happened, there would have been signs of a struggle.’

No doubt, Dambacher knew the case would be huge once everyone learned the victim was ‘the Marilyn Monroe.’ But the immediacy of the task at the time overshadowed any thoughts that her death would become a public obsession for the next half-century.

‘You don’t really understand the implications until years later,’ Dambacher said.”

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