LA Coroner Craig Harvey On Marilyn’s Death

As recently announced here, the retired Los Angeles County coroner, Craig Harvey, spoke at length about Marilyn’s death during an LA Woman Tours/Dearly Departed event in October. Elisa Jordan has posted a full report on the Marilyn Remembered Facebook group.

“Craig Harvey has researched Marilyn’s passing more than anyone (literally) because of the public’s interest and media requests. Here are some take-away moments from Craig’s lecture and Q&A:

* Expert conclusion: suicide
* No signs of foul play
* A coroner investigation team did not exist until 1967. The investigation was as thorough as possible for 1962. NOTE: Because of this, the coroner’s office never entered the scene.
* In 1962, bodies were routinely removed to local funeral homes. If it was deemed necessary to have an autopsy performed, the body then went to the coroner’s office. In Marilyn’s case, she was taken to Westwood and then to the coroner’s office. In other words, this was an extra thorough investigation. The officers at the scene had determined suicide so an autopsy shows how thorough they were trying to be.
* The paper work indicates that only Marilyn’s body was removed from the scene. No artifacts from her home were taken—this includes any sort of diary.
* Lionel Grandison, who said he saw a red diary, would not have had access to any physical evidence, such as a diary. All he did was process paper work.
* No puncture marks were found on Marilyn’s body (extra: puncture wounds take about 24 hours to heal)
* Dr. Thomas Noguchi does not recall John Miner being present at the autopsy, but made the distinction (per my question) that he doesn’t recall being alone either. He made that clear but in other words, there is no record of John Miner being present. Today everybody attending an autopsy must sign a log.
* He has never known of a case in which enemas had administered a fatal overdose.
* Marilyn lived for quite a while after taking pills. Her body slowly shut itself down. This explains her empty stomach and body chemistry.
* Marilyn took between 25-40 pills. Today there is better technology to get a more exact estimate.
* Someone asked about Marilyn not throwing up. Answer: some overdoses vomit and some do not. Marilyn did not, nor was there foam around her mouth. Same with expelling the contents of bladder and colon—some people expel and others do not. Marilyn did not.
* Dr. Noguchi did not request any pictures of Marilyn be taken during the autopsy. The postmortem photo that Anthony Summers published was taken by someone in the LAPD. It was not authorized. NOTE: In the state of California, coroner photos are not ‘confidential’ but they *are* protected by law. In theory, they are not made public. They are sometimes stolen or leaked during a court trial, which doesn’t apply to Marilyn. But it does explain how that particular photo got out—it was a rogue in the LAPD.
* With toxicology, it is relatively easy to find which drugs are in the system and how much (especially these days). The hard part that takes a while to figure out is determining how said drugs would affect an individual’s body. It’s different for every person.
* Technically, anyone can request that a case be reopened. This explains the 1982 investigation.”

Robert Wagner Remembers Marilyn

Marilyn with Robert Wagner, 1954

Actor Robert Wagner is now 84, and still busy – both onscreen, and in print. He began his career at Twentieth Century-Fox in 1950.

On June 14, 1951, Wagner made a screen test alongside one of the studio’s most promising starlets. “I was the guy they always used when the studio was making screen tests of new actresses,” he told author Warren G. Harris in 1988. “And believe me, no job is more dead-end than that. The only interesting thing that came out of it was when they were testing a new kid and asked me to do a couple of scenes with her. Her name was Marilyn Monroe.”

Screen test for ‘Let’s Make It Legal’, 1951

On the strength of this test – a love scene – Wagner was cast alongside Marilyn in a romantic comedy, Let’s Make It Legal, starring Claudette Colbert. The pair never acted together, but became friends and were often pictured together at Hollywood parties. Wagner, who had affairs with many beautiful actresses, was never romantically involved with MM.

“Nothing happened easily for Marilyn,” he said later. “It took a lot of time and effort to create the image that became so famous.”

In recent years, Wagner has published two books: Pieces of My Heart (2008), an autobiography; and the just-published You Must Remember This, a memoir of Hollywood’s golden age, in which he recalls Marilyn’s tragic death.

“It’s odd how your mind associates certain people with certain events. In August 1962 I was in Montecatini, Italy, the same time as Sheilah Graham [the Hollywood gossip columnist.] I was on the terrace of my hotel when she leaned out a window and yelled, ‘Marilyn Monroe died! Marilyn Monroe died!,’ to the world at large, in exactly the same way she would have announced that her building was on fire. That was how I found out that the girl I had worked with twelve years earlier, and who had since become a legend in a way nobody could have foretold, was gone.”

Marilyn with Sheilah Graham, 1953

Wagner is no stranger to tragedy. His wife, Natalie Wood, drowned in 1981 during a yachting trip. Her death, like Marilyn’s, is the subject of endless speculation.

Natalie was the child star of Marilyn’s first film, Scudda Hoo, Scudda Hay! She admired Marilyn, and spoke with her at a party weeks before her death.

Robert Wagner and Natalie Wood, 1959

Natalie married Robert in 1957 and they divorced five years later, but were remarried in 1972. There are shades here of Marilyn’s relationship with Joe DiMaggio, who had grown close to her again in the years before her death.

Dr Thomas Noguchi, so-called ‘Coroner to the Stars’, performed autopsies on both women. He was demoted in 1982, after speaking too freely in the media about the case, and in that year’s reopened investigation of Monroe’s death. His career has since recovered, however.

Wagner featured on Photoplay cover with MM, 1954

In Pieces of My Heart, Wagner criticised Noguchi:

“Noguchi was a camera-hog who felt he had to stoke the publicity fire in order to maintain the level of attention he’d gotten used to. Noguchi particularly enraged Frank Sinatra, who knew the truth and, in any case, would never have allowed anyone who harmed Natalie to survive.”

Natalie’s case would also be reopened in 2011, when the captain of the boat claimed that a fight with Wagner had led to her drowning. The official cause of death was later amended from accidental drowning to ‘drowning and other undetermined factors.’ Wagner was ruled out as a suspect.

In You Must Remember This, he speculates on the proliferation of conspiracy theories in the internet age:

“Intellectually, I understand the perception that the rich and privileged are invincible. That’s why some people need to believe, for example, that Marilyn Monroe was murdered by the Kennedys…The randomness of life and death can be terrifying, so a certain kind of person seizes on minor discrepancies of memory or the garbled recollections of marginal personalities to cast doubt on a reality they don’t want to acknowledge.”

Coroner Remembers Marilyn’s Death

Marilyn’s lifeless body is removed from her home on a gurney, August 5, 1962 (Bob Damacher at right)

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.”

Thomas Noguchi: Coroner to the Stars

‘Coroner to the Stars’ Dr Thomas Noguchi has spoken to the Daily Telegraph about his role in the much-disputed autopsy of Marilyn Monroe.

“When Noguchi looked at the police report, he saw that the dead woman was 5ft 4in tall and weighed just over 10 stone. Various bottles of pills, including an empty bottle of the sleeping pill Nembutal, had been found close to her body. Her name meant nothing to him. It was only after he had read the report that someone told him that she was better known as Marilyn Monroe. ‘Even then,’ says Noguchi, ‘I didn’t think for a moment he meant the movie star. I just assumed it was someone else who had the same name.’

But when he walked into the autopsy room and lifted up the sheet that had been placed over the naked body, any doubts were swept away. When he’s asked how Marilyn Monroe looked in death, Noguchi, who has a fondness for poetry, quotes the Latin poet, Petrarch: ‘It’s folly to shrink in fear, if this is dying. For death looked lovely in her lovely face.’ At the time, though, it’s safe to assume that Petrarch was not uppermost on his mind. ‘Of course, I felt pressure, but I remember thinking very clearly that I must make sure I was not distracted by who she was…’”