Johnny Stompanato

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John Stompanato
Stompanato.jpg
Stompanato with Lana Turner
Nickname(s) Johnny
Born (1925-10-10)October 10, 1925
Woodstock, Illinois, U.S.
Died April 4, 1958(1958-04-04) (aged 32)
Beverly Hills, California, U.S.
Place of burial Oakland Cemetery
Allegiance  United States
Service/branch USMC logo.svg United States Marine Corps
Years of service 1944–1946
Rank Private
Unit Service Battalion, 1st Marine Division
Battles/wars World War II
*Battle of Peleliu
*Battle of Okinawa
Other work Mob Bodyguard

John "Johnny" Stompanato (October 10, 1925 - April 4, 1958), also known as "Handsome Harry", "Johnny Stomp", "John Steele", and "Oscar", was a former United States Marine who became a bodyguard and enforcer for gangster Mickey Cohen.

In the mid-1950s he began an abusive relationship with actress Lana Turner. He was stabbed to death by Turner's daughter, Cheryl Crane, in 1958. She was acquitted in a subsequent trial after stating she did it because she was defending her mother who was being attacked by Stompanato.

Early life[edit]

John Stompanato, Jr. was born into an Italian-American family in Woodstock, Illinois. His father, John Sr., owned a barber shop and his mother, Carmela, was a seamstress. Both parents were born in Italy but were married in Brooklyn. They had moved to Woodstock in 1916. Stompanato was the youngest of four children: he had two older sisters, Grace and Teresa; and an older brother, Carmine. Six days after his birth, his mother died of peritonitis. Johnny's father soon remarried a woman named Verena Freitag.

In 1940, after Stompanato's freshman year at Woodstock High School, his father sent him to Kemper Military School for boys in Boonville, Missouri. In 1942 he graduated at the age of 17. In 1943, Stompanato joined the U.S. Marines serving with the 1st Service Battalion, 1st Marine Division.[1] He served in the South Pacific theater, in Peleliu and Okinawa, and then served in China. Stompanato left the Corps in March 1946; being discharged in China.[2]

Stompanato met his first wife, Sarah Utish, a Turkish woman, while stationed in Tianjin, China. Stompanato converted to Islam in order to marry her in May 1946. They returned to Woodstock, where they had their first son, John Stompanato III. During this time, Stompanato worked as a bread salesman before leaving for Hollywood, California in 1947.

Organised crime[edit]

After moving to Los Angeles, Stompanato owned and managed "The Myrtlewood Gift Shop" in Westwood. The business sold inexpensive pieces of crude pottery and wood carvings as fine art. Through connections to the LA Underworld, he became a bodyguard and enforcer for gangster Mickey Cohen. In August 1949, Stompanato testified at a coroner's inquest into the shotgun slaying of Edward "Neddy" Herbert, an associate of Cohen.

Lana Turner[edit]

By 1956 he was in a relationship with actress Lana Turner. The Hollywood star had just lost her MGM contract after a series of box office flops. But she saw the ruggedly handsome Stompanato as someone who could help her though these tough times. In recognition of their relationship, he wore a heavy gold-link bracelet on his wrist with "Lanita" inscribed inside. Turner's daughter Cheryl Crane described him as:

Their relationship was stormy; it was often punctuated with frequent arguments and fights. In 1957 Stompanato became so jealous about Turner's relationship with future James Bond actor Sean Connery, he flew to the United Kingdom. He stormed onto the set of Another Time, Another Place threatening Connery with a gun. Unperturbed, the 6 ft 2 in Scotsman, who was a former body builder, bent Stompanato's hand back forcing him to drop the weapon.[3] He was reported to the police and quietly deported from the United Kingdom.[4] After Stompanato's death, it was rumored that at least one LA mobster held Connery responsible; leading the actor to go into hiding for a short time afterwards.[5][6][7][8]

Fatal stabbing[edit]

Lana Turner's former home in Beverly Hills where Stompanato was killed in 1958.

On April 4, 1958, Stompanato was stabbed to death by Turner's teenage daughter Cheryl Crane at her mother's home in Beverly Hills, California. She claimed that Stompanato had been violently attacking her mother so she stabbed him. A trial returned the verdict of justifiable homicide. After the ruling, Stompanato's family sued Turner for $7 million.

Stompanato is interred at Oakland Cemetery, in Woodstock, McHenry County, Illinois. He is buried between his mother, Carmela (1890–1925), to the north, and his father John (1890–1952) and his step mother Verena (1901–1967) to the south. His brother, Carmine (1912–1961) is buried across a small road, to the west of Johnny.

Portrayals[edit]

  • In 1979 Rene Ricard wrote one of his best-known known poems, The Death of Johnny Stompanato, published in Italian translation in 1981 and republished in Rene Ricard, Love Poems, CUZ Editions, 1999.
  • In James Ellroy's novels, Stompanato is a minor character in The Big Nowhere, and in L.A. Confidential Stompanato plays a key role in the conspiracy at the center of the story. At the novel's conclusion, Ellroy weaves many of the real-life details of Stompanato's death into the otherwise largely fictional plot.
  • In the 1997 movie L.A. Confidential (1997), Stompanato is portrayed by Paolo Seganti, and is seen sitting in a booth with Lana Turner, portrayed by Brenda Bakke, at West Hollywood's Formosa Cafe.
  • In November 2009 a BBC Radio 4 original play, A Night with Johnny Stompanato, was first broadcast.
  • Stompanato is played by James Carpinello in the 2013 film Gangster Squad.
  • Stompanato makes an appearance in the 2011 video game L.A. Noire as an associate of gangster Mickey Cohen and is voiced by Andy Davoli.

Notes[edit]

Citations[edit]

References[edit]

  • Lewis, Brad (2007). Hollywood's Celebrity Gangster: The Incredible Life and Times of Mickey Cohen. Enigma Books: New York. ISBN 978-1-929631-65-0. 
  • Cane, Cheryl & Cliff Jahr (1988). Detour: A Hollywood Story. Arbor House. 

External links[edit]