Johnny Stompanato

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John Stompanato
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 1958, after an abusive relationship with actress Lana Turner, he was stabbed to death by Turner's daughter, Cheryl Crane.


Early years[edit]

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

Wartime service[edit]

In 1940, after Stompanato's freshman year at Woodstock High School, his father sent him to Kemper Military School for boys in Boonville, Missouri, from which 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]

First wife[edit]

It was in China, while stationed in Tianjin that Stompanato met his first wife, Sarah Utish; a Turkish girl living in China, and converted to Islam in order to marry her. The two married on May 1946 and moved to Woodstock, where they had their first son, John III.


Stompanato's son, John Stompanato III, by his sole legal marriage, was born in Woodstock, Illinois. Stompanato worked as a bread salesman for a few months before leaving for Hollywood, California.[citation needed]

Los Angeles[edit]

Stompanato owned and managed "The Myrtlewood Gift Shop" in Westwood, Los Angeles. He sold inexpensive pieces of crude pottery and wood carvings as fine art.[citation needed]

When he began dating Lana Turner, he wore a heavy gold-link bracelet on his wrist with "Lanita" inscribed inside. Turner's daughter Cheryl Crane described Stompanato in her autobiography, Detour: A Hollywood Story (1988):

On one occasion, the jealous Stompanato stormed onto a movie set in the UK and pointed a gun at actor Sean Connery, Turner's costar in Another Time, Another Place, only to have Connery take the gun from him and force him from the movie set. Stompanato was deported for this offense, as unlicensed handguns are illegal in the United Kingdom.[dead link][3]

There were rumors after Stompanato's death that at least one LA mobster held Connery responsible; the actor allegedly went into hiding for a short time afterward.[4][5][6][7]


On April 4, 1958, Stompanato was stabbed to death at Turner's Beverly Hills, California home. Turner's teenage daughter Cheryl Crane claimed Stompanato had been attacking her mother and that she had stabbed Stompanato defending her mother. The courts agreed, ruling the death to be justifiable homicide. After the ruling, Stompanato's family sued Turner for $7 million. The case was purportedly settled out of court for unknown terms, although Turner makes no mention of any settlement in her 1982 autobiography.[citation needed]

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

Stompanato is interred at Oakland Cemetery, in Woodstock, McHenry County, Illinois. His grave is at 42°19′5.66″N 88°27′44.59″W / 42.3182389°N 88.4623861°W / 42.3182389; -88.4623861. 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.


Brad Lewis, Hollywood's Celebrity Gangster: The Incredible Life and Times of Mickey Cohen (New York: Enigma Books, 2007) ISBN 978-1-929631-65-0

In popular culture[edit]

  • 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.
  • 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 film adaptation of L.A. Confidential (1997), Stompanato is portrayed by Paolo Seganti, and appears in a scene sitting in a booth with Lana Turner, portrayed by Brenda Bakke, at West Hollywood's Formosa Cafe.
  • 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.
  • The backstory of director Woody Allen's 1987 film September, in which Lane (Mia Farrow) shot the abusive boyfriend of her actress mother, seems to have been suggested by Stompanato's death.
  • In November 2009 a BBC Radio 4 original play, A Night with Johnny Stompanato, was first broadcast.
  • In the 2013 film Gangster Squad, Stompanato is played by James Carpinello.
  • Parallels can be found between him, and the protagonist, Vito Scaletta in Mafia 2.
  • A translation of a story by Brazilian author Sônia Coutinho (1939-2013), "Every Lana Turner has her Johnny Stompanato", was included in Darlene Saldier, ed. _One Hundred Years After Tomorrow: Brazilian Women's Fiction in the 20th Century_ (Indiana U P, 1992).


External links[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Detour: A Hollywood Story by Cheryl Crane with Cliff Jahr (Arbor House/William Morrow, 1988)