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Bridge Expert and TV Director Barry Crane Slain

July 07, 1985|JERRY BELCHER and JAN KLUNDER | Times Staff Writers

Barry Crane, one of the world's top tournament bridge players and a television director of such shows as "Dallas," "Mission Impossible" and "Mannix," was found dead Friday, apparently the victim of a bludgeoning, police said.

The nude body of the 57-year-old Crane, wrapped in bloody sheets from his own bed, was discovered by his housekeeper in the garage of his Studio City town house.

Los Angeles Police Lt. Ron LaRue said there were no suspects and no obvious motive.

Michael Jones, a San Francisco resident who had known Crane for 23 years and had last seen him Thursday night, said Crane had "no enemies of the murdering kind" and had not seemed to be in fear of his life. "He was in the best of spirits . . .," Jones said.

Although successful in the television industry, Crane was a superstar in the world of tournament bridge.

Ted Borock, a neighbor who had played against Crane on Thursday night in the prestigious Bridge Week regional tournament in Pasadena, said Crane was "so fantastic" that he nearly always had four or five fans following him on the tournament circuit.

Lou Mathe, director of the tournament, said the 1,200 players heard the announcement of his death "with great shock and dismay."

Alfred Sheinwold, bridge columnist for The Times, said Crane had accumulated a lifetime score of nearly 35,000 master points in tournaments conducted by the American Contract Bridge League, leading his nearest rival, Paul Soloway, by 11,000 points.

"He was well-liked," Sheinwold said. "In a general way he was very friendly with his fellow experts, but a bit aloof. . . . He was a very aggressive player."

Directed 'Dallas' Episodes

A current member of the "Dallas" production staff, who asked that his name not be used, said Crane had directed several episodes of the popular nighttime soap opera during the show's first few seasons.

Crane also directed episodes of "Police Story," "Police Woman," "Streets of San Francisco," "Trapper John," "The Incredible Hulk" and other network television shows. One of the last dramas he directed was "Charlotte Forten's Mission: Experiment in Freedom," a two-hour Civil War docudrama PBS aired early this year.

"He was a good problem-solver for TV shows," actor Mike Connors told United Press International on Saturday. "He was an expert at bringing a TV show in with the most production values for the least amount of money. He was very popular with the actors he directed."

Crane's two-bedroom, three-level town house in the 4200 block of Colfax Avenue coincidentally is next to the condominium building in which model Vicki Morgan, one-time mistress of the late millionaire Alfred Bloomingdale, was beaten to death with a baseball bat by talent agency clerk Marvin Pancoast on July 7, 1983.

Wallet, Car Missing

"The house was not in a ransacked condition," said LaRue, adding, however, that Crane's wallet and his white 1984 Cadillac Eldorado were missing. Crane apparently had been dead several hours when his body was found, LaRue said.

Crane's neighbor, David Chauncey, said he spoke to the director's housekeeper not long after she found the body.

Chauncey said the housekeeper told him that she entered the front door on the second level of the town house Friday afternoon and went to the kitchen, where she noticed a trail of blood on the stairs leading to the bedroom on the third floor.

Chauncey said she told him the bedroom was "a mess," with blood on the floor, bed sheets missing and a broken, bloodied art object on the floor.

She then went to the street-level garage, according to Chauncey, where she saw Crane's body wrapped in sheets.

Chauncey, who described Crane as "a very private man," said he did not know his neighbor well, although he had lived next door for 11 years.

No Sign of Forced Entry

Chauncey said police, who questioned him and several others in the complex, told him it seemed likely that Crane was killed by someone he knew. He said they told him there was no sign of forced entry into the town house.

Crane, a native of Detroit, had been married twice and had two children, according to Who's Who in America. He attended the University of Michigan, worked at the Pasadena Playhouse and then became a production assistant with 4-Star TV. Later he was an associate producer-director with Paramount and a producer of "Mission Impossible."

In bridge, Crane won the annual American Contract Bridge League Master Point Contest six times and, with Kerri Shuman, won the World Mixed Pair Championship in 1978.

Sheinwold said Crane took up bridge "as therapy" after his last divorce and played in a tournament virtually every week when his television work schedule permitted it.

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