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Suspect Charged in 1978 Death of Actor Bob Crane : Crime: The South Bay man was an acquaintance of the 'Hogan's Heroes' star who was killed in Arizona.

June 02, 1992|LESLIE BERGER and LAURA LAUGHLIN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

One of show business's most provocative murder mysteries took a new twist Monday when a longtime suspect was arrested nearly 14 years after "Hogan's Heroes" star Bob Crane was found bludgeoned to death in his Scottsdale, Ariz., apartment.

John Henry Carpenter, 64, was arrested by Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies in Carson. Carpenter, who lives in an undisclosed South Bay community, was charged with first-degree murder by Arizona prosecutors, who offered no motive but say they have linked him to the case through blood and tissue samples.

The electronics company employee, who authorities say had visited Crane in Scottsdale during the days before his death, has long been under scrutiny in connection with the case. But two previous prosecuting attorneys declined to file charges against him and he has consistently maintained his innocence.

Last week, however, Maricopa County (Arizona) Atty. Richard Romley filed a sealed murder charge after experts said blood and tissue found in Carpenter's rental car and on Crane's pillowcase most likely were produced by the same fatal blows.

"This is an important statement to the community that homicides are never closed, that we in law enforcement will always aggressively pursue those who break the law," Romley said during a Phoenix news conference.

Crane, the wisecracking lead of the popular sitcom about American prisoners of war, died June 29, 1978, apparently from two blows to the head as he slept.

Once an irreverent radio personality, Crane first appeared on television as a guest on the original Dick Van Dyke Show, and later played a continuing role as a neighbor, Dr. Dave Kelsey, on the Donna Reed Show. But his greatest television moments came as he outwitted and humiliated his German captors in "Hogan's Heroes," which ran from 1965 to 1971. Crane's second wife, Patricia Olson, played the role of Hilda on the show.

At the time of his murder, the 49-year-old actor was in Scottsdale appearing at a dinner theater.

The murder and its circumstances prompted widespread speculation about the celebrity's lifestyle. Missing from his apartment was an album of pornographic photographs, police have said.

Crane, clad in boxer shorts, was found with an electric cord around his neck. There was no sign of a forced entry, leading police to believe that he knew his killer.

The Arizona Republic reported earlier this year that Crane and Carpenter met in the 1960s, when Carpenter sold Crane some video equipment. The newspaper also quoted friends of Crane who described him as an avid collector of pornography who sometimes taped his own sexual encounters with women.

According to a police affidavit filed in Maricopa County Superior Court, Carpenter and Crane were seen together in Scottsdale in the days before Crane's death, socializing and arguing. Romley declined to characterize their relationship or to discuss a possible motive.

On the day Crane's body was found, Carpenter checked out of his Scottsdale hotel around 8 a.m. in a "state of anxiety" and flew to Los Angeles, the affidavit says.

Within days, police seized the 1978 Chrysler Cordoba that Carpenter had rented. Blood smears inside the front passenger door were found to be Type B--the same as Crane's. The only identifiable fingerprints in the car were on the front passenger door and were Carpenter's, the affidavit says.

But it was not until 1990--when a special panel formed by Romley to review unsolved crimes took a fresh look at the evidence--that the murder charge against Carpenter began to take shape.

In July of that year, investigators restudied 21 photographs taken of the inside of Carpenter's rental car and decided that one depicted what appeared to be human tissue as well as blood smears.

Court records indicate that the original investigators failed to obtain a sample of the tissue. Asked whether the Scottsdale Police Department had "botched" the case, Romley said he could not judge what happened before he took office in 1989.

The photographic discovery led investigators to Crane's aging pillowcase where they found, apparently for the first time, fragments of human tissue. Forensic experts compared microscopic slides of tissue samples from the pillowcase with blown-up photographs of Carpenter's rental car and concluded that the two sets of tissue were consistent with the kind of wounds Crane suffered, according to the affidavit and other court documents.

In another development, authorities now say a Phoenix police specialist found that Crane probably was killed by a camera tripod--not a crowbar, as originally believed. Investigators then determined that Crane owned two tripods but only one was recovered in his apartment after his death, the affidavit says.

Romley declined to comment on why it had taken so long to charge Carpenter.

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