YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Mystery Witness Enters Limelight

Trial: Woman's shadowy fur-clad image appeared on TV at Cosby murder scene. Her life has been a tumultuous one.


Seventeen months ago she was the unnamed, unknown "woman in fur," standing alongside a darkened roadway where Bill Cosby's son had just been killed. In the darkness, lighted only by the glare of headlights, she wore high heels and a short fur coat.

On Tuesday, the mystery woman whose image was broadcast across televisions worldwide returned to the limelight. This time she appeared as a key witness in the trial of Mikail Markhasev, the 19-year-old accused of killing Ennis Cosby.

Although police at the time did not name the woman who arrived to help the young Cosby change a flat tire near the top of the darkened Sepulveda Pass, the news media quickly identified her as struggling screenwriter Stephanie Crane.

In the months after the killing, Crane went into hiding and scrupulously avoided speaking about the tragedy, even when the tabloid news media offered a small fortune for her story.

But Crane's low profile piqued curiosity about her. Not only is she the woman who helped police draw a composite sketch of the murder suspect, but she was apparently the last person to speak to Cosby, moments before he died.

With a Hollywood bloodline of her own, a tumultuous personal life and years of struggles to make her mark as a writer, Crane's life seems more like it was drawn from the pages of an earlier court drama--the murder trial of O.J. Simpson.

For their part, both the Crane and Cosby families agree that Stephanie Crane and her brief friendship with Ennis Cosby, a 27-year-old doctoral student at Columbia University Teachers College in New York, should not be the issue. A spokesman for Bill Cosby urged that the focus of the trial remain on Markhasev and not shift to the 49-year-old writer, or anyone else.

Crane is "very upset and nervous" about her trial appearance, said her brother-in-law, public relations executive Warren Cowan.

Barbara Gilbert Cowan called her sister, Crane, a "hero" who has not been given her due.

"She went out there that night to help a friend," Barbara Cowan said. "And she is the only person I know who would have stayed there and not left that murder scene in the middle of the night."

She said it has been her family's "great disappointment" that neither Bill Cosby nor any of his family have called to thank Crane.

"We are just absolutely shocked that there hasn't been any contact from them or that they didn't want to speak to the last person living who spoke to their son," said Barbara Cowan, mother of actresses Sara and Melissa Gilbert.

Bill Cosby's spokesman, David Brokaw, said the entertainer has purposefully kept his distance from the entire case. Cosby does not intend to speak out until the trial is over, Brokaw said.

According to all accounts, it was a chance meeting that brought Ennis Cosby and Crane together. In a telephone interview this week, Crane's sister described the brief friendship between her sister and Cosby, 27.

The two met in January 1997 as they were attending separate parties at the Chateau Marmont hotel on the Sunset Strip, Cowan said. The two parties "came together" and Cosby and Crane talked for some time, Cowan said.


Cosby had recently broken up with a girlfriend and commiserated with Crane, who came to the party with a date, her sister said.

"He was feeling badly and he still wanted to talk about it," Cowan said. "She is a little older, and I think he needed to speak to a woman."

The two spoke a few times on the phone before the night of Jan. 16, 1997, when Cosby again called, this time wanting to see Crane in person, to talk some more, her sister said.

Cosby called a short time later that night from near the San Diego Freeway to say that his tire had gone flat about 10 minutes from Crane's home. He asked her to come to the dark roadside and use her car headlights to illuminate the area as he changed tires.

Explaining her sister's unusual wardrobe for a roadside repair, Cowan said Crane had just returned from a date. She wore the shoes she had on and "grabbed the first thing in the closet"--the fur coat. (In testimony Tuesday, Crane said she spent the evening at home after visiting her sister earlier in the day.)

So traumatized was she by her acquaintance's violent death that she initially had difficulty describing the thin assailant. Early reports of the suspect's purported gang membership also left her rattled, fearing retaliation, her sister said.

From then on, Crane found herself under siege by the media. For a time, she moved out of her Sherman Oaks home.

Although never on this grand public scale, Crane's life has known tumult before. Now single, she has been married six times to four men, has gone into litigation over two writing projects and once was co-author of the unpublished book "Every Trick in the Book: A Lady Streetfighter's Manual on How to Make a Man Marry You."

Crane was born in 1949, the daughter of Harry Crane, a creator and principal writer for the Jackie Gleason television classic "The Honeymooners." The elder Crane wrote for many other top comedy acts of the era.

Los Angeles Times Articles