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Marilyn's bedside confessions

Newly released tapes of Monroe's death-scene witnesses to air on CBS' `48 Hours Mystery.'

April 21, 2006|Matea Gold | Times Staff Writer

NEW YORK — Since Marilyn Monroe was found dead in the bed of her Brentwood home on Aug. 5, 1962, it seems there's been no end to the scrutiny into the circumstances around her apparent suicide.

Now CBS' "48 Hours Mystery" has dug up new material for her fans to mull over: audiotapes of witnesses who were at her bedside that night and were interviewed as part of a 1982 review into the original inquest.

The review, conducted by the Los Angeles County district attorney's office on the 20th anniversary of Monroe's death amid persistent rumors that she had been murdered, concluded that the actress committed suicide or accidentally overdosed.

In "The Marilyn Tapes," airing at 8 p.m. Saturday, correspondent Peter Van Sant examines the evidence investigators drew on in forming their conclusion: 5 1/2 hours of reel-to-reel tapes that sat in the district attorney's historical evidence locker for the last two decades. CBS obtained the material this year after filing a request for it under the California Public Records Act.

There's little revelatory in the scratchy audio, in which we hear her physician, Hyman Engelberg -- who arrived at Monroe's home before the police that night -- describe his surprise at finding multiple medications on her bedside table that he had not prescribed. He also downplays reports that Monroe had attempted suicide before. In addition, there are two interviews with men who both claim they were ambulance attendants on the scene that night and have conflicting accounts of what they saw.

Perhaps what's most surprising about the tapes is that for all the intense examination into the star's death, they have not been heard by the public before.

"Hearing from the people who were in that room with that body, and the people who were close to her detail the events as they occurred, takes you someplace you have never been," said executive producer Susan Zirinsky.

"I think you walk away from this feeling, 'I'm in the moment. You've given me a piece of history'," she added. "We've uncovered some historic relics that had never been shared before."

Sandi Gibbons, a spokeswoman for the district attorney's office, said requests for the material had been denied in the past because of concerns about violating the privacy of those interviewed. But by the time "48 Hours" asked for copies of the tapes, many of the witnesses had died and officials realized that the public summary of the 1982 review referred directly to statements made on the tapes.

"At that point, it seemed silly not to release the tapes themselves," Gibbons said. (Still, the district attorney's office withheld an unspecified amount of investigative material related to the review, citing ongoing privacy issues.)

Saturday's show recaps Monroe's rise to fame, her romantic entanglements and the theories that there was a cover-up after her death. It also serves as a reminder of the somewhat slapdash nature of the 1962 inquest, which concluded that Monroe had probably committed suicide by overdosing on barbiturates.

But the sloppy handling of evidence -- the delay in securing the scene, the disappearance of tissue samples -- and the lack of an official investigation at the time fueled rumors that she had been murdered.

Eventually, under public pressure to reexamine her death, the district attorney's office launched a review of the original inquest in 1982 to determine whether there was any need to open a homicide investigation. After 3 1/2 months, investigators concluded that the coroner's finding was "reasonable" and that her murder would have required a massive conspiracy.

Still, cover-up theorists have remained unswayed, noted senior producer Judy Tygard, adding, "A huge number of people will never believe any investigation."

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