When two octogenarian actors died within a week of each other in March, 1979, it could have been seen as coincidence. That both actors, Charles Wagenheim and Victor Kilian, had acted in the same episode of “All In the Family” would have only seemed slightly eerie, but not terribly unusual. That both were bludgeoned to death inside their respective Hollywood apartments, and the tragedies become outright creepy.
Wagenheim, 83, was an established actor possibly best known for playing the assassin in Alfred Hitchcock’s “Foreign Correspondent.” On March 6, 1979, a nurse caring for Wagenheim’s invalid wife called police to report she’d left the apartment for a short time to do laundry, and on returning found Wagenheim dead. Two months later, police arrested the nurse, who determined she’d bludgeoned Wagenheim with a table leg after he confronted her about checks he believed she’d stolen. She was sentenced to 8 years in prison for manslaughter.
Kilian’s homicide remains unsolved. On March 11, just five days after Wagenheim was killed, the 81 year old actor was also found beaten to death in the Lido Apartments, where he lived alone. The building is located two miles almost exactly due east of Wagenheim’s home.
According to the next day’s LA Times, Kilian “appeared to be preparing a late night snack when he was killed.” A detective told them the apartment was “found locked in such a way as to suggest the assailant might have entered with a passkey. Robbery is a possible motive.” Some believe Kilian had met a man at a nearby bar, and was killed after inviting the man up to his apartment.
Detective Steve Hodel, who handled the Wagenheim crime scene, told the Times the police had looked into, and dismissed, and possible connection between the two homicides. It bares noting that Hodel became famous years later by writing a book claiming his own father was the Black Dahlia killer, and after that became a best seller, wrote another book claiming his father was also the Zodiac Killer.
As if Kilian hadn’t enough tragedy in his life, he had previously endured being a victim of the Hollywood blacklist, and before this, lost an eye while shooting a fight scene in a John Wayne film. The life long thespian gained notoriety as “The Fernwood Flasher” on the series “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman,” living out his final days walking Hollywood Boulevard and the neighborhood. And this is where numerous reports claims he still wanders to this day.
As magician and ghost expert Tom Ogden writes in Haunted Hollywood, “The trail may have grown cold for police, but apparently Kilian hasn’t stopped trying to find his own killer.” Ogden, among many others, report Kilian’s spirit can be seen often wandering the forecourt of the Chinese Theatre.
Bill Hardesty wrote a blog post about moving into the Lido Apartments with his family shortly after Kilian’s murder. Even as an 11 year old he was fascinated with both the case and subsequent ghost story, and put a nice cherry on it:
I came to realize that the benefit of ghost stories about Victor Kilian was to kind of keep his memory alive. I’d learned that in this town full of glamorous distraction and occasionally violent crime, sometimes a good ghost story could be the only way to do just that.
Lindgren, Kris. “Nurse Arrested in Slaying of Actor, 84.” Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File), May 26, 1979.
“Elderly Actor Beaten to Death.” Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File), Mar 12, 1979.
“Police Checking Possible Link in Actor Slayings.” Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File), Mar 13, 1979.
“Nurse Sentenced to 8-Year Term in Slaying of Actor.” Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File), Jan 29, 1980.