Jean Elizabeth Spangler was born in Seattle, Washington on September 2, 1923 and was an American dancer, model, and bit-part actress in Hollywood films and early television. She mysteriously disappeared on October 7, 1949 at the age of 26.
Spangler was a divorcee and had a daughter, Christine Louise Benner, with her ex-husband Dexter Benner. Christine was born April 22, 1944 and was five years old at the time of her mother’s disappearance. When the divorce was finalized, Dexter was given custody of Christine partly because of Jean’s infidelity during the marriage and also because he claimed she put her partying lifestyle ahead of the needs of her daughter. Dexter denied Jean the right to see her daughter many times. It’s also been said that Dexter threatened Jean, saying he could make it to where she would never see her daughter again. Jean took him to court and after a long custody battle, Jean won custody of Christine in 1948. The judge had ruled that Jean’s questionable behavior was in the past and that the little girl’s place was with her mother.
On October 7, 1949, Spangler left her home in Los Angeles where she lived with her mother and daughter at about 5 pm. Spangler’s mother was out of town at the time visiting family. Spangler left her daughter in the care of her sister-in-law, Sophie, and told her that she was going to meet with Dexter to talk about a late child support payment and then she was going to do work on a movie set.
A clerk at a store near Jean’s home is the last person believed to have seen her. The clerk said that it appeared Jean was waiting for someone. There has been no confirmed sightings of her since.
The next day Sophie filed a missing person report with the police. Authorities checked at the studios where Jean worked and found that none of them had any work in progress with Jean, and that in fact, none were even open the evening of October 7th when she disappeared.
The police then questioned Jean’s ex-husband who said that he had not seen her in several weeks and his new wife, Lynn, said that he was with her at the time of Jean’s disappearance.
On October 9th, two days after the disappearance, Jean’s purse was found near the Fern Dell entrance to Griffith Park in Los Angeles. One of the straps had been torn from the purse which lead police to believe that there could have been a burglary that took place. This was soon ruled out when Jean’s sister-in-law told them that there had been no money in Jean’s purse when she left her home that evening.
Sixty police officers and over one hundred volunteers searched the 4,107 acre park where the purse was found, but no other clues turned up.
Inside the purse there was an unfinished note found that was addressed to “Kirk” and read: “Can’t wait any longer, Going to see Dr. Scott. It will work best this way while mother is away,”
When Jean’s mother returned from her trip she told police that someone by the name of Kirk had picked up Jean a couple of times, but that he didn’t ever come in the house and instead stayed in the car. The authorities searched for Kirk and questioned every doctor in Los Angeles with the last name of Scott, but none of them had a patient by the last name of Spangler or Benner, her former married name.
If was found out that Jean had been involved in an affair during her marriage to Dexter while he away serving in the military. She called this person “Scotty”, but broke off the relationship when he beat her and threatened to kill her if she ever left. Jean’s lawyer told police that she had not seen him since 1945.
Many found it strange that actor Kirk Douglas called the investigators while on vacation in Palm Springs to tell them that Jean had a small part in the then unfinished movie “Young Man with a Horn” that he starred in. He did this before the police even made the connection to him and told them that he was not the “Kirk” mentioned in the letter found in Jean’s purse. Douglas was interviewed by the head investigator and said that Jean had just been an extra in the film and that he did not know her personally.
In another weird twist to the story, a friend of Jean’s told police that Jean had confided in her that she was three months pregnant and had talked about having an abortion, which was illegal at the time.
After talking to several people who went to the same bars and nightclubs as Jean, police learned that there was a former medical student who was known as “Doc” and who did abortions for money. The police came up with the theory that Jean had went to him for an abortion and there were complications that she died from. They could never find this “Doc” or anyone who would say that they had actually met him.
There were reports of Jean being spotted in Palm Springs, California with Davy Ogul who was known to be involved with gangster Mickey Cohen. Ogul disappeared two days after Jean. The authorities had another theory that Jean and Ogul, who was under an indictment for conspiracy, had fled to avoid prosecution. In 1950, a customs agent in El Paso, Texas reported seeing Ogul and a woman who looked like Jean in a hotel. A clerk at this hotel identified Jean from a photo as having stayed in the hotel around that same time. Neither Davy Ogul or Jean Spangler’s names were on the hotel’s registration records and Jean could not be located anywhere in El Paso.
The Los Angeles police department continued the search for several years, circulating Jean’s picture nationwide in a failed attempt to find her or any reliable information relating to her case. No other clues have turned up since. There were reports of people seeing her in different parts of California, Phoenix, Arizona, and Mexico City over the next couple years, but none of these sightings could be validated. To this day she is still listed as a missing person and her case has not been closed.
Dexter Benner was once again granted custody of their daughter after Jean failed to reappear. Benner attempted to have his new wife adopt Christine on the grounds of abandonment, but the judge would not allow it because there was no proof as to whether Jean was alive or dead. Jean’s mother got a court order granting her visitation rights to her granddaughter, but Dexter repeatedly disregarded it. Dexter was then ordered to serve 15 days in jail for not following the court order. He took Christine and left the state, never returning.
There are reports that Dexter’s new wife, Lynn, was formerly Lynn Lasky, having been married to Ely Lasky who was a close colleague of Mickey Cohen. Many believe that the sighting of her with Davy Ogul, may be in some way connected since he too was an associate of Cohen, the gangster.
Dexter Benner died on May 7, 2007 at the age of 87. He was survived by Lynn, his wife of 63 years, and three daughters including Christine who is now going by the last name Williams.
This case leaves me with so many questions…
Did the police thoroughly investigate Dexter’s new wife, Lynn? Could she really have been connected to a mobster? Was there anyone else besides Lynn that could confirm where Dexter was that evening? Could she have been covering for her husband?
Maybe Lynn was not connected at all. Maybe there was a Dr. Scott that was involved in a fatal abortion attempt. The police searched for a doctor by that last name, but what if Scott was actually the first name instead? Did they look into that?
I also wonder what Christine’s life has become? Is she still alive? How much does she know about her mother and the disappearance that surrounds her?