It was just a normal January day in Mohave County, Arizona. It was 1971, and three friends were out hunting in the desert when they came across something strange. There was a sack lying on the ground in front of them. They went over to investigate and looked inside. But its contents were far more terrible than they could have ever imagined: they’d found a body. Who was this person? And what had happened to them? Unfortunately, the answers to those questions wouldn’t come for more than 50 years.
Mohave Jane Doe
The body inside the sack, it turned out, belonged to a woman. She was found pretty close to a dirt road roughly 30 miles from a desert town called Kingman.
The identity of the deceased woman was a mystery — which is how she came to be known as “Mohave Jane Doe.”
A potential clue
The sack containing Mohave Jane Doe was white, made from material woven together loosely and bound shut using a little rope. On its side was some green text.
It read, “Deer-Pak Ames Harris Neville Co.” That might initially have seemed like a promising clue, but nothing ultimately ever came of it.
There were a bunch of clothes found with the body, too, which might initially have been expected to prove useful in helping to identify the deceased. There were two blouses — one black, and one multicolored with long sleeves — orange pants, bobby socks, black boots, and brown driving gloves.
Yet all these details came to nothing, in terms of the investigation.
More details eventually emerged about the deceased woman. She was thought to have been between 35 and 40 years of age, white, and 5’4” in height.
Her weight was estimated to have been in the 125-140-pound region. She’d had curly, brown hair, which was showing some signs of graying.
More specific details
The woman’s belly bore a sizable scar, which had potentially come as a result of a Cesarean section. Her finger also showed signs that she’d worn a wedding ring.
Her fingernails had been taken care of, and she showed no signs of having been a smoker. There was a reasonable amount of information about this person to work with, then.
A brutal crime
Investigators also figured out how this person had died: her body showed signs of strangulation. So, someone had choked her to death and stuffed her remains into the sack.
This, clearly, was a brutal crime, but justice wouldn’t be forthcoming. It wouldn’t even be possible to identify this woman any time soon.
That’s not to say investigators didn’t try to figure out who this person was. They took her fingerprints and dispatched them to Washington DC, where the FBI took a look at them.
They also released details about her teeth, which had clearly undergone extensive dental treatment. These specifications were published in industry magazines, in the hope that a professional might see and have more info. Maybe the dentist who’d performed the procedures might read this and come forward?
It was thought that the woman had died a number of weeks before she was found, at some point towards the close of December 1970. That was bowhunting season, which the investigators thought may have been relevant.
They tracked down every registered bowhunter in the area, and they checked up on the wives of the ones who were married.
All the missing person files across the states of Arizona, Nevada, California, and Utah were sifted through, too. Investigators asked questions of local businesses.
None of this proved particularly fruitful. They even reached out to an artist and asked them to draw a picture of what they thought the woman might have looked like, based on her skull.
A new unit
This sketch was actually circulated widely, but again it came to nothing. No member of the public ever came forward to say they recognized the face in the sketch.
The case went cold; it was forgotten for many decades, before a new investigations unit was formed just before the turn of the new millennium. This new team, it was hoped, would be able to solve old cases that never reached a conclusion.
A difficult job
An investigator named Lori Miller was tasked with looking into the case of Mohave Jane Doe in 2001. Her assignment, as you might imagine, was not an easy one.
It was a slow and tedious task, which involved sifting through decades-old information. It really didn’t appear likely that her work would bear fruit.
Getting off the ground
But thankfully, things eventually started to get off the ground. That process began after Miller took a look at the national criminal database.
She inputted some information about the unidentified woman and her case, and from that point on there was no looking back: the detective was on the right track.
A stumbling block
There was a stumbling block ahead, though. In order to reach a conclusion in this case, some fresh forensic testing would need to take place — and that cost money.
A lot of money. That was a problem, but then a company working in forensics heard about the case. This business uses its expertise to help solve old murder cases, so it was obviously interested.
Grateful for the offer
During the fall of 2022 the company agreed to partner up with investigators and to organize a crowdfunding campaign. This, hopefully, would raise enough money from ordinary people and the tests could take place.
Miller and her colleagues were grateful for the offer, as she later remarked to CBS News. She noted, “We’re a large county with a small population and a small budget.”
Meeting the target
The local authorities agreed to contribute $1,000 to the tests, but that fell way short of what was needed. Another $6,500 was required, but the crowdfunding campaign quickly drummed that up.
In fact, it had only been running for five days when the target was met. With that, testing could take place right away.
A fateful call
There wasn’t too long to wait for the results. It happened one day, as Miller was settling down for her lunch one afternoon.
She got a call from someone on the forensics team, and they informed her that they’d made a match. The woman, after all this time, had a name at last.
Colleen Audrey Rice
It had taken 52 long years, but now we knew: this woman had been called Colleen Audrey Rice. Thanks to the contributions of normal people, that much was now settled.
Speaking of the significance of this, Miller said, “We gave her a name, showed she was a person and that she mattered.”
Some more details about Rice also emerged. She had been born in Ohio, in a town called Portsmouth.
She’d been married to a guy named William Davis, but it seems as if she’d had a falling-out with her family. Aside from that, there are still a lot of unknowns. It’s unclear how or why she was even in Arizona.
A step in the right direction
Sadly, the authorities still don’t know who killed Rice. As Miller remarked, “We are still on the hunt for those responsible for her death.”
But still, identifying her after all this time is definitely a big step in the right direction. There are still many questions that need to be answered, but giving this individual a name is an important thing in its own right. Jean Spangler’s story, on the other hand, is almost the opposite of Rice's.
A vanished starlet
It seemed as though the world was at Jean Spangler’s fingertips in 1949. Indeed, it looked like things might finally be starting to happen for her in Hollywood, and fame was beckoning the young actress.
Spangler isn’t known today for having her name put up in lights, though. Instead, like Colleen Audrey Rice, she is remembered for the extraordinary story of her tragic and mysterious disappearance.
A messy end
Spangler’s real-life story reads almost like the script of a crime thriller in its own right. A young and beautiful lady searches for acclaim and riches in Hollywood, but ultimately becomes embroiled in tragedy and scandal.
The difference between Spangler’s story and a film, though, is that movies tend to have a neater ending.
A missing person
Spangler was getting by in Hollywood, paying the bills with dancing gigs and appearances in movies as an extra, but she was dead set on becoming a star in her own right. That grand aspiration, though, ground to a halt when she went missing on October 7, 1949.
She was just 27 at the time.
What had happened to the budding star? Well, the police got on the case, but answers weren’t easy to come by.
They explored lots of different avenues, which took them to some strange places. Could it have been an ex-partner of Spangler’s that took her life? Had she got involved with gangsters? Could an A-list actor of the era possibly have done the deed? All these possibilities and more were seriously considered.
A haunting story
It’s almost 75 years since Spangler went missing, and we still don’t know what really happened. Hers is a haunting story that may never be truly understood, but it’s still fascinating.
Let’s pore over the details, and you can draw your own conclusions about what exactly went down so long ago.
First steps in showbiz
Spangler originally came from Seattle, Washington, arriving into the world in 1923. She went to school in Los Angeles, though, graduating in 1941.
She started off her career as a fashion model, and later took on a dancing gig at the Earl Carroll Theatre, too.
A glimpse of fame
Her career in show business was ticking over, and along the way Spangler took a husband, Dexter Benner. As previously mentioned, as well as her dancing, the would-be actress was also showing up as an extra in films and TV productions.
One such movie was Young Man with a Horn, which gave her the chance to meet superstar Kirk Douglas.
A crumbling personal life
But while her career was going okay, Spangler’s personal life was crumbling. Her marriage to Benner was short-lived, and she sought a divorce after just six months.
Although she maintained he was cruel to her, they did continue to get back together and break up repeatedly. Along the way, she became pregnant with Benner’s child, giving birth to a girl, Christine, in 1944.
The custody battle
When Spangler and Benner broke up for good, the question of who would raise Christine became a massive bone of contention. An horrendous custody battle saw Benner initially winning the right to look after the child.
He then completely banned Spangler from seeing her daughter, which led to more legal arguments. This time, Spangler emerged as Christine’s guardian. It hadn’t been a pretty process.
The fateful night
This was the background leading up to the fateful night of October 7, 1949. That evening, Spangler decided to go out.
She left her young daughter in the care of her sister-in-law, Sophie. Everything had seemed fairly normal, though the details of this evening have since been pored over again and again.
A telling wink
Sophie later spoke to the press about that evening. She recalled, “She came down the stairs and asked how she looked.
She smiled at me, and then her little girl, Christine, asked where she was going. ‘Going to work,’ Jean answered again, but she winked at me when she said it.” All these years later, the significance of that wink is still being considered. Had Spangler been implying that she was going somewhere else besides work?
The real destination?
There’s actually evidence to suggest Spangler wasn’t going to work at all. Records held by the Screen Extras Guild indicate that she wasn’t scheduled to work, and no TV studio had booked her, either.
Yet Spangler called Sophie a couple of hours after she’d left the house to say her job would go on for longer than expected and that she wouldn’t be home until the following day.
The search begins
Of course, the next day came and there was no sign of Spangler. As night set in, Sophie was getting very worried.
She contacted the authorities and informed them that the aspiring actress had gone missing. Then, the search began. The following morning, her somewhat battered handbag, its handle broken, was found in a nearby park. Inside was a note penned by Spangler.
Kirk and Dr. Scott
The message scrawled in Spangler’s handwriting was definitely of interest. It said, “Kirk, Can’t wait any longer.
Going to see Dr. Scott. It will work best this way while mother is away.” Well, these posed some questions. Who was Kirk? Who was Dr. Scott? And more importantly, did either of them know where Spangler was?
She vanished into thin air
The handbag and its contents must have felt like a promising lead at the time, but that was about as good as it got. No other clues were ever discovered.
The actress’ mother, to be sure, made plenty of appeals to the public, even offering a cash reward as an incentive. But no real progress was ever made: Spangler had vanished into thin air.
An unsolved case
According to Entertainment Weekly, the LAPD still considers Spangler’s disappearance to be “an unsolved missing person case” today. The website also quoted a former homicide detective from the force who was familiar with the investigation.
This officer, Rick Jackson, explained that the incident had never officially been treated as a murder case.
Jackson told the website, “Forensically, I don’t think anything was ever uncovered. It was always a suspicious missing person [case].”
That’s significant, because it means any evidence that was held on file in the aftermath of the investigation has probably since been discarded. That means nobody could even take a look at the handbag and the note now, even if they wanted to.
The terrible truth
Spangler’s mom always held onto the hope that her girl was out there somewhere, alive and well. And every now and then, it seemed possible.
Alleged sightings would be recorded in various places, but they never bore any fruit. In truth, the terrible reality was that Spangler had probably been killed.
“No doubt she was dead”
Jackson definitely thinks Spangler was murdered, as he laid out in Entertainment Weekly. He said, “Nothing I’ve ever read would indicate [she skipped town].
People generally don’t do that kind of thing unless there’s a motive or a unique set of reasons. Obviously, she cared for her daughter enough to get custody back. It just makes sense that she met foul play. There’s no doubt she was dead, and that’s why she never surfaced.”
So, if Spangler really was murdered, who did the deed? That’s the million-dollar question, of course, and nobody has ever come up with a definitive answer.
But that doesn’t mean there aren’t any potential candidates. No, on the contrary, there are lots of people under suspicion. Let’s take a look at some of them.
A star suspect
Now, one of the most outrageous suspects is an A-list celebrity. Could the “Kirk” mentioned in the note found inside Spangler’s handbag have been none other than Kirk Douglas?
After all, we know the actress had met him during the filming of Young Man with a Horn. Well, the police thought it was possible during the investigation.
Douglas actually addressed the situation in October 1949. The San Bernardino Sun newspaper quoted him as saying, “I told Detective Chief Thad Brown that I didn’t remember the girl or the name until a friend recalled it was she who worked as an extra in a scene with me in my picture Young Man With a Horn.
Then I recalled that she was a tall girl in a green dress and that I talked and kidded with her a bit on the set, as I have done with many other people. But I never saw her before or after that and have never been out with her.”
In fairness, the “Kirk” mentioned in the note could easily have referred to someone else. In fact, Spangler’s mom actually recalled her mentioning another Kirk she’d encountered on-set.
Maybe it was this guy? Well, to this day, we still don’t know to whom Spangler was referring in her message.
Finding Dr. Scott
But what of Dr. Scott, who was also mentioned in the note?
Do we have any idea who that might have been? Well, the police looked into that, and sure enough there were a few doctors with that name in and around Los Angeles. Yet none of them admitted to even knowing Spangler, and nothing ever came of this line of inquiry.
Who was the lieutenant?
Let’s forget the “doctor” part for a moment. Did Spangler know anyone named Scott?
Well, there was one man, a lieutenant in the Army Air Corps. It’s been rumored that Spangler had embarked on an affair with him, and it ended badly. This guy apparently even threatened her when she broke things off. There’s no proof they ever met again after the break-up, but who knows?
Into the underworld
There are also some other suspects to consider. Generally, any talk about a serious crime in 1940s Hollywood inevitably leads to Mickey Cohen.
He was a gangster who was known as a serious player in Los Angeles during this era. The evidence for his involvement is hazy at best, but it can’t be ignored.
An outlandish cast of suspects
Cohen and Douglas are pretty outlandish suspects in this case. After all, most homicides are usually committed by someone whom the victim knows well.
And with that in mind, one further person clearly jumps out: Spangler’s ex-spouse Benner. And it’s not as if he didn’t have a motive.
A possible motive?
We’ve already seen how Benner was the main guardian of the former couple’s daughter for a time. After the custody battle, though, that situation had been reversed and Spangler had won permission to look after the child.
By all accounts, Benner hadn’t been happy about this outcome: he wanted his daughter back, but how badly? Would he have killed for it? We may never know, as he passed away in 2007. What we do know, though, is that he did indeed gain custody of Christine again following Spangler’s disappearance.
The Black Dahlia killer
Beyond Benner, we still have more suspects to consider. One idea comes from Steve Hodel, who was once a homicide detective for the LAPD.
Hodel has a disturbing theory that his own father, Dr. George Hodel, was responsible for the murder of a young aspiring actress named Elizabeth Short, latterly known as the Black Dahlia. He laid this theory out in a 2003 book called Black Dahlia Avenger.
Not so far-fetched?
Hodel believes more people may have fallen victim to his dad — and he seriously thinks Spangler may have been one one of them. This might seem a little crazy, but maybe it’s not quite so far-fetched.
Spangler did look quite like Short, after all, plus they were both young, wannabe actresses.
Dr. Hodel was linked with so many crimes during his day.
He was a suspect in a bunch of murder cases, plus he was arrested on some horrendous assault charges involving his own family. He was never convicted, though. Another of his suspected activities could be especially relevant to Spangler’s case, though. Basically, his son has alleged that hs father used to carry out abortions for celebrities, rich people, and police officers who discreetly requested the service.
A shady ring
Hodel believes his dad was part of an “active abortion ring” made up of doctors who used to bribe the LAPD to keep quiet about their illicit activities. Is it possible this cabal contained a member known as “Dr.
Scott?” Maybe so. In any case, Hodel thinks the “Kirk” mentioned in Spangler’s note may have been Dr. Eric Kirk, who himself had been taken in by the police for providing illicit abortions just days before Spangler went missing. Hodel thinks Spangler’s note signified her desperation to acquire a new doctor following Kirk’s capture.
The plot thickens
So, it’s possible Spangler had made contact with the abortion ring of which Dr. Hodel was a member.
But is there anything else that links him to her disappearance? Well, her handbag was discovered really close to his house. On top of that, Hodel remembers something his own big brother Duncan had mentioned back in the day. According to the sibling, their father had been going on dates with a “gorgeous actress-type named Jean” around that time.
Witnesses speak out
Witness reports also potentially implicate Dr. Hodel.
One person claimed to have seen Spangler inside a restaurant late on the night she went missing, accompanied by a pair of men. Spangler had seemed to be in the middle of an argument with them. The restaurant owner also says he saw Spangler hours before this, accompanied by a “clean-cut fellow, about 30 or 35.”
The gas station sighting
Another man claimed to have seen a woman similar in appearance to Spangler after she’d left the restaurant. Again, she was with a man.
They’d stopped for gas, with the man going into the station to pay. There, he spoke with an attendant, informing him that the pair were headed to Fresno. As they left, though, he heard the woman shout, “Have the police follow this car!” The employee did call the cops, but to no avail: they couldn’t track down the vehicle.
The descriptions match
Hodel thinks the guy in this story was his dad and the woman was Spangler. The description of them provided by the gas station attendant matches that of Dr.
Hodel and the missing starlet. On top of that, the car they were in sounds very much like one described by a witness in the wake of Elizabeth Short’s murder.
The author is convinced that his dad was responsible for Spangler’s disappearance. He thinks Dr.
Hodel started dating her not long before she went missing, but then he was arrested for an unrelated assault. He was bailed out for that, though, and then he went to meet Spangler. Hodel believes the actress may have possessed information about his dad’s crimes, hence they were seen arguing. And after that, perhaps, he was driven to kill her to ensure her silence.
Searching the house
Hodel has desperately tried to find evidence against his dad, and he even got permission to search his old property in 2012. This was the place close to the spot where Spangler’s handbag had been discovered.
Over the course of two separate investigations in 2012 and 2013 evidence pointing toward the potential presence of human remains on site was found.
A small world
More evidence needed to be acquired, though, and that wasn’t going to be possible, because the occupant at that time wouldn’t allow another search to take place. This person, incidentally, was none other than Orange Is the New Black star Laura Prepon.
According to a spokesman for Prepon, though, the house no longer belongs to her.
The mystery endures
Hodel really wants to look around this property again, but he has yet to receive permission to do so. As far as he sees it, the answer to the question of what happened to Spangler may be hidden away there.
As he put it, “It could well be the body of a Jane Doe whose body was never found… or Jean Spangler.” For the time being, though, we still just don’t know.