Bob Crane: America’s darling – or predatory sex criminal?
Actor Bob Crane, known for his starring role in the classic CBS World War II comedy Hogan’s Heroes, maintained a reputation in the public eye as a goofy, entertaining, and wholesome performer. Crane starred on game shows, hosted radio programs, and even had his own short-lived NBC series entitled The Bob Crane Show. By the mid-1970s, Crane’s career declined, and he toured with dinner theatre groups in order to make money.
Bob Crane traveled around the United States performing in inconsequential stage productions. Crane found himself in Scottsdale, Arizona, for the entire month of June 1978, acting in a production of Beginner’s Luck. When he didn’t show up for a lunchtime meeting, one of Crane’s co-stars found him brutally murdered in his sublet apartment.
Bob Crane was bludgeoned to death and discovered with an electrical cord around his neck. Who would want to kill Col. Robert E. Hogan? Why would someone do it in such a heinous way?
A wolf in sheep’s clothing
It turns out Bob Crane the man was not nearly as virtuous as Bob Crane the celebrity. After his murder, details about Crane’s lifestyle were unearthed by police investigators. These investigators recovered a trove of damning personal home videos in Crane’s possession.
Bob Crane and a buddy, a Sony Electronics executive named Johny Henry Carpenter, spent their free time picking up women in bars and videotaping their sexual encounters, both alone & together. While there is nothing explicitly illegal about this activity, it is now believed some of these women were not aware they were on video.
However, Bob Crane’s son – Robert – insists every woman recorded by his father and John Henry Carpenter consented to the situation. There is no concrete evidence to support Robert Crane’s claims, and without testimony from any of the women filmed, the truth may never be known.
What is known is Bob Crane used his status to seduce women. What is also known is that a lot of alcohol was usually involved. A third known fact is Crane was viciously beaten over the head with a large object until he died sometime before the afternoon of June 29, 1978.
In the parlor with a tripod
Bob Crane’s death was officially ruled a murder by the Scottsdale, Arizona, police, which had no homicide department at the time. There were no signs of forced entry, and nothing of value was taken from Crane’s apartment. While the murder weapon was never identified, police speculated it was a camera tripod.
As they intensified the investigation, Scottsdale officials discovered John Henry Carpenter traveled to Arizona to visit Bob Crane on June 25, four days before Crane’s body was found. Police tracked down Carpenter’s rental vehicle, where they found multiple blood smears that matched Crane’s blood type.
Since DNA testing was not available in 1978, the local District Attorney refused to file charges against John Henry Carpenter. Bob Crane’s case remained unsolved until 1990, when Scottsdale investigators re-examined the evidence. The DNA testing was inconclusive, but a photograph taken in 1978 of brain matter in the interior of Carpenter’s rental car gave police enough evidence to arrest Carpenter.
John Henry Carpenter’s murder trial occurred in 1994. Bob Crane’s son Robert testified his late father wanted to end his friendship with Carpenter, who Crane had come to see as a nuisance. Ultimately, Carpenter was acquitted by the jury.
The truth is stranger than fiction
Behind his charming smile and catchy jokes, who was Bob Crane? Was he a man who simply enjoyed wild sexual escapades, or was Crane a sexual predator who took advantage of women? Paul Schrader’s 2002 fictionalized film, Auto Focus, digs into the darker possibilities of the relationship between Crane and John Henry Carpenter.
Another pressing question remains: who murdered Bob Crane? Was it his partner-in-crime John Henry Carpenter? Or was it a woman who decided to fight back in the middle of a perceived act of predation?
Whomever the real culprit may be, he or she likely turned the very camera tripod and recording equipment Bob Crane used to film his sexual endeavors into murder weapons.