Still an unsolved crime: Hogan’s Heroes actor Bob Crane murdered in 1978

Hogan's Heroes actor Bob Crane murdered (1978)

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Hogan’s Heroes actor Bob Crane found beaten to death in Valley

SCOTTSDALE, ARIZONA – Actor Bob Crane, glib, boyish star of the six-year television series “Hogan’s Heroes,” was found beaten to death in an apartment here Thursday.

His body, clad in shorts and undershirt, was found at 2:30 pm, curled beneath a sheet in the master bedroom of ground-floor apartment 132A at the Winfield Apartments, 7430 E. Chaparral.

A length of electrical cord had been tied around Crane’s neck but, according to an investigator for the County Medical Examiner’s Office, “it didn’t strangle him… it was put on after he was dead, but was put on tight.

“It just looks like somebody walked in on him while he was in bed and smacked him in the head a couple of times,” said investigator Eloy Ysasi, a former homicide detective with the Phoenix Police Department.

Hogan's Heroes actor Bob Crane found beaten to death in Valley - June 30 1978

“He was covered up in a sheet, as though you would retire, with his knees drawn up in the position like people sleep.”

Late Thursday, Lt. Ron Dean said it appeared that one person committed the murder. “We have speculated that the killer either knew him or surprised him,” he said. There were no signs of a struggle in the two-bedroom apartment.

The heavy, blunt instrument used in the slaying has not been found. Crane’s skull had been crushed.

“Nothing was noted to be missing from the apartment as yet,” Dean said. “For this reason, we do not feel a burglary or a robbery occurred.”

There was no sign of forced entry, and police were checking to determine whether more keys to the apartment were available, or whether Crane slept with the door unlocked.

Hogan's Heroes TV show

MORE: ‘Hogan’s Heroes’ star Bob Crane on finding the humor in war (1965)

No one was seen leaving the apartment, but one neighbor told police loud voices were heard in Crane’s apartment sometime Thursday morning.

Dean said no drugs or other contraband was found in the apartment. “I understand he was not very much of a drinking man, but he has been out to many nightclubs in the area,” Dean said, adding there was some indication that Crane had been to a nightclub Wednesday night.

Dean said no incidents had been reported near the apartment complex before the murder and Crane apparently had not been involved in any troubles around the Valley.

Crane, two weeks from his 50th birthday, had been in Scottsdale since June 6 to star in “Beginner’s Luck,” a light comedy playing at the Windmill Dinner Theater. He was killed in an apartment the theater leases for its headline performers.

Hogan's Heroes actor Bob Crane murdered - Body being removed from scene - 1978

No known motive for Bob Crane’s murder

Late last night, Scottsdale detectives were attempting to piece together the last hours of the performer’s life.

It was known that at some time before 1:45 am. Thursday, Crane was in the all-night coffee shop at the Safari Hotel, 4611 N. Scottsdale Road, not far from his apartment.

Lilly Reder, the night supervisor, told The Arizona Republic that she saw Crane drinking coffee with a woman and a second couple.

She said the group seemed “very congenial, and there was no indication of anything negative.” Crane, she added, had been in the coffee shop with his female companion and the man several times before Thursday.

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County Medical Examiner Dr. Heinz Karnitschnig said that Crane had been dead “several hours” before being found.

His body was found by actress Victoria Berry, who called at the apartment when Crane failed to show for a 12:30 pm cast party at the Windmill. Miss Berry starred with Crane in “Beginner’s Luck.” Her screams alerted a resident in the apartment complex who telephoned police.

Hours after the discovery, Scottsdale police were unable to announce a motive for the crime.

Crane’s personal possessions — his billfold, keys, jewelry and money — were intact. Crane’s car, a 1977 Chevrolet Monte Carlo, was parked in its regular spot near the apartment.

Hogan’s Heroes actor Bob Crane “In terrific spirits” before murder

Friends and business companions of the dead actor, here and in California, said that despite estrangement for eight months from his second wife, Patty Olson of Los Angeles, Crane had been “in terrific spirits.”

Hogan's Heroes actor Bob Crane murdered - Actress Victoria Berry - 1978Bill McHale, executive producer for the Windmill chain, said, “We have no idea who could have done this, and we’re of course concerned about the other actors.

“I considered Bob more than a casual acquaintance. We were once-a-year friends whenever he played one of our theaters. I spoke with him a week ago, and he was in terrific spirits.

“He was enjoying his work, enjoying his life, even though there was this divorce trouble, and even then, he expressed hopes for that… I think his words were, ‘It may work out down the road.'”

Crane’s wife received word of her husband’s death while she was vacationing in Seattle. “She just said ‘Oh. my God’,” said Mrs. Dale Gudegast, her sister visiting in Los Angeles. “She was just shocked,” said Mrs. Gudegast. “She said she was coming home right now.”

In a telephone interview, Mrs. Gudegast told The Republic she had no idea why anybody would want to kill Crane. “It’s a total mystery,” she said. “No one knows anything at this point other than that he was found dead. It’s a total mystery.”

During his three-week stay in Scottsdale, Crane had been visited by a blonde and a young boy, believed to be his wife and son, Robert Scott, 7. They had been seen around the swimming pool together and entering the $365-a-month apartment.

Bob Crane’s marriage problems

Apparently, the only problems in Crane’s life were matrimonial. In 1970, he was divorced by his childhood sweetheart, Anne, then 39, after a 21-year marriage. He was ordered to pay her $1,700 monthly alimony for 10 years, and $600-a-month support for their three children.

He remarried almost immediately. Crane’s second wife, who used the stage name Sigrid Valdis, appeared with her husband in his popular “Hogan’s Heroes.” She played the camp commandant’s secretary in the comedy-farce concerning a group of Allied prisoners in Germany during World War II.

Bob Crane and Sigrid Valdis - Hogan's Heroes 1969
Bob Crane and Sigrid Valdis – Hogan’s Heroes 1969

The career of Hogan’s Heroes star Bob Crane: A classic showbiz ascent

Professionally, however, Crane’s life was a classic show business ascent. Born in Waterbury, Connecticut, Crane began entertaining as a musician. He was a drummer in high school, later played with the Connecticut Symphony, and maintained these skills.

During previous appearances in the Valley — to play the Windmill, to speak at a United Fund banquet, and to be toastmaster at testimonial dinners of the National Conference of Christians and Jews — he often spent nights sitting in on sets with local jazz musicians Keith Greko and Lou Game.

In 1950, Crane, a non-drinker and non-smoker, turned to broadcasting, and became a successful disc jockey in Connecticut, New York and finally Los Angeles. His morning show on KNX in Los Angeles was an instant hit and his passport to acting offers.

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Bob Crane TV Guide cover 1966

On television, he played in “The Donna Reed Show,” “Love American Style” and made numerous appearances alongside Dick Van Dyke, Dinah Shore, and as Johnny Carson’s guest host on the “Tonight Show.” In movies, Crane shone in “Return to Peyton Place,” “Mantrap,” and “Superdad.”

On the stage, he starred in “Send Me No Flowers” and “Cactus Flower,” and toured with “Beginner’s Luck” for several years, including its initial productions at the Windmill Dinner Theater in 1973.

But it was as “Col. Hogan,” leader of a band of needle-witted prisoners of war, that Crane earned his highest acclaim and two Emmy nominations.

Last night, Crane’s body had been taken to the Medical Examiner’s Mortuary. A large wreath, ferns wrapped by a black ribbon, had been hung on the door of the closed Windmill Theater.

His voice lives on

Yet one part of Crane lived: his voice. It was on a recorder hooked to the telephone at his Los Angeles apartment.

“Hi,” says Crane. “Obviously. I’m not home, but I am back in town. Please do not hang up. Leave your name, your telephone number and the approximate time you called, and I’ll call you back as soon as I possibly can…”

Actor Bob Crane

Bob Crane murdered: A history of the criminal case

As of 2018, this case is still officially considered unsolved. A Phoenix TV news reporter wrote a book and reviewed some of the evidence back in 2016, and you can see the first of those stories on video below. The 2002 movie Auto Focus, starring Greg Kinnear, was also made about Bob Crane’s life and death.

YouTube video

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