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Crime

How the Brutal Murder of a Playboy Centerfold Sent Shock Waves Through Hollywood

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Dorothy Stratten had the world at her fingertips in 1980.

She had rocketed to fame as the Playboy Playmate of the Year. Now, Hollywood was calling. She landed guest roles on TV shows such as Buck Rodgers and Fantasy Island. 

Things got even better for her when she earned a substantial role in the movie They All Laughed, a comedy film starring Audrey Hepburn, Ben Gazzara  and John Ritter.

She maintained warm relationships with several Hollywood heavy hitters, including Playboy founder Hugh Hefner.

Hugh Hefner and Dorothy Stratten
Julian Wasser/Online USA Inc./Getty

But Stratton’s personal life was messy. Her marriage to her controlling small-time manager, Paul Snider, was on the rocks. Estranged from her husband, she started seeing director Peter Bogdanovich, who had recently split from Cybill Shepherd.

On August 14, 1980, Stratton met with Snider to plan their divorce. Enraged, he beat, raped and shot her to death. She was only 20 years old. Then he turned the gun on himself.

Hollywood Speaks Out

More than three decades later, the Reelz channel revisits Stratton’s murder in its docuseries, Murder Made Me Famous – and the show speaks to several key players in the case who do not ordinarily give interviews. (An exclusive clip is above.)

The show speaks with several actors and directors who discuss how the sudden murder sent shockwaves throughout Hollywood.

Actor Eric Roberts, who played Snider in a 1983 movie, Star 80, discusses how things between Stratten and Snider grew so dark. “Dorothy Stratten was one of the most beautiful women to ever breathe,” Roberts says. “She was a box of candy, and if he can’t have the whole box, nobody else could either. That’s basically the foundation of his coming unglued with that kind of psyche. And it’s just awful, but it’s what happened.”

 

Getty

The show also speaks to Larry Wilcox, the CHiPs star who later produced Death of a Centerfold: The Dorothy Stratten Story. He says that Snider always had something to prove. “When you come from the pimp street, gangs, and deal making environment, you don’t know how to build [anything].” Wilcox says. “His vision was always tacky and small.”

Even 37 years later, Wilcox bristles at the thought of what happened to Stratten. “You big, dumb bullies that are hurting females,” he says. “I mean, I don’t care what she does. Cheats on you, messes around with your best friend, just don’t go there. Remove yourself and go and grieve, ’cause it does warrant grieving, and get therapy and talk to counselors and your minister, and people, your relatives.”

And if Wilcox could’ve said anything to Snider on the day before the murder-suicide, what would it be? His answer is surprising. “I’d tell him I loved him,” Wilcox says. “It makes me cry. I’d tell him I loved him and, uh, I wanted to help him. I want to mentor him. I want to make himself vulnerable so he can learn what love and joy and peace is about.”

Murder Made Me Famous combines reenactments, exclusive interviews and never-before-seen photos and video to tell the story of infamous murderers. The show is hosted by PEOPLE Senior Writer Steve Helling.

The Playmate Killer episode airs Saturday (8 p.m. ET) on the Reelz Channel.