Why Marilyn Monroe's Death Is Still a Mystery
The Unanswered Questions
On Aug. 5, 1962, Marilyn Monroe was found dead of an apparent drug overdose in her Los Angeles home. Now, 55 years later, debate still swirls over what really happened. Click through for more on the lingering questions about her death.
The Days Leading Up to Her Death
"Life had put her in a corner," photographer Lawrence Schiller previously told PEOPLE, "and she was trying to get out." At 36, the thrice-divorced actress found herself worried about her aging image.
But all was not bleak. She was looking forward to resuming filming on Something's Got to Give (after having been fired for chronic lateness and sickness). "It is my feeling," her live-in housekeeper Eunice Murray said, "that Marilyn looked forward to her tomorrows." As photographer George Barris, a friend who shot her in the summer of '62, told PEOPLE in 2012: "She told me, 'These are my champagne days.' "
The Night She Died
Biographer James Spada, author of Monroe, previously told PEOPLE actor Peter Lawford — Monroe's friend and President John F. Kennedy's brother-in-law — called her shortly after 7 p.m. on Aug. 4, 1962, and said she sounded depressed and was slurring her words. But according to Murray, her housekeeper, the actress received a call from her ex-husband's son Joe DiMaggio Jr. at around the same time, and he told The Los Angeles Times she sounded normal, "like Marilyn." After the call, Murray briefly spoke to Monroe and the actress went into her room. It was the last time she saw the star alive.
The Unreported Hours
Though accounts vary, Murray initially said she became alarmed when the actress didn't respond to her knocking later that night and called Monroe's psychiatrist Ralph Greenson, who came over right after midnight. (The exact time Murray alerted him would later be called into question.) Greenson broke the window and climbed inside to find her apparently lifeless, one hand clutching a phone. He summoned the doctor who had prescribed her sleeping pills, and she was pronounced dead.
But strangely, the police weren't called until 4:25 a.m. Doctors claimed they needed permission from the publicity department of 20th Century Fox, which was producing Monroe's current film, before involving the law.
In this photo, Don Hockett, whose father owned Westwood Village Mortuary, wheels the star's body from her home.
The Ruling — and the Troubling Evidence
An autopsy determined that Monroe died from "acute combined drug toxicity, chloral hydrate and Nembutal," Cyril Wecht, a prominent forensic pathologist familiar with the case, previously told PEOPLE. Pill bottles were found by the actress' bed. According to author Donald Wolfe, the star had previously overdosed four times.
However, peculiarities in the evidence raise questions. For one, no water glass was initially found in her room, which she would have needed to swallow the large amount of pills necessary to overdose.
There was also no pill residue in her stomach. "With the number of capsules she would have to have ingested," said Wecht, "there should have been some evidence of it." According to Wecht, that means "there's a strong suspicion she might have been injected."
Also mysterious was the lack of testing on the star's body. The coroner reportedly took samples from her stomach and small intestines and asked the toxicologist to perform tests on them that would have determined exactly how the drugs entered the star's system, but the tests were never done.
The Housekeeper's Changing Stories
Most of the firsthand information from the night of Monroe's death comes from her housekeeper, Eunice Murray.
Murray is also at the center of a discrepancy over the exact time Monroe's body was found: She first said she alerted Greenson, Monroe's psychiatrist, at around midnight, but later changed her story to 3 a.m.
And during a 1983 BBC interview that biographer Anthony Summers conducted with Murray, he says there was a "moment where she put her head in her hands and said words to the effect of, 'Oh, why do I have to keep covering this up?' I said, 'Covering what up, Mrs. Murray?' She said, 'Well of course Bobby Kennedy was there [on Aug. 4], and of course there was an affair with Bobby Kennedy.' "
The Kennedy Connection
It has long been rumored and reported that Monroe was having affairs with both President John F. Kennedy and Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy.
Biographer Spada believed "there had to have been" a cover-up, though not of murder. "The Kennedys could not risk this coming out, because it could have brought down the president. But the cover-up that was designed to prevent anyone from finding out that Marilyn was involved intimately with the Kennedy family has been misinterpreted as a cover-up of their having murdered her."
The "Hopelessly Flawed" Investigation
A so-called "suicide squad" was formed to investigate Monroe's death, but according to Donald Wolfe, author of The Last Days of Marilyn Monroe, they never interviewed Murray, Lawford or any of the Kennedys.
Summers, who wrote Goddess: The Secret Lives of Marilyn Monroe, noted: "Both the forensic work and the police investigations were hopelessly flawed," Summers said.
His fellow Marilyn Monroe biographers agree. "One of the problems with this whole case is that there are so many conflicting stories," said Spada. Michael Selsman, Monroe's last press agent and author of All Is Vanity, was more direct. "No one knows the truth," he said. "No one will ever know the truth."