Friends believe Dorothy Stratton's estranged husband murdered her in a final attempt at control

By Harriet Sokmensuer
October 18, 2019 04:26 PM
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Credit: Julian Wasser/Online USA Inc./Getty

Nearly four decades after Playmate of the Year Dorothy Stratten was murdered by her jealous, estranged husband, her memory lives on.

On Aug. 14, 1980, Stratten was raped and murdered by Paul Snider, who then turned the gun on himself in a murder-suicide. She was 20 years old.

Two years earlier, Snider had scouted Stratten when she was a teenager serving ice cream at a Dairy Queen in Vancouver, Canada. Their meeting would be the beginning of the end for Stratten.

“She just misjudged that guy so badly,” Jeana Keough, Playmate of the Month for November 1980, tells ABC’s 20/20. “She just had that little flaw … not being able to see the evil in people.”

In a two-hour TV event airing on Friday, 20/20 will tell Stratten’s life story with the help of those who knew her best.

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Snider murdered Stratten because he was jealous of her success. When he first met her in Vancouver, Stratten was a teenager working to help her mother make ends meet while Snider was a local pimp who dreamed of fame. Right away he realized she was his ticket to Hollywood.

“She was just breathtakingly beautiful,” actress Colleen Camp, who starred alongside Stratten in the film They All Laughed, says in the episode. “There was something very otherworldly about being with her … Time would stop and you just felt [like] you were in a frozen moment.”

In June 1979, as Stratten’s career was taking off, she and Snider married — against the wishes of those who knew her, including Playboy‘s Hugh Hefner.

Stratten’s friends tell 20/20 while the beautiful blonde found herself attending some of Hollywood’s most exclusive parties, Snider found himself left out. However, new to the glamour, Stratten stayed close to the one person who knew her best.

“She was on the phone with him daily when we shot her,” Marilyn Grabowski, Playboy magazine’s former West Coast photo editor, tells 20/20. “She would call and tell him how great it was going….She thought that whatever success she was having — and it was embryonic at that point — was totally due to Paul. She leaned on him.”

By 1980, Stratton had appeared on “Playboy’s Roller Disco and Pajama Party” and had landed bit parts in films and on TV shows. Later that year she was named Playboy’s Playmate of the Year and starred in the sci-fi comedy Galaxina in the title role.

But her relationship with Snider was strained and the couple eventually separated. During this time, Stratten began to have a relationship with filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich, who she met at the Playboy mansion and who wrote a part for her in his film They All Laughed.

“As she started to slip away, [Snider] started to realize he owned nothing,” Mariel Hemingway, who played Stratten in the 1983 biopic Star 80, says in the episode.

On the day of her murder, Stratten went over to the home she and Snider once shared, despite friends warning her not to, to go over their divorce agreement. She and Snider would later be found dead by friends, naked in the bedroom.

The 20-year-old’s tragic death shocked Hollywood and inspired books, TV show and films.

20/20 airs Friday at 9:00 p.m. EST on ABC.