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Today in LA history: the Doheny murder

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77 years ago today news hit the papers that Ned Doheny, the son of oil tycoon Edward Doheny, had been killed in his Beverly Hills home by Hugh Plunkett, his friend and assistant, in what was apparently a murder-suicide. Plunkett is in the hallway in the above photo; those are Doheny's feet in the foreground. The somewhat grisly complete photo is on our Flickr page.

Ned's wife Lucy and their five children were in the house at the time, and when Lucy heard gunshots she ran downstairs and discovered the bodies. Exactly what happened, though, was quickly obscured as the case was opened-and-shut in 36 hours. There wasn't even any time for it to blow up into a scandal; the LA Times ran this paragraph on the 16th and then the story disappeared.

So what happened?

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In her excellent biography of Edward Dohney, Margaret Leslie Davis reconstructs the events of that night from several sources. According to the family and their doctor, Ernest Fishbaugh, Plunkett had been acting strangely, particularly in the weeks leading up to the shooting. They said he'd suffered a nervous breakdown around Christmas and they were worried that he was heading that way again. When he showed up at the mansion around 9:30pm, he'd let himself in, found Ned and Lucy in their bedroom, and then gone downstairs to talk to Ned. The two men drank and smoked, and then voices were raised, then gunshots.

The newly-incorporated City of Beverly Hills had just had its first murder, and it called Los Angeles officials in to take the case. By the time police and DA's investigators showed up, they found Ned Doheny dead on his back with blood dried across his face in a way that wasn't physically possible. At first Dr. Fishbaugh, who'd been called before the police, said he hadn't touched the crime scene. Later he changed his story, saying he'd moved Ned in an attempt to revive him and, when that failed, put him back on the floor.

Other physical evidence didn't add up, but investigators were pulled off the case when the coroner made his quick conclusion on February 18. For those who find these things curious, questions linger. But questions were not all that the murder left behind.

Now Ned's home, the Greystone Mansion, is a Beverly Hills Park. The house has been on the National Register of Historic Places for 30 years, and it's frequently used as a movie location and for weddings and other events. The gardens, including a couple of carp ponds, are beautifully maintained and there are 18.5 acres for any of us to explore, from 10am-5pm every day (until 6pm during the summer). You might even be able to spot the first floor guestroom where Hugh Plunkett and Ned Doheny passed into that good night.