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  • Doheny

    February 16, 1929: Hugh Plunkett shoots and kills Edward L. Doheny Jr., only son and heir of the fabulously wealthy oilman Edward L. Doheny Sr. Plunkett then turns the gun on himself, committing suicide.

    The Assailant:
    Hugh Plunkett, born in Kansas, moved to L.A. in 1912. He met the Doheny family while working at a service station owned by the father of Lucy Smith, who later married Ned Doheny. After the younger Doheny's marriage in 1913, Plunkett became the family chauffeur. He served in the Navy during WWI, and after the war became an incrasingly close confidante to Ned Doheny, eventually serving as personal secretary. In the months prior to February 1929, Plunkett had divorced his wife and had been exhibiting signs of a nervous disorder. He had been taking medication, but there was talk among his doctor and the Dohenys of sending him to a sanatorium.

    The Facts:
    On the night of February 16, 1929, Hugh Plunkett arrived at the Greystone mansion. He called the house from the gates, and was told by Lucy Doheny that he should not come in. Ignoring her words, he apparently used his pass key to enter the grounds and the house, going to the guest bedroom on the first floor where he often stayed. Ned Doheny found him there around 10PM. At 10:30, the Doheny family physician. E.C. Fishbaugh, who was in Hollywood attending a theater performance, received a call from his maid, who told him that he was needed urgently at the Doheny home. Fishbaugh arrived a little before 11PM, and was greeted by Lucy Doheny, who told him that Plunkett and her husband were in the guest bedroom. As they proceeded down the hallway to the bedroom, they saw the door standing ajar, and Plunkett standing by it. He warned them to come no closer, then shut the door. Immediately after a shot rang out. When the doctor entered the room, he found Plunkett lying on the floor by the door, shot through the head, the gun lying by his side. Doheny lay on the floor by the beds, next to an overturned chair, barely alive with a gunshot wound to the head. Homicide and suicide. Investigators determined that Plunkett had taken a .45 caliber revolver from the Doheny garage and had shot Doheny, then had turned the gun on himself. Testimony about Plunkett's unstable behavior over the previous six months, and Dr. Fishbaugh's testimony about the family's concern for Plunkett's sanity, reinforced this finding. No formal inquest was held.

    Over the years, questions have arisen about the events of that February night. Various rumors surfaced: that Plunkett and Doheny were more than just good friends, and that Lucy killed them in a fit of jealousy; that Plunkett shot Doheny in a quarrel over his salary. Questions were raised about the timing of the killings: was there a delay between the time of the deaths and the arrival of the police? Were the bodies moved to better suit the story told to the police? Was there an effort made to make Plunkett look crazy, to make the murder/suicice story more plausible? The undeniable wealth and influence of the Dohenys added to the public's fascination with the tragedy.

    Any other theories or ideas? Why was no inquest held? Obviously the Doheny family were very wealthy and able to cover up what they wanted and avoid publicity. The case was open and closed in 36 hours. If Plunkett was just a murderer and a nut then surely there would be no need for the secrecy and covering up. There must be more

    (Thanks to University of Southern California for above)
    Last edited by revpetero; 06-03-2008, 04:07 PM. Reason: Thanks
    Living the Dream!

  • #2
    Perhaps a father's sins...?

    Hi revpetero,

    I could only suggest that while the possibility of a homosexual affair has been bruited regarding the deaths of young Ned Doherty and Hugh Plunkett,
    or a mental breakdown by Plunkett, or even the question that Ned was the killer and suicide, there is one other point that is noted but dashed from.

    Ned Doherty was the son of Edward Doherty, who with Harry SInclair were the two oilmen who bribed Secretary of the Interior Albert Fall to give them leases to develop and sell the oil at the reserves of Elk Hills and Teapot Dome in the Harding Administration. Ned was a go-between in some of the negotiations for the bribes that evolved. Although both the senior Doherty and Sinclair were tried, neither was punished (except for Sinclair attempting to influence a juror) for their bribes, while Fall ended up going to prison for a year.

    The connection to Teapot Dome is possible if the intention was to silence young Doherty and his secretary. Other people involved in the Harding scandals, like Jesse Smith (Attorney General Daugherty's assistant) and the attorney for the Veteran's Administration were suicides (although there were some who felt that Smith may have been murdered).

    The film THERE WILL BE BLOOD is based on Upton Sinclair's (no relative of Harry) novel OIL!, which actually deals with Teapot Dome, so one can say the ripples of that scandal still exist to this day.

    Possible that is in the back of this tragedy too.

    Best wishes,

    Jeff Bloomfield


    • #3

      Cheers Jeff,

      I just thought with there being a catagory "Other Mysteries" then the Doheny one needs a mention.

      Being from the UK (maybe just my own ignorance) I had never heard this story until a recent visit to LA. I was amazed at the cover up. Do you feel that a case of this magnitude could be brushed under the carpet as easily nowadays?

      The press just let it go. The police closed the case.

      Living the Dream!


      • #4
        Hi Peter,

        You have to know (as you can appreciate from recent decades) that when the very rich or powerful or best connected (i.e. Lord Lucan) get into a mess, their chums cover up or slow the forces of the police down. It's true in every society and country throughout history. What happened in 1810 at St. James Palace? Did Ernest Augustus, Duke of Cumberland (and future King Ernest of Hanover) get attacked by his insane servant, De Sellis, or did he kill De Sellis after the latter defended himself during a homosexual attack? Most historians claim that it was the former, but the issue remains "cloudy" to this day. That and the Lucan case are British, but the Doheny case is American.
        So is Chappaquidick. And did King Louis Phillippe allow Theobald, Duc de Choiseul-Praslin, to have access to poison to short circuit an embarrasiing judicial procedure into Theo's butchering his wife and Duchesse Fanny in 1847? Was Stavisky a real suicide in 1934, when trapped by the police in that immense political - economic scandal that destroyed the Chautempts
        government...or (as novelist Louis-Fernand Celine might have said after an elipsis) was Alexandre helped....?

        It's fun to go through this kind of thing for other countries. I had heard of the Doheny tragedy when reading about Harding and Fall and Teapot Dome.
        The recent film triumph of THERE WILL BE BLOOD resurrected the Teapot Dome story and era and the Doheny family again.

        Los Angeles in the 1920s had a notoriously corrupt D.A.'s office, which managed to bungle some big cases (most notably that of the murder of director William Desmond Taylor in 1922). Under the brilliant but unscrupulous
        (and ambitious) Buron Phipps (I think that was his correct last name), if any
        case seemed likely to cast shadows on the wealthy (in particular the movie industry) Phipps made sure it never got solved. In later years he helped cover up the suicide death of Paul Bern (Jean Harlow's husband) and the odd
        death by carbon monoxide poisoning in her locked garage of "icecream blonde"
        Thelma Todd. So yes, I suspect he probably sat on the death of young Doheny and his secretary.

        As for the newspapers, they had no trouble smashing falling stars like Fatty Arbuckle or Mabel Norman or Mary Miles Minter, but when Thomas Ince died under odd circumstances on the yacht of William Randolph Hearst in 1924 the papers said nothing. Interesting isn't it?

        In any case, it's fertile area for a full scale study one day.

        Best wishes,



        • #5

          His name was Buron Fitts. IIRC Thomas Lee Woolwine was the original DA for the Taylor investigation, then the immensely corrupt Asa Keyes. Fitts was the special prosecutor for the Keyes case and was elected DA to boot. Of course Fitts was subsequently indicted and tried for bribery and perjury but acquitted of the charges.

          I was just searching the boards for a thread on the Taylor murder and found your post, mentioning it. Any interest in starting a thread?


          • #6
            Hi Eva,

            I have read brief accounts of the Desmond Taylor, as well as the book concerning the investigation of King Vidor (I forgot the name of the book).
            There is another study that is more involved with Taylor and the Drug trade in Hollywood. So yes, it would be a good subject for the Board as a thread.

            Best wishes,



            • #7
              Hi Eva,

              Fire one up, I'll join in.
              This my opinion and to the best of my knowledge, that is, if I'm not joking.

              Stan Reid


              • #8
                A picture of the crime scene of the Doheny murder (or murder suicide) is in the gruesome book, Death Scenes. Also Raymond Chandler alludes to this case, as the Cassidy case, in one of his novels. Marlowe uses it to needle the police about corruption at the top of the ranks. Chandler was in the oil industry in the twenties and probably the Doheny.


                The scene of the crime, the Doheny mansion, is used for filming to this day and is open for tours, though I've never been there. I'd like to see it though.

                Last edited by kidtwist; 07-01-2008, 04:23 AM.