Show business has always had a bit of a sinister, unpleasant, and twisted side. Countless people have traveled far and wide to try and make it in the business only to have their dreams dashed or, more ominously, to rise high only to be devoured by the system and the decadent lifestyle of it all, swallowed up into a sea of drugs, partying, disillusionment, and eventually irrelevance, obscurity, and nothingness when the machine has no more need for them. This is an industry that is known for its voracious appetite to chew people up only to spit them back out again, but on some occasions rising young stars do not emerge at all, instead vanishing off the face of the earth.
One early case of a vanishing starlet hoping to make it big, which is of course surrounded by weird clues and intrigue, is that of 26-year-old Jean Spangler in 1949. Born in Seattle, Washington on September 2, 1923, Spangler was a stunning model, dancer, and aspiring actress who found her way to Hollywood and appeared in various bit parts before finally able to land an influential agent. Her career looked set to explode into the big leagues and things seemed to be going nowhere but up for the beautiful rising star, but Spangler was not without her personal problems and demons lurking in the background.
In 1948 Spangler had just gone through a messy divorce with husband Dexter Benner, amid allegations of infidelity on her part and displeasure from Benner over her complete embrace of the Hollywood hard partying lifestyle at the expense of their family. Subsequently, Jean’s beloved 5-year-old daughter, Christine, was turned over to Benner since it was determined that she was not a suitable mother figure for the girl. By all accounts Jean was devastated by this, and Benner did not let her see her daughter much after that, even threatening to cancel their rare visits altogether, but then a stroke of luck came when a fierce custody battle put the girl back with her mother. Yet things were about to take turn for the bizarre.
On the evening of October 7, 1949, Jean told her sister-in-law, Sophie, that she was going to go meet her ex-husband for the purpose of trying to get increased child support payments and to discuss the issue of an overdue payment, after which she was going to drop by a film shoot and then come home. She left her daughter in Sophie’s care, since her mother who she lived with was out of town, and headed out from her Wilshire, Los Angeles home at around 5PM. A clerk at a local shop claimed that they had seen Jean and that she had appeared to be waiting for someone outside, but after that there were no further sightings of her. Jean Spangler had simply disappeared without a trace.
When she did not return home that night, Benner was contacted but he claimed that he had not met with Jean that evening and had had no knowledge of any plan to talk about child support. Indeed, he claimed that he had not seen his ex-wife for several weeks. Furthermore, her agent said that there had been no film shoots scheduled for the evening in question, and no one working on any of her shoots had seen her that night. When authorities launched a search for the missing actress they were able to locate her purse lying on the ground in an area of Los Angeles’ sprawling Griffith Park, and it was found to have a broken strap that was surmised to be the result of someone tearing it from her by force. Although it seemed like burglary, oddly no valuables were missing from it, and within the purse was an unfinished, unsigned note written by the woman that simply said:
Kirk, Can’t wait any longer, Going to see Dr. Scott. It will work best this way while mother is away.
This alarming discovery prompted a full and extensive search of the park and the surrounding area, which was scoured by hundreds of police and volunteers, but there were no further clues as to what had happened to the budding actress. The only real piece of evidence was that purse and its cryptic note. In light of this weird clue, every doctor named Scott in the Los Angeles area was approached by police, but none of them had ever met Spangler or even knew who she was. They also heavily interviewed friends and family of the missing woman and it came to light that Jean may have been pregnant at the time of her disappearance, but it wasn’t clear as to who the father might have been. This led to the grim theory that she had perhaps been seeking out an illegal abortion, and that the “Dr. Scott” mentioned in the note was the one who was going to covertly carry it out, in which case it could have been anyone.
With the doctor angle not getting anywhere, one puzzling detail of the note that was looked at was the identity of the “Kirk” that was mentioned. Interestingly, actor Kirk Douglas came forward specifically to tell police that it wasn’t him, perhaps fearing that the connection would be made that Jean had been working on a small role in one of his movies, titled Young Man With A Horn. Interestingly, this attempt to clear his name would have the opposite of the intended effect when authorities began to consider Douglas a possible person of interest, but with a lack of any evidence he was dropped as a potential suspect. Other than that, Kirk was such a common name that it was practically useless as evidence and Jean apparently did not know anyone else by that name that anyone knew of.
Authorities looked into Jean’s sordid love life as well in a search for possible leads, and there were many to choose from as she was known to get around. One friend of Spangler’s told authorities that she had been recently dating an actor named Robert Cummings for a couple of weeks, but there was no evidence at all to show that he had anything to do with it. There was also a man named Scotty with whom she had allegedly been intimate, which was compelling considering the name resembled the one for the doctor in the note, but Jean had apparently long ago broken up with him. Another relationship she had had proved to be even more intriguing, as she had been romantically involved with a man named David Ogul, who was a local mobster. It also just so happened that Ogul had also gone missing just two days before Spangler and they were claimed to have been sighted together after their vanishings in both Palm Springs and Texas. However, there has never been any evidence to prove this, and it has remained just another curiosity in this now long cold case.
In the end, no suspect in the disappearance of Jean Spangler has ever been detained and no solid evidence has ever turned up. Theories range from that she died from an illegal abortion that went wrong, that she was killed by a serial killer, one of her lovers, or even her ex-husband, that Kirk Douglas indeed did have something to do with it, or that she just simply disappeared to get away from her life, and her vanishing has gone on to be discussed and picked apart to this day. Whatever happened to this once promising young actress, Jean Spangler’s strange disappearance remains a profound mystery.
Another bizarre vanishing of a beautiful young starlet occurred in 1983, when 18-year-old model and actress Tammy (also often spelled Tami) Lynn Leppert, of Rockledge, Florida, went missing without a trace under rather strange circumstances. Tammy had been modelling since she was 4 years old, and her striking good looks had won her 280 beauty pageants by the time she was 16. Her stunning beauty helped her to land various small roles in Hollywood films, and she is probably most well-known for her brief role in the 1983 movie Scarface, starring Al Pacino, in which she played the gorgeous blonde who distracts Tony Montana’s friend, Manny, at the beach during a drug deal that goes horribly wrong, as well as her perhaps lesser known role in the 1982 film Spring Break.
It seemed that although she had the potential and all of the assets to make a name for herself in the movie business, and had actually been planning to move to Hollywood to pursue this, there were also some bizarre incidents swirling about her. Not long after filming her role in Spring Break, Tammy went to a party and came back visibly shaken. Although she wouldn’t say exactly what had happened to her it was obvious that she had been deeply disturbed by something, and her friends and family claim that she became increasingly paranoid, withdrawn, and irritable in the coming days. At one point she approached her mother and confided in her that she thought someone was trying to kill her, but she would not give any further details. In the meantime, Tammy’s behavior kept getting increasingly bizarre and erratic, and she was prone to sweeping mood swings, all of which were very uncharacteristic of her.
It was around this time that she was offered her role in the movie Scarface, which was shooting in Miami, Florida. At one point during the shoot, Tammy suffered an inexplicable full mental breakdown during a violent scene involving fake blood. According to the filmmakers, upon seeing the blood, the young woman became completely and uncontrollably hysterical, and had to be physically restrained. She would then storm off set and quit the film, although she still appears in the movie, and when friends and family urged her to talk to police about what was going on she complied, but refused to mention to them that she felt someone meant her harm. Nevertheless, with her family she was just as paranoid as ever, telling them that someone was stalking her and trying to poison her. She began to refuse food or drinks in unopened containers, did not eat food that she didn’t see prepared herself, such as in restaurants, and would even shy away from sealed containers at times, but there was never any evidence at all that this was anything more than a profound paranoid delusion.
One incident in particular caused a good amount of concern, when one evening Tammy flew into a rage-fueled tantrum in which she began smashing windows and acting hostile towards all around her. After this rather frightening breakdown, Tammy was brought in for a psychiatric evaluation, but she displayed no signs of drug or alcohol abuse and doctors could find nothing really wrong with her. She was released after a 72-hour period of observation and returned home. The day after this, she reportedly had an argument with a friend as they visited the beach, and she demanded to be dropped off in a parking lot at Cocoa Beach, which was about 5 miles from her home. The friend did as he was told, and that is the last anyone ever saw of her.
No clues as to what happened to Tammy turned up, and the friend who had dropped her off was not seen as a person of interest. Curiously, Tammy’s mother claimed that on the day she disappeared she had gone out without putting on make-up or doing her hair, which was seen as strange considering she always spent a good amount of time on her appearance no matter where she went. The significance of this is far from clear. Other than this, there was no absolutely clue as to where she had gone and the theories began to fly.
Police initially suspected that she had simply run away from home, but none of tammy’s friends or family believed that this could possibly be true, as she had never expressed such an urge before. A more sinister possibility was that she had fallen victim to the serial killer Christopher Wilder, who was known to have killed several young woman in the vicinity at the time, but no evidence could be found to link him to the disappearance and he would die in a shootout with police before he could ever be deeply questioned on the matter. Another killer believed to have possibly been the culprit was the murderer and rapist John Crutchley, who had also operated in the area, but again there is no evidence to ever make this stick. There has also been the idea that she may have been killed by drug dealers or a stalker, but this has led nowhere. What happened to Tammy Lynn Leppert and what transpired at that party to change her so dramatically? To this day no one really knows, and she is another actress to vanish before anyone really knew who she was.
Moving into 1994, we come to the strange and tragic case of Ylenia Carrisi. The daughter of Italian pop stars Al Bano & Romina Power, and granddaughter of Hollywood actor Tyrone Power, Ylenia already had roots in show business, and seemed set to follow a path into her own acting career. She started off by becoming the letter turner for Italy’s own version of the popular game show “The Wheel of Fortune,” called La Ruota della Fortuna in Italy, and this gained her wide recognition and a minor celebrity status, with more roles seemingly destined to come her way. At the age of 23, Ylenia became somewhat sidetracked by the desire to write a book, and put her acting career on hold so that she could research and write it. She had it in her head to chronicle the lives of street musicians in New Orleans, which she had become interested in through a trip to the city the previous summer, and she made another trip to the United States for the purpose of immersing herself in this world for her planned book.
Upon arrival, she checked into the low-priced Le 'Dale hotel, located in the French Quarter, where she shared a room with local street musician Alexander Masakela. The place wasn’t exactly upscale, inhabited by drug addicts, transients, and all kinds of scum and weirdos, but perhaps this was in some way what she wanted. At 11 AM on January 6, 1994, Ylenia left the hotel for unspecified reasons and simply never returned. Within her room she had left all of her belongings, including her backpack, passport, traveler’s checks and cash, as well as notebooks full of her ideas and research for her beloved book. After several days the young woman still had not returned and she was considered to be a missing person. According to her family, the last time they had heard from her was a phone call they had received on January 1, at which time she had seemed to be her normal self.
Oddly, Masakela would be arrested several weeks later after trying to use the missing woman’s traveler’s checks to pay the bill for the room when he finally checked out of the hotel. Indeed, Masakela would become a prime suspect because of this, which was only exacerbated by the fact that authorities soon learned that he had had a history of domestic violence, rape, and drug use. Other street musicians who were asked about the man also claimed that he was a habitual liar and wooer of women. However, when he was brought in for questioning Masakela denied having any idea of where Ylenia had gone, and with no evidence to hold him authorities were forced to release him. He proceeded to fade into the background.
One spooky clue came in several weeks after the vanishing, on January 30, when a security guard at the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas by the name of Albert Cordova claimed that he had been on duty on the evening of January 6 and had seen a woman at Woldenberg Park, near the Mississippi River, who he believed closely matched Ylenia’s description and was wearing a flower-print dress of the same type she had been wearing when she had vanished. According to the guard, the woman had been sitting on a pier and that when he had approached her to tell her it was too late to be in the park she allegedly said she "belonged to the river," jumped into the river, and disappeared under the waves. At the time the Coast Guard had been notified and a search for the mysterious woman had been carried out, but no body was ever found, making it impossible to know if the woman had been Ylenia or if she had really even drowned at all. Regardless, there were many other alleged sightings of Ylenia in the weeks after the incident, but none of these were ever verified as being her.
Was the mysterious swimmer Ylenia Carrisi and did she drown? If so, why would she have been out there and why would she jump into the river? If it was not her, then just what did happen to Ylenia? Besides the clues pointing to her drowning there have of course been other theories as well. The simplest one is that she committed suicide, but her family denies that she had been suicidal in any way, and have asserted that even if she had been the one who jumped in the river she was an exceptionally strong swimmer and would not have done so to kill herself. Another idea is that she really was harmed or killed by the street musician Masakela, a notion supported by her family, who think not enough was done to investigate him, but with no evidence at all to charge him with it this is a dead end so far. There is also the possibility that Ylenia was kidnapped and forced into human slavery or abducted for some other nefarious purpose, with her mother, Romina Power, saying:
I’ve heard a lot of strange stories in New Orleans about white slave trade and girls being abducted for black-magic rites. I believe she is being held somewhere against her will.
Despite all of these sinister possibilities there has been no evidence of any foul play in the vanishing of Ylenia Carrisi, and this is all pure speculation. In the meantime, there have been no new suspects, no new clues or leads, no revelations, no nothing. Indeed, there is no evidence of anything at all other than that Ylenia left her things behind and walked out of that hotel right on off the face of the earth. There is no apparent reason for any of it, and the disappearance remains stubbornly unsolved.
It is rather tragic to see these young, beautiful, possibly quite talented people with big dreams in Hollywood have those visions of a star-filled future cut short. One wonders what would have become of them in the business had they not mysteriously disappeared into the ether. Would they have become major stars, beloved by many? Could they have launched into the pantheon of unforgettable icons and the stratosphere of fame if they had just not veered off into the unknown? Or would they have been used, abused, and disposed of by the show business beast like so many others before them? Unfortunately, considering they have seemingly dissolved into thin air, in these cases we will never know.