John "Johnny" Stompanato (October 10, 1925 - April 4, 1958) also known as "Handsome Harry", "Johnny Stomp", "John Steele", and "Oscar", was a former United States Marine and war hero who became a notorious Hollywood playboy, underworld figure and enforcer for Los Angeles crime boss Mickey Cohen. In 1958, after a troublesome relationship with actress Lana Turner, he was stabbed and killed by Turner's daughter, Cheryl Crane. According to former Beverly Hills police Chief Clifton Anderson, "Handsome Johnny was one of the most successful 'wolves' in Hollywood."
John Stompanato, Jr. was born in Woodstock, Illinois. His father, John Sr., owned a barber shop. His mother, Carmela, was a seamstress. Both parents were born in Italy, but were married in Brooklyn. The family moved to Woodstock in 1916. Johnny was the youngest of four children and grew up with two older sisters, Grace and Teresa; and older brother, Carmine. Six days after John's birth, his mother died of peritonitis. Johnny's father soon remarried a woman named Verena Freitag.
In 1940, after Stompanato's freshman year at Woodstock High School, his father sent him to Kemper Military School for boys in Boonville, Missouri, from which he graduated at the age of 17. In 1943, Stompanato joined the U.S. Marines serving with the 1st Service Battalion, 1st Marine Division. He served in the South Pacific theater, in Peleliu and Okinawa, and then served in China with the Marines. Stompanato left the Corps in March 1946; being discharged in China. In China, Stompanato claimed he ran nightclubs and went bankrupt in the process, though in truth he was only a civil bureaucrat.
It was in China, that Stompanato met his first wife, Sarah Utish; a Turkish girl living in China, and converted to Islam in order to marry her. The two married on May 1946 and moved to Woodstock, where they had their first son, John III. Stompanato's son, John Stompanato III, by his sole legal marriage, was born in Woodstock. Stompanato worked as a bread salesman for a few months before leaving for Hollywood, California.
Life in L.A. and Activities
In Los Angeles, Stompanato became a top aide, bodyguard and enforcer for infamous crime boss Mickey Cohen. He reportedly started off his criminal career as a bagman and driver for Cohen. The pair would become close friends and collaborate in various moneymaking schemes and scams in Hollywood.
Stompanato sometimes went by the alias John Steele, and became a notorious Los Angeles underworld figure. Stompanato resided in an apartment at an exclusive Bel-Air address. According to people who knew him, Stompanato could be intimidating and was known to be physically and verbally abusive to women, whom he would often use for his personal gain. He owned and managed "The Myrtlewood Gift Shop" in Westwood Village, Los Angeles (which he reportedly started with money given to him by a widow he was seeing whom he referred to as "The Dog"). He sold inexpensive pieces of crude pottery and wood carvings as fine art. The few shoppers who entered the store were either served by a part-time clerk or ignored altogether.
Stompanato was considered a gigolo, being spotted frequently in public on the arms of beautiful, older women on whom he was financially dependent. He was one of the most popular playboys in Hollywood and fleecing well-heeled women was his specialty. Singer Frank Sinatra once visited Mickey Cohen at his home and begged him to tell Stompanato to stop dating Sinatra's friend and ex-wife, actress Ava Gardner. Cohen allegedly told him that he never mixed between men and their "broads" and that Sinatra should go back to his wife and kids.
Stompanato was also believed to dabble in bisexuality, all for financial gain and was allegedly seen in the company of wealthy homosexuals on occasion. The LAPD characterized Stompanato as a notorious pimp, blackmailer, extortionist and procurer of girl's for Cohen's out of town contacts. Stompanato allegedly ran a sexual extortion ring (operated out of Chicago by the Fischetti-Capone mob, the Chicago Outfit). Stompanato was said to keep compromising photos and recordings of Hollywood celebrities he had seduced that he would either sell or use to blackmail them. He also owned and operated at different times, a pet store, a jewelry store and sold used cars and furniture.
Stompanato was arrested on several occasions but never convicted of a crime. On August 3, 1949, Stompanato testified at a coroner's inquest in the shotgun slaying of Mickey Cohen associate Edward "Neddie" Herbert, which was later revealed to have been carried out by Los Angeles crime family mobster Dominic Brooklier. Stompanato was arrested a total of seven times by the LAPD for charges ranging from vagrancy to armed robbery. He was once arrested on Sunset Strip in possession of a gun and $5,000 cash. In 1956, Stompanato was the subject of a bureau White Slave Act case. He was also reputed to be a key steerer to illegal abortion parlors alleged to be running under the aegis of Cohen. Stompanato would also reportedly borrow money from celebrities, socialites and even royalty who would be afraid to complain to police and would never pay them back.
Stompanato aspired to be a Hollywood producer and according to some reports, appear in films. In October, 1956, Stompanato reportedly traveled to Copenhagen, Denmark, where he tried to secure a sales franchise from a Danish manufacturer of dairy equipment. He also reportedly traveled to Sweden, Brussels and South America for unknown reasons, most likely vacationing, as he did on a few occasions at the expense of his wealthy older love interests.
Relationship with Lana Turner
When Stompanato began dating Lana Turner, he wore a heavy gold-link bracelet on his wrist with "Lanita" inscribed inside. Turner's daughter Cheryl Crane described Stompanato in her autobiography, Detour: A Hollywood Story (1988):
"... B-picture good looks... thick set ... powerfully built and soft spoken ... and talked in short sentences to cover a poor grasp of grammar and spoke in a deep baritone voice. With friends, he seldom smiled or laughed out loud, but seemed always coiled, holding himself in ... had watchful hooded eyes that took in more than he wanted anyone to notice .... His wardrobe on a daily basis consisted of roomy, draped slacks, a silver buckled skinny leather belt and lizard shoes."
On one occasion, the jealous Stompanato stormed onto a movie set in the UK and pointed a gun at actor Sean Connery, her costar in Another Time, Another Place, only to have Connery take the gun from him and force him from the movie set. Stompanato was deported for this offense, as unlicensed handguns are illegal in the United Kingdom. There were rumors after Stompanato's death that at least one Los Angeles mobster held Connery responsible; the actor allegedly went into hiding for a short time afterward.
On April 4, 1958, Stompanato was stabbed to death at Turner's Beverly Hills, California home. Turner's then teenage daughter Cheryl Crane claimed Stompanato had been attacking her mother and that she had stabbed Stompanato defending her mother. After being stabbed, Stompanato pirouetted and collapsed to the floor. His eyes closed and he wheezed horribly – mortally and died on the carpet of Lana Turner's new home. Johnny Stompanato, war hero, actor wannabe, two-bit hood, gigolo and abuser, was dead. He was 32 years old.
The courts agreed to Crane's allegations, ruling the death to be justifiable homicide. After the ruling, Stompanato's family sued Turner for $7 million. The case was eventually settled out of court for unknown terms.
Stompanato is interred at Oakland Cemetery, in Woodstock, McHenry County, Illinois. Los Angeles crime boss Mickey Cohen was deeply saddened by the lose of his close friend and associate. Cohen reportedly paid for Stompanato's funeral and was always quick to defend Stompanato in the press whenever it would be alleged that he was a mobster. Cohen would later give Lana Turner's love letters to Stompanato to the press in an attempt to discredit the worst allegations of threats and violence that Crane had alleged she suffered at the hands of the violent, womanizing Stompanato.
In Popular Culture
Stompanato was featured in the Rockstar Video game "L.A. Noire", he was also portrayed in the 2013 film "Gangster Squad".
In the film adaptation of L.A. Confidential, Stompanato was portrayed by Italian actor Paolo Seganti.
He was prominently featured in the book 'Mickey Cohen: The Life and Crimes of L.A.'s Notorious Mobster' as well as other novels, Television and film works.