Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Mickey Cohen

Mickey, Johnny and Lana

While Mickey was doing time at McNeil Island, his friend Johnny Stompanato began dating actress Lana Turner. The relationship would have profound, life-changing implications for everyone involved. To the end, Mickey denied that John Stompanato was a gangster, or even a "bodyguard." He claimed Stompanato was just a close associate who dabbled in that gray area which straddles the line between legal and unlawful.

Stompanato was a handsome, intense former Marine who managed to always find a wealthy woman to support him. His services were not for sale, as such, but it would not be unfair to call him a gigolo.

Johnny Stompanato (left) with Mickey Cohen (AP/Wide World) and Lana Turner (AP)
Johnny Stompanato (left) with
Mickey Cohen
(AP/Wide World) and Lana Turner
Lana Turner was beautiful, wealthy and very high-maintenance. She was an alcoholic with a track record of attracting the wrong men and was known for her whirlwind romances and quick marriages, followed by equally quick divorces. The Stompanato-Turner combination was electric and doomed almost from the get-go, but neither Lana nor Johnny could break away. They fought continuously, loved passionately and intimidated each other, but the two dominant personalities were attracted like moths to flame, with equally tragic results.

There was no love lost between Mickey Cohen and Lana Turner, however. Since each was close to Johnny, they saw the other regularly and Lana, whom Mickey said was possessive, blamed Mickey when Johnny failed to come when she called.

Stompanato told Mickey over and over of his feelings for Lana Turner, so when Mickey received the telephone call that Lana's daughter, Cheryl Crane, had stabbed Johnny to death, he was shocked.

"I hung up the phone and drove over to Lana's home and pulled into the driveway and Jerry Geisler, the lawyer, is coming out," Mickey remembered. "He says, 'If Lana sees you she's gonna fall out all together. John's dead, the body's at the morgue.'"

Mickey was the one to break the news to Johnny's family in Illinois and was asked by the family to make the necessary arrangements. As he sat in the morgue, Mickey began to have his doubts about the story he had been told about how Johnny was killed.

"I don't believe Cheryl killed him," he said. "I don't want to outright accuse anyone, but I don't believe it was Cheryl or Lana who done this thing. Somebody must have come in somehow and stabbed him."

The feud between Lana and Mickey simmered, and with the backing of the studio, Lana let it be known she was afraid that Mickey would seek revenge. Mickey called Lana on the story and she blamed the studios, but days later, the pair made headlines again when they showed up at the same restaurant and Lana, spotting Mickey before he saw her, fled through the kitchen exit.

Mickey said he was angered by the beating Johnny took in the press and struck back by releasing the letters Lana wrote to Johnny to the press. They showed a different relationship between the lovers than what was being portrayed by the media. The plan backfired when it appeared Mickey was trying to blackmail Turner, but he maintained it was merely to show the truth about how Lana felt about John Stompanato.

In the end, Cheryl Crane was not found criminally responsible for John's death. Mickey bemoaned the coroner's jury verdict in the press: "This is the first time I've ever heard of a guy being convicted of his own murder," he said.



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