The image is stamped into the pages of history. August 5, 1962: a lifeless Marilyn Monroe lies naked, face down on her bed with a telephone receiver in hand and an empty bottle of Nembutal beside her in her Brentwood, Los Angeles guesthouse. The official cause of the 36-year-old’s death was “probable suicide”, but 55 years later, conjecture about what really happened is as strong as ever with new conspiracy theories continuing to materialise and old ones still being scrutinised.
Conspiracy Theory #1: The Kennedys did it
Just two-and-a-half months after her famously sultry performance of "Happy Birthday" at President John F Kennedy’s 45th birthday on 19 May 1962 at Madison Square Garden, Monroe, born Norma Jeane Mortenson, would be dead.
Kennedy and his younger brother US Attorney General Robert F Kennedy feature heavily in several Monroe murder conspiracies. In 2007, Australian filmmaker Philippe Mora discovered a partially redacted FBI document that suggests Robert Kennedy, also said to have had an affair with Monroe like his more famous brother, may have been complicit in a plot to “induce” her suicide. Also implicated is Kennedy’s then brother-in-law and Ratpacker actor Peter Lawford as the conspiracy’s lead, Monroe’s psychiatrist Dr Ralph Greenson, housekeeper Eunice Murray and agent Pat Newcomb.
The depressive Monroe, who had struggled with drug and alcohol abuse, had been known to seek attention by staging suicide attempts and the document suggests she was given the means to do so – the barbiturate Seconal – by the alleged conspirators but was then left to die.
As many theories have proffered before, the FBI file infers the alleged plot was carried out to silence Monroe, who had threatened to reveal her affairs with the Kennedy brothers. Monroe was also thought to be a liability, allegedly keeping records of conversations detailing highly confidential government information in a “little red book”.
Conspiracy Theory #2: The mafia did it
Another sensational Bobby Kennedy theory materialised with the allegation of renowned wire tapper Bernard Spindel, who had bugged Monroe’s house possibly on the orders of crooked union leader Jimmy Hoffa or Chicago Mafia boss Sam Giancana. Despite reported sightings of him in LA and entering her house, Kennedy stated he was in San Francisco on the night of Monroe’s death. But Spindel claims to have heard Kennedy and Monroe fighting that night with Lawford present, followed by a loud bang, thought to be the moment of her death. The recordings were reportedly seized and destroyed in 1966.
Giancana wanted Monroe, who was thought to have had a relationship with his henchman Johnny Roselli, dead according to biographer Darwin Porter, author of Marilyn At Rainbow’s End: Sex, Lies, Murder And The Great Cover-Up, as she was “threatening to blow the lid off his operations”. The Don is said to have had Monroe over a barrel after coercing the screen siren’s first Hollywood contract in return for her seduction of powerful men that the mobster wanted to blackmail.
“A lot of people had a lot to lose if Marilyn spoke out,” Porter said. “She was making a lot of dangerous statements and didn’t realise she was playing with the big boys. I think Marilyn got in over her head.”
Porter believes five Mafia hit men were responsible for her murder on the order of Giancana, using a washcloth drenched in chloroform, then stripping Monroe and giving her a barbiturate enema.
In another twist, Porter posits it could also have been one of the Kennedys that hired the Mob boss to get rid of Monroe.
Conspiracy Theory #3: She knew too much about aliens?
One of the nuttier theories is discussed in new documentary Unacknowledged by conspiracy theorist Dr Steven Greer, who claims Monroe was murdered by the CIA because she knew the truth about Roswell and planned to reveal all. In the film, Greer produces what he says is a classified CIA memo written just two days before Monroe’s death.
In the alleged memo that Greer believes refers to the storied Roswell UFO crash in New Mexico in 1947, JFK is said to have told Monroe he witnessed evidence of "things from outer space" at a secret air base.
“We have a number of smoking gun documents, including a wiretap of Marilyn Monroe the day [sic] before she died, which has never been declassified,” Greer writes. "She was threatening to hold a press conference to tell the world what Jack Kennedy had told her during pillow talk about having seen debris from an extraterrestrial vehicle at what the document calls a 'secret air base'. She was murdered for this."
Conspiracy Theory #4: She's still alive
Fake death theories are a dime a dozen when it comes to dead stars – the more iconic they are, the more the theories persist. One man claims Monroe’s death was staged and her psychiatrist, Dr Ralph Greenson, committed her to a mental institution in New Brunswick, Canada because of a breakdown she experienced due to the threats on her life.
John Alexander Baker, author of Marilyn Monroe: Alive in 1984? believes Monroe stayed at the institution for 20 years without being recognised, before being released. According to the book outline, Baker says he picked up a hitchhiker in Nova Scotia in 1984 who claimed to be Monroe, now a “homeless, frightened, paranoid schizophrenic”. She told him of her days as a former movie star, and Baker was taken by her resemblance to Monroe, as well as the similarity in her singing voice.
Baker admits the woman’s mental state would make her story hard to believe for most, but says, “I believe 99 percent that she really was who she claimed to be.”
Watch The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe tonight at 8:30pm on SBS.