The Untold Story of Dorothy Stratten | The Playgirl Bunny Who Was Murdered

A Look Back at the Village Voice’swww.pulitzer.org

Dorothy Ruth Hoogstraten (February 28, 1960 – August 14, 1980), known professionally as Dorothy Stratten, was a Canadian Playboy Playmate, model, and actress. Stratten was the Playboy Playmate of the Month for August 1979 and Playmate of the Year in 1980. Stratten appeared in three comedy films and in at least two episodes of shows broadcast on US network television.

She was murdered at the age of 20 by her estranged husband and manager Paul Snider, who died by suicide on the same day. Her death inspired two motion pictures, the 1981 TV movie Death of a Centerfold and the 1983 theatrical release Star 80, as well as the book The Killing of the Unicorn and the songs “Californication” by the Red Hot Chili Peppers, “The Best Was Yet to Come” by Bryan Adams and “Cover Girl” by the Canadian rock band Prism.

On August 13, 1980, the day before Stratten was murdered, Snider bought a used, 12-gauge, pump action shotgun from a private seller he found in a local classified ad. Later that evening in a conversation with friends, Snider described how he had purchased a gun that day and finished his story by cryptically declaring that he was “going to take up hunting.”

During the same conversation, barely more than 12 hours before the murder, an otherwise jovial Snider casually brought up the subject of Playmates who had unexpectedly died. In particular, he spoke of Claudia Jennings, an actress and former Playmate of the Year who had been killed in a car accident the year before. Snider made several morbid remarks to his companions related to the problems at Playboy magazine caused by Jennings’ death, including a comment about how the editors will pull nude photos of a dead Playmate from the next issue if there’s time.

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Stratten arrived for her meeting with Snider at his rented West Los Angeles house at approximately noon on Thursday, August 14. She had spent the morning conferring with her business manager, and one of the topics the pair discussed was the amount of the property settlement the Playmate would offer her estranged husband that afternoon. The police later found $1,100 in cash among Stratten’s belongings in the house, which she had apparently brought for Snider as a down payment.

Towards the end of her morning meeting, Stratten’s business manager made a fateful observation: that his young client could avoid spending any more time with her husband by handing off the remaining separation and divorce negotiations to her lawyer. Stratten replied that the process would go easier if she dealt with Snider personally, explaining that he was being nice about everything and finally adding, “I’d like to remain his friend.”

Snider’s two roommates had left in the morning, so the couple were alone when Stratten stepped into the house that she had shared with her husband until just a few months earlier. By all appearances, Stratten had spent some time in the living room, where her purse was found lying open, before she and Snider went into his bedroom.

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By eight o’clock that evening, both of the roommates had returned to the house. They saw Stratten’s car parked out front and noted that Snider’s bedroom door was closed. Assuming that the couple had reconciled and wanted their privacy, the roommates spent the next several hours watching television in the living room.

Alerted by Snider’s private detective, the roommates entered the bedroom shortly after 11 pm that night and discovered the bodies of Stratten and Snider. Each had been killed by a single blast from Snider’s shotgun. Both bodies were nude. According to the police timeline, Snider had shot Stratten that afternoon within an hour of her arrival at the house. Snider then committed suicide approximately one hour after the murder.

Sometime after midnight in the early morning of August 15, the private detective telephoned the Playboy Mansion and told Hefner that Stratten had been murdered. Hefner then called Bogdanovich. After collapsing at the news, Bogdanovich was sedated. Stratten’s mother was told of her daughter’s death at her Vancouver-area home later that morning by an RCMP Mountie.

Stratten’s body was cremated and the remains interred at the Westwood Village Memorial Park cemetery in Los Angeles. The remains of Hefner (d. 2017) and Marilyn Monroe (d. 1962), his magazine’s first centerfold, are interred there as well.

The epitaph on Stratten’s grave marker includes a passage, chosen by Bogdanovich, from Chapter 34 of the Ernest Hemingway novel A Farewell to Arms. Three years after the murder, the author’s granddaughter, Mariel Hemingway, played Stratten in Star 80, the Bob Fosse biopic about the doomed playmate and her husband. Cc

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