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Murder in West Hollywood

 
 
   
 


The Monterey Village apartment complex on North Sweetzer Avenue in West Hollywood is a beautiful upscale affair—peaceful and quiet, nestled among the trees. The building and grounds are immaculate and affluent looking. But 50 years ago, a pretty, young starlet was murdered in Unit 1227 1/2. Her name was Karyn Kupcinet, and she was strangled there in 1963 on Thanksgiving weekend. Her death could easily be chalked up to “just another Hollywood murder.” But no, this one was different, as a number of famous people were involved.


Karyn Kupcinet was the daughter of famed Chicago newspaper columnist Irv Kupcinet, a man wirh many rich and famous friends. Karyn's boyfriend was a rising young star named Andrew Prine. He had numerous TV roles and was in the Academy Award-winning film The Miracle Worker playing Helen Keller's (Patty Duke) brother. Plus, Karyn had a new downstairs neighbor, David Lange. Lange was the brother of Oscar nominee Hope Lange (Peyton Place) and he was dating Natalie Wood, who was one of Hope's best friends. Karyn Kupcinet's murder was never solved.

No one thought Karyn Kupcinet was particularly talented, but her father's name had opened doors for her. Jerry Lewis gave her a small part in one of his films, and she had a few small roles on TV. It was during one of these roles that she met Andrew Prine. Kupcinet was smitten with Prine and wanted a committed relationship. But Prine wanted his freedom. It was reported after her death that Kupcinet had gone to Mexico the previous July to have an abortion. Karyn was also addicted to diet pills and became increasing obsessed once Prine started dating other women. She sent him—and herself—threatening letters with cut-out words from magazines and newspapers. To understand her obsession with Prine, I suggest you google “Andrew Prine nude” and check out photos of the actor in his prime. It does not take 20-20 eyesight to see one of the reasons Karyn was crazy about Andy.

Poor David Lange had a major drinking problem. In fact, his alibi the night of the murder was that he was out drinking with Natalie Wood and Glenn Ford. Gavin Lambert's great biography of Nat Wood does acknowledge that she saw him briefly, but that he was way out of his league. Plus Lange had a reputation of drunkenly entering apartments uninvited. His apartment was directly underneath Karyn’s.

The night she was murdered, Karyn Kupcinet had dinner with actor Mark Goddard of Lost in Space and his wife at their Coldwater Canyon home. The couple later told police that Karyn was acting strangely and seemed to be on drugs. She returned home to North Sweetzer and two male friends joined her to watch TV. She went to bed and both men let themselves out, locking the door behind them. They then joined Andrew Prine for more "TV watching and talk" until 3 a.m. A few days later, the Goddards became worried and went to Kupcinet's apartment. The door was unlocked and they found the actress nude and dead. The police autopsy states she had been strangled. Both Andrew Prine and David Lange—who had jokingly told friends he had killer her!—were questioned by the police, and although both men were considered suspects, neither man was ever charged.

The murder became a forgotten cold case, but Irv Kupcinet and his wife went to their graves convinced that Andrew Prine had killed their daughter. And Kupcinet used his power to try to derail Prine's career.

Fifty years later, most people have forgotten Karyn Kupcinet. Most of the principals have died, including Natalie Wood, David Lange and both of Karyn's parents. Andrew Prine is still very much alive. How his career might have gone had he never met Karyn Kupcinet nor gained the wrath of her father is a moot point. Today the Monterey Village apartments are easily accessible. There is no security gate—just a “No Trespassing” sign—and on a recent morning while walking a friend's dog I wandered into the courtyard. It was quiet and peaceful. But looking up at 1227 1/2, I tried to picture it 50 years ago when a pretty, young girl died there.

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