Ramon Novarro, the original (and most effective) Ben-Hur, Greta Garbo’s leading man in Mata Hari, and the star in the silent film classics Scaramouche and The Student Prince in Old Heidelberg, was brutally killed on Halloween eve, October 30, 1968. (See also: “Ramon Novarro in ‘The Pagan’,” “‘Ben-Hur’ Chariot Race,” and “Ramon Novarro: Ethnicity in Film.”)
On Halloween morning, the bloodied corpse of the Mexican-born, 69-year-old former MGM star was found at his Laurel Canyon home in the Hollywood Hills. The next few paragraphs describing the crime scene are from the biography I wrote several years back, Beyond Paradise: The Life of Ramon Novarro:
At 8:30 a.m. on Halloween, October 31, [Ramon Novarro’s personal secretary] Edward Weber arrived at 3110 Laurel Canyon to report for work. The iron gates of the main entrance were open, but since the front door was locked, Weber had to use his keys to let himself in through the kitchen.
As he walked into the living room, Weber saw that it was a shambles. Furniture was overturned. A pair of eyeglasses lay crushed on the floor. Calling "Ramon," he went into the darkened master bedroom. There was no sign of Novarro. He looked into the master bathroom. No one. Weber began searching other rooms, but Novarro was nowhere to be found. Thoroughly mystified, he returned to the master bedroom. Walking over to the window, he opened the drapes slightly. A slant of light entered the room, outlining a mass resting on the far side of the king-sized bed. In the now dim light, Weber realized he was looking at Novarro’s nude body, lying faceup. Only after his eyes adjusted to the dimness was he able to see how badly beaten that body was.
Futilely, he looked for life signs. Giving up all hope, he dashed back to the living room and called Novarro’s brother Eduardo, the police, Novarro’s priest at St. Charles Church, and [Novarro’s friend and sometime publicist] Leonard Shannon.
"Len, you better come right over. This is it. … Ramon’s been murdered."
Paul and Tom Ferguson: The convicted killers
Two brothers originally from Chicago, Paul and Tom Ferguson, 22 and 17, respectively, were later accused, tried (each brother had his own defense), and convicted of Ramon Novarro’s murder. After being initially contacted by Paul Ferguson through a mutual acquaintance, the night before his body was discovered Novarro — who was gay and for decades had a serious drinking problem — had invited the two young men for an evening of partying at his home.
In reference to Novarro’s numerous drunken driving episodes — which had begun at least as early as the 1940s — Paul Ferguson’s defense attorney, Cletus Hanifin, blamed the victim for his death. "For forty years," Hanifin told the jury, "Novarro had been an accident walking around looking for a place to happen." (Somewhat ironically, Hanifin was likely unaware that Novarro had indeed been beaten up by a "houseguest" at least once before.)
Tom Ferguson’s defense attorney, Richard Walton, also placed the blame on Ramon Novarro, referring to the fact that although Novarro was known as an ardent Catholic, Tom Ferguson was a minor when he was invited to the actor’s home. Additionally, homosexual sex acts were illegal in California at that time — and would remain so until 1976. "Back in the days of [Rudolph] Valentino, this man who set female hearts aflutter, was nothing but a queer," Walton told the jury. "There’s no way of calculating how many felonies this man committed over the years, for all his piety."
District attorney James Ideman, for his part, blamed the Fergusons, accusing them of killing, beating, and torturing Novarro in order to find out the whereabouts of $5,000 the actor purportedly kept in his music room. (There was no money; the music room had cost $5,000.)
["Halloween Eve 1968: Death of Ramon Novarro" continues on the next page. See link below.]