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Who Killed Victor?

The actor Victor Kilian was bludgeoned to death at the Lido Apartments in Hollywood in 1979, a few weeks before I moved in.  Around that time and in that area, though I certainly wasn’t aware of it, there was apparently a lot of dying going on.  A few miles west of my place, and just a couple of years before, Sal Mineo had been stabbed to death. At the time of Victor’s death, a guy named Lionel Williams was on trial for the Mineo killing, he would shortly thereafter be convicted.

Also unbeknownst to me, the director Ed Wood had just died.  A few months before Victor, he died several miles away. But he used to live a block away, right next to a dingy 7-11 on Cahuenga, where I bought my MAD Magazines.  When Ed was living on Yucca, he liked to come in to my building, The Lido, because it had a bar and a relaxed vibe (sometimes he even came in drag).  This was when the Lido had a bar and a lively night scene, waaaaay before we’d moved in.

Victor was 88 (he’d just had a birthday) and was probably coming back home from local “hotspots” Pla-Boy Liquors or the Lemon Twist Lounge, maybe somewhere else; back home to a building that had several other old folks living there.  My building had become kind of an informal version of the Knickerbocker on Ivar Avenue; a place for retired actors, people who wanted to remain in Hollywood, and closer to their times of glory.

People who couldn’t or wouldn’t leave.

But Victor was still working; he’d had pretty steady work his whole career.

He’d just finished an episode of “All in the Family.”  There was another octogenarian performer in that episode, Charles Wagenheim, 83.  The weird thing was that they were practically neighbors; Charles didn’t live in The Lido but he sure lived close, just few blocks away.  The weirder thing was that 5 days before Victor’s murder, and on Victor’s birthday; Charles was beaten to death under very similar circumstances.

Det. Steve Hodel of the LAPD would solve the Wagenheim killing and later go on to write a book called “Black Dahlia Avenger,” in which he put forward the theory that his father George, who was for a while considered a suspect, was the Black Dahlia killer.  As for the victim, Wagenheim; he had just come home, maybe from a local liquor store or bar (could’ve even again been Pla-Boy or the Lemon Twist); and surprised his maid, who was in the middle of a robbery.  She hit him on the head, killing him.

Pla-Boy, across the street from the Lido

Pla-Boy, across the street from the Lido

Victor and Charles may not have been best pals, but one might wonder if Victor, waking up in his (our) building the day after his birthday and hearing what had happened to poor Charles, was not a little wary and fearful. Especially when he was coming in and out of the building the next few days.  Maybe he was extra watchful that night of March 11th, but it didn’t make a difference.

In early 1979 I was an eleven-year old, and I knew almost nothing of what you have just read.

I did know this: that a guy named Victor who was an actor had been killed in our building.  And, that they hadn’t caught the killer.  I knew nothing of Wagenheim or Mineo or Ed Wood, and it is just as well, because I’d probably have been afraid to ever go outside.  Well, I’d heard a little about Sal Mineo because of the ongoing trial, and I’d heard it happened at a parking garage nearby.  I always speculated “was it here, was it there” whenever I’d see any parking garage.  I didn’t know at the time but it was actually on Holloway, not far from Barney’s Beanery, and that was pretty far away for a kid as young as me.

Victor, in a screen cap from “Mary Hartman”

    I also knew that any resident of The Lido needed a credit card sized metal turnkey to gain access to the building.  In an unsolved murder such as this was (is), that little bit of information should have caused the police to take a good look at the tenants.  Knowing the killer was at large, I wondered if some of the retired actors in the building could have done it.  Were they jealous because Victor was still working?  Maybe my down the hall neighbors did it, they were kind of secretive; but really, everybody was, in that building.

If any of them did do it, they masterfully hid it from my 11-year-old detective’s mind.  Because I did kind of ask around. They probably thought it was cute that a kid would go around asking about the murder, but I was interested.  I would have been even more interested in talking to Victor himself, asking him about all the cool people he had known and worked with over the years.

Upstairs in my apartment we had a small library of maybe only 20 books.  But one of them was the infamous Hollywood Babylon by Kenneth Anger.  My mom didn’t really approve, but she grudgingly let me read it, the scandals; the crazy deaths and suicides (like that of Lupe Velez).  And at least it wasn’t as bad as Hollywood Babylon II, which had graphic photos of Elizabeth Short, The Black Dahlia, bisected, drained of blood and dead in a field (which was book two out of our twenty, others included books about Egyptology and Edgar Cayce).

By that summer, having just turned 12, I had gotten the gist that some crazy shit had gone down in my new hometown.  Hollywood proper had receded to a seedy state by then and drugs had become a real problem.  Even my own building, the Lido, mysterious and captivating as it was to me, had become a locus of drug activity.  Some of our neighbors were dealers and the occasional deal would go down in a darkened hallway.

I’d loved the Lido at first sight.  Though it was new to me, it seemed ancient; Hollywood itself did too, for that matter.  I imagined I felt the energy of the sunlight on the orange groves that stood silently in the very spot I lived, but just a few decades before.  Back when there was nothing (no Hollywood Boulevard, Sign or Bowl).  Yet the streets and buildings seemed so established to me, so old.  I felt my town had always been like this.  It was a feeling I later never had in any other city.

Lido lobby

 

But the pool, the palm trees and all that sunshine also lulled me, as perhaps it did Victor, even at the end.  Because of this, nothing could, for very long, mess with the sense of safety I had when I was poolside.  After all, the pictures in Hollywood Babylon, gory as they were, were all in black and white, so it was easy to believe they had to have happened long ago.

But I became kind of an amateur true crime aficionado.  I went to the Hollywood Public Library and looked up the LA Times story on Victor.  Not a lot of help there, they didn’t even mention the number on the apartment he lived and died in (something I’d become avidly interested in).  I lived in 238, where did he live?

So I started reading about other crimes in the area, I developed a kind of criminal voyeurism that was fun, if only because it could be explored from a safe distance.  I branched off and tried to investigate some other stories from Hollywood Babylon.   If I had known about him at the time (in those days he was not far away, pulling himself out of homelessness) I might have fancied myself a junior James Ellroy. For I had become fascinated by Hollywood’s combination of sexy allure and lurid criminal seediness.

In my mind I’d also turned the Lido itself into a place of danger, with criminals or even ghosts lurking around every corner.   The fact that there were a couple of mysterious fires that had broken out in the lobby, well,  that made me feel even more like a mini-Carl Kolchak from “Night Stalker.”

Of course there really were criminals in the building.  And increasingly I was coming to believe, ghosts.  How could the Lido NOT be haunted?  Its weird concrete slabbed (reinforced) basement and its dark creaking hallways.  I’d seen several times the elevator arrive empty to an empty lobby.

A year or so later I heard that there was a ghost at the Chinese Theater, more specifically, one that was walking back and forth on the sidewalk in front of the stars’ handprints.  And, what’s more, people had even claimed that it was old Victor Kilian himself!

But how could that be?  What would he be doing there and how could he even be recognized?  Because from what I’d heard, apparitions were always kind of blurry.  I had already given a lot of thought (and fret) to the idea that if Victor’s ghost was anywhere, it would be in my building, floor, apartment, or bedroom (maybe, say, at 2 in the morning).  And that he’d likely look gory and bloody, maybe with a hatchet sticking out of his head.

Maybe his ghost was compelled to pace back and forth in a more public area, to be noticed by more people, as doubtless he would have done as an actor in life.  Maybe the spectre was frustrated at not getting his own footprints in wet cement or even a star on the Boulevard.

A legend quickly arose, that he was walking back and forth looking for his killer.  I thought he would be about the only one, because the police hadn’t found anybody yet, and maybe they really had given up.  That bothered me, I took a vague kind of offense that a potential neighbor and friend had been just ‘offed’ and nobody seemed to care.  This feeling lasted for awhile, and then I guess I too kind of forgot.   Eventually I didn’t seem to care anymore.

With this unsolved murder my building kept a secret, and it keeps it to this day.  I came to realize that the benefit of ghost stories about Victor Kilian was to kind of keep his memory alive.   I’d learned that in this town full of glamorous distraction and occasionally violent crime, sometimes a good ghost story could be the only way to do just that.

21 replies
  1. Rory
    Rory says:

    Bill, it’s a shame that nobody would have photographed the Lido’s lobby during the time you lived there, and that you are forced to use a picture from the current wave of Hollywood gentrification that I’m living through. When you lived there the Lido had fallen off the wagon and into deep despair. I remember coming over there for the first time and being horrified that the walls had been burned by an insane resident and that nobody was bothering to cover it up. It really made me wonder who lived there and what went on behind those doors. People seeing only that new picture from the 2012 advertisement might think you are exaggerating. I’m here to testify that if there were a 1980 ad for the Lido it would have to have a ghoulish invitation from Vincent Price pictured in the blackened lobby. The truth is exactly how you tell it. Thanks for the memories.

    Reply
  2. kathcom
    kathcom says:

    I remember reading Hollywood Babylon I and II when I was a kid. I’d never thought about it but you’re absolutely right: the black and white photos did give a sense that the killings were far removed from everyday life. But you lived in the middle of it. It must have been fascinating to be a sleuth in your own building and surroundings. But, having had my own 2 am night terror visitations, I can imagine that the middle of the night was a scary place to wake up in at the Lido. You really painted a picture.

    Reply
  3. Karl Heck
    Karl Heck says:

    Great story. I just watched Dangerous Passage and looked up Victor’s career. His eerie creepy nervous giggle was destabilizing to say the least and a credit to his professionalism as a character actor who really fleshed out his roles with such touches. The synchronicity of the All In The Family episode with the dual octogenarian murders was so strange too. Anyway nice story I thank you.

    Reply
  4. Harry Overcoat
    Harry Overcoat says:

    Found your blog by accident.

    Fantastic writing. A real hoot and trip down memory lane. I think we could’ve bumped into each other as kids. I was at the first screening of The Shining as well. And at Elvira’s appearance at the opening of The Thing at the Pacific. And you’re right, the giant X theater sign did lean out into the street but I think that was later on.

    Cheers.

    Reply
  5. Deb Kaye
    Deb Kaye says:

    Bill Hardesty
    Also just ran across your story. Very good and interesting. I’ve always been interested in old Hollywood and the lesser known character actors so to find your story about Victor Killian did interest me. I remember hearing of his death but hadn’t thought about him in years or that his killer was never found as of yet and after all this time may never will be found. I’m sure it was s robbery of sorts maybe a hopped up junkie needing cash to score his next hit. I grew up in nearby Long Beach but spent many hours around the area you lived in and described. I use to watch the tourists oohing and ahhing while snapping photos of everything around them and sometimes I had to laugh because I found the area to be old, messy, crowded and pretty much boring but these people were mesmerized by just being in famous Hollywood. I had seen my share of movie stars when I was younger at the nearby horse racing tracks as our Dad use to take us kids along with him while he played the ponies. I seen Cary Grant, Dale Robertson, Jack Lemmon, Audie Murphy, Kirk Douglas, Lana Turner, Tony Curtis, Dean Martin, Robert Young and many lesser known actors and actresses by the time I was 12 years old, some I actually went up to and chatted with. Many seemed to be more cordial to us kids than the adults who would try to get autographs. I will never forget Audie Murphy and his fancy red and white cowboy boots but he was not too much taller than us. He stopped and ask my sister and I if we wanted some gum and handed us a pack of Juicy Fruit and my Dad, who was also a World War 2 Army veteran talked with Mr. Murphy about the war. At the time I didn’t know Audie Murphy was a war hero. I just thought he was so cute! It was never hard to see the movie stars at the races as most had a entourage with them. Guess the paparazzi was much different back then as the famous folks didn’t really try to hide from the crowd. Dad said many of them owned race horses and liked watching them run.
    I do remember the Lido Building very well but never went inside but was more interested in the old Brown Derby watching to see who was inside or going in or out. My Dad worked at Golds Furniture not to far away and we use to hang out on the weekends with him and 3 or 4 of us kids would be allowed to go roam around always sworn to stay together or we wouldn’t get to go. We never had any problems but once in awhile some disheveled drunk would pass out on the street or some jerk would start arguing with another but the cops would be there to tend to them all. Seen a few people get hit by a car trying to run across the street but no one was seriously hurt.
    Again, thank you for your story I really enjoyed it. Times are so different now as I would never allow my own sons to roam those streets these days by themselves. They were born and raised in Arizona but we have took them there a few times.

    Reply
    • Bill Hardesty
      Bill Hardesty says:

      Deb, thanks you so much, what wonderful memories you have of the area. My mom used to take me to Santa Anita, I was considered her good luck charm! I saw and met a few celebs but would have to go to The Christmas parade or to watch them film Battle of the Network Stars at Pepperdine University. I was at the Lido a few months ago and actually got in and it’s a lot nicer than it was when I lived there by far

      Reply
  6. Kristin Kilian
    Kristin Kilian says:

    I was 15 years old when my great grandfather Victor Kilian was murdered. Our whole family was heartbroken as you can imagine. My grandparents who had been struggling themselves to get their own careers back on track after the blacklist, tried getting him to move out of the Lido hotel. They knew it was not safe. Maybe because of his life long politics working as a social activist or maybe because he really was New York city urban guy at heart he just would not move. I was close to him growing up. He was wonderful! Thank you all for remembering him. I know for a fact that if the person who killed him needed money,was addicted or down on his luck, Victor would have been the kind of person who would have helped them. How sad is that. I am glad I found this blog. Thank you again,

    Kristin Kilian

    Reply
    • Bill Hardesty
      Bill Hardesty says:

      I’m very sorry about that, can’t imagine what it’s like to have that happen to a family member. I was 11 when we moved in there, and there were retired silent movie actors still hanging on in residence. I was always scared of yet fascinated by the place and always wanted to meet Victor, share some stories of his varied and dense career.

      Reply
  7. Monica
    Monica says:

    This story is very intriguing. I love reading about Old Hollywood and the sometimes tragic fates that the old stars met with. Just read about Victor Kilian on Findadeath.com and became hungry for more information. I was led here. I hope you will do more writing about your compelling experiences at the Lido.

    Reply
  8. John
    John says:

    Hi. Just happened to be thinking of some of my old haunts back 35 years ago in Hollywood and came across this story. I think all the bars I used to hang out in are gone now, including The Lemon Twist… trying to remember some of the others but the only one that comes to mind is The Spotlight owned by Don Samuels. The uncle of actress Sybill Shepherd owned The Lemon Twist at the time I lived in the area and she supposedly would drop by occasionally but I never saw her.
    Anyways thanks for jarring a few memory chords.

    Reply
  9. Patricia Evens Lowe
    Patricia Evens Lowe says:

    My Grandparents lived in the Lido Hotel in the 1940’s-1950’s. I was 5 the first time I visited there, from our home on the Oregon coast. I was fascinated by the elevator ( we didn’t have one in our tiny town ) and the lighting and spanish style doorways. When my sister and I visited in later years, we always enjoyed our stay with our Grandparents. He was the “Super” and Grandma was head of housekeeping. So much to do in Las Angeles. When I was a teen, I realized what “Hollywood” meant, and prayed I’d see a star. I understand Ronald Colman lived there at one time. Several actresses left some dresses behind and Grandma gave them to us, and one of those actresses babysat us at one time. I’m 74 years old now, and I am STILL fascinated with that old hotel. Trying to find anything I can that’s written about it. I really enjoyed your article…so glad I found it !!

    Reply
    • Bill Hardesty
      Bill Hardesty says:

      I have had the same fascination with the place over the years, still feeling very lucky that I had the chance to live there. I have two or three more pieces about the Lido on my website if you are still hunting for reading material. Thank you for reading.

      Reply
  10. connie
    connie says:

    I enjoyed your story very much I too have always been fascinated with old Hollywood I also have in my home Kenneth anglers Hollywood Babylon someone commented about not letting their children run around the streets and I agree fortunately for me I was allowed to run around the streets as a kid unfortunately for me I was raised in Fresno not Hollywood as kids we got into a lot of mischief I can only imagine what we would have found in Hollywood thank you for the story.

    Reply
  11. Noah
    Noah says:

    I came across your blog after seeing Victor Kilian in an old episode of The Brady Bunch. He played the man who lost the wallet in which Greg, Peter & Bobby found. I find it interesting to look up old character actors after seeing them play so many different roles in TV series and movies.

    So sad that Mr. Kilian met such a tragic end after living a broad-spanned and talented life. And what are the odds of Victor Kilian and Charles Wagenheim’s having been murdered within days of one another, being just a coincidence? Especially after both appearing in an All in the Family episode together shortly before their demise?

    Reply
    • Bill Hardesty
      Bill Hardesty says:

      I was so fascinated about this guy I never met that I wrote a novel that sort of imagined him as a ghost still in the same building

      Reply
  12. JOE GEEGARZA
    JOE GEEGARZA says:

    THANK YOU FOR THIS STORY, AND FOR KEEPING THESE STORIES ALIVE BILL, I RAN AWAY TO HOLLYWOOD AS A 13 YEAR OLD, AND AT THE BEGINNING OF 1977 I STARTED A GROUP OF MY FELLOW BMX BICYCLE RIDDERS / TEENAGE STONERS CALLED THE HOLLYWOOD STONERS, WE WOULD RIDE ALL OVER HOLLYWOOD VISITING FRIENDS WE KNEW FROM AROUND HOLLYWOOD INCLUDING THE LIDDO BUILDING, WHERE WE HAD A MARIJUANA DEALER THAT WOULD SELL TO US, AND WE SPENT A LOT OF TIME PARTING IN DIFFERENT APARTMENTS IN THAT BUILDING, AND WOULD SEE VICTOR WALKING AROUND THE NEIGHBORHOOD, AND THAT BUILDING ALL THE TIME AND I WAS ALWAYS FACINATED WITH THAT BUILDING, AND ALL THE MYSTERIOUS UNSOLVED MURDERS, AS WELL AS OTHER MYSTERIES, AS TEEN STONERS WE WOULD MEET EVERYBODY AND I OFTEN WONDER IF I EVEN KNEW SOME OF THESE PERPETRATORS TO THIS DAY. AND IM SURE WE RAN INTO YOU OFTEN BILL, WE USED TO ALWAYS HANG OUT, AND OR WORK AT MOTORAMA ARCADE ON ORANGE DR ACROSS THE STREET FROM THE CHINESE THEATER, AND WHEN THE OWNER BIG AL CLOSED DOWN WE HUNG OUT, AND WORKED AT HIS NEW LOCATION HE RENAMED ROCK CITY LOCATED IN THAT BUILDING ON THE CORNER OF HOLLYWOOD, AND WESTERN AND LIKE WE DID AT MOTORAMA WE SPENT MANY HOURS HONING OUR FOOSBALL SKILLS TO PREPARE FOR TOURNAMENTS, BUT MOST OF THE TIME WE WOULD BE RIDDING OUR BMX BICYCLES MEETING ALL THE PRETTY GIRLS AND HUSSLING MONEY, SMOKING WEED, WRITING GRAFITTI EVERYWHERE BEFORE IT WAS COOL, THOSE WERE THE DAYS. THANK YOU AGAIN BILL … DRUMROLL ………………………….. PRICELESS !!!

    Reply
    • Bill Hardesty
      Bill Hardesty says:

      I definitely must have run into you. I was a denizen of Rock City too, I was a little Jr High kid from LeConte back then. My sister worked at the Chinese Theater and we’d go over to 7 Seas and have fried rice. I have a Rock City story on my website, I already had a little feedback that I’d misremembered some of the layout there but I wonder what you’d think. You’re not the guy who wrote R13 all over the Lido are you? JK LOL

      Reply

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