The grisly murder of B.C.-born Playboy Playmate Dorothy Stratten still resonates 40 years later

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B.C. born Playmate Dorothy Stratten murdered by husband
Coquitlam-raised Dorothy Stratten was a Playboy Playmate and actress who was murdered by her husband Paul Snider at the age of 20. Original airdate: 17-Aug-1980 – Aug 14, 2020

In the early hours of Aug. 15, 1980, Los Angeles police officers discovered the bodies of B.C.-born Playboy Playmate Dorothy Stratten and husband Paul Snider.

The 20-year-old model appeared to be on the path to stardom. She had become the first Canadian to be named Playboy’s Playmate of the Year and had begun the transition from pinup model to actress, having appeared in a handful of feature films.

Whatever promise her future held was cut short by Snider, who police believed killed Stratten before taking his own life.

Four decades later, Stratten’s death continues to live in the public imagination, having inspired films, books and songs. It also inspired ugly accusations between Hollywood director Peter Bogdanovich and Playboy founder Hugh Hefner.

Playboy Magazine’s 1980 Playmate of the Year, Dorothy Stratten, 20, from Vancouver, Canada is shown here May 2, 1980 getting a hug from Toronto public works employee Jim Madden while she was on a publicity tour of Canada.

Dorothy Hoogstraten grew up in Coquitlam, B.C., the daughter of Dutch immigrants.

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As a teenager, she worked part-time at a local Dairy Queen. While working behind the counter in 1978, she met Paul Snider, a local promoter who The Canadian Press described as a man with a penchant for tailored suits, floppy hats and flashy cars.

Click to play video: 'Playboy playmate Dorothy Stratten returns to Vancouver'
Playboy playmate Dorothy Stratten returns to Vancouver

Snider charmed young Hoogstraten and eventually convinced her to pose nude and he sent the photos to Playboy magazine.

Snider had worked as a promoter of motorcycle and auto shows and, according to a 1980 Village Voice article on Stratten’s death, also worked as a pimp. At the time, The Canadian Press reported Snider was the target of several police investigations but was never charged.

As Snider suspected, the photos caught the eye of Playboy editors and Hoogstraten flew to Los Angeles for a test shoot.

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Dorothy Stratten and Paul Snider. Getty Images/UPI

Hoogstraten shortened her last name to Stratten and Playboy named her Miss August 1979.

Stratten and Snider had settled in Los Angeles and were married in June 1979. Playboy named her Playmate of the Year in 1980.

Stratten made some appearances in films and was cast alongside Audrey Hepburn and John Ritter in the comedy They All Laughed, helmed by Oscar-nominated director Peter Bogdanovich.

She became romantically involved with Bogdanovich as her marriage to Snider unravelled.

One acquaintance described the 29-year-old Snider as an extremely jealous man. Snider apparently hired Los Angeles private detective Mark Goldstein to follow Stratten after their separation.

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“He was entirely disliked by 90 per cent of the people who knew him,” the acquaintance told The Canadian Press at the time. “He was very brash, very demanding, wanting to tell people how great Paul Snider was.”

Police said Stratten went to see Snider on Aug. 14 to discuss their marriage.

The nude bodies of Stratten and Snider were discovered around 12:30 a.m. the next day. Police said at the time that Stratten had been shot in the face and a 12-gauge shotgun had been found under Snider’s body.

The aftermath of Stratten’s death was filled with acrimony.

Bogdanovich published a book, The Killing of The Unicorn, where he accused Hugh Hefner and the culture of Playboy of contributing to Stratten’s demise. He also accused Hefner of making inappropriate advances on Stratten.

Hefner denied the allegations.

“Dorothy’s tragic death was motivated not in any way by her association with Playboy, but clearly by the breakup of her marriage, because of the affair with Peter Bogdonavich,” he said during a 1985 press conference.

In April 1985, Stratten’s sister Louise sued Hefner and her stepfather Burl Eldridge for slander. Hefner and Eldridge told a news conference that Bogdanovich had seduced the 13-year-old Louise and her mother. They also said the film director paid for plastic surgery so Louise would look more like her late sister.

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In an interview with BCTV, Louise said she barely knew Hefner, having only met him twice.

Click to play video: 'Dorothy Stratten’s sister speaks out against Hugh Hefner'
Dorothy Stratten’s sister speaks out against Hugh Hefner

“I was shocked and didn’t understand why he would say something like that,” she said.

With lawyer Gloria Allred at her side, Louise described Bogdanovich as a good friend.

“He’s always helped our family in family matters and helped me get through the pain and sorrow about my sister,” she said.

The US$5-million suit was dropped five months later without any settlement.

In 1988, Bogdanovich and Louise Stratten were married in a ceremony at a Vancouver hotel.

The couple divorced in 2001. A recent Associated Press profile of Bogdanovich said he still lives with Louise and her mother.

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In the interview, Bogdanovich says he is working on several projects, including one based on his book The Killing of the Unicorn.

Dorothy Stratten in Toronto, 1980. (Photo by Boris Spremo/Toronto Star via Getty Images).

If the series is made, it will join a long list of works inspired by Stratten’s death.

Two films were made about Stratten: the 1981 made-for-TV movie Death of a Centerfold and Star 80, a 1983 feature film directed by Bob Fosse and shot in Vancouver.

Stratten served as the inspiration for the Bryan Adams ballad The Best Was Yet To Come and the Red Hot Chili Peppers dropped a Stratten reference in their hit Californication.

Her story was even captured in a 2012 art exhibit of Stratten-inspired origami sculptures.

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Hugh Hefner dead at 91

Last year, ABC News aired a 20/20 documentary about Stratten’s death.

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Four decades later, Stratten’s journey from fast-food employee to centrefold to movie starlet to murder victim has not been forgotten.

“I worked in a Dairy Queen for four years, I lived on the farm, I was a straight-A student,” Stratten told BCTV.

“I was very shy. I never dated boys, really. I never went out to parties. I was straight, very straight. The first time I went to Los Angeles to shoot for Playboy, it was my first time on an airplane.

“Playboy’s motto is The Girl Next Door. They look for girls that are wholesome and fresh and young and naive.”

— With files from The Canadian Press and The Associated Press

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