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The Lost World of Kup

When Irv Kupcinet, the legendary gossip columnist of the Chicago Sun-Times, died last year, it marked the end of a remarkable era of glamour and intrigue.

(page 7 of 11)

No one has ever been charged in Karyn’s death, and though the coroner ruled it a death by strangulation, citing a broken hyoid bone in her throat, even that finding of murder is uncertain.

Ellroy believes that Karyn killed herself, either intentionally or by accident, with an overdose of pills. He speculates that she might have been following the advice in a book found near her body to dance in the nude like a “wood nymph, to free your inhibitions.” Falling, she clipped her hyoid bone on the coffee table.

Los Angeles County sheriff’s detectives found a note in the apartment: “I’m no good. I’m not really that pretty. My figure’s fat and will never be the way my mother wants it. I won’t let it be what she wants. . . . What happens to me-or my Andy? Why doesn’t he want me?”

Members of the Kupcinet family angrily dispute the possibility of suicide. “If anyone ever suggested anything but murder, [Kup] would have murdered that person,” says a former Sun-Times editor. Kari Kupcinet-Kriser, who came to know Ellroy well and admires him, thinks that he is wrong in this case: “He’s the only one in 40 years who has ever [suggested it was a suicide], and every policeman will tell you that it’s a murder.”

According to Jerry Kupcinet, Chicago mobsters offered to send associates to Los Angeles to help expedite the investigation. Kup declined that offer-and an offer, Jerry adds, from Mayor Richard J. Daley to send some Chicago detectives to Los Angeles. “My dad was totally convinced that the [L.A.] sheriff’s department could figure this out.”

Kup also declined to hire a private investigator, again because he did not want to offend the sheriff’s detectives. He grew bitterly to regret that decision, referring to it as “a colossal blunder.” Instead, he called FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, “a person I had met on many occasions,” Kup noted. “He wrote a warm letter, in which he urged the police to be aggressive in their investigation.”

Early on, Essee believed that Andrew Prine had murdered Karyn, and she set out to ruin his career. He went from being a “hot property,” says Marcia Goddard, to one who worked spottily during the 1960s. The Sun-Times celebrity columnist Bill Zwecker recalls a studio executive telling him, “I’ve heard for years [Prine] couldn’t get a job at a car wash.” (Today Prine lives in Sherman Oaks with his third wife, and, since Karyn’s death, he has appeared in movies such as Crypt of the Living Dead and Gettysburg and on television in episodes of “The Fugitive” and “Murder, She Wrote.")

The other prime suspect was David Lange, then 27, the younger brother of the actress Hope Lange. At the time he was struggling to break into the movie business, and he would later work for the director Alan Pakula, who had married his sister in 1963. Shortly after the murder, Lange told a friend he did it, then said he was just kidding. “Oh, God, the police kept bringing that up,” says Lange today. “Within a week or so of this murder, we were all so crazed with it that people would be going around saying, ‘I’m the . . . strangler.’”

Lange, who today lives in Connecticut, says Karyn “wasn’t really a friend.” He had seen her at a couple of parties with Prine. She helped Lange rent the apartment directly above hers. He had lived there just a couple of days, and they had talked about getting together. The next time he saw her, “she was getting carried out of the courtyard building in a body bag.”
James Ellroy thinks the case will never be solved. Marcia Goddard, now remarried, says that ten years ago a detective came to her house to talk to her about it, but she hasn’t heard anything since. Jerry Kupcinet, who lives in Los Angeles and directs the TV show “Judge Joe Brown,” says simply, “The case is still open.”

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