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Thelma Todd's Mysterious Death

I have a curiosity for humanity's darker side and I love doing research so I've combined those two things to write in depth articles.

Thelma Todd's picture after winning Miss Massachusetts

Thelma Todd's picture after winning Miss Massachusetts

Early Years

Thelma Alice Todd was born on July 29, 1906 in Lawrence Massachusetts. Her parent’s were John Shaw Todd and Alice Elizabeth Edwards-Todd. Her father was an upholsterer from Ireland and was said to have been an emotionally distant man. Her mother stayed at home and was a Canadian immigrant. Thelma had one sibling, an older brother named William Edwards who passed away on August 25, 1910. Her brother was just 7 years old.

Thelma was a very kind and bright child growing up. She was excelled in academics and even wanted to be a school teacher when she grew up. Thelma graduated high school in 1923 and enrolled in Lowell Normal School (Now University of Massachusetts). She had planned to take teaching classes and to train to become a teacher but her mother had other plans.

As she got older, her mother started to insist and push her to compete in beauty pageants. This was mostly because her mother didn’t want her daughter to become a “simple school teacher”. In her late teens Thelma entered several beauty pageants and won the title of Miss Massachusetts in 1925. She went on to enter Miss America but didn’t win first place. There happened to be a Hollywood talent scout in the audience and he saw potential in Thelma. Thelma gave up on her childhood dream of becoming a school teacher and went on to become an actress.

Thelma Todd

Thelma Todd

Acting Career

Thelma started off doing silent films for directer Hal Roach. She was put in two comedy shorts and was able to prove herself to be a very comedic, great at physical comedy and beautiful woman. This was a rare combination in the 1920’s and ultimately helped her popularity.

Eventually she was able to sign a deal with Paramount Pictures to be in bigger films. Her first roll with Paramount was in the movie ‘Fascinating Youth’ in 1926. The same year she had a roll in the movie “God Save me Twenty Cents”. As the years went on silent films started to integrate talking into them. These were known as ‘talkies’ and Thelma was quick to adapt to the new movie format and was a natural in the talkies due to her good clear voice.

Her first part-talkie film was ‘Abie’s Irish Rose’ in 1928. Her first full feature talkie was a movie called ‘Her Private Life’ in 1929. Thelma went on to do 14 more comedy movies including ‘Monkey Business’, one of the Marx Brother’s movies. While she was very successful in comedies, she wanted to try out dramas as well.

In 1931 she had a roll in Roland West’s film, ‘Corsair’. Thelma decided to create an alternate persona for her dramatic rolls and was credited as Alison Lloyd. Unfortunately the movie was not well liked and Thelma went back to doing comedies.

Thelma had her own short series with Zasu Pitts and eventually Patsy Kelly. Her shorts were about two girls that were determined to make it in the big city. These shorts were widely popular and helped in establishing her as a comedian.

Her last film she was in was ‘The Bohemian Girl’ in 1936 and was released after her death. The movie producers decided to cut all of Thelma’s scenes besides one song. Overall, Thelma Todd was in over 120 films in her short life. Her career gave her the still famous nicknames of “The Ice Cream Blond” and “Hot Toddy” that her friends would often refer to her by.

Thelma Todd and Zasu Pitts

Thelma Todd and Zasu Pitts

Personal Life

Thelma Todd’s personal life was more then risky, it was dangerous.

Thelma’s first husband was Pasquale‘Pat’ DiCicco, the right hand man of notorious mobster Charles "Lucky" Luciano. Pat was also a movie producer and agent at the time. Pat and Thelma got married in Prescott Arizona in 1932 and later had a quiet second marriage in a Hollywood church. The two had a volatile relationship that had frequent drunken brawls. Once instance left Pat with a broken nose. The pair eventually divorced in 1934.

During their marriage Pat had introduced Thelma to Lucky Luciano and the two began to have an affair. It’s uncertain how long the affair went on for but Luciano was also very abusive to Thelma and would often beat her. It was mentioned she had stopped drinking and refused champagne when Luciano offered it. He got angry and ended up forcing her to drink by putting the bottle to her mouth. Luciano was also the one who got Thelma hooked on amphetamines .

Before she got married to DiCicco, Thelma had been involved with Roland West. Before she got a roll in his movie, the two of them met on a yachting excursion in 1930 to Catalina island. They became close and started dating even though West was married at the time. West wasn’t much better than either of the other men in her life. West was described as a controlling and possessive man. It’s unclear if the two dated until her death but it’s speculated they were still lovers off and on through the years.

Thelma clearly had a type, she liked the bad boys and unfortunately that could have been exactly what killed her. She was rumored to have been involved romantically with other members of the mob and shady characters. Just a few months before her death she had been telling her friends abut a new man she was seeing but wouldn’t tell them his name.

Restaurant Business

The same year Thelma divorced DiCicco she went into business with her ex-boyfriend but occasional lover, Roland West. It’s not known for certain if West was still married or separated from, Jewel Carmen, but the three of them decided to open a restaurant together. Thelma was not just beautiful and talented but, she was also a very brilliant and savvy businesswoman. It was called, Thelma Todd’s Sidewalk Cafe and on the second floor it held a Super Club, or Night Club as they are called today. The very top floor held apartments that Thelma had moved into. West moved into the apartment next to Thelma’s and Carmen lived in the house on the hill behind the restaurant that was jointly owned by West and Carmen. The building was owned by Carmen, West financially backed the project, and the face of the restaurant was the beautiful Thelma.

The building’s address was and still is, 17575 Pacific Coast highway in Pacific Palisades California. It opened in August 1934 and was highly successful. The Super Club hosted more of the high end clients from Hollywood while the Sidewalk Cafe catered more to tourists traveling along the busy highway. The location was beautiful and looked out over the open Pacific Ocean.

While the restaurant was extremely successful it had began to lose money. Luciano was rumored to have been in an affair with Thelma simply to persuade her to let him open an illegal gambling den on the upper levels. Thelma refused and Luciano was not happy about this. Many people believe the mob was selling supplies to Thelma for the business at outrageous prices and this caused them to lose money on the cafe and super club. While she was running the restaurant, Thelma was still acting in comedies. A few months before her untimely death, Thelma had began getting death threats in the mail. After numerous death threats and alerting the police, she decided on March 7th, 1935 to buy a gun and a pit bull that she named Nibs to feel more protected.

Thelma Todd's Sidewalk Cafe

Thelma Todd's Sidewalk Cafe

Thelma and her pit bull Nibs after she bought a gun to protect herself.

Thelma and her pit bull Nibs after she bought a gun to protect herself.

The Weekend Before Her Death

On Saturday December 14th, 1935 Thelma went to a party she had been invited to. It was at the Trocadero restaurant ran by her good friend Stanley Lupino. His daughter Ida, who was 16 at the time, was throwing the party. Thelma was having a good night when she saw her ex-husband DiCicco and his new girlfriend, Margaret Lindsey show up. Ida had explained to Thelma she had invited him after he asked to be invited. Thelma and DiCicco got into a brief argument and she claimed he came just to embarrass her. This could have been the case as DiCicco’s date for the evening was a close friend to Thelma and was in fact a lesbian and not interested in DiCicco.

After the argument Thelma’s friends say she went back to being in good spirits and wasn’t fazed by the encounter. They all said she seemed fine and continued to have fun and bubbly. Later that evening Thelma’s chauffeur Ernest O. Peters picked her up from the party and drove her home. He dropped her off at the bottom of the stairs in the early morning of Sunday December 15th.

It’s speculated she walked up the stairs to her apartment but found it to be locked. West had told her the night before that she needed to be home before 2 am because he would be locking up the apartment. When she couldn’t get in, she walked up the stairs to the street Carmen lived on and entered the garage to get to her car.

Map of the distance from the Cafe to Roland West's home where Carmen was living.

Map of the distance from the Cafe to Roland West's home where Carmen was living.

This is the garage Thelma's body was found in.

This is the garage Thelma's body was found in.

The Death of Thelma Todd

Thelma was found on Monday December 16th, at 9:30 am by her maid, Mae Whitehead. Thelma was found slumped over in the drivers seat of her convertible 1932 Lincoln Phantom. It was said the car was still running but was out of gas. Other reports contradict this and say the car was not on when she was found and that it still had 2 gallons of gas in the tank.

Mae drove to the cafe to alert West of Thelma and when they both got back to the garage, West stayed behind and told the maid to go get the police. While Mae was gone to get the police, a group of neighborhood residence gathered around the garage to see what was going in. One man who worked as a service station attendant said he saw Thelma in the passenger seat covered in blood and looked as though she had been hit in the head.

Police and reporters were on the scene investigating when the Chief Detective Bert Wallis and Chief Medical Examiner A.D. Wagner arrived and demanded everybody leave the garage. Even the police were forced out of the garage and the two Chief’s shut the garage door. They were in the garage alone for an hour before they came out to make a statement.

The Chief Detective told the reporters that Thelma came to the garage drunk on Sunday morning and had committed accidental suicide when she closed the garage door with the car running. He stated the medical examiner determined her cause of death was carbon monoxide poisoning with no signs of violence. She did have a cut lip that he explained away by her head hitting the steering wheel when she fell asleep. Further statements from the Chief medical examiner said he estimated her time of death to be about 30 hours ago or around 2 am on Sunday morning.

After their statements they allowed photographers and reporters into the garage to gather what they needed. When they entered the garage, there was no blood and she was now in the driver seat. Due to the circumstance surrounding her death, her case was brought to a jury of her peers in court to determine if it was a homicide or an accidental death. The jury said they believed it was an accidental death with no evidence of foul play.

Thelma's 1932 Lincoln Phantom

Thelma's 1932 Lincoln Phantom

Inconsistencies and Law Corruption

Thelma’s death had a lot of contradictory reports about it that caused a lot of people to believe she was murdered and that the police had been paid off to either fix the crime scene or to simply look the other way. In the 1920’s L.A. law enforcement was very corrupt, especially in Hollywood. It’s entirely possible that Thelma’s death was a murder that had been covered up by the police.

Some of the contradictory reports including the ones I mentioned in the previous section are very suspicious. It’s a rather big difference if the car was running or not and if it indeed had gas still. If the car was not on or had not been running that whole night, how could she have died from carbon monoxide poisoning? If she had started the car on Sunday morning someone would have heard it but nobody did. A man who lived in the room above the garage, said the Phantom’s engine was extremely loud and he never heard it turn on.

Thelma was a very smart woman and her blood alcohol was shown to be only .13 and barely over the legal limit. If this was true then she wouldn’t have been severely intoxicated enough to make such a mistake of turning on the car in a closed garage. She also most likely wouldn’t have been able to make it up the long staircase to the street she needed to be on.

Further concurrences would be that Thelma’s body did show signs of violence, unlike what the Chief Wagner stated. Thelma was found to have a chipped tooth, cracked rib and bruising on her throat and face. Some reports have mentioned she had a broken nose as well. When they discovered her body, rigor mortise had just started to set in. If she had really died when Chief Wagner said she did, rigor would have already set in. This means she likely died just 5 or 6 hours before she was found.

Something else in the coroner’s report was that the food found in her stomach was not something that was on the menu at the party. They found peas and carrots in her stomach that would have been eaten around 6 hours prior to being found. This means she couldn’t have been dead on Sunday morning.

Several eye witnesses had also come forward to say they saw Thelma in her car driving with a strange man. They described him as a swarthy Italian-looking man. Two eye witnesses claimed to have seen her at a stop light while others said they saw the two driving by. West’s own wife even claimed in court that she saw Thelma and a strange man out on Sunday. One of Thelma’s friends, Martha Ford, said she got a call from Thelma at 4 pm on Sunday saying she’d need to cancel their dinner plans.

There is only one problem with the idea that Thelma was still alive on Sunday and that is the fact she was found in the same clothes she was wearing at the party. Her friends and family say she would never go out without changing her outfit. Her mother said it was not possible, that she would have definitely changed clothes. Her mother also still believes her daughters death was an accident.

My own theory on this is that she may have been taken hostage by the strange man she was seen with. This wouldn’t allow her to change out of her clothes and she would still be seen around town on Sunday if she was alive. A lot of people believe the man she was seen with was Lucky Luciano the mobster.

Most everybody knew of the corruption in the police force and other law sections. Buron Fitts was a District Attorney that was threatened and paid off by the mob on many occasions. It’s a fact that Luciano had threatened Fitts to say out of the way and he did just that. Any crime that might have had ties to Luciano were looked away from. Thelma Todd’s death was one such case that DA Fitts wanted nothing to do with. It’s possible that Fitts sent Wagner and Wallis to cover up and fix the crime scene to look more like an accident, but this has never been proven.

District Attorney Fitts was found to have been the most corrupt DA in history. In 1973, after everything came out and he had quite the firm, he went and sat in a chair in his garage and shot himself in the head.

Possible Suspects

Due to her death being legally called an accidental death/suicide, this list of suspects is simply based on theories.

Pat DiCicco- The ex-husband of Thelma had a good motive for wanting her dead. She had several affairs while she was married to him and had potentially humiliated him during and after the divorce. Pat was already a violent man and had beaten other women he had been with including his second wife. He had ties to the mob and so he could have had easy access to hiring a hit man and getting away with it. He was also allegedly involved in a brutal attack on a comedian in 1937. Pat’s cousin, Albert Broccoli aka Cubby, and actor Wallace Beery had attacked Ted Healy until he was unconscious. The comedian Healy died the next day but it was never officially determined if it was due to the attack or his alcoholism.

Broccoli made a statement saying while the other two men were with him, it was just him who hit Healy but he later retracted and said that Healy was drunk and approached them. Broccoli said they got into a scuffle then shook hands and went their separate ways.

Charles “Lucky” Luciano- Luciano was a notorious mob crime boss from New York that traveled to LA. Pat DiCicco was said to have been his right-hand man and had been introduced to Thelma by Pat. Luciano was known for being ruthless and wanting Thelma’s restaurant for his gambling. It was speculated that when he tried to get Thelma to give him the upper apartments she said “Over my dead body” to which Luciano was said to have replied “I can make that happen.”

Luciano was already involved in the mobs movie unions and had started to get into the drug scene in LA so he wouldn’t have needed the gambling den in Thelma’s restaurant. Luciano had some anger issues so it’s possible that just her rejecting him could have been enough to make him want to kill her. Luciano had been known to kill rival drug dealers and get away with it after threatening the DA. On the day Thelma’s body was discovered, Luciano had gotten a flight out of LA that morning around 7:45 am and never returned.

Roland West and Jewel Carmen- Roland West was Thelma’s ex-boyfriend and occasional lover after the affair had ended. West was known to be a very controlling and possessive over the women in his life.

After they went into business together and Thelma was blamed for the business loosing money, West could have gotten angry with her and killed her. West and Carmen were not happy with Thelma about the money problems. Carmen was reported as threatening to kill Thelma if the restaurant didn’t start to make money soon.

On the night of the party, West told Thelma to be home by 2 am because he would be locking the doors to the apartment. West kept to his word and locked the doors at 2 am, and went to bed himself about 2:30 am. He claimed he never heard anything, no knocking, no yelling. He did say that Thelma’s dog, Nibs, was startled later in the morning but West said he heard nothing and went back to sleep.

After Thelma’s death, West’s reputation plummeted and Thelma’s death largely overshadowed his film work. His reputation only got worse because in 1955 West’s yacht the Joyita, disappeared in the South Pacific. All 25 people including crew and passengers went missing.

When he was on his death bed, he supposedly told a close friend that he had more involvement in Thelma’s death then he told the police.

It is not clear when West and Carmen got a divorce as resources all state different years. Some say they divorced in 935 others say it was in 1938. It could be that they separated in 1935 and got divorced in 1938 but I have found nothing that backs up this theory.

Alice Todd- This suspect is a bit of a stretch but is still a popular theory. Alice was her daughters heir to her fortune and this could have been motive enough to kill her. Her mother had moved to LA with Thelma and was even given a house by her in the same area that the restaurant was in.

It’s said her mother was talking to friends about building a new bigger mansion after her daughter had died but she wouldn’t have the money to afford it if Thelma was still alive.

Alice did push her daughter into competing in beauty pageants and most likely pressured her into going into acting instead of becoming a school teacher but that’s never been proved. Some theorists think she was involved in her daughters death to get to the money. Alice always believed her daughter’s death was an accident and that no foul play was involved.

Alice Elizabeth Todd, Thelma's mother.

Alice Elizabeth Todd, Thelma's mother.

In The End

After almost 85 years, we still don’t know for sure if Thelma Todd was murdered or was the victim of an unfortunate accident. A lot of people had motives to want her dead and she was involved with a lot of dangerous people. Thelma Todd was only 29 years old when she passed away.

Thelma was cremated and her ash’s had been given to her mother. When her mother passed away in December 18th 1969, she had Thelma’s ash’s buried with her. They are both buried in Bellevue Cemetery in Lawrence Massachusetts.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.