Visitors to Beverly Hills hoping to get up close and personal with one of the mansions they see all around them often find their way to Greystone Mansion and Park: a 55-room Tudor-style estate on Loma Vista Drive. Built in 1928 by oil tycoon Edward Doheny, Sr., as a gift for his son Ned, the estate was saved from demolition by the City of Beverly Hills in 1965. It was designated as a city park in 1971 and joined the National Register of Historic Places in 1976. Over the years, it’s been a popular filming location, and it was the setting for my very favorite movie: The Trouble With Angels starring Hayley Mills. Other credits include Ghostbusters, The Witches of Eastwick, The Bodyguard, Nixon, The Big Lebowski, X-Men, Spiderman (2001), Austin Powers: Goldmember, and The Social Network. The estate’s main staircase has been called the most filmed staircase in the world.
The grounds of the estate are open to the public daily, and visitors can schedule private tours inside the house with park rangers or attend various events, including an interactive murder-theatre experience put on during the summers by a group called Theatre 40. What murder? I’m glad you asked.
Even though the house was built for him, Ned Doheny didn’t live in Greystone for very long. In February 1929, four months after moving in with his family, Ned Doheny was shot to death in a guest bedroom in the east wing. But to really understand the mystery surrounding Doheny’s death, you need to know a little about something called The Teapot Dome.
Edward Doheny, Sr., made his fortune drilling oil wells in southern California. At the turn of the century, his success was rivaled only by another oil tycoon you might have heard of: John D. Rockefeller. Doheny’s family life was somewhat less successful. He married Carrie Wilkins, Ned’s mother, in 1883. The couple divorced in 1889, and Doheny retained custody of their then six-year-old son. Soon after, he married Carrie Betzold (yes, another Carrie), and his first wife committed suicide. He had no children with the second Carrie, who raised Ned.
From 1920-1923, Edward Sr.’s company, Pan American Petroleum, leased Navy petroleum reserves at Teapot Dome, Wyoming, from the United States government. Starting in 1922, these leases became the focus of Senate investigations into what is generally considered to be the biggest government scandal prior to Watergate. It was alleged that Doheny secured the lease without a competitive bidding process by offering a $100,000 bribe to Department of the Interior Secretary Albert Fall, who was also a close friend of then-President Warren G. Harding. Fall was convicted of bribery in 1929, becoming the first Presidential cabinet member convicted for offenses committed while in office.
Doheny was also charged with bribery, and the resulting investigation determined that the $100,000 had been hand delivered, in cash, to Fall by Doheny’s son Ned and Ned’s childhood friend turned family employee, Hugh Plunkett. Both Dohenys were indicted in June of 1924, but action against them was delayed in order to facilitate their testimony at Fall’s trial. As Doheny, Sr.’s, case neared trial in 1929, work on Greystone was completed, making it the largest house in Los Angeles at the time, rivaled only in opulence by William Randolph Hearst’s home in San Simeon. When Greystone was finished in early 1929, Ned moved in with his wife, Lucy, and their five children.
At this time, both Ned and Plunkett would have been under tremendous pressure. Ned fought unsuccessfully to avoid testifying against his father, and Plunkett was beginning to look like a feasible fall guy to many onlookers: the loyal family retainer who might have taken his own initiative during the delivery of what both Dohenys insisted had been an innocent loan between friends. It would have benefitted both father and son if the jury concluded it was Plunkett who urged Fall to offer favorable leasing status to Pan American Petroleum.
What is known is that on the night of February 16, 1929, Hugh Plunkett drove to Greystone from his Hollywood apartment and let himself in with his own key. He went to a bedroom in the east wing, which it was later speculated may have been made available to him on a regular basis by the family. At some point, Ned, already dressed for bed, joined him.
At around 11:30 p.m., Ned’s wife Lucy had their family doctor, E.C. Fishbaugh, paged out of a movie he was attending and summoned to the house. Lucy told Fishbaugh that she had heard a gunshot and escorted him to the east wing where they found Plunkett outside of one of the bedrooms holding a gun. Plunkett immediately rushed back inside, and another gunshot was heard. On entering the room, they found Plunkett and Ned Doheny both dead of gunshot wounds. It was around midnight.
At 2 a.m., the police were summoned to the house, where they found several Doheny relatives already present. The bodies had been moved from their original positions, allegedly during attempts to revive them. Witness statements seemed rehearsed. Two days later, the coroner’s office ruled the deaths were the result of murder-suicide, and the district attorney canceled the inquest. Official reports indicated that Plunkett had become temporarily insane and killed Ned before turning the gun on himself. Edward, Sr., was tried for his part in the Teapot Dome scandal the following year but was acquitted, in part due to public sympathy over the death of his son. Leslie White, a homicide detective assigned to the case, was so frustrated by the Doheny family’s behavior during the initial investigation that he devoted an entire chapter of his memoir to the case.
A number of theories have sprung up over the years, prompted both by the timing of the murders and speculation about why the bodies were moved. An LA Times article published on February 18th indicated that it was Ned Doheny, and not his wife, who had called Fishbaugh at around 10:30 p.m. asking for a tonic to calm a hysterical Hugh Plunkett. If this was the case, Fishbaugh would have been at the house much earlier than the official version, possibly around the time Doheny died.
One popular theory is that Ned and Plunkett were lovers who trysted in the east wing room. The timing of events was shuffled to redress the bodies, remove any evidence, and place a little more distance between the deaths of the two men. Another theory is that Ned actually committed suicide, perhaps in despair over the coming court trials. Proponents of this theory point to Ned’s burial in Forest Lawn rather than a Catholic Cemetery, despite his stepmother’s status as a generous contributor to the Catholic church. At the time, the Catholic church did not permit suicide burials in its cemeteries. However, if Ned’s body was found in bed with another man, that could also account for the family’s choice of a secular funeral since the Catholic church did not condone homosexuality either. Still others suggest that Lucy killed both men after discovering them in bed together.
Whatever happened that night, it’s not surprising that the Greystone Mansion has acquired a reputation for being haunted over the years. The ghost of a man in a black suit and a porkpie hat has been reported on the main stairway, while others claim to have seen phantom butlers and cooks. One of the most sited spirits is that of a woman, whose presence is often accompanied by the scent of lilac perfume. This spirit is generally thought to be Lucy Doheny.