On a chilly Monday morning in 1935, a young maid opened the garage door of a Southern California seaside villa onto a grim scene. Her employer, a popular motion picture comedienne, lay dead in the front seat of her expensive automobile. Within hours, the news of Thelma Todd’s death was making headlines throughout the nation. Was it murder, suicide, or accident?
Cast against the background of Hollywood and Los Angeles, the film industry and the growing metropolis, her death baffled both the public and the investigating authorities. After numerous attempts to solve the mystery over the last eighty years, a powerful mythology remains, obscuring the facts of the case as well as the character of Thelma herself.
For the first time, however, the mystery of Thelma Todd’s death will unfold as it originally did in 1935. Not only does Testimony of a Death narrate the events of that December but it also explores the forces and personalities central to the tragedy.
The book examines the various contexts of Todd’s death, including the motion picture business in its Golden Age and the city of Los Angeles hovering on the verge of its greatness. It looks beyond the legends and distortions to the darker reality that lies beneath the myths.
I have read two previous books on Thelma Todd - Andy Edmonds' "Hot Toddy" and Michelle Morgan's "The Ice Cream Blonde". Both go into detail exploring the actress' mysterious death by carbon monoxide poisoning, with Edmonds presenting a largely fanciful account in favor of it being a mafia hit ordered by Charles "Lucky" Luciano, while Morgan sticks closer to the facts and leaves it up to the reader to decide whether it was murder, suicide or accident.
Having just read "Testimony of a Death: Thelma Todd: Mystery, Media and Myth in 1935 Los Angeles", I find that authors Marshall Croddy and Patrick Jenning have really done their homework and brought forth what proves to be the definitive work on the subject. Unlike the previous books that delve into Todd's life and film career (Edmonds getting even some of this wrong), "Testimony of a Death" gives us only a bare bones biography, opting to focus on the many and often conflicting aspects of how she may have met her tragic demise. Even without detailing Todd's life story, the authors still manage to give us an accurate impression of the kind of person she was without resorting to gossip and sensationalism.
Absorbing and exhaustively researched with nearly forty pages of notes, the book peels away eight decades worth of repeated misinformation. The authors take an investigative approach, examining every facet crucial to the case: evidence found at the scene, coroner and autopsy reports, testimony by witnesses, as well as how the media distorted the facts which fed the speculation that has lasted to this day.
This is the book that explains the mystery of Thelma Todd better than any other, in my opinion, and I have read all of them. This is a must read for anyone interested in this case. Exhaustively researched, the authors have collected all of the known facts, have not made anything up, and have provided the most logical explanation for the tragic death of this wonderful comedienne!
To pronounce on whether Thelma Todd's life was ended by suicide, misadventure, or murder seemingly calls for a choice between near-impossibilities. Perhaps one day a Sherlock Holmes will arise, to demonstrate a simple solution to the mystery, so that we can all say how obvious it is once pointed out, and wonder how we never thought of it ourselves. Meanwhile, for those interested in the facts of her tragedy, this book is likely to be indispensable: its statements are abundantly supported by references to the original sources, and the book gives an impression of having been assiduously researched.
Wise & Intelligent -- the best of the Thelma Todd books. The authors footnote and backup every quote, theory, incident, unlike other Todd tomes that veer into trash and nonsense. Finally, they make a case for their conclusion: her death was an unfortunate accident. I agree. The excellent writing also covers the social history of L.A. during the 1930s. An absorbing story.
Testimony of Death: Thelma Todd by authors Jennings’s and Croddy is without question the most authentic accounting of the facts surrounding the 1935 mystery of the last hours and death of actress Thelma Todd. Their research, using original coroner’s reports and in-person Inquest testimony from actual percipient witnesses is impeccable. Their “just the facts” presentation provides the reader with a clean, objective analysis sans myth, sans legend. The writing style is superb. But, then they take the second step and totally debunk the made for tv version that “Eastern gangsters and “Charlie ‘Lucky’ Luciano did it.” They provide detailed time and place alibi’s that completely rule out the myths and legends. As a homicide investigator with fifty-years of experience and having personally investigated over three-hundred murders I highly recommend and endorse the authors investigative procedures and findings.
Detective III Steve Hodel, LAPD Hollywood Homicide Division (ret.)
New York Times bestselling author of “Black Dahlia Avenger: A Genius for Murder”
Thelma Todd, a beautiful young actress who lived and died in Hollywood in the 1930's has always captured the fancy of the press, public and authors over the years. Her mysterious death has been explained by others many times, many ways and usually wrong. Finally there is now a definitive book that covers all the details and it is based on FACTS. Authors Croddy and Jenning go to the original sources: Written testimony from the Grand Jury records, coroner accounts and witnesses to piece back together the circumstances that led to Todd's demise and the media circus aftermath. Up until this book, most people easily brushed the cause of death off as some sort of murder and cover-up, I guess it was more sexy to perpetuate the myth over the years. The authors detailed and footnoted all relevant material in an almost clinical style of writing, it works here. I appreciate this kind of investigative reporting, coming from a law enforcement background myself, it paints a true picture of the events and is more interesting than any fanciful fiction others have attempted.
A masterpiece of investigative detective work and analysis, that leaves no lead, report or clue unexamined. I was much surprised and taken with its extreme thoroughness. Once into the book I couldn't put it down, and allowing for some skimming of some portions relating to the history of the LAPD, ended up finishing it in two sittings. The only point I felt missing or unaddressed was how Todd's death occurred at a time when the very best of thirties comedy and the free wheeling creativity of independent producers were on their way out. A coincidence? After that (post 1935) control of the movies largely came into the much less funny and stultifying hands of the giant studios and big producers; while low budget and poverty row pictures generally lost what had earlier been their independent charm and pronounced creative bent.