Cheryl Crane, the daughter of actress Lana Turner, stabbed one of her mother’s boyfriends to death during a domestic struggle at the age of 14 in 1958. It was considered a justifiable homicide and she was deemed to have been protecting her mother.
At approximately 8:00 p.m. on April 4, eight days after the Academy Awards ceremony, Johnny Stompanato arrived at Lana Turner’s rented home at 730 North Bedford Drive in Beverly Hills, California, which she had just begun leasing a week prior.
The two began arguing heatedly in the bedroom, during which Stompanato threatened to kill Turner, her daughter, and her mother, as well as making "gangster threats" that involved breaking Turner’s bones and slashing her face with a straight razor.
Her daughter, Cheryl Crane, had briefly entered the room during the argument, but was urged by Turner to leave. In the midst of the ensuing argument, Turner broke off her relationship with Stompanato, and asked him to leave the house.
Stompanato, an ex-Marine and affiliate of the Cohen crime family, had been in a year-long relationship with Turner which had been rocky and marked with physical abuse.
Fearing that Turner’s life was in danger, Crane, who had been watching television in an adjacent room, grabbed a kitchen knife and ran to her mother’s defense. Crane recalled the incident in 2012:
There’s a knife on the counter. I picked it up ran back up the stairs. Her door suddenly flies open. I see John coming toward me. He’s got his hand up… I raised the knife and he walks right into it. And he looked at me. And he said, ‘My God, Cheryl, what have you done?’"
Turner corroborated this, stating that Crane, who had been listening to the couple’s fight behind the closed door, stabbed Stompanato in the stomach when Turner attempted to usher him out of the bedroom.
Turner initially believed Crane had punched him, but realized he had been stabbed when he collapsed and she saw blood on his shirt.
Per official police accounts, Crane left the room, placing the knife on a "small marble-topped table" and rushed to phone her father, Joseph Stephen "Steve" Crane in the melee.
Turner meanwhile called for a doctor, who arrived at the house shortly after; the doctor attempted to revive Stompanato with an adrenaline injection and an artificial respirator.
Unable to obtain a pulse, the doctor called for emergency services, thereby notifying the police, and Stompanato was subsequently pronounced dead at the scene.
An autopsy revealed Stompanato’s death was caused by a single knife wound that penetrated his liver, portal vein, and aorta, resulting in massive internal hemorrhaging.
Following Stompanato’s death, Crane was made a ward of the State of California and was placed in the El Retiro School for Girls in Sylmar, Los Angeles for "psychiatric therapy" in March 1960.
Six weeks later she and two other girls climbed a 10-foot (3.0 m) wall and fled. They were eventually returned to the school after she telephoned her father.
Five weeks later, she again fled the campus with two other girls. They walked into Sylmar and were driven by a new acquaintance to Beverly Hills, where they were taken into custody a few hours later after being seen near her grandmother’s home.
She was released from the school in January 1961 to the custody of her mother and stepfather, Frederick D. May. Worried she was still suffering from the trauma of Stompanato’s death, Turner sent Crane to the Institute of Living in Hartford, Connecticut.