The Most Shocking Crimes Covered on E! True Hollywood Story Through the Years

From O.J. Simpson to Amy Fisher, the E! True Hollywood Story dug deep to bring viewers the most vivid, complete take on the most engrossing scandals of our times
By Natalie Finn Jun 19, 2020 7:00 AMTags
E! 30 Years, E! True Hollywood StoryAP; Getty Images; Melissa Herwitt/E! Illustration

Some stories just demand the full investigative treatment.

And if so, you can bet that E! True Hollywood Story was on top of it.

Starting in 1996 when the series first premiered with a deep dive into the murder of Rebecca SchaefferTHS revealed everything you wanted to know and then some about actors, singers, models, royalty and athletes; the making of shows and movies; the rise and fall of businesses; the most explosive scandals; and the most unspeakable crimes.

Over the course of 501 episodes, including the flagship series' six-episode return in 2019, THS explored some of the most nefarious, heinous, heartbreaking and truly bizarre acts committed over the past half century, putting the pieces of the most complicated puzzles together to give the fullest picture possible of the who, what, how and why.

photos
Binge These True Crime Shows and Documentaries

And while plenty of celebrity behavior has been considered criminal in the court of public opinion, these are the cases that saw the inside of a court of law.

 Here are some of the wildest stories that E! True Hollywood Story took on:

"Dark Obsession: The Rebecca Schaeffer Story"

E! True Hollywood Story began its iconic run in October 1996 with a look at the life and shocking death of Schaeffer, an up-and-coming actress who was shot dead at her L.A. apartment's front door by a stalker in 1989. Robert John Bardo had been sending gifts and notes to the studio where she filmed her sitcom My Sister Sam and then he hired a private investigator who found Schaeffer's address through DMV records.

In 1990, California became the first state in the U.S. to pass anti-stalking legislation, and privacy laws were subsequently tightened to prevent the easy obtainment of personal information like addresses from public records.

Bardo's defense maintained he was mentally ill and not responsible for his actions, but prosecutor Marcia Clark won a first-degree murder conviction. Bardo, who waived his right to a jury trial in exchange for the death penalty being taken off the table, was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Christian Brando, 1997

Like a scene out of The Godfather, one of the sons of acting legend Marlon Brando shot and killed Dag Drollet, his pregnant half-sister Cheyenne's boyfriend and the father of her unborn child, at the Brando estate in Hollywood—after Drollet hit Cheyenne and only after Drollet tried to grab his gun, Christian insisted.

Marlon, Cheyenne's mother Tarita Tariipia (Brando's third ex-wife) and Cheyenne were all in the house at the time. Christian, whose mother was his father's first wife, Anna Kashfi, fired one shot, setting off a spiral of tragedy for the family.

Christian was charged with murder but ultimately pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter in 1991. "He wants to take responsibility for what he did," his attorney Robert Shapiro told reporters at the time. "He did have a gun. He did confront Dag with a gun and as a result of him bringing a gun into the situation, he is responsible for what occurred, even though it was an accident. That is what he is pleading guilty to and those are the facts."

Christian was sentenced to 10 and spent five years in prison. After several previous attempts, Cheyenne died by suicide in 1995 at her mother's home in Tahiti; she was 25. Christian died of complications from pneumonia in 2008 at the age of 49.

Heidi Fleiss, 1998

The infamous "Hollywood Madam," whose little black book (actually a little red Gucci planner) full of the names of high-profile men turned into a touchstone for tabloid-scandal culture, once said it took only four months operating her own call-girl business for her to make her first million, charging clients such as Charlie Sheen at least $1,500 a night for time spent with her... independent contractors.

But the party ended after three lucrative years when she was arrested in 1993 and charged in 1994 with crimes related to running a prostitution ring. In 1995 she was sentenced to three years in prison, the mandatory minimum—because even the prosecutor didn't really think she deserved all that time. Her conviction was actually overturned due to jury misconduct in 1996, but a subsequent conviction on tax evasion charges sent her to prison for 20 months.

"It was a lot of fun," Fleiss reflected to The Hollywood Reporter in 2018. "Of course looking back, you see how stupid you were. It's easier to look at all your mistakes. But I definitely say if you're going to live in L.A., I don't see how anyone can do it better than I did. You want to go out to every nightclub. You want to meet famous people. Have sex with different people. Eat at the best places. All that kind of stuff. And I don't see how it could have been any more fun, that's for sure."

O.J. Simpson, 1998 & 2002

THS covered the fallen football hero twice, first in the 1998 investigation OJ, Nicole & Ron: Countdown to Murder which featured a new interview with Simpson after he was acquitted of the 1994 murders of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ron Goldman.

Both episodes aired some years before Simpson spent nine years in a Nevada prison for armed robbery and related charges after a jury determined that this attempt to retrieve memorabilia he said was rightfully his from a Vegas hotel room was, rather, a heist committed at gunpoint. He was released on parole on Oct. 2, 2017.

"Long Island Scandal: The Buttafuocos & Amy Fisher," 1999

Amy Fisher—dubbed the "Long Island Lolita"—was only 17 when she shot Mary Jo Buttafuoco, her 35-year-old lover Joey Buttafuoco's wife, in the head at the couple's home in Massapequa, N.Y., in 1992.

Mary Jo survived and, after being charged with first-degree attempted murder, Fisher pleaded guilty to first-degree aggravated assault. She spent seven years in prison and went on to be portrayed by Noelle Parker, Alyssa Milano and Drew Barrymore in three TV movies produced in 1992 and 1993.

Meanwhile, Joey at first denied ever having sex with Fisher, but ended up pleading guilty to statutory rape of the teen in October 1993 and he served four months in prison.

Because some tabloid-friendly scandals are truly stranger than fiction, Amy and Joey reunited for the first time in 2006, when they showed up to do the coin toss at the Lingerie Bowl (an alternative-programming event held annually for 10 years during Super Bowl halftime, for those not interested in the musical act). Fisher also appeared on Celebrity Rehab With Dr. Drew in 2011.

Claudine Longet, 2000

The French-American performer traveled in high-profile circles with her entertainer husband Andy Williams, and they were close friends with Robert and Ethel Kennedy. Longet sang at RFK's funeral in 1968 and the couple named their son Robert after him the following year.

Longet and Williams amicably split up in 1975—and then in 1976 she was arrested for shooting and killing her boyfriend, Olympic skier Vladimir "Spider" Sabich, at his home in Aspen. She insisted the gun had accidentally gone off while Sabich was showing it to her, but she was convicted of criminally negligent homicide, a misdemeanor, in 1977.

Longet maintained her innocence, and Williams was by her side throughout. 

One of the jurors, Daniel DeWolfe, told a wire reporter outside the courthouse, "I wouldn't want her to go to prison. Heavens, no. By no means is she the type of person who should be in jail. I don't think she's a threat to society."

A judge split the difference, saying he didn't think it would set a good legal precedent for her to not be punished at all. Longet was sentenced to 30 days in jail of her own choosing. So she chose to spend a few weekends in jail, not wanting to be away for long stretches from her and Williams' three children. Later, she married one of the lawyers who defended her, Ron Austin.

"Death by Disco," 2000

Michael Alig was a party promoter and de facto leader of a group of young, wild partiers who made the most of the NYC nightlife in the late 1980s and '90s who came to be known as the Club Kids. Bright lights, big city—all the elements for mischief and mayhem in a slick, drug-fueled package were there.

Alig ended up spending 17 years in prison after pleading guilty to first-degree manslaughter for the 1996 death and dismemberment of Club Kid Andre "Angel" Melendez over a drug debt. In a statement to police, Alig's roommate Robert "Freeze" Riggs, who also pleaded guilty to manslaughter and served 13 years, said the two other men had been fighting and he hit Angel with a hammer in Alig's defense, then Alig poured detergent in Melendez's mouth and covered his mouth with duct tape. Alig later said he was so high he didn't realize what was happening, and that they left the apartment and came back eight or nine hours later surprised to see their dead friend. But not knowing what to do with Melendez's body, they put him in their bathtub and poured ice over him. A few days later Alig cut up his body using knives that Riggs ran out to purchase from Macy's, and they threw a box containing his remains into the Hudson River.

Melendez, also a flamboyant character on their scene, was missing for more than nine months before Alig and Riggs were arrested.

Macaulay Culkin played Alig in the 2003 movie Party Monster, and Wilson Cruz played Angel, plus there's a documentary of the same name.

Asked how he snapped out of the selfish, ruthless and often heartless mindset that characterized those heady days on the club scene, Alig told The Guardian in 2014 after his release from prison, "'ll tell you what it takes. It takes going to prison for 17 years and going through extensive therapy, then having to face what you are and how you behaved. Because while you're on drugs, you're not facing anything."

Sam Sheppard, 2001

One of the most shocking cases of its day, Dr. Sam Sheppard was convicted of the 1954 murder of his wife, Marilyn, all the while insisting he was innocent. (The creators of The Fugitive always insisted they were not inspired by Sheppard, as is so widely believed.)

They were hosting some neighbors at their lakefront home in Ohio on the night of July 3, 1954, when, Sheppard said, he fell asleep while they were all watching a movie in the living room. Marilyn showed their guests out and went to bed, where she was bludgeoned to death sometime before 5:40 a.m., when Sheppard called a neighbor and asked him to come over, it was urgent.

Sheppard maintained he was asleep on the daybed in their living room when he heard noises upstairs, went up and saw a "white form" before he was knocked unconscious. The unknown assailant was still downstairs when he came to, the doctor recalled, and he chased him out of the house. They scuffled outside and Sheppard was knocked out again. When he woke up, he called his neighbor and police arrived soon after.

He didn't escape and set out to find a one-armed man, but he did win a new trial after 10 years in prison—a judge agreed that he was denied due process thanks to the media circus surrounding the first trial—and was acquitted. He tried to resume his medical career, opening a new practice in 1968, but his skills deteriorated due to his heavy drinking, and he died in 1970 at the age of 46. His son has made it his mission to clear his father's name and reputation, and in 1999 Sheppard's lifelong friend Alan Davis sued the state of Ohio for wrongful imprisonment on behalf of his late pal. They lost at trial, after which an appeals case ruled that the case should have never even gone to trial due to the statute of limitations.

The Menendez Brothers, 2001

The defense for Lyle and Erik Menendez told a tragic, twisted story of sexual and physical abuse and endless psychological manipulation at the hands of their father, Jose, aided and abetted by their mother, Kitty.

But after one trial ended—already delayed years over the question of whether tape-recorded notes belonging to the therapist whom Erik confessed to were admissable as evidence—in two hung juries (they were tried together but with separate juries), a second jury found the brothers guilty of first-degree murder for fatally shooting their parents in their Beverly Hills home in 1989. They were sentenced to life in prison and that's where they remain.

JonBenét Ramsey, 2003

Despite the best efforts of law enforcement, forensic investigators, countless journalists and Dr. Phil, the 1996 murder of the 6-year-old beauty queen remains unsolved.

Laci Peterson, 2004

Scott Peterson remains on death row after being convicted of the Dec. 24, 2002, murder of his wife, Laci, and their unborn child.

"We've been doing homicides for a while," Modesto Police Detective Jon Buehler told People in 2005, reflecting on the case. "When you compare Scott's demeanor with other people we've dealt with, he didn't even register on the scale as far as seeming concerned."

But Peterson, whose mistress Amber Frey told police that he had told her he was a widow when they met in November 2002, maintains he's innocent. His appeal for a new trial was argued in front of (via video) the California Supreme Court on June 2, 2020, with Peterson's attorney alleging that the extent of media coverage of the case, as well as legal errors, prevented his client from getting a fair trial. If Peterson loses, he can take his appeal to federal court.

Andrea Yates, 2005

The 35-year-old mother of five battled depression, particularly after the birth of her fourth child, and had been hospitalized several times after suicide attempts, most recently in May 2001.  Yates' psychiatrist had advised her husband, Rusty, that she needed round-the-clock supervision. And it was during the hour after Rusty left for work and before Andrea's mother was supposed to come over to be with her that Yates filled their bathtub and drowned all five children.

She called the police and said she needed them, but didn't say why. She also called Rusty and told him to come home, whereby she readily admitted what she had done. (He would later tell authorities that he had been leaving his wife alone twice a day for an hour at a time to improve her sense of independence. He said he was not told that she was psychotic or at risk of harming their children.)

 

In 2002, her first trial ended with Yates convicted of murder and sentenced to 40 years to life in prison, the jury rejecting her not-guilty-by-reason-of-insanity defense but opting not to impose the death penalty. But in 2005 the Texas Court of Appeals reversed the decision due to faulty testimony given by a psychiatrist who testified for the prosecution.

At her second trial, Yates was found not guilty by reason of insanity and locked up in a high-security state hospital. In 2007 she was transferred to the low-security Kerrville State Hospital.

Mary Kay Letourneau, 2005

The former teacher spent 7 1/2 years in prison after having a sexual relationship with her 13-year-old student Vili Fualaau.

"Your honor, I did something that I had no right to do, morally or legally," Letourneau told the judge when entering her guilty plea to two counts of child rape in 1997. "It was wrong. And I am sorry. I give you my word that it will not happen again. Please, please help me. Help us, help us all."

But when she got out of prison, Letourneau, who had four children from her first marriage, married Fualaau in 2005. He filed for a legal separation in 2017, but they reconciled and tried to work on their relationship before separating for good in 2019.

They have two children together, the eldest of whom Letourneau was pregnant with when she went on trial in 1997.

"Women Who Kill," 2005

Kristin Rossum (left), a former toxicologist in the San Diego County Medical Examiner's Office, is serving life in prison for murdering her husband, Greg de Villers, in 2000 with a deadly dose of fentanyl. She first reported to police that Greg had committed suicide, but his family insisted that his death be investigated. Detectives discovered that Rossum had resumed a former methamphetamine habit and was having an affair with a colleague before killing de Villers.

Prosecutors argued she killed her husband to stop him from telling her bosses about the affair and that she had been stealing meth from the county drug lab. Then, they further alleged, she sprinkled rose petals on the bed where her husband's body was because she was inspired by the film American Beauty, and the fantasy sequence featuring a shower of rose petals on a bed. 

Dubbed the "Vegas Black Widow, Margaret Rudin (right) was convicted in 2001 of the 1994 murder of her real estate mogul husband Ronald Rudin. She initially fled Vegas in the wake of her murder indictment; authorities arrested her in Massachusetts in 1999.

The charred remains of Ron Rudin—Margaret's fifth husband, and she was his fifth wife—were found along with a burnt-out trunk near Lake Mojave. He had been shot four times in the head, and police later found blood spatter in the couple's bedroom. Margaret's defense argued that Ron must have been killed in connection with some illegal activity he was involved in.

She was found guilty of murder and sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole. She appealed her conviction and in 2008 was granted a new trial. The decision was overturned by the Nevada Supreme Court in 2010. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed in 2014 that she shouldn't get a new trial, then reversed its opinion in 2015.

Rudin was paroled on Jan. 10, 2020. She planned to move to Chicago to be with family, she told the Las Vegas Review-Journal, and she still hoped to clear her name.

"I want to be free to travel if I choose to on a passport," Rudin said. "I want to be able to vote. I want to be able to do all the things I was able to do before Ron was murdered. And I did not do it."

Casey Anthony, 2011

It's still unclear what exactly happened to 2-year-old Caylee Anthony, who in December 2008 was found dead in the woods not far from her grandparents' home in Florida. Casey's mother, Cindy, was the one who told police that summer that she feared that something had happened to her granddaughter, after she hadn't seen the child for a month and Casey told her that she hadn't either, but the child, as far as she knew, was with a babysitter.

Anthony was charged with murder in October, two months before Caylee's remains were found.

Then came the finger-pointing, with Casey maintaining that her daughter's death was an accidental drowning in the family pool, that panic had led to her not telling police and instead she disposed of Caylee's body with George Anthony, her father's, help. The defense also alleged that Casey's dad, George, had sexually abused her—a claim both of her parents have firmly denied.

A jury found in 2011, when the case finally went to trial, that Casey was not guilty of murder, but convicted her of four counts of lying to law enforcement. She was sentenced to four years in jail but was released after only a few days, credits for good behavior and time served.

Anthony granted no public interviews at the time, but in 2012 Piers Morgan revealed on CNN that he'd had a 10-minute conversation with Casey, and she told him, he quoted: "'I did not kill my daughter. There's nothing in this world I've ever been so proud of. There's no one I loved more than my daughter. She's my greatest accomplishment.'"

"NXIVM: Self-Help or Sex Cult?," 2019

Rumors of shady business practices swirled for years about the self-improvement guru Keith Raniere and his NXIVM brand's Executive Success Program, which over the years attracted business leaders, actors and countless people looking to unlock the secrets of getting to the next level—basically by paying to get to that next level in what a federal lawsuit, filed in January 2020 on behalf of more than 80 plaintiffs, alleged amounted to a pyramid scheme.

But it wasn't until 2017 that a much darker story came out: women accused Raniere of presiding over a sex slavery ring of which he was the only "Master," with the help of former Smallville actress Allison Mack, who had risen through the ranks at NXIVM to become his trusted procurer of new women. They were both arrested in 2018, the FBI tracking Raniere down in Mexico, where he was staying in a posh villa.

Mack pleaded guilty to racketeering, avoiding a trial, and is free on bail while awaiting sentencing. Raniere took his chances at trial and was subsequently found guilty on all charges: racketeering, racketeering conspiracy, wire fraud conspiracy, forced labor conspiracy, sex trafficking, sex trafficking conspiracy and attempted sex trafficking. He's facing the possibility of life in prison when he's sentenced on June 23, 2020. As for the civil lawsuit, Raniere's attorney told the New York Times that it would improve his client's chance at overturning his criminal conviction on appeal because some of the plaintiffs testified during the trial that they were not planning to sue him.

And there are more, many of which still live on YouTube. Don't say we didn't warn you when you look up and realize that two hours have flown by.