True Crime Thursday – The Burt Reynolds “Murder” Scandal

by

Debbie Burke

@burke_writer 

Congratulations to David F., lucky winner of the book giveaway from Tuesday’s post. H.R. D’Costa will send you a print copy of Story Stakes. David’s name was drawn randomly from everyone who commented. Thanks to all of you who provided terrific examples of story stakes.

Now for True Crime Thursday

Wikimedia Commons – Photo credit Adam Bielawski

The passing of mega-star Burt Reynolds in September, 2018 resurrected tabloid rumors about a mysterious death in 1973 during the filming of The Man Who Loved Cat Dancing.

David Whiting, assistant to Reynolds’s costar Sarah Miles, was found dead in a pool of blood and pills after an altercation with Miles. An inquest determined cause of death was a drug overdose. The blood may have occurred when Whiting hit his head on a counter.

Unless you’re a tabloid reporter.

In that case, Reynolds’ hair-trigger temper and fast fists, his friendship with Miles (who was married), and his admission that he’d removed a vial from the dead man’s hand were enough to spin the tale into a full-blown scandal alleging murder.

MGM Studios likely made the situation worse by initially refusing to allow Reynolds and Miles to testify at the inquest, saying the delay would cost them $25,000 in production costs. When Whiting’s mother accused the studio of a cover-up, Reynolds and Miles ultimately were forced to testify.

Turns out Miles and Whiting were allegedly lovers (a revelation that later broke up Miles’s marriage) and apparently got into a fight because Miles had been drinking with Reynolds, inflaming Whiting’s jealousy. The fight turned physical and Miles told her son’s nanny to “Get Burt,” apparently to protect her from Whiting.

Reynolds arrived and Miles spent the rest of the night in Reynolds’s motel room. The next morning, they found Whiting’s body in Miles’s room. At that point, Reynolds removed the vial and didn’t remember what he did with it. The inquest cleared them but rumors persisted for years.

Mystery author and popular blogger Anne R. Allen adds a weird twist to the story. She had dated Whiting in college in the 1960s. In 2012, she wrote The Gatsby Game, a novel inspired by Whiting’s mysterious death. In 2014, a docu-drama about Whiting won the L.A. Film Critics award.

In this post from February, 2019, Anne explores the blurred world between real and fictional people.

Thanks to Sue Coletta for alerting me to this story.

 

TKZers, have you ever used a real death as the basis for a fictional murder most mysterious?

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About Debbie Burke

Crime novelist, suspense and mystery novels are her passion. Her thriller Instrument of the Devil won the Kindle Scout contest and the 2016 Zebulon contest sponsored by Pikes Peak Writers Conference. Her nonfiction articles appear in national and international publications and she is a regular blogger at The Kill Zone. She is a founding member of Authors of the Flathead and helps to plan the annual Flathead River Writers Conference in Kalispell, Montana. Her greatest joy is mentoring young writers. http://www.debbieburkewriter.com

15 thoughts on “True Crime Thursday – The Burt Reynolds “Murder” Scandal

  1. Interesting that this comes up today. In the last few days in the news there has been a sad story of a young man found deceased after 10 years behind a cooler (he’d apparently fallen down behind it). He’d been missing for 10 years but the building he’d been found in had only been shut down for 3 years.

    I’m very glad the family has closure now (even if not the kind that you hope for) but both myself and many people who have seen the article have commented how odd it is that the building was in use for 7 years but nobody happened to notice, hear or smell anything.

    I immediately wondered if eventually someone would use the scenario in a book. Real life is certainly fodder for many story ideas.

    • BK, what a sad story but even stranger that no one noticed.

      What if X disappeared under similar circumstances? Y is charged and convicted of X’s murder. Y spends years in prison protesting his innocence. Finally, X’s body is found, exonerating Y.

  2. I remember the incident. Whatever really happened, it occurred in Gila (pronounced HE-la) Bend, located some 70 or so miles from Phoenix (near the Barry Goldwater gunnery range, where part of the Phoenix Lights phenomenon was seen and reported by movie star Kurt Russell, who was piloting his private plane into Phoenix at the time).

    Strange and spooky things happen in that part of the Sonoran Desert.

    Thanks to you and Sue, Debbie, for the story.

  3. Yes, I’ve used real life murders in my fiction writing, but I totally changed the setting and names because I don’t want to bring up bad memories for surviving loved ones. I think in the case of a celebrity, his or her death could be mentioned in the background to orient the reader in time.

    • You’re wise and considerate to make significant changes, Priscilla. Victims’ families suffer enough w/o having their loved one’s death sensationalized.

      Celebrities become fair game and are subject to wild speculation. In the past, studios and handlers tried frantically to distance their star from scandal. Nowadays, the messier the scandal, the more the celeb is promoted.

  4. When I was an unpublished writer, I used to scan the newspaper (remember those?) for interesting items. I’d cut them out and toss them in a box. From time to time I’d go through the box to see if any spark was still there. One item haunted me for years. It was a bizarre murder-suicide in L.A. A man shot his wife, then drove to a freeway overpass, got out, shot himself and fell 100 feet to the freeway below, smashing directly into a car, killing the driver!

    Time went on. I got published. The news item stayed with me. Then one day I knew it was time. I HAD to use it. So it I wrote it up in a documentary style, not knowing what it would lead to. I gave names to the people involved. I decided the driver who was killed would be an elementary school teacher named Jacqueline Dwyer. And then I found myself (this is literally true) writing the following: But the story did not go away. Not for me. Because Jacqueline Dwyer was the woman I was going to marry.

    Chills.

    This became the opening of my legal thriller, Try Dying.

    • Jim, what a perfect example how the seed of an idea can stay with you for years until you’re finally ready to write it. I remember that opening well.

  5. Anne Allen added a correction–the movie that won the L.A. Film Critics award was an “experimental film,” rather than a docu-drama.

  6. The Natalie Wood case keeps hitting the news every time someone who had something minor to do with it and gave their testimony to the police at the time needs some money so they write a tell all about how Robert Wagner killed her and they have real proof. And, shock of shocks, the prosecutors say they will reopen the case so they get a bit of publicity, but they don’t reopen the case or do anything to Wagner beyond drag his name through the mud one more time. They should really toss the publicity seekers into jail and fine them the profits from the tell all. Whether Wagner did or didn’t do anything, she has living children who has to relive that nightmare each time. Jerks.

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