For those familiar with popular films and televison, the Greystone Mansion is easily recognizable. The grand staircase in the entrance is said to be the most filmed and photographed set of stairs in all of Hollywood. Indeed, as the set for Spider-Man, The Big Lebowski, and Gilmore Girls, the Greystone Mansion has become a part of many familiar stories and plot lines since it was purchased by the city of Beverly Hills in 1965.
The most mysterious plot of all, however, is that of the real-life murder that happened inside its walls, well before it was opened up for public use.
The 46,000 square-foot-house was constructed in 1928 at the request of Edward L. Doheny, an oil tycoon, whose primary rival at the time was John D. Rockefeller. Gordon Kaufmann, well-known architect of the Hoover Dam and LA Times building, was contracted for the job. The mansion cost over $4 million to build—the most expensive home in the area, at that time. The over-the-top house was built as a gift, from Doheny Sr. to his son, Edward “Ned” Doheny Jr.
However, just four short months after Ned Doheny, his wife Lucy, and their five children moved into their new home, tragedy struck. On the night of February 16, 1929, Doheny was found dead in a guest bedroom in the east wing of the mansion, alongside his longtime friend and hired assistant, Hugh Plunkett.
The story that transpired came mostly from Lucy, Ned’s wife. She said that Plunkett had let himself in with his own key, and made his way to the east wing. She said she wasn’t alarmed until she heard a single gunshot. Lucy called the family doctor—not the police, notably—E.C. Fishbaugh, and the two approached the east wing room. Outside they found Plunkett, holding a gun and looking distressed. He immediately rushed back into the bedroom, and another shot was fired. When the two entered, they discovered the bodies of both the men.
By the time the police arrived, things were more mysterious than ever. Witnesses’ testimonies seemed rehearsed, and the sequencing of events seemed shaky. Why had Lucy first called the family doctor, rather than the police? Why had the bodies been moved from their original placement? Why were the police called at 2:00 A.M., when the shots were fired between 11:00 and 11:30 P.M.? How could Hugh have shot himself in the back of his head, in a position that seemed extremely difficult for a supposed suicide?
Within a few short days, the police reached the conclusion that the deaths had happened just as Lucy Doheny said they did. Although individual detectives were uneasy with this decision, the case was closed.
The bodies of Ned Doheny and Hugh Plunkett were buried close to each other, in Forest Lawn, a secular cemetery. This is notable because Doheny’s family was Catholic, and his stepmother gave frequent and generous donations to the local Catholic Church. At that time, however, those whose death had come by their own hand were not permitted burial in a Catholic cemetery. The location of Ned’s grave has given rise to many theories surrounding his—and Hugh’s—death.
One unfounded rumor that rose in the wake of the deaths was that Ned and Hugh had been lovers, and that the deaths were a result of a fight related to their “shameful” relationship. This story gained much traction, with some alleging that Lucy had walked in on the men, and shot them both herself. The “lovers” explanation for the killing is very far removed from the truth of what probably did transpire that night.
The fact is, Ned’s father, Doheny Sr. had been tried in court for his involvement in the Teapot Dome Scandal. Both Ned and Hugh were implicated in the case. It is most likely that the murder-suicide—regardless of who killed whom—was the result of growing stress about their unlawful business dealings, and the consequences they were now facing.
Whatever happened that night, it is said that the house remains haunted to this day: but not by ghosts of the men. Rather, Greystone is haunted by Ned’s wife, Lucy.
Almost a year to the day after her husband’s death, Lucy remarried, and she and her new husband continued to live at Greystone, raising her children. She sold the home to the City in 1965, “downsizing” to a 22-bathroom home adjacent to the property. At the end of her long life, (she lived to be 100) Lucy moved into a 5,000 square foot home, where she dressed up every day, then sat, apparently waiting, in a wing-backed chair with her handbag. Some guess that she was waiting for Judgement Day, claiming she felt guilty about whatever happened that night long ago.
Perhaps this is why, since her death, there have been claims of a ghost in Greystone Mansion, leaving traces of lilac perfume in its wake.
This article originally appeared on The Lineup.
Main image via Wikimedia Commons