Thelma Todd’s Tragic Death

Lucky Luciano

Steps that Todd went up to her home above the cafe

Todd’s Cafe on the day of her death

Todd’s Cafe as it appears today

Thelma Todd and Roland West

Thelma Todd was born in 1905 in Lawrence, MA. Although she aspired to be a teacher, Todd was drop dead gorgeous and entered beauty pageants along the way. She ended up winning Miss Massassachusets in 1925 and went on to compete for Miss America. Because of this, several talent scouts noticed her.

Paramount Studios offered Todd acting school and eventually over 100 films from 1926 to 1935. Todd’s looks, humor and strong screen presence made her the No. 1 choice for a female lead role in a comedy for some of the top names in the business, including Laurel and Hardy and the Marx Brothers. Indeed, two of her most popular features were shot with the latter comedy troupe, Monkey Business (1931) and Horse Feathers (1932).

Todd knew that acting wouldn’t last forever, so she decided to partner up with director Roland West in a restaurant venture. They opened Thelma Todd’s Sidewalk Cafe in Pacific Palisades, which catered to the Hollywood young elite and attracted a few gangsters.

“After Todd’s death, rumors abounded that mob boss Lucky Luciano wanted to use Todd’s establishment as a front for a gambling den. Allegedly, just days before she was discovered dead, Todd and Luciano met for lunch at the infamous Brown Derby. Luciano supposedly informed Todd of his interests in her restaurant. She told him to kiss off and that he could have her locale over her dead body.

“That can be arranged,” Luciano coolly replied. She was dead in less than a week.” (Information from Hollywood Crimes)

There were also rumors that she had a fight with her partner and lover, Roland West the night she died. They fought over her partying lifestyle and he left. When she returned to the house they shared above the restaurant she discovered that West had locked her out. She pounded on the door but he refused. Rumor has it that she climbed up the steps to the garage to escape the cold. She turned on the engine to stay warm, and some say she was so drunk that she passed out and died from the fumes.

Others believed that West followed her up to the garage and locked her in. Lucky Luciano never commented on his possible involvement. No one was found guilty of the possible crime and nothing was ever solved.

What do you think? Any ideas?

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  3. B. Shermn

    Luciano wasn’t even in Ca. At the time of her death. This has been documented in the well researched book on Thelma by William Donati.

  4. B. Shermn

    Luciano was not in California at the time of her death. William Donati wrote a definitive book on Thelma Todd.

  5. stu

    Roland West made a deathbed confession to his friend actor Chester Morris in which he admitted to murdering Thelma Todd.

  6. oh just stumbled on this doing research on her case. A few corrections if I may:
    Her home was above the club, on the second floor. It was entered throught the rear of the home and the steps (leading up to the garage where she died) was directly outside her home entryway.
    It was widely felt her husband, husbands mistress, LL or West killed her.. many theories then as now. Her husband and her had a huge fight at the party she attended. West’s story doesnt add up and there was to be another trial but fear of people being named possible suspects caused the D.A.’s office to drop the case.
    Interesting bits on the police report and coroners report:
    The entryway to her and West apt showed signs of forced entry, but was locked on the inside. The bottoms of her shoes were clean (leading police to believe she had not walked up or down the steps) there was no sign of struggle but her nose was broke. The key to her apartment was found on her person. The door to the garage was locked. An unidentified handprint was found on her car door. There was blood both on her clothing and mink as well as a few drops located outside the car. I’ll stop there as it can become a novel going further.

  7. Looks like your site’s been affected like everyone else’s…

    Just saw Horse Feathers and Monkey Business (I’m a big Marx bros. fan) a couple of weeks ago. She died whilst making a Laurel and Hardy film…
    I think the Granddaddy of all celebrity murders remains that of Thomas Ince- murdered by a jealous Hearst on his yacht, thinking he was shooting the most famous man in the world from behind.

  8. I think that Thelma climbed in the car and was overtaken by the fumes. I’v seen crime scene photos, and if it were a “mob hit” it would have been a mess. The photos look as if she she were just “asleep” in the front sea. I think that she thought the car would keep her warm and didn’t realize the fumes would get her. The company that now runs it’s business out of her old cafe claim it is haunted.

  9. Thelma Todd’s mysterious death is one of my favourite cases. By all accounts it seems that Luciano was involved, and I do believe he was. Mobsters didn’t fool around in those days. However, the fist theory you mentioned is entirely plausible… But alas, we’ll never know.

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