PHOENIX — The gruesome 1978 murder of ‘60s sitcom star Bob Crane captured the imagination of KSAZ-TV anchor John Hook a couple of years ago. The result is a new book, Who Killed Bob Crane, that delves deep into the crime, even using DNA evidence in an attempt to pinpoint the killer.
It all started after Robert Crane, the actor’s oldest child, had written Crane: Sex, Celebrity, and My Father’s Unsolved Murder. Like most longtime Arizonans, Hook knew the sordid details of the crime. The Hogan’s Heroes star was found bludgeoned to death in an apartment on Chaparral Road in Scottsdale, where he was appearing in a play. Still, Hook had never really investigated beyond the headlines.
That all changed when Hook interviewed Robert Crane for a segment in 2015.
“Sometimes you do a story, and it just sticks with you and you can’t shake it,” says Hook, a key member of the Channel 10 news team for 24 years. “This story had kind of been around. It’s really a part of Arizona folklore. After I met Crane Jr., I just came away thinking he has no resolution. Wouldn’t it be interesting if that evidence still exists?”
That led the newsman on a journey that became something of an obsession. His first move was obvious. He sought the approval of Crane’s son, who gave his blessing (he even provides the forward to Hook’s book).
"I told him I would only do this if he was comfortable with it," he says. "If he had said, 'let sleeping dogs lie,' then that would have been it."
For Hook, it meant diving into one of most lurid murder cases Arizona has ever seen. Crane was found beaten to death with an electrical cord around his throat. Police suspected that a friend, John Carpenter, had killed him, but they didn't have the DNA evidence. Carpenter was acquitted at a 1994 trial; he maintained his innocence until his death in 1998.
Examining the actor's personality
Adding to the sensational tabloid aspect of the crime: Crane's obsession with pornography (watching it and making his own) and his apparently insatiable sexual appetite. Crane’s proclivities helped inspire Auto Focus, a 2002 drama featuring Greg Kinnear as the slain actor and Willem Dafoe as Carpenter.
Granted access from authorities, Hook perused artifacts from the murder. Some of it was sad and illustrated dueling sides of the star’s personality. Hook writes about seeing photos of Crane's blood-splattered day planner, in which the actor noted such dates as his daughter’s high-school graduation as well as names and numbers of women he apparently picked up.
He also saw videos Crane made of himself having sex with women; the actor even laid a soundtrack over the action, Hook writes.
“I think he wanted to videotape for posterity all his sexual conquests,” Hook says. “I think he thought as he got older, 'wouldn’t it be cool to have a catalog of all the conquests I‘ve had?' I think that’s where his mind was at.”
New DNA tests
The anchor ultimately ordered tests of DNA samples of blood found on Carpenter’s rental car using new technology. The results, however, were surprising: Although the blood type matched Crane's (which jurors knew in the 1994 trial), the DNA did not. In other words: There are no new signs pointing to Carpenter.
"I feel tremendous disappointment that we didn't get a definitive answer," Hook says. "Everybody, including me, thought it was going to be Bob Crane's blood in John Carpenter's rental car. That would have pretty much shut the door."
He says a juror from the original trial acknowledged that if prosecutors could have proven that Crane's blood was on the car, Carpenter likely would have been found guilty. On the other hand, Carpenter's former attorney, Stephen Avilla, told Hook, "This is wonderful news for John ... to know that he has finally been vindicated."
Still, Hook warns theorists, this isn't necessarily a game-changer.
"This could lead people away from Carpenter when maybe it shouldn't?" he says. "For the people who believe Carpenter did this and won't move on their position, they'll just say that we're getting DNA that has nothing to do with the crime."
First book, and maybe not the last
This is the first book Hook has written. He says juggling it between work and family responsibilities was exhausting. Still, he doesn't know if this is the last he's written on the murder.
"I would never say never," he says. "It's not something I'm going to actively pursue, but I'm open to people coming up to me with information. I became kind of obsessed with the case — I think for journalists that’s often the place you end up, and when you do your best work. It's like a compulsion to get to the bottom of things."
His three children, who are all under age 13, may disagree.
"My kids don't want me to write another one for a while," he says. "They want me to wait until they're in college."
Follow Randy Cordova on Twitter: Twitter.com/randy_cordova.