Greystone Mansion 905 Loma Vista Dr, Beverly Hills, California 90210
The Greystone Mansion Murders A gunshot rang out. It came from inside of the house. It was on the first floor for sure – was it the east wing? She panicked. She knew someone was hurt. She could feel it in her bones. She knew right then what she should do… and that she would never tell a soul.
Nestled in what is now knows as the Truesdale Estates, surrounded by sweeping views of Los Angeles and beyond, in one of Beverly Hill’s most exclusive neighborhoods, in the 90210 zip code, stands a towering 18.3-acre estate (that’s over 18 and a half footballs fields). This massive gray stone structure surrounded by lush gardens, water fountains and ponds, and all the trimmings of a life of luxury, stands as a physical tie to the past - a past full of deceit, greed and ultimately - murder. I’m your host Ansley and welcome to Hollywoodland: Unsolved
I must warn you that this episode may be frightening to listeners under the age of 13, so listener digression is advised.
Welcome to Graystone Mansion.
Entering the home through large iron doors, the foyer is lined with dark wood and marble and there is an instant a sense of weight as you walk through the entry way and down the stairs, but are almost immediately greeted with light from the south facing Card Room. With its large open wind with extensive views of Los Angeles, the Card Room is a striking difference to the heavy entry.
The first floor also features two separate dining rooms – a formal one and a “breakfast room” as well as the original kitchen, powder room and multiple guest bedrooms – one of them being where the murder took place.
To the right of the front door stands a massive wooden stairway leading to the second floor lined with ornate carvings. Following the staircase leads you to the living quarters – rooms for the children as well as a suite for “her” and a separate suite for “him” as well as other rooms serving various purposes.
I have included a floorplan of the mansion in the show notes – so please feel free to pause the show and take a look.
Our story starts with Edward Laurence Doheny Sr who came from humble means in the Midwest, but with his friend Charles A. Canfield – became the first to strike oil in Los Angeles in 1892.
Fast forward a few years and by the early 1920’s, Edward Laurence Doheny Sr. (Who we will call EL Senior for the duration of the podcast) was one of the richest men in the United States with a fortune built on the oil he struck in Los Angeles and Mexico. He was also, at that time, the largest producer of oil in the world. So needless to say, EL Senior was incredibly wealthy.
He married and had two children – the first Eilnee, who passed away when she was just seven years old and the second - Edward Laurence Doheny Jr. – Ned for short.
Since Ned is the focus on this podcast – let’s dive into him a bit
He grew up with your typical rich boys life – think Nate Archerbald from gossip girl – fancy private schools with a lavish, easy going life with a quote “hear of gold.”
Ned later married Lucy Smith and the two had five children together during their marriage.
EL Senior purchased the land where the Greystone Mansion stands back in the 1910s and gifted the land to Ned and Lucy to build their dream home.
Which is exactly what they did.
Construction on the massive estate began on Feburary 15th 1927 and while construction took 3 years to complete, Ned Doheny, his wife Lucy and their five children moved into their over 46,000 square foot mansion in the early fall of 1928. The mansion, equipped with fifty-five livable rooms, a bowling alley, tennis court, a pool, and a secret bar in the billiard room– I’ve seen it. It’s sick – was all custom built and state-of-the-art for that time. The Doheny family were no strangers to boasting their wealth and the parties they intended to throw in the house were going to be nothing but extravagant.
There was also a whole room dedicated to guns for Ned. One account states: “In the five months he had been alive in the house, Ned Doheny had, according to a representative, used the room's large window, which faced out to the hills on the other side of the estate, as a perching point from which to hunt animals in his backyard. When the urge to kill for sport struck him, he would call upon one of his servants to release some of his pre-stocked game. He would eventually shoot the animal from the comfort of his great indoors, and then send a servant to fetch the carcass and bring it to the gun room's adjoining kitchen for preparation.” So Ned Doheny was no stranger to using a gun.
The mansion came to be known as “Greystone” because of the sheer amount of stone used gave the estate a quote unquote “gray and somber appearance.”
Now before we go forward with the murder of Ned Doheny and the scandal that followed – I need to back up a bit and fill you in on another scandal that struck the Doheny – and can be directly linked the Ned’s murder. Well… so they say.
The Teapot Dome Scandal.
In November of 1921, EL Doheny’s Pan America Petroleum & Transport Company placed a bid on a federal project to build oil storage facilities at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii – in return for right to lease the land to tap some of the oil that belonged to the Navy’s reserves. The Teapot Dome was a rock formation in Wyoming that stood above the US Navy’s petroleum reserves – and while EL Doheny Senior’s company didn’t get the rights to that lease, they got another one in California.
William G Harding was president at the time and under his administration, the Interior Department was in charge of making the decision as to who the contract would go to. Albert Fall, and an old friend of EL Doheny Senior and a cabinet member in charge of making the decision was given a $100,000 cash quote unquote “loan”… from EL Doheny Senior. That would later be called a bribe.
EL Doheny Senior sent his son Ned and Ned’s childhood friend Hugh Plunkett to personally deliver the money. After Fall got instantly rich – and EL Doheny got the right to tap the oil – both parties fell under investigation.
Ned and Hugh were accessories in this crime because they were the ones who physically delivered the quote unquote “bribe.”
Many trials ensued and while EL Doheny was acquitted of criminal charges, he lost a civil case that went to the supreme court. It’s important to note that these trials were going on during the construction of the mansion and during the months that followed Ned, Lucy and their children moving into their new home.
Ned and Hugh Plunkett were long time friends and were said to have a brotherly like bond… Hugh was in charge of the construction of Greystone mansion while Ned was away aiding his father in the Tea Pot Dome Scandal litigation and it has been said that Hugh even signed personal checks for Ned…and deemed his personal secretary. They had a great friendship - but there were also rumors that the two men had a deeper conection
Attorney Fredrick R. Kellogg said although Hugh acted as secretary to Ned, "their relationship was more than that of friends."
But - Let’s get back to Ned and his murder.
Just five months after the family moved into their over $3 million dollar home – (that equals over $41 million dollars in our current market) on February 16, 1929 Ned found dead in a guestroom.
According to reports – this one from the Doheny Reference Center at University of Southern California states
"On the night of February 16, 1929, Hugh Plunkett arrived at the Greystone mansion. He called the house from the gates, and was told by Lucy Doheny that he should not come in. Ignoring her words, he apparently used his pass key to enter the grounds and the house, going to the guest bedroom on the first floor where he often stayed. Ned Doheny found him there around 10PM. At 10:30, the Doheny family physician. E.C. Fishbaugh, who was in Hollywood attending a theater performance, received a call from his maid, who told him that he was needed urgently at the Doheny home.
Fishbaugh arrived a little before 11PM, and was greeted by Lucy Doheny, who told him that Plunkett and her husband were in the guest bedroom. As they proceeded down the hallway to the bedroom, they saw the door standing ajar, and Plunkett standing by it. He warned them to come no closer, then shut the door. Immediately after a shot rang out. When the doctor entered the room, he found Plunkett lying on the floor by the door, shot through the head, the gun lying by his side. Doheny lay on the floor by the beds, next to an overturned chair, barely alive with a gunshot wound to the head."
Something seems a little fishy about this to me. First of all this is one of the official accounts listed under the Doheny archives, so with that being said – there is no mention of the police being called after the first gunshot. If I was home and I heard a gunshot go off in my house, wouldn’t I call the police? Also, if I thought I might have someone who could harm my family or I in my house, wouldn’t I want to notify the authorities?
Not according to Lucy Doheny – Lucy called the DOCTOR instead of calling the police. Which leads me to believe that she thought – or knew – that this wasn’t a murder/suicide after all. Well, yet.
Let’s turn our attention to another report that recounts the two journalists who covered the murders - Leslie White and Lucien Wheeler
They theorized that the story Lucy and Dr. Fishbaugh gave weren’t’ 100% true -
“Fishbaugh told two differing accounts of Plunkett’s warning, with one early description stating that Plunkett shut the door softly, while his later accounts stated that Plunkett slammed the door, as if in a rage. This was not the only irregularity that night. The testimonies of the maid, the nanny, the liveried butler, the night watchman, and the guards all sounded too neat, almost as if they had been rehearsed in advance.”
So this all took place around 11pm – but the police weren’t called until 2am. If my husband was shot you better believe I would be calling for an amblience so why didn’t lucy do that?
Considering the time gap between the murder/suicide, calling Dr. Fishbaugh first and the time it took to call to the police, White and Wheeler believed that the stories given were not what actually happened, and I agree with them.
Another peculiar thing? It appeared to the police that the bodies had been moved. When asked about this by the police – Lucy said that the bodies have been moved to because the doctor tried to revive the men. The police had their doubts – but two days after the deaths they ruled the deaths a murder/suicide with Hugh Plunkett being blamed for going quote “temporarily insane.”
So what actually happened?
I have a couple of theories, but the one with the most evidence is this:
Ned shot Plunkett and out of fear called the doctor for help.
One investigative report on the story (about White and Wheeler – the reporters covering the case) stated in response to the murder/suicide theory QUOTE “White found powder burns around the hole in Doheny’s head, which meant that the gun had been less than three inches away from his head when it was fired. Since this type of evidence usually points towards suicide, the theory that Plunkett had murdered Doheny and then killed himself started to unravel before it had even fully . White found no evidence of powder burns on Plunkett, thus furthering his doubt. Furthermore, the unfinished cigarette found on Plunkett didn’t gel with the theory that that he was a frenzied killer worried about saving himself from being committed. It didn’t seem likely that a man who had just shot his best friend would then turn the gun on himself, all the while still holding a lit cigarette.” End quote
The media didn’t waste a minute branding Plunket as a deranged murder and splashed headlines across their front pages. Headlines read “Crazed secretary kills millionaire and himself” “Bullet torn bodies found in Oil Man’s home by doctor and family” along with a side profile of Plunkett and a shot of Ned Golfing with the caption “victim of a madman”
This seems a bit extreme based on the FACTS – but it appears that no one at that time was really looking for the facts (well other that White and Wheeler). This was a media frenzy.
Those headlines weren’t completely off base though - there were reports of Plunkett having mental instability and divorced his wife suddenly in 1928 – just months before his death. One theory is that Ned suggested that Plunkett check himself into a sanitarium – and Plunkett reacted out of anger to this by shooting Ned
Within just a few days – the police stated that it was a murder suicide with Plukett as the perpetrator.
Just a few days… doesn’t that seem odd? The fact that if Plunkett had shot himself there should have been gun powder around the bullet hole. There wasn’t. Also, the lit cigarette. There are also reports of the gun being wiped clean of fingerprints…
These are big things for the police to just glaze over and I cant reasonably believe that they are that incompetent… but this was a rough time in Los Angeles police history so it wouldn’t be a stretch to make the assumption that a payoff was involved.
Oh and the two men had been drinking.
So maybe the pressure of the legal drama with the Tea Pot Dome Scandal was too much for Plunkett who shot Ned out of fear/anger/insert negative emotion here. Or maybe Ned was frustrated with Plunkett and threatened him – and since alcohol was involved, we can assume he wasn’t in his right mind – got so angry and fired the gun at Plunkett and once he realized what he had done Ned called EC Fishbaugh for help. Another is that Plunkett and Ned were lovers and Lucy had killed them both out of jealousy.
Was the pressure of the trial too much for Plunkett? Was he worried that he was going to have to take the fall for his wealthy friend and have his life crash and burn because of it?
The two men were buried close to each other in Forest Lawn Cemetery – this was weird because the Doheny family were big donors of the Catholic church and New wasn’t buried in the family plot…. Which gives another clue to the theory that there might have been more going on between the men than it seemed.
But at the end of the day – only Lucy Doheny and Dr. Fishbaugh will ever know the truth. And Lucy Doheny – she made it her life's mission to never tell a soul. She remarried almost a year to the day after Ned’s death and never looked back.
As far as EL Doheny Senior goes – the sympathy for the grieving father was so deep that the investigation was called off and after only a hour of deliberations – he was acquitted.
What became of the Greystone Mansion?
According to reports, after her children were grown and 27 years in the mansion, Lucy sold the estate to real estate developer, Paul Trousdale from Chicago. Trousdale, who that areas is names after (aka Trousdale Estates), had plans to “subdivide and demolish the house” but in 1965 the city of Beverly Hills stepped in and bought the house to prevent this from happening.
The mansion is now listed on the historic registry and is maintained by the city of Beverly hills.
The great thing about Greystone? It’s so accessible to the public. With the gardens open almost daily and the door to the mansion opened for special events (I went to a car show there in the spring of 2016) this vault of history is so easily accessible.
And I bet you have seen Greystone before and not even known it – Greystone mansion has served has the backdrop for many productions in Hollywood including Spiderman, The Big Lebowski and Gilmore Girls, just to name a few.
So what are your theories? Did Lucy Doheny and Dr. Fishbaugh tell the truth? Or – were White and Wheeler onto something? Perhaps you have a theory of your own – shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet me at hollywoodland Pod.
Want to try to solve the death of Ned Doheny and Hugh Plunkett? I’ve included the addresses and floorplan in the notes. Happy sleuthing!
I’ve included a complete reference list of all of my research in the show notes as well as links to the accounts I quotes in this episode. Please feel free to check them out for more information on the Greystone Mansion and the murder and death of Ned Doheny and Hugh Plunkett.
Next time on Hollywoodland: unsolved. We dive into the murder of a beloved starlet turned nightclub owner who was found dressed to the 9s dead in her Lincoln convertible in the garage of her ex-lovers ex-wife. The untimely death of Thelma todd.