The Mysterious Death of Thomas Ince
November 16, 1942
A lavish boating excursion ended in mystery when Hollywood Producer, Thomas Ince, died under circumstances that to this day have not been explained. The official report say indigestion and heart attack but elatedly he was shot in the head by newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst. The scandal that followed left this case unsolved today. Was the supposed indigestion really the cause of Thomas Ince’s untimely death? And if it was, why was his widow gifted a trust fund (and a lavish building in the heart of Hollywood) by Hearst? What happened that fateful night aboard the ( OH NIII DUH)? Apparently there was even a Los Angeles Times article that didn’t make to publication titled “Movie Producer Shot On Hearst Yacht.”
So what really happened to Thomas Ince? And why is this story a mystery still today?
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.
Thomas Ince was born into a show-biz fam on November 16th 1882 in Newport, Road Island. He began his journey in the entertainment industry as an actor and after many failed attempts to make it as a stage actor, he switched gears to filmmaking.
Ince went on the change the film industry and became one of the biggest film moguls of the time. He was reported to be the first person to build a movie studio which he called “Inceville”. According to reports many of his techniques of writing and filming are still used today such as the use of assistant directors and shooting scenes separately instead of one long scene like a play. (http://bit.ly/2si8TZ0). The studio was built in Santa Ynez Canyon in the Santa Monica Mountains and QUOTE “It consisted of several thousand acres filled with stages, entire neighborhoods of multicolored houses, from the humblest abode to gigantic mansions, commissaries, dressing rooms, props and more. There were several different nations represented at the studio, from Japanese villages to French Chalets. Ince even hired performers from a Wild West show to live at the studio, including an entire Sioux Indian tribe, who pitched their teepees on the grounds.” END QUOTE
Ince would eventually become known for being the “Father of the Western” style of filmmaking and had quite a portfolio to uphold that title. (http://bit.ly/1KFfOif).
Ince eventually sold “Inceville” to a western star and began building a new movie studio in Culver City, which still stands today right on Culver Boulevard. QUOTE “The administration building is instantly recognizable, not only for its resemblance to Mount Vernon but also because the façade was used as the front of Tara in the film Gone With the Wind. Culver studios boasted 40 colonial style revival buildings, a fire department, a hospital and a swimming pool. Royalty and presidents were taken on tours of the studio and came away duly impressed.” END QUOTE
But his story came to an untimely end when he was escorted off of a yacht owed by William Randolph Hearst to due to alleged illness. He died within days was was immediately cremated and no autopsy was done. (http://bit.ly/2qBgNMo).
And there are many conflicting stories as to what actually happened to Thomas Ince.
Let’s start at the beginning….
On the weekend of November 15th, in celebration of his 43rd birthday, the Yacht’s owner – Newspaper bigwig – William Randolph Hearst hosted the ride from Los Angeles to San Diego. The trip wasn’t originally for Ince’s birthday but a dinner was set in celebration. Later that was all denied by one of the passengers….
Aboard the ship was Hearst and his mistress Marion Davies – an actress- as well as Charlie Chaplin, his secretory, Louella Parsons (who would go on to be one of the biggest gossip columnist of the time), a jazz band and a few other guests, including Ince’s wife – Eleanora Ince, or Nell as she was called. (http://bit.ly/2rJf4bq). Marion Davies later said that Ince wasn’t originally invited but was requested by Nell because she thought her husband QUOTE “needed the rest.” END QUOTE
So what happened that night? One report states -
QUOTE “A grand dinner ensued with much merry making but no drinking, according to Davis. Others have claimed the booze was freely flowing. Ince himself supposedly told doctors later that he had consumed alcohol while aboard the yacht. Hearst was a well-known teetotaler and did not tolerate drinking in his presence, but that did not stop his guests from sneaking their own booze on board so the truth probably lies somewhere in between.
Sometime during the middle of the night, Ince became violently ill and was removed from the yacht and placed on a train in San Diego bound for Los Angeles. The version doctor Goodman gave, however, was that both he and Ince had been up early Monday morning and left the yacht together, as both planned to return to Los Angeles before the others had awakened. According to the doctor, Ince fell ill with a heart attack while en route and was removed from the train to a hotel, where another physician, Dr. T.A. Parker, was called. It seems odd that a doctor, who suspected this man was having a heart attack, would not try to get him to a hospital. Ince’s wife was called and she rushed to be with her husband. Again, rather than be transported to a hospital, he insisted he wanted to go home and was brought to Los Angeles, where he died in his wife’s arms the next day.” END QUOTE
Well… that doesn’t seem too far-fetched right?
What I think is really interesting that that no corners report was ever done and the remains of Ince were cremated immediately so no investigation could ever be done. Strange right?
Immediately after the death the newspapers had a field day. Allegedly the front page of the LA times read “Movie Producer Shot on Hearst Yacht.” Yikes.
But that story didn’t get printed – what did get printed was that Ince had fallen ill while visiting Hearst’s ranch and had been taken home by an ambience only to die at his family’s side. This story didn’t hold weight for long because too many people had seen Ince board the Oneida in San Diego. Rumors of foul play were fueled by Charlie Chaplin’s secretary claiming to have seen a bullet hole in Ince’s head.
The rumors reached the district attorney office and he felt pressure to investigate – but he only questioned on man, Dr. Daniel Goodman who was a Hearst employee, who stated that he took the train down to San Diego with Ince and stated that Ince had claimed chest pain on the trip – as to aid to the heart attack story. It was enough to suffice the district attorney though because he didn’t question anyone else in the cast.
A theory as to why the DA’s office only interviewed one person – A doctor no doubt – was because he suspected that there might have been alcohol involved. Apparently it was a well-known secret that there was alcohol aboard the Oneida. This was during probation so that would have gotten a whole lot of important people in a whole lot of trouble and we all know that the Los Angeles police don’t have the best reputation of doing what is right and just and for doing what is – well, paid for by the highest bidder. I think that Hearst was far too powerful with far too much money for this investigation to go any further.
So what happened to Thomas Ince aboard the Oneida?
So let’s say that Ince was shot – if so, by who and why? One theory is that he was shot by mistake – that the gun was supposed to be aimed at someone else. Allegedly Hearst was in a relationship of sorts with Marion Davies and allegedly Charlie Chaplin was having an affair with her behind his back. According to the stories, Hearst invited Chaplin to come on this excursion so he could witness how happy him and Davies were with the hopes that he would back off.
While on board, Hearst allegedly caught Chaplin and Davies in a less that flattering position and Hearst stormed out to get his gun, returned and aimed at Chaplin but aboard the unpredictable seas, shot Ince instead. Another is that Davie and Ince were full-on caught in bed together and Hearst shot Ince in a fit of rage (with a diamond incrusted pistol, allegedly).
D.W. Griffith remarked in later years, “All you have to do to make Hearst turn white as a ghost is mention Ince’s name. There’s plenty wrong there, but Hearst is too big to touch.”
So something definitely went down.
Another interesting clue that fuels the “Hearst accidentally killed Ince” theory is that Ince’s wife, Eleanor Ince, was potentially paid off. After Ince’s death, Eleanor moved to Europe and was allegedly given a trust fund to live on by Hearst as well as had the building– the famed Chateau Elysee Apartment building in Hollywood – was paid off in full by Hearst before Eleanor left for Europe. (http://bit.ly/2ssuqxH) Sounds suspicious if you ask me.
One more thing to note is Louella Parsons, one of the passengers on the Oneida that night and the soon-to-be-famous gossip columnist, was just an up and comer at the time of this fateful boat ride – but soon after she was offered a lifetime contract with Hearst corporation… even though later she furiously denied being anywhere near the yacht at the time.
Another theory of what happened to Ince was killed because he raped Abigail Kingsolving – Marion Davie’s secretary.
Stay with me. One of my favorite websites “Hollywoodland Forever Blog” states QUOTE:
“Another quite messy scenario is that of an unknown character, Abigail Kinsolving. Miss Kinsolving happened to be Miss Davies Secretary, and from most stories she is not among those listed as being aboard the Oneida that night. However, apparently through the Hollywood gossip circuit, the story claims that Abigail was raped by Ince aboard Hearst's yacht and that she shot him in self-defense or even quite possibly stabbed him in the head. Another report states that she only admitted to being raped by Ince, but never mentioned anything about how he died, or even if the death was related to her rape.
Stories go on to state that Abigail became pregnant from that incident and gave birth to a daughter, Louise just months later. As you know, a pregnancy takes an entire nine months. So for her to give birth just a "few months" later sounds fishy to me. Also, the reports claim that Ince raped her on Saturday night, the 15th of November.
That is impossible, Ince didn't even board the Oneida until Sunday morning (the 16th) in San Diego because he had been busy at the premiere of "The Mirage" and an ongoing production deal he was negotiating with Hearst's International Film Corporation. So if Abigail claimed to have been raped by Ince on the 15th aboard the Oneida, then that was a lie.” END WUOTE
So – if we are going to roll with the Abigail was impregnated by Ince why would she kill him then? Due to the time that she allegedly gave birth, we have to assume that she was already expecting long before she stepped aboard the Oneida. Perhaps she became enraged with jealousy aboard the ship when she saw Ince with another passenger – Margaret Livingston who was allegedly Ince mistress. Did Abigail become enraged and act out of anger? Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned right?
This theory is interesting to me for a number of reasons
There is more to the story though… after digging into this theory I learned that
Abigail’s child was placed in an orphanage but was allegedly supported financially by Davies for years. Why?
There are so many unanswered questions and bizarre facts that make this case suspicious. Between the newspaper articles fabricating where Ince was, to the mysterious death of Abigail to Eleonore Ince being gifted a freakin building?
What I am still in clear about is when was Ince on the train with Doctor Goodman? Alledgely it was on the drive DOWN to meet everyone in San Diego where they then boarded the ship and his alleged heart attack (or gunshot) took place on the ride back UP to Los Angeles.
I believe that Ince was in fact killed accidentally. I do believe he was shot (they were out to sea, so who would have heard it). I also believe that Ince was in fact having an affair with Abigail Kingsolving and I think that she was going to talk and someone from the Hearst’s empire took care of her.
As for Nell? There are conflicting stories – one states that she was gifted a trust including The Chateau Elysee in Hollywood and booked it to Europe. The other states that even if she was gifted that, the stock market crash of 1929 left her life in shambles where she spent the rest of her days as a taxi cab driver.
But – the world may never know the truth as to what happened that night on board the Oneida.
This story has created so much speculation over the years that a big Hollywood blockbuster was made about it years later – in 2001 to be exact –starring Kirsten Dunst as Marion Davies, Edward Herrmann as William Randolf Hearst and Cary Elwes as Thomas Ince. Definitely adding that one to my “must watch list.”
As far as the Chateau Elysee in Hollywood? Well the building still stands and has made quite a name for it’s as the celebrity center for a little religion known as Scientoloty. Have you heard of it? (http://bit.ly/2rY8D4d)
So what do you think? Was Ince shot by Hearst in a fit of rage after catching him with Davies? Was it really indigestion that led to a heart attack? Or was Abigail Kingsolving telling the truth? Tweet me at @HollywoodlandPC or email me at Hollywoodlandpod@gmai.com. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this because my jury is still out on this one.
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 mysterious death of Thomas Ince and those involved.
As always, the maps and address are included in the show notes and on the website so you can try to track down the killer and finally nail down just want happened aboard the yacht that night.
Next time on Hollywoodland: Unsolved. We dive into one of the most chilling murders to ever strike Hollywood. With twists and turns at every corner, this 70-year old cold case has been the subject of movies and books for almost a century. When Elizabeth Short’s body was found dismembered in a vacant lot in Hollywood – the police began a wild goose chase that would leave behind a trail of mystery. The murder of the Black Dahlia.
All elements of Hollywoodland: Unsolved are produced by me, with graphics and maps by Brian Balzerini and music by my amazing father.