April 30th, 1970 and Aftermath

Official documents of the Los Angeles County Coroner's Office record the fact that Inger Stevens, a Swedish-born American actress, committed suicide by ingesting an overdose of barbiturates on April 30th, 1970 in Los Angeles, California. The Coroner's Office arrived at this ruling after conducting what Dr. Noguchi called a "psychological autopsy", which essentially meant assembling a detailed psychological background study. Coroner's investigators interviewed members of her family and a number of Inger's friends in the process. Much credence was also given to Inger's previous suicide attempt 11 years ealier, and as details of her "secret" life with Ike became known, a portrait of Inger began to emerge: here was a woman who led two lives. One was the wholesome, outgoing, "Sunshine Girl" public personna, while at the same time there was a private Inger, fearful that the world would find out about her husband, married but unable to show herself with her husband in public. Inger was also soon characterized in the press as being despondent and depressed over her relationship with Burt Reynolds. Ultimately, it seemed, her inner sense of loneliness became too much for her to bear, and she chose to end the suffering once and for all....or, so goes the rationaliztion we indulge in, in our attempt to uderstand what happened on that day, and why.

From the very beginning, Inger's family and close friends have never believed that she took her own life, and have maintained that stance to this day. As stated earlier, she showed no overt signs of being despondent, and she was excited and eager to start work on her new television show. She made both short term and long term plans, of things to do and errands to run in the weeks ahead. There are also conflicting statements about the nature of her relationship with Reynolds, calling into question those possibilities of a fight/breakup precipitating an emotionally overwrought mindset that would lead to suicide. Defining her relationship with Reynolds is in turn further complicated by her relationship with Ike: were they even married? Did they consider themselves separated at the time? Even consideration of her prior suicide attempt has to be tempered with the fact Inger herself would later dismiss it, saying she had learned much about herself as a result, and was much wiser for it. With all of these contradictions and uncertainties still unresolved to this day, trying to discern the truth is a most difficult task.

Obviously, the circumstances of Inger's death are an open invitation to endless speculation even today. For example, one only has to view The Internet Movie Databse discussion boards on Inger to see numerous questions and comments on her death, many often contradictory. Unfortunately, misinformation is often exchanged on these forums as fact, and despite all of the well-meaning discussion, there will always be unanswerable questions. There is simply no way to definitively know what exactly transpired on that day, and everyone is free to draw their own conclusions. For this reason and out of respect to Inger's family and their sense of loss, our discussion of the events surrounding Inger's passing will be limited to those general facts/events known to be documented. I will refrain from engaging in any debate or discussion as to "what really happened" simply because I feel it is impossible for anyone to know. To those who claim they have researched the events and have deduced a "true" accounting of events, I applaud your efforts. We all have our ideas and theories. However, until the records are changed, I only present the "official" version of events. What I do know is that for many family members, Inger's death still stirs up painful memories and that is not my intention; I only include this discussion in the interest of comprehensiveness and accuracy.

What follows is a brief chronology of events from the last week in April, 1970, and its aftermath:

In the days immediately leading up to that week, Inger and friend-publicist Emily Torschia were making the press rounds, promoting her upcoming return to television.

On the evening of Monday the 27th (April, 1970), Inger dined with Burt Reynolds, Aaron and Candy Spelling at the La Scala restaurant, and by all accounts she looked fine that night. They talked about her new series, The Most Deadly Game (originally titled Zig Zag at the time).

Producer Aaron Spelling, Inger, and Burt pose for a fan magazine photographer. It is not known whether this was taken at La Scala on the evening of April 27th, 1970; if so, it would be among the last photos taken of Inger.

On Wednesday the 29th, Inger attended a memorial service for Gypsy Rose Lee in the morning, then spent a joyful, excited luncheon with writers-producers Mort Fine and David Friedkin (of I Spy fame). Fine and Friedkin, along with Joan Harrison, were set to produce her new show. In the afternoon, Reynolds arrived at Inger's house, and Lola McNally, who was at the time Inger's house-guest and hairstylist, left to spend the evening with a friend. In the early evening, at around 7:30 p.m., Reynolds left, after an argument with Inger. McNally called Inger later, asking if she (Inger) wanted her to return to the house, but Inger declined, saying she was fine. There was no hint of trouble or distress, according to Ms. McNally's later statements. Still later in the evening, Inger made 2 additional calls, one to a business acquaintance, the other to Chris, her former personal assistant. Inger called Chris at around 11 p.m. She informed Chris that she and Burt had argued, and that she was going to take something to help her sleep and retire for the night. She was scheduled to meet with a business friend at 11:00 a.m. the next morning.

On Thursday the 30th, at approximately 10 a.m. in the morning, McNally returned to Inger's home and found Inger lying face down on the kitchen floor, dressed in a nightgown. According to McNally, Inger opened her eyes and tried to speak, but then went into unconsciousness. McNally called police, and they in turn called for an ambulance. The ambulance arrived at Hollywood Receiving Hospital, where she was pronounced dead on arrival at approximately 10:30 AM.

Police officers at the scene noted that in the kitchen there was a bottle containing what would be later identified as Tedral tablets (an anti-asthma medication containing phenobarbital), and a glass of vodka, as well as the ingredients to a sandwich on the counter.

Above: An archival newspaper photo showing police officers at Inger's home the morning of April 30th.

Ike arrived at the home sometime later that morning and was informed by a workman who was painting the house what had transpired. He made his way to the Coroner's office in downtown Los Angeles.

By early afternoon, the news had leaked out that Inger had died, and a small throng of reporters assembled at the Coroner's office. Inger's body arrived at 1:30 p.m., and an autopsy was begun approximately an hour later. By late afternoon, Jones stepped foward and presented himself as Inger's husband to claim the body. In the early evening, Inger's remains were finally released to Ike and he arranged for the body to be picked up by representatives of Angeleus Funeral Home. The Coroner's office notified Ola (Carl) who was living in Massachusetts then, and Ike notified Per and Lucy. On Monday, May 4th, a private memorial service was held at Ben Irwin's home, and on the next day, May 5th, her body was cremated at Inglewood Park Cemetery. Inger's ashes were then scattered at sea in the Pacific.

After some investigation and field interviews, a psychological profile was made by Dr. Thomas Noguchi, Los Angeles' "Coroner to the Stars" as he would later be called, and the conclusion was suicide as the cause of death. Only a recent cut on her chin and some bruises on her right forearm remained unexplained. The entry on the official Death Certificate states: "acute barbiturate intoxication due to ingestion of overdose".

In the weeks that followed, Jones was challenged in court by the Los Angeles County Administrator's office for control of Inger's estate. During the proceedings, Mr. Jones was initially unable to produce written proof of his secret marriage, and investigators could not locate the marriage register in Tijuana, Mexico. Testimony was given that indicated Inger had told family members and friends that a copy of the marriage certificate had been mailed to her at some point, but was lost during one of her moves from one house to another. The Administrator's Office was then initially awarded control of Inger's estate (see below).

Article from Jet Magazine,circa 1970 (courtesy of F. Gao)

However, in a follow-up petition to the court, Jones provided letters Inger had written to others indicating that she was married, and additional documents he and Inger had signed as husband and wife concerning their property and business affairs. In addition, both her brother Ola (Carl) and father, as well as other close friends, testified on Ike's behalf, stating that the couple had held themselves out as husband and wife. Ola produced a letter Inger had written to him, stating that she was married. Based on the preponderance of testimony in favor of Ike and Inger being married, and their behavior over the years as a married couple, the court ultimately ruled in Ike's favor and recognized the marriage. Ike was then given control of Inger's estate.

   

Article from Los Angeles Herald Examiner dated August 4, 1970

During court proceedings, Ike stated that ultimately proceeds from the estate would be donated to children's charities and mental health organizations. At the time of her death, Inger's estate had been initially reported to have been worth $171,000 (US 1970 dollars). In a subsequent inventory and appraisement document filed in court in 1973, the estate was appraised at $2.45 million, which included real property, the value of stocks, and future movie and television rights income. Finally, in court declarations filed in 1985, Ike stated that nothing remained of the estate's assets after bills, liabilities, and administrative expenses were paid. He stated that once he was awarded administrator's rights, he soon discovered there was no estate of any consequence, with liabilities outnumbering any assets. In his filing, Ike stated "...I have no assets of the estate. If there were any, they would belong to the Internal Revenue Service and the Franchise Tax Board (California)..." In a supporting deposition filed by an attorney friend, the friend declared that in 1968 Inger and Ike had invested heavily in a proposed public offering of a company called "Associated Care Enterprises" which would be involved in convalescent homes. Ultimately the project fell through and no public offering was ever made, and the underwriting company seized whatever assets that had been assembled to date amid a flurry of litigation. In the words of this friend, "...Mr. and Mrs. Jones retained no interest whatsoever in the property and were, for all practical purposes, bankrupt in 1970..." The declaration also mentioned a number of tax claims against the estate, which were finally settled in 1983-1984.


Per Stensland passed away on August 7, 1998. His academic papers are on file at Syracuse University. Inger's mother Lisbet, her stepmother Carol, and her aunt Karin are also all deceased.


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