California · Crime Scene Photography

Director found dead from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound, though some suspect murder

September 5, 1932
Beverly Hills, California
Paul Bern dies in an apparent suicide

Bern was an acclaimed Hollywood director, screenwriter, and producer. He also had a live-in common-law wife, Dorothy Millette, before she was committed to a sanitarium for various mental and emotional illnesses. Bern later met actress Jean Harlow at a movie premiere in 1930. The pair hit it off immediately, and on July 2, 1932, the couple married.

The night before Bern’s death, Millette visited Bern after traveling from Connecticut to California. Bern was found dead in his home in the early morning hours of September 5 with a gunshot wound to his head. Harlow was questioned but maintained that she knew nothing, and a note found at the scene suggested suicide. Two days after Bern’s death, Millette jumped from a ferry and drowned herself.

Bern’s murder was officially ruled a suicide. However, as with most Hollywood scandals and deaths at the time, various theories have come forward suggesting Bern’s end was not so straight-forward. One suggested Millette had killed Bern out of jealousy then killed herself out of guilt. Another, proposed in a 1960 issue of Playboy, implied Bern had been intimate with another woman and was shot by Harlow. The evidence, this theory speculated, was tampered with by MGM executives who wished to keep the 21-year-old Harlow as a sex symbol in the public eye, a nigh impossible feat if it was revealed her own husband preferred the company of another woman.

The suicide note read:

Dearest Dear,

Unfortuately [sic] this is the only way to make good the frightful wrong I have done you and to wipe out my abject humiliation, I Love you.

Paul

You understand that last night was only a comedy


Bern and Harlow


Dorothy Millette


Bern’s body slumped on the floor


The suicide note

Horrific history from today:
1930: FLW: Insults to a slow executioner (2017)
1966: Man drags man to his death, is shot by police (2017)
1966: 10 young people injured by shotgun blast following a fight (2017)
1970: Man murders, dismembers, and cannibalizes 8 (2017)
1934: The possible first victim of the Cleveland Torso Murderer is found (2018)

Horror-related anniversaries:
Today in Horror History: September 5

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