Marilyn Monroe's death remains a topic of conjecture with many forensic question marks.
Updated: August 1, 2012 - 9:31 PM
LOS ANGELES - A half-century has not dimmed skeptics' suspicions about the death of Marilyn Monroe at age 36, but the intervening decades have seen technological leaps that could alter the investigation were it to occur today.
DNA, more sophisticated electronic record-keeping, drug databases and other advances would give investigators more information than they were able to glean after Monroe's death on Aug. 5, 1962 -- 50 years ago this Sunday.
Whether any of the tools would lead to a different conclusion -- that her death from acute barbiturate poisoning was a probable suicide -- remains a historical "what if."
"The good news is we're very advanced from 50 years ago," said Max Houck, a forensic consultant and co-author of "The Science of Crime Scenes." "The bad news is, we're still trying to put it in context."
Monroe's death stunned the world and quickly ignited wide speculation. The theories stemmed from a 35-minute gap between when Monroe was declared dead by her physician and when police were dispatched, phone records showing only outgoing calls and toxicology tests on digestive organs that were never done.
Interest has also focused on whether Monroe kept a diary filled with government secrets that was taken from her bedroom, or whether she was killed to prevent her from revealing embarrassing secrets about President John F. Kennedy or his brother, Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy.
An investigation by the Los Angeles County district attorney's office 20 years after she died found no evidence of a murder conspiracy and theorized that Monroe died of an accidental overdose.
But there were loose ends. The 1982 report states that roughly 15 prescription bottles were seen at the death scene, but only eight are reflected in the coroner's report. And the first police officer on the scene later said he saw Monroe's housekeeper using the washing machine in the hours after the actress' death.
The Internet, digital imaging and more sophisticated testing mean that Monroe's death, had it occurred today, would be subject to still more forensic scrutiny than in 1982.
Investigators are now able to conduct far deeper analysis of prescriptions than in Monroe's time. A state database shows prescriptions issued to patients and their aliases.
Doctor's records, too, are routinely subpoenaed, as in the cases of the deaths of Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston. In Monroe's case, the DA's report noted, one of the doctors could not be found.
Improved fingerprint collection procedures might have also aided Monroe investigators, said Dr. Victor Weedn, chair of the Department of Forensic Sciences at George Washington University in Washington, D.C.
The DA's investigation generally credited medical examiner Dr. Thomas Noguchi with doing a thorough autopsy, including examining Monroe's body for needle marks.
However toxicology testing was lacking in Monroe's case. Samples from her stomach and intestines were destroyed before they were tested for drugs, Noguchi acknowledged in his 1983 memoir "Coroner," and he quickly realized that "a variety of murder theories would spring up almost instantly."
'No' to conspiracy
Despite lingering questions, photographer Lawrence Schiller doesn't believe foul play was involved.
Schiller knew Monroe in her final days and recently released the memoir "Marilyn & Me: A Photographer's Memories."
"Was there a conspiracy to kill her? No. I don't think so," he said. He saw Monroe mixing champagne and pills and forgetting what she had taken several times, he said.
"Did she lose track of what she was taking that night, to me that's more than likely" than any of the conspiracy theories.
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