Seattle, Wash., to Martin and Florence Spangler on September 2, 1923,
Jean Elizabeth Spangler was the youngest of her siblings: Richard,
Betsy Ann, and Edward. By 1930, the family had moved to Los Angeles,
where Jean graduated from
Franklin High School in 1941.
In June 1942, she married Dexter
Benner, a USC graduate three years her senior. Their marriage was
troubled, and Jean filed for divorce only six months later, accusing
Dexter of cruelty.
They got back together, and in April 1944 their daughter Christine
Louise Benner was born.
But when Dexter went to serve in the war,
Jean began a relationship with another man, an Army Air Corps
lieutenant called "Scotty". They briefly shared an apartment and
talked about marriage, but like her husband, Scotty had a mean side.
He beat her, and when she left him in 1945, he threatened to kill
her. Dexter and Jean divorced in 1946, and the father got temporary
custody of Christine, due partly to Jean's infidelity.
support herself and her family (her brother Edward had died in WW2
in 1945, and her father was in hospital) Jean had begun dancing at
Florentine Gardens and Earl Carroll's theatre, performing regularly
as a showgirl. She had also signed up to be an extra in movies and
on television, and joined the Screen Extras Guild.
In 1948, Jean went to court to regain custody of her 4-year old
daughter. Dexter Benner, who had remarried, claimed his ex-wife was "nothing but a partying
"unfit to bring up a child".
Jean responded, revealing that
during the two years he had custody, Benner had denied Jean the
right to see Christine on more than twenty different occasions, that
he had pushed her off his porch and used vile language in front of
their daughter, and that he had threatened her repeatedly:
told me to stay away or he'd fix it so I'd never see my child
On August 13, 1948, Judge Albert F. Rose awarded
custody to Jean, stating: "Many actresses, models and dancers -
professional glamour girls - are known to be excellent mothers." The
judge did find both parents fit, and gave Benner permission to have
the child on weekends.
After winning custody of Christine, Jean, her mother and daughter,
shared a 2 bedroom apartment on Colgate Avenue in Park La Brea. "She
worked hard and used the money to help me keep the home together, so
that she could bring her father home," her mother later wrote.
Spangler was due to return from hospital in October 1949.
Friendly, cheerful and pretty, Jean was well-liked, and when she
wasn't working or looking after Christine, she could be seen with
various handsome dates at various Hollywood night clubs -- in the
summer of 1949, she was spotted at Ciro's with Ronald Reagan. "There
was never a dull moment with that girl," fellow Earl Carroll
showgirl Betty Bedoin said later. "I don't think she ever had an
argument with anyone. She was happy all the time."
"She was trying to get into motion pictures and she danced at Earl
Carroll's, the Florentine Gardens, Ciro's, Mocambo and even at El
Rancho Vegas in Nevada," Jean's former attorney, Albert Pearson said after
her disappearance. "She must have dated 50 men in three months."
In the Fall of 1949, Florence Spangler went to visit relatives in
Kentucky. Jean's sister-in-law Sophie, widow of Edward, came from
St. Louis with her daughter to help out at the Colgate house.
Friday October 7, was like any other day. Around 5 p.m., Jean, in
her usual mood and dressed in a western shirt, slacks and a white
coat, told Sophie she was going to see her ex-husband about unpaid
child support. After that, she said, she was going to work late at a
At about 7 p. m., Jean called home to check on her daughter, and to
tell Sophie she was at work and would be late. Jean was never heard
On Sunday October 9, a worker at Griffith Park found Jean's broken
purse at the Fern Dell entrance. He called the police, and within
days, a large scale search of the park was underway for the missing
young woman or any clues leading to her whereabouts.
While hundreds of volunteers, and police on horseback and with dogs,
were searching the vast Griffith Park for any clues about
Spangler's disappearance, her ex-husband went to the courts to
regain custody of his daughter. He won the case two months later,
with the understanding that Jean's mother would be allowed to visit
the girl. But when Florence came to see Christine, Dexter would not allow her to talk
about Jean, and eventually, he did not allow Florence to come
over at all. Florence took Dexter to court, and the custody hearing went on for four years.
Although Dexter missed fourteen court appearances regarding
Florence's rights to see her grandchild, he had no problem showing
up when he asked
the courts for his new wife, Lynn, to adopt
Christine, claiming she had been "abandoned" by her birth mother. A
judge blocked the request in 1951, saying there was no proof the
birth mother, Jean, had abandoned her child, as no one knew whether
she was alive or dead. Dexter, as he had done with Jean, continued to
ignore Florence's requests to see her granddaughter, and when
eventually he was sentenced to jail for contempt of court in 1953,
Dexter took his daughter and wife and moved to Florida, never to
return to California.
Florence waited for a call about Jean, and looked for her beloved
granddaughter Christine, until she died in 1991. By then, Christine
was in her forties, but she never made any attempt to contact her
maternal family. Dexter Benner had two more children with Lynn:
Kimberly Ann and Julia Lynn. Dexter passed away in 2007.
Jean Spangler was never declared dead. Her remains have never been
found. No one has ever confessed to know anything about her
disappearance, or how her purse ended up torn and discarded near
Griffith Park. The identities of "Kirk" and "Dr Scott" are still
After 62 years, Jean's missing person case file is still