January 23, 2019

Murder & Madness at the Greystone Mansion

Well, it’s a new year with more places to travel with DayTripper Tours. On Saturday, January 19th I took 52 passengers to The Greystone Manor Mansion in Beverly Hills to see the play, “The Manor Murder Mystery” show.

You may not be familiar with the name of the house but I can bet you have seen it on the big screen or even on T.V. Here are few of the movies it has been featured in, The Big Lebowski, Star Trek Into Darkness, Ghostbusters II, Death Becomes Her, Indecent Proposal, the Massachusetts home of Jack Nicholson in The Witches of Eastwick. Most recently the bowling alley was used for the very first time in film in There Will Be Blood. The now very famous scene where Daniel Day Lewis gave his “I drink your milkshake” speech.

This is a very short list of films. I could go on and on, but I would like to share more about this most fascinating tour and this “castle” as I would describe it.

Many people mistake The Greystone Mansion for The Doheny mansion. Same family, different mansions. The Dohney mansion home to Edward and Estelle Doheny is near the campus of USC.

So who exactly lived in the Greystone Mansion and what is the story behind the mysterious murder that took place there on the night of February 16, 1929? I will get to that later in this blog.

Let me give you a little background first before I get to answering that question.

Edward L. Doheny, Sr. was the first man to successfully drill the first oil well in Los Angeles back in 1892. He did not come from a wealthy family. His father worked as a gardener and his mother was a school teacher. He had fallen on hard times when he first came out to Los Angeles with his first wife Carrie. During this very first dig that he made in Los Angeles his seven-year-old daughter Eileen died of heart disease. His wife Carrie was very distraught over this but a year later she gave birth to their only son Edward “Ned” Doheny, Jr. Their marriage did not last and in 1899 Carrie left for San Francisco and filed for divorce. Sadly, Carrie would end up committing suicide, after being so upset about losing custody of her son Ned and Edwards recent marriage to another woman, also named Carrie. For obvious reasons she decided to use her middle name of Estelle. Ned was just seven years old and Estelle loved Ned as if he were her own son, as she was not able to have children of her own.

If you would like to learn more about The Doheny family and the legacy they left behind I would highly recommend going on the Doheny Mansion tour with DayTripper Tours. They only take a  limited amount of passengers, so sign up as soon as you see the tour in the catalog.

Now let me switch gears here and talk about The Greystone Mansion. In 1926 Edward and Estelle Doheny sold their 428-acre Doheny Ranch in Beverly Hills to their son Ned and his wife Lucy for $10.00. The house was a wedding gift to them. Which is interesting to me because they were married in 1913 and already had five children when they moved into the mansion. Kind of a late wedding gift but I guess better late than never.

The mansion was completed in 1928 after three years of construction and it got it’s name from the gray color appearance it had. Today the color is more of a light tan. There are 55 livable rooms in the 46,054 square feet of space. No It had everything that money could buy. Massage room, cigar room, card room, library, a fire station, stables, kennels, tennis courts, swimming pool and beautiful waterfalls. They even had their own round-the-clock watchmen. It was literally designed to be a secure fortress with high walls and iron gates. There were also 7 Georgian fireplaces, each designed by a different person and a 30-seat movie theater.

The entire cost to construct the estate was a little over 3.1 million dollars. The house it’s self cost a little over 1.2 million dollars.

At the time it was built it was considered the finest home money could buy in California south of Hearst Castle of course. It was also designed by Gordon B. Kaufmann. You may not be familiar with his name but you are familiar with some of his work. The LA Times building, Hoover Dam and Santa Anita Park.

Moving on to the murder mystery that surrounds The Greystone Mansion. Ned and his family moved into the mansion in October 1928. Sadly he did not get to spend much time in it.

On the night of February 16, 1929 Ned was murdered. There have been many stories and theories about what happened that night. One theory is that Ned’s long time friend and personal secretary T. Hugh Plunkett was upset that he was refused a raise so he confronted Ned at home while him and Lucy were getting ready for bed. Ned tries to calm him down in a guest room away from Lucy, calls the doctor but before the doctor could arrive Ned was fatally shot. Then shortly after the doctor arrived Hugh Plunkett took his own life. I don’t think anybody really knows what happened that night except Ned, Lucy and Hugh Plunkett. The rest of us will just have to speculate as well. The deaths were officially ruled a murder-suicide.

One thing you have to know about T. Hugh Plunkett is he was in charge of the construction of the house and during that time his wife was divorcing him and he was under a lot of pressure to complete the house. He ended up having a nervous breakdown around Christmas time, a couple of months before the incident.

This leads to the next theory of why he may have done it. So before there was Watergate there was the Teapot Dome scandal. Ned was instructed by his father to withdraw $100,000 from his own bank account and deliver the money to the then U.S. Secretary of the Interior Albert Fall. T. Hugh Plunkett went with him on the train to deliver the money. It was supposedly a bribe to gain leases on government-owned oil reserves in Wyoming. T. Hugh Plunkett thought he was going to be charged in the case but it was Albert Fall who took the “Fall”. This is actually where we get the phrase, “The Fall Guy” in case you were wondering. Edward Sr. was acquitted of all charges but he was left so distraught over the death of his son he kind of became a recluse after the scandal. Estelle had a 9,000 square foot house built in less than 6 weeks near their property in Santa Paula near Ojai. Today it belongs to St. Thomas Aquinas college and serves as the house for the President of the school. Edward Sr. died a month after his 79th birthday. The Doheny legacy lives on in Southern California though. We have Dohney Drive in West Hollywood and Beverly Hills, Doheny State Beach in Dana Point, in  memory of their son Ned and the library on the campus of USC also named after Ned Doheny in his memory.

As I have mentioned there are many theories to what happened that night which many speculated that Ned might have killed T. Hugh Plunkett and then turned the gun on himself because he is not buried with the family. The Doheny’s were Catholic and at that time the Catholic church did not allow burials for suicide. But I guess we will never know.

Ned’s wife Lucy remarried three years later after Ned died and her family lived in the house until 1955. They eventually sold most of the 400 acres to a developer who created the “Trousdale Estates” and then to a Mr. Crown from Chicago who never lived in the home but just leased it for filming. It was eventually purchased by the city of Beverly Hills and is today a public park.

The house is only open to the public for special occasions. For example our trip where a play is performed loosely based on the story of what happened that night, with the names changed to protect the guilty they say.

The play is very unique in that the scenes take place in different rooms of the house. So we, the audience are split up into three different groups and we move from room to room for each scene. There are chairs to sit on and sometimes you stand but it is not for very long. The actors were very good and I found it fascinating to watch.

The play is presented by Theatre 40 of Beverly Hills in association with The City of Beverly Hills, written by Katharine Bates, an actress herself. It has been present for more than 15 years now and I am looking forward to seeing it again.

Before we go to the mansion on this tour we stop for lunch at the world famous Los Angeles farmers market which is only about 4 miles from the mansion. I never tire of going to the Farmers Market. I like to try a different place to eat every time I go. This last time I decided to try Du-Pars and I was so glad I did. It certainly lived up to it’s reputation and I had a couple of my passengers join me there too which was really nice. Our server Cesar, who has been working there for 26 years was a delight and I asked him who was the most famous person he had ever waited on. He told me George Clooney and that he was very nice. The Farmer’s Market is the number one place in Los Angeles to see stars. Maybe next time I do this tour I will end up sitting next to George Clooney. It’s likely that won’t happen but it’s ok. I look forward to leading this tour again sometime in the future. Perhaps you will join me. Until then, happy trails to you.

Donna D’Alia
DayTripper Tour Manager

Tour: The Manor: Greystone Mansion Murder Mystery Show
Date: January 19, 2019


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