On August 14, 1980, Playmate of the Year and budding actress Dorothy Stratten was gunned down by her estranged husband. She was just 20 years old.
Warning: This article contains graphic descriptions and/or images of violent, disturbing, or otherwise potentially distressing events.
“Dorothy looked at the world with love, and believed that all people were good down deep,” said Peter Bogdanovich, one of the men who loved Dorothy Stratten, after her death. “She was mistaken.”
Just days earlier, the Playboy model had met her demise at the hands of one of those people she’d trusted — her estranged husband, Paul Snider.
On August 14, 1980, 20-year-old Dorothy Stratten was found murdered in Snider’s home in Los Angeles. She’d been stripped naked and shot to death during what was supposed to be a meeting about a property settlement.
It was a tragic end to what could’ve been an incredible success story.
How A Teenage Dorothy Stratten Fell For A Notorious Pimp Named Paul Snider
Born Dorothy Ruth Hoogstraten on February 28, 1960, Stratten began her life in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. She grew up in nearby Coquitlam, and her early years were fairly ordinary. But all of that changed after she turned 18. That year, Stratten met her future husband and murderer.
As Playboy founder Hugh Hefner later reflected, “There is still a great tendency… for this thing to fall into the classic cliché of ‘small-town girl comes to Playboy, comes to Hollywood, life in the fast lane.’ That is not what really happened. A very sick guy saw his meal ticket and his connection to power, whatever, slipping away. And it was that that made him kill her.”
That “very sick guy” was Paul Snider — or, as he was known in Coquitlam, the “Jewish Pimp.” Constantly on the prowl for good-looking girls, he would often wear a mink coat with a bejeweled Star of David around his neck.
Dorothy Stratten was just an 18-year-old girl working the cash register at a local Dairy Queen when she met Snider, but he already knew that he’d hit the jackpot. “That girl could make me a lot of money,” he told a friend.
At that point in time, Stratten thought of herself as plain and uninteresting. She couldn’t help but get caught up in the excitement of being courted by a wealthy man, even though he was nine years older than her.
Snider bought her diamonds and jewelry, cooked her dinner, served her wine, and gushed about how she was beautiful enough to be a model.
But the type of modeling Paul Snider had in mind didn’t involve a runway. He slowly talked Stratten into letting him take nude photos of her — even though, in Canada at the time, she was still legally underage. And after sending those pictures off to Playboy, he convinced her to move all the way to Los Angeles to compete in the 25th Anniversary Great Playmate Hunt.
Dorothy Stratten was going to make him something bigger than a local pimp who got girls to turn tricks. She was going to make him a millionaire.
Dorothy Stratten’s Rise To Fame As Playboy’s Miss August 1979
Hugh Hefne saw as much money in Stratten as Snider did. He soon gave the new model a full spread in his magazine as Miss August 1979 and started whispering in her ear about how he was going to make her a star.
According to Peter Bogdanovich, Stratten’s last romantic partner, Hefner was still whispering those promises to Stratten when he “forced himself on her” during her first night as a Playmate in the Playboy Mansion’s infamous grotto. (As reported by The Guardian, Bogdanovich was pressured to remove the word “rape” in his book about Stratten by Hefner’s lawyers.)
Despite that alleged incident, Dorothy Stratten reportedly treated Hefner’s actions that night as a forgivable lapse of judgment.
At that point in time, it seemed as though every man in Stratten’s life was using her for her body. All Hefner had apparently done was show her that he was no different from all of the other men that she met.
Perhaps that’s part of the reason why no matter how many of Dorothy Stratten’s friends tried to convince her to leave Paul Snider, she never listened. Snider was just one more pimp in a world filled with them.
When he proposed, she said yes. “He cares for me so much,” Stratten told a friend when she tried to convince her to say no. “He’s always there when I need him. I can’t ever imagine myself being with any other man but Paul.”
A Chance To Become “The Next Marilyn Monroe”
As Dorothy Stratten’s star rose, Hefner became increasingly adamant that she wasn’t just going to be a naked girl on the cover of a magazine. He was determined to make her a star on the silver screen. According to Harper’s Bazaar, Stratten was even poised to become “the next Marilyn Monroe.”
Hefner helped her get roles in Buck Rogers and Fantasy Island, and then in movies like Americathon and Skatetown, USA. In less than a year, she landed her first starring role as a sexpot robot in a sci-fi comedy called Galaxina.
“We’re on a rocket ship to the moon!” Snider told her. It was true. The press was already calling her “one of the few emerging goddesses of the new decade,” and she was lined up to co-star in a film with Audrey Hepburn.
Paul Snider, though, wasn’t as firmly locked onto her rocket ship as he wanted her to believe. For most of their time in Los Angeles, he didn’t even have a work visa and so he couldn’t bring in a penny to support them.
In time, he started to bring in a little bit — in fact, Snider was the man who helped create the famous Chippendales dancers — but he was still living in a rented home that he shared with two other roommates.
And in the meantime, Stratten’s heart was starting to wander elsewhere. She was in New York, filming her movie with Audrey Hepburn and secretly carrying on an affair with the film’s director, Peter Bogdanovich.
Inside The Brutal Death Of Dorothy Stratten
Before long, Paul Snider started to get suspicious. He would call Dorothy Stratten and tell her how much he loved her, and she would just go silent on the other end. Something, he knew, had changed in their relationship.
He eventually hired a private investigator to tail her and find out what was going on, but the investigator didn’t have to tell him anything. When Stratten flew back into town, she told Snider the truth herself. She’d fallen in love with Bogdanovich, she said, and she wanted a divorce.
Snider didn’t say much. Not in front of Stratten, anyway. But his friends later reported that after she called off their marriage, he started taking a strange interest in guns and hunting. He bought a 12-gauge shotgun, took a few shooting lessons, and started slipping into conversations that Playboy had a policy not to print nude pictures of a girl if she got murdered.
Dorothy Stratten went to Paul Snider’s home for the last time on August 14, 1980. It was supposed to be a meeting about a property settlement she’d offered him as part of the divorce. Her manager had tried to talk her out of going to see him, but she’d insisted, saying, “I’d like to remain his friend.”
Just hours after the meeting, Paul Snider’s roommates found both him and his estranged wife dead in his room. Both Stratten and Snider were lying naked on the bed, a shotgun blast boring a hole through each of their heads.
According to the police report, Paul Snider had shot Dorothy Stratten in the eye with a 12-gauge shotgun, leaving nothing but a pulp of shattered bones and blood in her eye socket. Then, in a mad fit of grief, terror, and depravity, he’d stripped the clothes off of her and raped her dead body. Chillingly, there were bloody handprints left on her flesh where he’d gripped her.
It must have taken Snider a moment to realize what he’d done. He must have been staring at the horrific scene when he finally worked up the nerve to put the shotgun inside of his own mouth and pull the trigger.
The Legacy Of A Doomed Playmate And Actress
Paul Snider was wrong about one thing: Hefner didn’t pull her next spread. He knew people would buy it because Dorothy Stratten’s name was still all over the news after her death. Hefner let the October issue run with the then-deceased woman on the cover. He then worked her photos into the December issue, which called her one of the “Sex Stars of the 1980s.”
Stratten later ended up on the silver screen, but now as the tragic subject instead of the shining star. Two movies — Star 80 and Death Of A Centerfold — and a book were released telling her story over the next couple of years, and Hugh Hefner sent his lawyers after every single one.
Peter Bogdanovich would never get over her. “I don’t know if I can ever love as totally and completely as I loved Dorothy,” he said more than a year after her murder, according to People. He spent the next few years taking care of her mother and ended up marrying Dorothy’s sister Louise.
“There is no life Dorothy’s touched that has not been changed for the better through knowing her,” Bogdanovich said in his eulogy, “however briefly.”
After reading about the short life and tragic death of Dorothy Stratten, discover the heartbreaking story of Audrey Munson, America’s first supermodel. Then, learn about Chloe Ayling, a British model allegedly sold in an online sex slave auction, then inexplicably released.