Update: County coroner's Assistant Chief Ed Winter tells KTLA News today that Vickers died of heart disease. But, he said, he's not sure when she died.
In a sprawling, 1920s-era stone-and-wood estate in Beverly Hills, former B-list actress and Playboy pinup Yvette Vickers lay on her floor for up to a year before a neighbor discovered her unrecognizable corpse on April 27, police tell the Los Angeles Times.
The coroner is guessing it was a natural death — but the months that passed, as her fan mail stacked and her body decomposed, made the 82-year-old's death into an awful, almost Hollywood-style horror scene.
Neighbor Susan Savage (also an actress) talks to the Times:
She remembered her neighbor as an elegant women in a broad straw hat, dressed in white, with flowing blond hair and “a warm smile.”
“She kept to herself, had friends and seemed like a very independent spirit,” Savage said. “To the end she still got cards and letter from all over the world requesting photos and still wanting to be her friend.” …
“We've all been crying about this,” she said. “Nobody should be left alone like that.”
Savage is the same neighbor who came across Vickers last Wednesday after a bone-chilling ordeal that involved “scaling a hillside,” climbing through a broken window, clawing her way past stacks of “clothes, junk mail and letters” — and, finally, discovering the former beauty's corpse next to a phone that had been left off the hook and a space heater that was still running.
According to her IMDB profile, Vickers attended UCLA for three years before landing a commercial spot as the White Rain Girl in a shampoo commercial. She went on to star in cheap Hollywood thrillers like “Attack of the Leeches” and “What's the Matter With Helen?” A full timeline of her life is available at Glamour Girls of the Silver Screen.
And here, an excerpt from Vickers' interview in “Science Fiction Stars and Horror Heroes“:
How did you first become interested in being an actress?
“I wanted to be a writer, and I was taking classes at UCLA to become a journalist. I needed an extra course, just to fill in, for three more units, and I took an acting class for that reason. I began taking the class, and I got very interested in the theater — there was something about it that seemed so natural.”
At the end of her life, Vickers lived alone on Westwanda Drive amid the quiet mansions of Benedict Canyon.
“The letters seemed untouched and were starting to yellow,” her neighbor told the Times of peeking into Vickers' mailbox and realizing something was wrong. “I just had a bad feeling.”
Update: The question on everyone's mind: How could a (semi-famous) woman go unnoticed for a full year?
But we've got another one. How could a space heater stay on for a full year, without the power company shutting off electricity or seeking out the customer?
Vickers' street lies on the border of L.A. and Beverly Hills, but a West L.A. police detective tells us that her home is located within L.A. city boundaries — so she had to be serviced by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.
In the Times piece, neighbor Susan Savage said, on the day she found Vickers, “she made her way upstairs and found a room with a small space heater still on.” Also in the Times: “Its mummified state suggests she could have been dead for close to a year, police said.”
The DWP is getting back to us on their policy for unpaid bills, but we're assuming they wouldn't leave the power on for a full year without some kind of payment, or at least indication that the person was still alive.
Another reason we think Vickers was probably dead for well under a year: Heat accelerates the mummification process. Winters says that “heat could — if a body is out in the elements, out in the desert or next to a heater — it could speed things up a little bit.”
However, he says, the autopsy is ongoing, and “there's no way to tell at this point” how long the victim was dead before she was discovered (or if it's even Vickers at all).
Here's to hoping it's not possible for a well-loved L.A. resident to go unnoticed for an entire year without someone wondering where she might be. Because that's just depressing.
R.I.P. Yvette Vickers.
Originally posted May 2 at 2:45 p.m.