The Unsolved Murder of Hollywood Starlet, Christa Helm – Page 2


by Steve Thompson and John O’Dowd © 2007 with an Intro by the daughter of Christa Helm
Last Update: 2007
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It was December of 1974 in Cincinnati when radio and TV commercials for a movie titled LET’S GO FOR BROKE seemed to be as omnipresent as department store Santas. The film itself had its heavily touted world premiere on Christmas Day at the 20th Century Theater, an old-time neighborhood cinema of the type being slowly replaced by suburban multiplexes. Leading up to the opening, the Cincinnati Post newspaper even ran a “Go For Broke” contest tying in to both the movie and the (then brand new) Ohio state lottery. The following Saturday, stars from the film came to town for a personal appearance at the theater. Its sexy blonde star Christa Helm, age 25, received a gift of expensive jewelry from the town’s mayor and posed happily for pictures with the event’s attendees (including future Sony executive Michael Schlesinger). Helm had grown up longing to be a movie star. After a single appearance in a low-budget horror film (1972’s excruciatingly bad LEGACY OF SATAN), LET’S GO FOR BROKE was her big break in show business…or rather, it should have been. After a brief run at the 20th Century, it disappeared for many years and has only recently resurfaced on the collector’s market. For over thirty years prior to that, however, LET’S GO FOR BROKE seemed to have never existed. Sadly, the same can almost be said of Christa Helm herself.

Who was Helm and how did she end up as a disco era Black Dahlia? On the surface, Christa was the ultimate party girl—a trophy blonde girlfriend and “Good Time Charlotte” who was widely known amongst the early seventies in-crowd for her big-name boyfriends and her boundless ambition to be a Lana Turner-style Hollywood star. She was described by one friend as “very beautiful, tall, about 5’-9” with yellow-brown eyes—and smart. Perhaps too smart for her own good.”

Christa was born Sandra Lynn Wohlfeil on November 10, 1949 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, the eldest of three girls. Her parents, Harry (who owned an asphalt company in Milwaukee) and Dolores (a housewife) were divorced three years after Sandy’s birth and Dolores became a born again Christian…as well as a very troubled woman plagued by alcoholism. While Harry Wohlfeil would remarry and have two more children, Dolores remained unmarried while entering into a series of violent relationships with several abusive boyfriends. “Many of these guys sexually molested my mother,” says Sandy’s daughter, Nicole, “as well as her younger sisters Marisa and Candice (a.k.a. Debbie). It’s a shame but my grandmother was obviously a very tortured soul and for many years she wouldn’t admit that this sexual abuse even took place. My Mom idolized Harry, my grandfather, and he eventually saved her and her two sisters from the harrowing home life they had with Dolores.” At some point, all three girls moved out of Dolores’s home and stayed with their father and his new wife.

In addition to her dysfunctional upbringing, throughout her childhood and adolescence Sandy suffered from a chronic health condition that often required her to wear a bulky and uncomfortable back brace. According to Nicole, “Both my mother’s sisters told me that Dolores’s constant use of diet pills during her pregnancies caused all three girls to have skeletal problems.” Due to her dependence on the back brace and the countless episodes of sexual abuse she encountered as a child, Sandy struggled with a lack of self-esteem that by her mid-teens had morphed into some pretty wild behavior. She became rebellious and developed a brash and biting personality that nonetheless garnered her plenty of attention from the opposite sex.

At 16, Sandy fell in love with Gary Clements, a 26-year old man who was rumored to be involved in the mob in Milwaukee. Within weeks, she was pregnant and a shotgun wedding for the couple followed soon afterward, in Chicago. “Several months later, when Mom was 17, I was born,” says Nicole. “However, I never got to know my father. He kind of disappeared from our lives some time after my christening. I was told that Mom looked high and low for him and that she couldn’t find him. My father never did come back. A few months later Mom was told by someone that he had died in a motorcycle accident in Florida, but she was never sure if that was true. It seems so strange to say this, but it’s like he just vanished one day into thin air.”

Following Nicole’s birth Sandy began working as a waitress at Travato’s, an Italian restaurant on Milwaukee’s East Side that was reportedly run by the syndicate. She befriended another waitress, 23-year old Diane Mitchell, who remembers Sandy today with great fondness. “I liked her instantly,” says Diane. “She was down-to-earth and gregarious as well as very pretty. You wanted to be around Sandy, you know? She did what the rest of us only thought about doing! (laughs) We exchanged daughter and husband stories —I was in the middle of a divorce at the time and I had a little girl named Kellena who was approximately the same age as Nicole —and she told me that Gary had died in a motorcycle accident. Based on how she always talked about him, I believe he was the love of her life.”

During this time, Sandy met a college student named Rolf Siebolt (or Siefert), whom she began dating for a while, though not exclusively. Her ballsy and outrageous demeanor, coupled with her stunning, blonde looks, regularly attracted new suitors and Sandy was never at a loss for male companions.

Sandy and Diane eventually rented a two-bedroom apartment together near the restaurant. “It was a nice place,” says Diane. “I scraped together some furniture from my mother and Sandy found some also. At the time our mothers were caring for our daughters, but we had the girls over on weekends or whenever we could. Sandy and I would go out to eat almost every night after work. I remember her favorite meal was escargot. In fact, she ate it constantly! She spoke to everyone in the restaurant and would often invite people she barely knew over to our apartment for drinks. I was concerned and told her that it wasn’t safe to invite total strangers over to our place like that but she would just laugh at me. She said it was fine and that I worried too much. Lucky thing, most of the people she befriended were fine. There were a couple of strange guys, but you know, that was Sandy! She didn’t seem to be afraid of very much, if anything. In those days, Sandy didn’t drink heavily or do much more than smoke pot, when it was available. That was the full extent of her drug use back then.”

One day the girls boss invited them and two other waitresses from the restaurant to accompany him to a show at The Playboy Club in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. The handsome, dark-haired actor and singer James Darren (of Gidget fame) was performing at the club and Sandy and Diane got to meet him afterwards. “He sat down with us at our table and we were thrilled,” recalls Diane. “James Darren was cute and wonderful and it was so exciting to hang out with him we both decided right then and there that we wanted to be Playboy bunnies! We thought we should try to get into the club in Chicago, though, as it was much larger than the one in Lake Geneva. My mother promised to watch my daughter and Sandy and I planned to commute by train to Milwaukee to see our daughters when we weren’t working. We went to The Playboy Club in Chicago and we were both hired on the spot. Several days later we very eagerly returned for our ‘bunny fittings’. They showed us the dorm where we would be living and then began training us in food and drink service. Sandy and I both went back to Milwaukee in preparation for the move and that’s when my mother threw a monkey wrench into the mix. For some reason she said she would not take care of Keleena for me, so after all that anticipation, I couldn’t take the job. I was devastated, as was Sandy. I told her to go to Chicago without me but she said she didn’t want to go alone, so neither of us ever became Playboy bunnies. I want to clear that up because at the time of her death, some of Sandy’s obituaries stated that she had once been a Playboy bunny and as you can see, that’s not accurate.”

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