The Unsolved Murder of Hollywood Starlet, Christa Helm – Page 3


by Steve Thompson and John O’Dowd © 2007 with an Intro by the daughter of Christa Helm
Last Update: 2007
Go to Page 1,2,3,4,5

Page 3 of 5

In 1970, Sandy and Diane left their daughters with a friend’s mother, a Mrs. Gertrude Baker, in Burlington, Vermont, and moved to New York to become models. “Mrs. Baker was very nice,” says Diane, “and Sandy and I had no reservations about leaving the girls with her.” After they arrived in New York, Sandy and Diane got a room at the YWCA and began going on modeling interviews. “My God, it was ridiculous,” recalls Diane. “We had no portfolio, no experience and no money. Every newspaper ad for modeling was either for straight porno or lesbian-oriented photo shoots. It was all extremely seedy and we got very discouraged.”

The girls eventually got hired as waitresses at The Gaslight Club where Diane says, “Sandy dated singer Lesley Gore’s fiancé.” Soon afterwards she met, and moved in with, handsome Buffalo Bills football player Ray Abbruzzese. “At this point,” Diane says, “I got tired of living in N.Y., so I went back to Vermont, picked up my daughter at Mrs. Baker’s house and returned to Milwaukee. Sandy and I kept in touch and she told me she had begun taking singing and acting lessons at the Gene Frankel Workshop in Manhattan.”

By all accounts, Sandy’s status as Ray Abbruzzese’s live-in lover was brief and in 1971 she began seeing a wealthy Broadway producer named Stuart Duncan. He was later described as the primary heir to the Lea & Perrin Worcestershire Sauce fortune. During this same period of time, Sandy’s career as a New York fashion model took off and she was able to afford a luxury apartment in the city, as well as a new Corvette. When Duncan began working on his latest stage project, an original, religious musical that would later become the show Godspell, he reportedly helped Sandy make a financial investment (of an unknown amount) in the play. That investment wound up earning her a sizable profit when Godspell later became a huge hit on Broadway.

By late 1972 Sandy had acquired a second home outside the city in the gorgeous, celebrity-studded Hamptons section of Long Island. Stuart Duncan was said to have purchased the sprawling, beachfront house for Sandy, says Diane Mitchell, “…as a gift and a token of how much he loved her. Sandy invited me and another friend out to the house one time to spend the weekend with her. With one look around, it was very obvious to me that she was truly ‘living her dream’. When we arrived at the house, Sandy opened the door with her blouse undone and her breasts staring at us, and asked, “Well, how do you like them?’ I burst out laughing while our other friend gasped in shock. Sandy had gotten her breasts enlarged and she was obviously very proud of the results. Marisa, Sandy’s sister, was also there as well as a black female model who was a friend of Sandy’s. I did notice that she had become a bit jaded, but I guess it just went with the territory. I admit there were illegal drugs at the house that weekend…we all partied and had a good time. This is when Sandy told me that she had recently changed her name to ‘Christa Helm’. I asked why and she said, ‘An astrologer told me to do it!’ Sandy was always pretty outrageous.”

With her new identity as fledgling starlet Christa Helm firmly in place, the 23-year old went on to have several other cosmetic procedures performed to enhance her already stunning looks, and even paid for her daughter Nicole’s eyes to be fixed. “They had been crossed ever since birth,” says Diane.

One of the people Christa befriended during her time in NY in the early 70s was a young writer named Jeremiah Newton, now the Film, Television and Video Industry Liaison for New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts in Manhattan. In those years Newton was a relentless pub crawler and a frequent habitue of the Stonewall Inn, the legendary bar in Greenwich Village that became a landmark for the gay pride movement. Newton met Christa through his friends Candy Darling (the iconic transsexual friend of Andy Warhol’s who rock singer Lou Reed immortalized in his 1971 hit Walk on the Wild Side) and Lennie Barin, a flamboyant and well-known NYC costume designer. They were all part of a band of wild and freewheeling mavericks that tore through the town in the early 70s in search of notoriety, money and thrills.

In 2006, Jeremiah Newton contacted Nicole and remembered her mother in vivid detail: “Back then, Christa was close to both Lennie and Candy Darling, and while she and I weren’t what I would call best friends, she was definitely part of our group. At the time, Lennie Barin lived in a large, drafty loft on Bond Street just off the (then-unfashionable) Bowery. It was a large space with very high ceilings and over the years several young actors lived there with him, including David Dorman and Dennis Stewart, who was in the film Grease. Unfortunately, all of them (Lennie, David and Dennis) are now deceased, with at least two of them dying from AIDS.

“I thought Christa was beautiful and an extremely nice person. I recall she had gorgeous, creamy skin and great hair and she always seemed tan. I was told that she’d already had a lot of plastic surgery and I even heard that she had her legs made longer at some point, and that the surgery had been quite difficult. Christa was a straight-shooting, no-nonsense type of person (at least that’s how I perceived her to be). She was a fascinating girl.”

Jeremiah also recalled Christa’s luxurious apartment at the time. “She lived in a beautiful, seven-room duplex in the East 30s that she called ‘Merlin’s Magical Den’. I remember it had a stereo system that went on when you clapped your hands—very unusual back then. Her apartment was decorated with a lot of plush white furniture and I also recall an expensive display of crystal figures in the living room that was lit from underneath. I was told Christa was independently wealthy.” (More likely is that Christa’s income was subsidized in those years by several male benefactors.)

Christa and Lennie Barin seemed to enjoy an association that was both personal and professional, according to Jeremiah. “It was understood in our group that she was involved as a major investor in the play Godspell and that she had a lot of money. I believe she helped Lennie out financially. Thus, he gave Christa plenty of leeway in his life. Lennie designed a lot of her clothes and she actually wore one of the outfits he made for her when I got her a gig as a presenter at a local Emmy Awards show.


Go to page 4 of 5

Go to Page 1,2,3,4,5

Please leave a comment below. or visit my retired guestbook, to see previous comments.

Leave Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.