The Unsolved Murder of Hollywood Starlet, Christa Helm – Page 5


by Steve Thompson and John O’Dowd © 2007 with an Intro by the daughter of Christa Helm
Last Update: 2007
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Diane Mitchell had not been in touch with Christa for over two years when the latter contacted her again sometime in 1975. “She called to tell me that she was getting some bit parts and she also told me she was dating actor Michael Sarrazin. It was a short conversation…no more than a few minutes. I got her telephone number and told her I would call her back. However, when I did call her back some time later, the phone had been disconnected. That was the last time I spoke with Sandy.”

In spite of her ambition and seemingly good connections, Christa’s acting career in Hollywood was nowhere near as successful as she had expected it would be. In fact, after two years in L.A., she had only managed to grab a Coppertone TV commercial and two small TV roles: a bit part as a roller skating waitress on a 1976 Starsky and Hutch episode and a much larger role later that year as a bitchy beauty pageant contestant on a memorable episode of Wonder Woman titled ‘Beauty on Parade’. (Other sexy, 1970’s TV starlets that appeared with her on the show included Lindsay Bloom, Paulette Breen and Jenifer Shaw.) Christa continued to pin her hopes for true stardom on the still in-limbo LET’S GO FOR BROKE. At one point, the film had been retitled LADY J. and Christa continually plugged its supposedly forthcoming release whenever she made the gossip columns. According to one posthumous report, Christa had shot some new and possibly more explicit scenes for the film in Hollywood the year before her death but the (now R-rated) drive-in epic still eluded distribution.

Following her Starsky and Hutch and Wonder Woman roles, and hot on the heels of her singing lessons back East, Christa decided she wanted to cut a disco record. Needless to say, with her many personal and professional connections in town, that was all that was needed to get the ball rolling. Neil Bogart’s Casablanca Records brought in expatriated New York DJ Frankie Crocker (the man credited with coining the radio term “urban contemporary”) to produce the record but he and Christa reportedly butted heads. Eventually, though, she would tell friends that she had Crocker “by the balls” and that he would do whatever she wanted.

Soon after starting the project, Christa, by now exploring her self-professed tendency toward bisexuality, hooked up with one of the album’s back-up singers, Patty Collins. The two reportedly became inseparable lovers with Patty said to be quite proprietary of Christa’s attentions. Debbie Danilow, a fellow traveler with various rock groups of the period, was another back-up singer brought onto the project and she immediately clicked with Christa. According to Debbie, “ Christa was flirty, and came on to me immediately but with a sense of timeliness. She let me know she was interested in me (sexually) but wanted me to be comfortable with her first. I more or less ignored her advances, all the time keeping my eye on Patty who was keeping her eye on me! To be quite frank, I have never had an interest in having a relationship with another woman, especially sexual. I have been married five times — but always to men! But I accepted Christa as she was, and I appreciated her interest in me, even though it was not something we would act upon.”

Debbie Danilow knew Christa only briefly but the latter made a big impression on her, perhaps even more so because she was to have met her on the night she was murdered. According to Debbie, though (and several other witnesses), she had left the party before Christa arrived. Today she describes the woman she knew as “… gifted and courageous, brilliant and creative, a rare shining light with no fear.”

The night that Christa met her destiny started out for her as many other nights had. She attended a party in Hollywood with her roommate, a woman named Stephanie. They called a mutual friend, Sanford (a.k.a. “Sandy”) Smith, a Hollywood talent agent, who was also a frequent paramour of Christa’s, to join them, but he had refused. Undeterred, Christa decided to go to his house and try to talk him into going with the girls. She borrowed Stephanie’s car and drove to Smith’s house on Lloyd Place in West Hollywood. Smith later claims that he was sleeping when she got there and that he never saw nor heard her.

Either enroute to Sandy Smith’s house, or upon leaving (this part remains unclear), Christa was attacked from behind. Even though she was a certified Black Belt, the ambushed woman was unable to fight off her assailant. She was stabbed over 30 times (which tragically included numerous wounds to her neck and face) and then bludgeoned with a blunt object thought to be either the handle of a knife or a hammer. Christa’s badly ravaged body was found shortly after the attack by a young man crossing the street. Some contemporary reports say that he found her next to her car with her keys in her hand. “I was told that my mother was lying partially under a parked car,” says Nicole, “and that when he approached her, he heard her let out a long, deep breath — her last.”

Christa’s West Hollywood murder on February 12, 1977 received surprisingly little press coverage for someone so well known in the gossip columns and in Hollywood society itself. This led one writer to speculate in print that “who she knew and what she knew may be the reason her savage killing was barely reported.” According to witnesses who saw her earlier, Christa was carrying a handbag that night with the “Tommy Boy” logo on it but the purse was missing when the police arrived. It was never found and there has been strong speculation through the years that it may have contained her so-called ‘love diary’ and that’s why the killer (or killers) stole it.

Despite the horrific nature of Christa’s death, the story failed to make national headlines. The investigation into her murder proceeded apace for a time as police interviewed scores of people and searched fruitlessly for her diary which was said to be potentially explosive. When the case drifted into the background, a few crime writers tried to stir up interest, but to no avail. What remains in 2007 are two boxes of investigative notes and four notebooks filled with names and other pertinent information from the LAPD. Over 70 people have been interviewed in the past thirty years, and yet to date there has been no resolution to the case.

Christa’s daughter, Nicole, only nine years old when her mother died, grew up determined to see justice served. Toward that end, she has recently gotten the CBS-TV news magazines 48 HOURS and CELEBRITY JUSTICE to devote segments of their shows to the murder, and has herself put a number of cold case specialists on the scent. And yet, like Christa’s dreams of stardom, the case—and her killer—somehow continue to fall through the cracks.

Finally, with the rise of the Internet comes a growing “Christa Helm cult” based almost solely on her memorable TV appearance on Wonder Woman. Now, with a renewed interest in the long lost LET’S GO FOR BROKE (a movie that well could have made her a star), more and more people are suddenly hearing about the woman, the actress, and the horrifying way she died. As more and more people want to know what happened, the case will likely never grow completely cold.

Thirty years after she met her destiny at the cruel thrust of a killer’s blade, there is still a chance for justice —and even a type of fame, ironically —for the beautiful but ill-fated Christa Helm. And with it, perhaps, a sense of peace will come for one of Hollywood’s lost and forgotten beauties —a wild and free-spirited angel whose unfettered spirit did not justify the brutal way she left this earth.

Special thanks to Christa Helm’s daughter, Nicole, Diane Mitchell and Darlene Thoresen for their help in the preparation of this article.
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