Dorothy Stratten's murder, spotlighted in 'Secrets of the Chippendales Murders,' continues to fascinate: 'She was a goddess'

·Editor, Yahoo Entertainment
·4 min read

For all the talk about what Chippendales dancers don't wear, they're also famous for what they do wear: cuffs and collars to add some class to their exotic dancing. The idea for those signature accessories came from Dorothy Stratten, the Playboy Playmate and actress who was infamously murdered on Aug. 14, 1980, by Paul Snider, one of the early employees at the male strip show.

As recounted in the first episode of A&E's new, four-part documentary Secrets of the Chippendales Murders, Stratten, the magazine's reigning Playmate of the Year, was inspired by the similar look worn by the Playboy bunnies. So the Playboy founder also deserves some of the credit.

"Hugh Hefner gave the greatest gift to [Chippendales founder] Steve Banerjee by allowing him to take that cuffs and collar trademark and make it into a Chippendales look," Eric Gilbert, the company's former creative director, said. "That reversal was such an eye grabber that women were just immediately locked into it."

<em>Secrets of the Chippendales Murders</em> exposes the dark events that went on behind the scenes of the popular show. (Photo: A&E)
Secrets of the Chippendales Murders exposes the dark events that went on behind the scenes of the popular show. (Photo: A&E)

In fact, the idea for having male strippers at Chippendales at all was the brainchild of Snider, who made the suggestion to Banerjee shortly after the latter had established a Los Angeles discotheque with that name in 1979. This one big idea was strong enough for Banerjee to hire him as a promoter and emcee at the club, despite his flaws.

"He was a terrible emcee," Gilbert said. "He wasn't likable, he wasn't funny. He wasn't interesting and Banerjee said to him, 'Yeah, this isn't working out. You know, you're out."

Paul Snider murdered Dorothy Stratten before killing himself. as recounted in
Paul Snider murdered Dorothy Stratten before killing himself as recounted in Secrets of the Chippendales Murders. (Photo: A&E)

Snider's former colleagues gave all-around bad reviews of Snider, describing him as "a big mouth," someone who "sucked as a promoter, as an emcee and as a human being" and "looked and acted like a pimp."

They had a much higher opinion of Stratten, whom Snider had followed from their native Canada to Los Angeles in 1978. They had met when she was a teenager — she was just 20 when she died — working at the local Dairy Queen. The nine-years-older Snider was the one who encouraged her to take the nude photos that made her famous. She and Snider married in 1979.

"She was a goddess," Gilbert said, "and she was with this sleazebag."

Hefner was one of the many who agreed with that sentiment.

Paul Snider and Hugh Hefner are pictured in
Paul Snider and Hugh Hefner are pictured in Secrets of the Chippendales Murders. (Photo: A&E)

Stratten wasn't with Snider for long, though. Her Playboy fame propelled her to roles in movies such as Galaxina and They All Laughed, a romantic comedy co-starring Audrey Hepburn and John Ritter and directed by Peter Bogdanovich. Her marriage had already become a struggle, and she and Bogdanovich soon began a relationship. As Snider felt more and more shut out of his wife's growing career, he turned desperate.

On Aug. 14, 1980, both Stratten and Snider were found dead, with gunshot wounds to the head, in the L.A. home they had once shared. Police determined that he had raped and shot her, then shot himself.

In the A&E documentary, Dr. Stephen Cushner, a former roommate of Snider, emotionally recounted how he found them. "I went downstairs, and knocked on the door, no answer. Knocked on the door, no answer. And then opened up the door…," he said as he held back tears.

It is a truly awful story. Yet audiences have had plenty of chances to hear it, whether in Bogdanovich's book, The Killing of the Unicorn, or in one of the movies made about it. Jamie Lee Curtis played Stratten in the 1981 TV flick Death of a Centerfold: The Dorothy Stratten Story, while Mariel Hemingway portrayed her on the big screen in Star 80 in 1983. Stratten's death has been the focus of countless episodes of true crime TV and podcasts, and even A&E's series Secrets of Playboy last month.

See Curtis as Stratten:

Amanda Vicary, a professor at Illinois Wesleyan University and sociologist who studies true crime, suspects that part of the reason we want to know more about Stratten's death is that, well, we already know so much about it.

"My research has found that people are interested in true crime stories that can shed light on how to prevent or survive a crime, with one component being the psychological background of the killer," she tells Yahoo Entertainment. "Basically, if I know why people killed — I can know the warning signs to watch for myself. In the case of Stratten, we know her killer's words and actions in the day's leading up to her death and can perhaps gain some insight into the red flags to watch for in our own interactions with people."

Secrets of the Chippendales Murders profiles multiple other crimes, including those committed by Banerjee, who died in 1994.

Secrets of the Chippendales Murders airs Mondays at 10 p.m. on A&E.