Sergeant Forrest Hinderliter of the Gila Bend (Arizona) Police had been up since two in the morning with a dead body and a shaky story. He’d found the body—a black man with a bullet hole in his back—lying on the floor in Apartment 44 of the North Euclid Avenue project at the western edge of town. He’d also found a woman there, and this was her story:
She woke up after midnight to find a man on top of her, making love to her. She’d never seen the man before. She told him to get off and get out; she warned him she was expecting another man. A car pulled up outside and flashed its lights. A minute later the other man came through the door. Explanations were inadequate. In the scuffle a gun was drawn, a .38 revolver. A shot went off, the first visitor died.
An accident, the woman told Sergeant Hinderliter, the gun had gone off by accident. An accident, the other man, the one who owned the .38, told the sergeant.
Sergeant Hinderliter had the body tagged and carted off to Phoenix for an autopsy. He took statements until six-thirty in the morning, then returned to the station house to check in for his regular Sunday tour of duty.
He was drinking black coffee at Birchfield’s Café at six minutes past noon when the phone rang. It was Mrs. Seel, the station-house dispatcher, on the line. She had just taken a call from a man at the Travelodge Motel. There was a dead body in room 127, it was reported, an overdose of something.
Up until 1965 Gila Bend showed up frequently in National Weather Summaries as having registered the highest daily temperature in America. One hundred twenty in the shade was not unusual. Occasionally Gila Bend was referred to as the hottest place in America.
It was hot in Gila Bend, but not that hot, the Mayor of Gila Bend confided to me one evening at the Elks Club bar. Someone in Gila Bend had been doing some fooling around with the thermometer readings to make Gila Bend look a few degrees hotter than it was. In 1965, the Weather Bureau did some checking and put a stop to the matter. Since then Gila Bend has been just another hot place.
There’s an old narrow-gage railroad that runs south from the town to the open-pit copper mines near the Mexican border. The Phelps Dodge Corporation uses the railroad to run copper anodes from their foundries up to the Southern Pacific freight siding at Gila Bend. Hollywood westerns occasionally use the railroad’s ancient steam locomotive and the cactus wastes surrounding the tracks for “location” work.
On January 28, 1973, an MGM production company shooting The Man Who Loved Cat Dancing, a high-budget, middlebrow western starring Sarah Miles, Burt Reynolds and Lee J. Cobb, arrived at Gila Bend. Forty members of the cast and crew checked into the Travelodge Motel on the eastern edge of town.
There was no pulse. The skin had cooled. Pale blotches on the hands, the neck and the forehead suggested to Sergeant Hinderliter that death had come to the body several hours before he had. Rigor mortis, in its early stages, had stiffened the arms which were wrapped in an embrace around an empty polyethylene wastebasket. It was twelve-thirty p.m.
The young man lay curled up on his left side on the floor of the partitioned-off “dressing-room” area of Travelodge room 127. His nose touched the metal strip which divided the carpeted dressing-room floor from the tiled floor of the bathroom. His feet stuck out beyond the end of the partition.
The capsules were big and red. There were about a dozen, and most of them lay in two groups on the floor. (Burt Reynolds would later testify he saw pills lying on top of the dead man’s arm.)
The sergeant wondered why the man on the floor had decided to collapse and die in what was clearly a woman’s bedroom: the vanity counter above the body teemed with vials of cosmetics, a woman’s wardrobe packed the hangers, a long brown hairpiece streamed across a nearby suitcase. As he stepped out to his squad car Sergeant Hinderliter felt a hand on his arm. The hand belonged to an MGM official.
“He’d been drinking,” the MGM man told the sergeant in a confidential tone. “He’d been drinking, he swallowed a lot of pills, he took a bunch of pills and he was dead. He took an overdose,” the man said.
The sergeant asked the MGM person for the dead man’s name and position.
The name was David Whiting, he told the sergeant. “He was Miss Miles’s business manager. You see, that was Miss Miles’s room he was in. It was Miss Miles who found him, but. . . .”
“Where is Miss Miles?” the sergeant asked.
“She’s over there in 123, Mr. Poll’s room, now, but she’s much too upset to talk. She’s had a terrible experience, you can understand, and. . . .”
“Yes, he was my business manager,” the sergeant recalls Miss Miles telling him a few minutes later. “He was my business manager, but all he wanted to do was f— me all the time and I wasn’t going to be f—-ed by him.”
Sergeant Hinderliter is a mild-mannered and mild-spoken cop. He has a round open face, a blond crew cut, and a soft Arizona drawl. His dream at one point in his life was to earn a mortician’s license and open a funeral home in Gila Bend, but after four years’ study he dropped out of morticians’ school to become a cop because he missed dealing with warm bodies. In his off-duty hours Sergeant Hinderliter is a scoutmaster for Troop Number 204. He recalls being somewhat surprised at Miss Miles’s language. “Now I’ve heard that kind of talk sitting around with some guys,” he told me. “But I never heard a lady use those words.” (Later, as we shall see, Miss Miles denied she had used those words. )
Miss Miles was stretched out on one of the twin beds in room 123, her head propped up by pillows. Her face was flushed, her eyes streaked and wet. She was upset, she told the sergeant, but she was willing to talk.
I might as well tell you the whole story, she said.
The sergeant took notes, and this is the whole story she told that afternoon, as he remembers it:
It all started at the Pink Palomino café. There were a dozen of them there, movie people; they had driven thirty-six miles to the Palomino for a kind of pre-birthday party for Burt Reynolds who was to turn thirty-eight the next day, Sunday, February 11.
She had driven to the Pink Palomino with Burt Reynolds, but she left early and drove back to Gila Bend with Lee J. Cobb. She had wanted a ride in Cobb’s impressive new car—a Citroën on the outside, a powerful Maserati racing engine within. Back at the Travelodge she proceeded to the cocktail lounge. She had one drink. She danced.
It was close to midnight when she started back to her own room. Halfway there she decided to stop by and apologize to Burt for failing to return to Gila Bend with him.
When she entered room 135, Reynolds’ room, she found a Japanese masseuse there too. Sarah asked permission to remain during the massage. The Japanese woman rubbed, Sarah talked. Around three a.m. she left and walked around the rear of the building to her own room. As soon as she stepped into the room, she told the sergeant, David Whiting jumped out of the dressing room and grabbed her.
Whiting demanded to know where she’d been and whom she’d been with. She told him it was none of his business. He slapped her. She screamed. From the next room, the nanny Sarah had hired to look after her five-year-old son rushed into Sarah’s room through a connecting door.
Sarah told the nanny to call Burt. David Whiting released Sarah and ran outside. Burt Reynolds arrived shortly thereafter and took Sarah back to his room where she spent the remainder of the morning.
Sometime later that Sunday morning, it may have been eight o’clock, it may have been ten, Sarah left Reynolds’ room and returned to the nanny’s room, number 126. She spoke briefly with the nanny, reentered her own room to use the bathroom, and found David Whiting’s body on the floor. She gasped, ran back to the nanny’s room, and told her to call Burt.
Gila Bend Coroner Mulford T. “Sonny” Winsor IV was still in bed Sunday afternoon when the dispatcher called him with news of the Travelodge death. He too had been up all night with the shooting death in the Euclid Street project. He had some questions. Had the dead black man, in fact, been a total stranger to the woman and the man with the .38, or had there been a more complicated relationship?
Coroner Winsor—he is also Justice of the Peace, Town Magistrate, Registrar of Vital Statistics, and a plumbing contractor on the side—wasted no time with the second body, the one he found at the Travelodge. There was nothing in room 127 to suggest anything but suicide. He rounded up a coroner’s jury, including three Gila Bend citizens he found eating in the Travelodge Coffee Shop, and took them into room 127 to view the body for the record.
Next Coroner Winsor looked for some piece of identification for the death certificate, some proof that the dead man was in fact David Whiting. He bent over the body on the floor and reached into the pockets of the dark trousers. Nothing. Nothing in the right front pocket. He rolled the body gently over to look in the left front. There—no ID, but a key—a Travelodge key to room 127, Sarah’s room, the room in which the young man died.
Coroner Winsor decided to check the young man’s own room for identification. He ran back through the rain to the motel office, learned that David Whiting was registered to room 119, and ran back with a key.
He saw bloodstains as soon as he crossed the threshold of 119. There was blood on the pillow at the head of one of the twin beds. There was blood on the bath towel at the foot of the bed. There was blood, he soon discovered, clotted upon wads of toilet tissue in the bathroom. There was blood, he discovered later, on a Travelodge key on the other bed. It was a key for room 126, the nanny’s room.
The death of David Whiting suddenly became a more complex affair. Had he been beaten before he died? The coroner called the chief of police over to room 119. The chief of police took one look and decided to call in the professionals from the Arizona State Police.
There was the possibility of assault, even murder, to consider now.
Sarah Miles had a boil. The year was 1970 and Sarah Miles had come to Hollywood to do publicity for Ryan’s Daughter. She had two appointments that afternoon: the first at noon with the show-business correspondent of Time, the next at three o’clock with a Vogue photographer. It was the Vogue appointment which worried her: Vogue wanted to feature her as one of the three most beautiful women in the world, and there, on her cheek, was a stubborn boil.
So she was not in an especially good mood as she sat in her bungalow at the Beverly Hills Hotel, waiting for the man from Time to arrive. Nor had her mood improved thirty minutes later when he finally showed up.
He wore a dark, three-piece English-cut suit, a luxuriously proper Turnbull and Asser shirt. He flashed a burnished-gold Dunhill lighter and a burnished-bronze hothouse tan. He removed a bottle from his suit coat, announced that it contained his personal Bloody Mary mix, and began the interview by discoursing at length upon the inadequacies of all other Bloody Marys. His name was David Whiting. He was twenty-four years old.
The subject of Sarah’s boil came up. David Whiting confessed that he too had, on occasion, trouble with his skin. However, he told Sarah, he knew the very best dermatologist in Hollywood, and knew of an extraordinary pill for boils. Take one and ten minutes later, he promised Sarah, her boil would vanish.
He disappeared for ten minutes and returned with a bottle of the magic boil pills. She took one. The boil lasted much longer than ten minutes. The interview did not. As she went off to be the most beautiful woman in the world for Vogue, she assumed she had seen the last of David Whiting.
The next evening they met again. He requested the meeting, but despite his strange performance the first time, she didn’t turn him down. She was amused by his pomposity, intrigued by his intelligence. She began calling him “Whiz Kid.”
A few days later she was sitting in the V.I.P. lounge of the L.A. airport awaiting a flight to New York when David Whiting showed up and announced that he was taking the same flight. He secured the seat next to her. The next morning in New York he showed up in her suite at the Sherry Netherland. He took a room on the same floor. She never encouraged him, she says, but neither did she tell him to get lost.
Maybe it was the Vuitton luggage.
“He always had to have the best,” she remembers. “All his doctors were the best doctors, his dentist was the very best dentist, Henry Poole was the very best tailor in London, everything with David had to be the best. If your agent wasn’t the very best agent, then you had to change; if your doctor wasn’t right, change, and he couldn’t understand me because nothing I had was the best. . . . He’d spend hours at a restaurant choosing the best wines. . . . Suddenly he’d say to me, ‘Do you have Vuitton luggage?’ and I honestly had never heard of it. I said what was that word, and he said, ‘Vuitton! Come on! Don’t pretend with me.’”
She wasn’t pretending, she said. “It was funny. He was a joke in that he made people laugh. He was the sort of person you could send up. . . . But David was the first person who awakened me to what was the best and what wasn’t the best.”
Then came the Working Permit Crisis. There was panic in the Sherry Netherland suite. For ten days Sarah had been unable to appear on American television because her working permit had not come through. A small army of MGM p.r. people scurried in and out of her suite reporting new delays and new failures, receiving scornful tongue-lashings from Sarah.
“I began to get quite angry. I remember calling Jim Aubrey, the head of MGM you know, and telling him this is ridiculous, I’ve been here ten days, and this is ridiculous, all the money that’s being wasted through these silly, interminable delays. And David Whiting was in the room with all these others and he started going, ‘What’s the matter? What happened? What happened? Working permit? Good God!’ And he went straight to the phone and rang up a number and in half an hour my working permit arrived. . . . Literally in one telephone call I had a working permit which these other people hadn’t been able to get for ten days. And I sort of thought, hmmmm, that’s not bad. . . .”
Then there was the eye infection. “I came up with an eye infection and couldn’t go on the Frost show . . . and he said, ‘Oh, don’t worry, I’ll see to that,’ and he took me across New York to an eye specialist, who gave me special stuff that cleared up my eyes. He was terribly efficient in certain areas, really terrifically efficient. Then he’d go over the top. Whenever he’d done something good, he’d get euphoric, and he’d suddenly go higher and higher and higher until he suddenly thought he was some sort of Sam Spiegel-cum-President-of-America and he’d go berserk in thinking he was terrific.”
He followed her everywhere in New York. He was going to get Time to do a cover story on her. He arranged a lunch with Henry Grunwald, editor of Time, for her. Things didn’t go smoothly. “You fucked the whole thing up. You fucked the whole thing,” David screamed at her when she reported back to him. He continued to follow her.
A few days later he waved good-bye to her at Kennedy Airport as she took off for England, her country home, her husband, and her child. The next morning he knocked at the front door of her country home in Surrey. He was stopping by on his way to a skiing holiday, he told her. He stayed for a year.
Sergeant Hinderliter didn’t see the “star-shaped wound,” as it came to be called, the first time he looked at David Whiting’s body. Nor had he seen blood. But when he returned to room 127, Sarah’s room, he was startled to see a pool of blood seeping out onto the tiles of the bathroom floor. The body seemed to be bleeding from the head.
Sergeant Hinderliter found the “star-shaped wound” at the back of the head, to the right of the occipital point. The wound had apparently stopped bleeding sometime after death, and resumed when the coroner rolled the body over to search for identification.
This “stellate or star-shaped contused laceration one inch in diameter . . . is the kind of injury we frequently see in people who fall on the back of the head,” the autopsy doctor would testify at the coroner’s inquest.
“This, of course, does not preclude,” he added, “the possibility of the decedent having been pushed. . . .” There were other marks on the body. Two “superficial contused scratches” on the middle of the abdomen. One “superficial contused abrasion” on the lower abdomen. Several scratches on the hands. There were “multiple hemorrhages”—bruises—on the chest and the left shoulder.
“Would those be consistent with someone having been in a scuffle or a fight?” the autopsy doctor was asked at the inquest.
“Yes,” said the autopsy doctor.
But despite the suggestive marks on the outside of David Whiting’s body, the cause of death, the autopsy doctor concluded, was to be found within.
A CATALOG OF THE VARIOUS DRUGS IN SARAH MILES’S BEDROOM AS COMPILED BY DETECTIVE BARNEY HAYES AND CHEMIST JACK STRONG OF THE ARIZONA STATE POLICE
Item One: some pills multivitamin preparation
Item Two: capsules antibiotic drug
Item Three: capsules, Serax Oxazepan for treatment of anxiety and depression
Item Four: A—capsules of Dalmane which is a hypnotic and
B—some capsules which were not identified Item Five: tablets Methaqualone which is a hypnotic antihistamine combination
Item Six: some capsules Ampicillin Trihydrate which is an antibiotic
Item Seven: some further capsules which were not identified
Item Eight: some pills Compazine, a tranquilizer
Item Nine: A—yellow tablets Paredrine which is a hypotensive and
B—some grey pills, Temaril, an antipruritic and antihistaminic
Item Ten: tablets of Donnatal which is antispasmodic and sedative
Item Eleven: white tablets, a yeast
Item Twelve: a liquid, an anti-cough mixture
One item was missing from the scene. Burt Reynolds told Sergeant Hinderliter that when he had been summoned by Sarah to look at the body, he had noticed a pill bottle clenched in one of David Whiting’s fists. He had pried it loose, Reynolds said, and rushed in to Sarah who was, by then, in room 123. He had shown her the bottle and asked her, “Do you know what these are?” She was too upset to reply, he said.
The pill bottle disappeared. Burt Reynolds doesn’t remember what he did with it. He might have thrown it away in room 123, he said. He might have had it in his hand when he returned to 127, the room with the body in it. He remembers seeing a prescription-type label of some sort on it, but he doesn’t remember what the label said. The pill bottle was never found.
And the pills on the arm: nobody seems to have explained the pills on the arm. David Whiting may have knocked some pills on the floor, but there would be no easy way for him to knock pills down onto his own arm while lying curled up on the floor. No one else in the case has admitted knocking them down onto his arm, or dropping them there.
There are other unanswered questions about the pills David took on his last night. Item Five on the list of Sarah’s drugs is a pill called Mandrax. Mandrax is the English trade name for a formulation of two drugs. One—the main ingredient—is Methaqualone, which is described in medical literature as a “hypnotic,” and as such occupies the drowsy middle ground between the barbiturates and the tranquilizers. The second ingredient in Mandrax tablets is a small amount of diphenhydramine which, under the more familiar trade name Benadryl, is marketed as an antihistamine and mild depressant.
American drug companies sell pure Methaqualone—without the Benadryl—under several trade names, including the one which had become a household word by the time David Whiting died: Quaalude.
The autopsy doctor found Methaqualone in David Whiting’s body. (There were 410 milligrams in his stomach, 7.4 mgs. in his liver and .88 mg. per hundred milliliters—about 45 mgs. altogether—in his bloodstream.) The doctor also found some Benadryl in his blood, along with half a drink’s worth of alcohol and “unquantitated levels” of a Valium-type tranquilizer.
Where did that Methaqualone come from? Because of the presence of the Benadryl, it is possible to surmise that the pills David Whiting swallowed were Mandrax, rather than an American version of Methaqualone. Sarah Miles would later testify at the coroner’s inquest that she “believed” she found “a few”— she was not sure how many—pills from Item Five, her Mandrax supply, missing after David Whiting’s death. Sarah would also testify that she believed David Whiting no longer had a Mandrax prescription of his own because, she says, David’s London doctor had taken David off the drug. But if David Whiting did take Mandrax that night it still cannot be said with absolute certainty that the tablets he swallowed did come from Sarah Miles’s “Item Five.”
Nor is there any certainty about the number of tablets David Whiting swallowed that night. Adding up the quantities of Methaqualone found in his stomach, blood and liver, one finds a total of less than 500 milligrams. Since each Mandrax tablet contains only 250 milligrams of Methaqualone, it would seem that the residue of perhaps two, and no more than three, tablets was present in David Whiting’s system at the time of his death. But there is no data available on how long he had been taking Methaqualone before that evening, nor whether he had developed a tolerance or sensitivity to the drug.
Was there enough Methaqualone in David Whiting’s body to kill him? The autopsy doctor, you will recall, found less than one milligram per hundred milliliters in his blood. According to one traditional authority—The Legal Medicine Annual of 1970—it takes three times that amount, three milligrams per hundred milliliters to kill an average man. However, about the time David Whiting died, the literature on Methaqualone had entered a state of crisis. The Great American Quaalude Craze of 1972 had produced a number of overdose deaths, and, consequently, a number of new studies of the kill-levels of the drug. The results of one of those studies—summarized in an article in a publication called Clinical Chemistry—was making the rounds of the autopsy world at the time of David Whiting’s death. The Clinical Chemistry article challenged the traditional 3-milligram kill-level, and suggested that less Methaqualone than previously suspected could cause death.
The Maricopa County autopsy doctor who first examined David Whiting cited these new, lower figures, plus the combined depressant effect of Benadryl, alcohol and the “unquantitated levels” of another tranquilizer to explain why two or three tablets’ worth of Methaqualone could have killed David Whiting. He called the old figures “insufficient and antiquated evidence.”
But affidavits from a leading pharmacologist and a leading forensic pathologist introduced at the inquest by David Whiting’s mother challenged the certainty of the original autopsy doctor’s conclusion, especially his willingness to abandon the traditional authorities. “These reports have not been established in the literature,” one of the affidavits said.
So great is the conflict between the new and old figures that a certain small dose cited in the new study as a poisonous “minimum toxic level” qualifies as a “therapeutic dose” under the old system.
These uncertainties placed David Whiting’s final Mandrax dose in a disputed netherland between therapy and poison, leaving unanswered the questions of whether he took the tablets to calm down or to kill himself, or whether he killed himself trying to calm down.
Some items found in David Whiting’s Travelodge room (number 119):
—59 photographs of Sarah Miles
—a large leather camera bag stamped with a LIFE decal, four expensive Nikons inside
—a six-month-old Playboy magazine, found lying on the bottom sheet of the unmade, bloodstained bed, as if he had been reading it while he waited for the bleeding to stop
—a piece of luggage—a medium-sized suitcase—lying open but neatly packed on the other bed, as if in preparation for a morning departure and a two-day trip
—two bottles of Teacher’s Scotch, one nearly empty, on the night table between the beds. Also a can of Sprite
—an Olivetti portable typewriter with the ribbon and spools ripped out and lying tangled next to it
—a book called The Mistress, a novel, the film rights to which David Whiting had purchased on behalf of Sarah Miles. He wanted her to play the title role.
—a copy of a screenplay called The Capri Numbers, a romantic thriller David Whiting had been working on with an English actor. Sarah Miles was to play the part of Jocylin. In the screenplay’s preliminary description of Jocylin we learn that “this story will teach her the meaning of ‘there’s a vulgarity in possession: it makes for a sense of mortality.’”
—a Gideon Bible. The Bible is not mentioned in police reports, but when I stayed in David Whiting’s motel room a month after his death, I looked through the Bible and found three widely separated pages conspicuously marked, and one three-page section torn out.
The upper-right-hand corner of page 23 has been dog-eared. On page 23 (Genesis: 24-25) we read of, among other things, the death and burial of Sarah.
The lower-left-hand corner of page 532 has been dog-eared. It contains Psalms 27 and 28—each of which is headed, in the Gideon edition, “A Psalm of David.” In these two psalms, David pleads with God not to abandon him. (“Hide not thy face far from me; put not thy servant away in anger . . . leave me not, neither forsake me.”) David declares he wants to remain “in the land of the living” but warns that “if thou be silent to me I become like them that go down into the pit.”
The upper-left-hand corner of page 936 has been dog-eared. The Last Supper is over. Christ, alone on the Mount of Olives, contemplating his imminent crucifixion, asks God, “If thou be willing, remove this cup from me.” He prays feverishly (“his sweat was as it were great drops of blood”), then descends to his disciples, whereupon Judas betrays him with a kiss.
Torn out of the Gideon Bible in David Whiting’s motel room are pages 724 to 730. Consulting an intact Gideon Bible, I discovered that those pages record the climactic vision of the destruction of Babylon from the final chapters of the Book of Jeremiah, and the despairing description of the destruction of Jerusalem from the beginning of Lamentations.
“I shall make drunk her princes and her wise men,” says the Lord in regard to his plans for the rulers of Babylon, “ . . . and they shall sleep a perpetual sleep and not wake.” “I called for my lovers but they deceived me . . . my sighs are many and my heart is faint,” says the weeper in the torn-out pages of Lamentations.
Police found no suicide note.
Four months after he moved into Mill House, her country home in Surrey, David Whiting threatened to kill himself, Sarah Miles told me. The threat was powerful enough, she says, to prevent her and her husband from daring to ask him to leave for six more months.
Just what was David Whiting doing, living in the household of Mr. and Mrs. Robert Bolt, Mill House, Surrey, anyway?
At first he was just stopping off on his way to a European ski resort. Then he was staying awhile to gather more material for his Time story. (His “angle” on this story, he told them, was going to be “the last happy marriage” or something like that. He did not believe in happy marriages, didn’t believe they could exist anymore, yet here Sarah and Robert Bolt had what appeared to be a happy marriage and he wanted to find out just what it was they had.)
Then David thrust himself into the Lady Caroline Lamb project, a kind of family enterprise for Robert Bolt and Sarah. When David arrived in the Summer of 1971, Lamb was only a screenplay. Robert Bolt—the forty-nine-year-old playwright who wrote A Man for All Seasons and several David Lean screenplays—had written it, he wanted Sarah to star in it, he wanted to direct it himself. He was having trouble getting the money for it.
As soon as David arrived he jumped in, started calling producers, money people, studios, agents. He whisked Sarah off to Cannes, rented a villa there for the film festival the better to make “contacts.” He went to work on her finances, clearing up a “huge overdraft” in Sarah’s account. He talked her into getting new lawyers, new accountants, new agents. He flattered Robert Bolt about his writing, Sarah about her acting. He quit his job at Time to devote himself to helping them make Lamb, he told them. He persuaded Sarah to make him her business manager, which meant he got ten percent of whatever she got. He persuaded Robert and Sarah to give him a salaried job in their family film company—Pulsar Productions Ltd.
On the Pulsar stationery he became “David Whiting, Director of Publicity and Exploitation.”
Lamb is a triangle. A year after he moved in with Robert Bolt and Sarah, David Whiting produced a publicity book about the film. This is how he describes that triangle:
There is Lady Caroline, to be played by Sarah Miles: “On fire for the dramatic, the picturesque . . . a creature of impulse, intense sensibility and bewitching unexpectedness,” David wrote. “On those for whom it worked she cast a spell which could not be resisted. . . . Such a character was bound finally to make a bad wife.” She ends up dying “for love.” “And so at the end of her short life, she achieved the ultimate gesture which all her life she has been seeking.”
Then there is her husband William Lamb, ultimately to become Lord Melbourne, the Whig Prime Minister: “A Gentleman, self-controlled and decent,” David wrote. “A capacity for compromising agreeably with circumstance. . . . When Caroline threw herself into her notorious affair with Lord Byron, William refused to take it seriously. . . . He detected in Byron all that was specious in the poet’s romantic posturing . . . he was not jealous but his spirit was wounded.”
And finally there was Byron: “He was a raw nerve-ridden boy of genius,” David wrote, “a kind of embodied fantasy . . . emerged from obscurity . . . born to nobility and relative poverty. With his pale face, extreme good looks and pouting expression . . . the public was entranced with the personality of its twenty-four-year-old author. Nevertheless,” twenty-four-year-old David Whiting added, his “divine fire gleamed fitfully forth through a turmoil of suspicion and awkwardness. His sophistication was a mask for shyness. . . . At the most elementary level he was a poseur.”
Halfway into an interview with Sarah Miles I read her that passage about Byron from David’s book about Lamb, and asked her if that was, perhaps, David Whiting writing about himself.
“I think he got that from Lord David Cecil, actually,” she said. “Most of it you’ll find is from other books, I’m afraid.”
I tried again: “What I mean is, did he see the family he moved into at Surrey as a kind of reflection of the Lamb triangle?”
“The Lamb triangle? I see what you mean. It hadn’t crossed my mind until you said it. Maybe you’re right, I hadn’t thought of it like that at all.”
At this point I felt compelled to ask directly, and yet if possible with some delicacy, the question that had been on my mind.
“It seems, uh, a probably fortuitous coincidence that this Lamb thing was going on at the same time David was, uh, well, what was your, what was his relationship, was he sexually possessive or. . . ?”
“Nope,” Sarah interrupted briskly. “Not a bit. You see, this is the area which is weird. He never made a pass at me, he never spoke of me sexually, it was just a sort of—” pause— “I don’t quite know how to put it—it seems so self-bragging, you know, to say the things he said—I can’t really, because I don’t really—I think he, he wanted to put me up there, because it would sort of excuse himself from any sort of reality. I think if he had really made an ordinary mundane pass and been rejected, it would have ruined this other image that he had. You know what I mean, I mean if at one time we really had had an affair, it would have probably been the best thing for David. I mean he probably would have realized that I was just an ordinary girl like the rest of them.”
At this point I thought of what Sergeant Hinderliter had told me Sarah had told him on the afternoon of the death, about David Whiting “always wanting to f— me all the time. . . .”
Now that statement did not imply that Sarah Miles had, in fact, slept with David Whiting. It did however raise the question in my mind about whether David Whiting had or had not ever made “a mundane pass” at Sarah, and I felt I had to ask her about it.
“Sarah, uh, I feel I have to ask you this, it’s, uh, a difficult question,” I faltered, toward the close of the interview. “But, uh, this sergeant in Gila Bend told me that you told him that all David Whiting wanted to do. . . .” I repeated what the sergeant had quoted her as saying.
She skipped, at most, one third of a breath.
“There have been some extraordinary reports from those policemen, I mean there really have.” She gave a small sigh. “I mean I don’t understand what this is about. Well I went back into the room, well, there’s a whole area in there the police were . . . very odd indeed, and I don’t understand, I mean that quote. . . . What time? When?”
I told her when the sergeant said he heard it.
“I mean, can you imagine, can you imagine me saying this to a policeman, that anyone in their right mind could say that. . . .”
“I can imagine you being upset and—”
“But to say that! I’m terribly sorry but I’m not the liar in this case.”
It was not sex David Whiting wanted so desperately, Sarah told me, it was family. He’d never had a real family before, he’d told the Bolts. His parents divorced when he was a child, he’d hardly seen his father, who, he said, was some sort of director of Pan Am, a position which gave David the right to fly the world for next to nothing. He’d been a child prodigy, he told them, and his mother had sent him off to one boarding school after another. He’d had some unpleasant years in boarding schools. He was too smart for any of them, but they’d treated him badly. Once he said he had been forced to submit to a spinal injection to cure a “learning deficiency” because he’d been stubbornly pretending he didn’t know how to read. So painful was this spinal injection that he’d immediately picked up a volume of Shakespeare and started to perform from it just to forestall repetition of that pain.
He’d gone to the finest prep school in Washington, D.C., with the sons of the famous and powerful. He’d become an extraordinary ladies’ man among the debutante daughters of the famous and the powerful, he told them. He dropped names of his conquests.
His prep-school classmates thought he would become President, he told the Bolts. But what he wanted to be, he told them, was the greatest producer there ever was. At an early age he had taken off from school to make movies in the Libyan desert and the hot spots of Europe. He had been the youngest man ever appointed full-fledged Timecorrespondent, but he had given all that up for Sarah and Robert and for what they could become under his management. He wanted to make Sarah the greatest star there ever was. For all that, he told them, but also for their home, and for the feeling of being part of a family at last.
But after three months things started to go wrong in this family. David became dissatisfied with mere “publicity-and-exploitation” duties. He wanted to do more. Nobody understood how good he was, nobody gave him a chance to show how much he could do. He decided to show them. Without the consent of the producer of Lamb he arranged a deal to produce a movie of his own—a documentary about the making of Lamb. This didn’t go over well with the real producer. He made enemies. He started staying up in his room for days at a time, according to Sarah, worrying about his skin problem, his weight problem, his falling-hair problem, claiming all the while that he was working on scripts and deals, but failing to do his publicity work on time. Finally, according to Sarah, he was fired from his publicity job. She was the only one to take his side, she says. She kept him on as business manager, but both she and Robert suggested to David that he might be happier and get more work done if he moved out of their country home into Sarah’s London town house.
It was at this point, September, 1971, according to Sarah, that David told them that if they ever forced him to leave their family he’d kill himself.
She found it hard to take this threat lightly, Sarah says. Twice before she’d been threatened that way, and twice before she’d ended up with a dead body on her hands. Sarah tells the story of the first two suicides.
First there was Thelma. Thelma had gone through Roeder, the exclusive Swiss finishing school, with Sarah. Since then Thelma had gone through hard times and electroshock treatment. She’d read a newspaper report that Sarah had taken a town house at 18 Hasker Street, Chelsea; she showed up there one day and asked to move in for a while.
Thelma stayed three years. She moved her young son in with her. Sarah gave her a “job” to earn her stay—walking Sarah’s Pyrenean mountain dog—but Thelma forgot about it half the time. At night, according to Sarah, “she turned the place into a brothel,” admitting a stream of men into her basement quarters. Finally, after Thelma had taken two messy overdoses, Robert Bolt came into Sarah’s life and told her she had to get rid of Thelma.
“I told Robert if I chucked her out she’d kill herself,” Sarah recalls. “And Robert said, ‘Christ, Sarah, grow up. They all say that but not all of them do it.’ Robert got to arguing with Thelma one day and said, ‘Look, for Christ sake Thelma, can’t you see what you’re doing to Sarah? If you really mean business you’ll jump.”
Sarah asked Thelma to leave. Thelma jumped.
Then there was Johnny. Sarah had been kicked out of her Chelsea town house because of the obtrusive behavior of her Pyrenean mountain dog. Sarah and Robert had married and were moving to a country home in Surrey. Johnny came along. He was a landscape gardener and owner of three Pyrenean mountain dogs. “I decided to sublease the Chelsea house to him. I thought it would be a very funny joke, having been kicked out for one, to move in somebody with three Pyrenean mountain dogs. That tickled me. I liked that,” Sarah says.
Johnny was very well dressed, and told the Bolts he was very well off. “But I let him have it for almost nothing, he was a friend, we’d have him up for weekends, he was a very charming fellow, he was a queer but a very nice man—boy.”
After nine months Johnny hadn’t paid a cent of rent.
“Robert told me, ‘Sarah, you’re crazy to let this go on. . . . Go up there and get the money.’ So on a Friday I went up. The house looked lovely . . . he had a fantastic deep freeze, fantastic food, new carpets—he lived very high.”
She asked him for the money. He said of course he’d give it to her—the very next day.
The next morning, back at her country home, she received a telephone call from a policeman. “He asked me if I were Sarah Miles, and did I own 18 Hasker Street, and I said yes, and he said Mr. Johnny W—— has put his head in the oven, he’s gassed himself to death. . . .”
In mid-February of 1972, David Whiting moved into 18 Hasker Street.
On the second day of March, 1972, David Whiting was rushed to St. George’s Hospital, London, unconscious, dressed only in his underwear, suffering from an overdose of drugs. After his release, Sarah and Robert took him back again.
One evening later that year David Whiting was drinking in London with a woman writer who was preparing a story about Sarah Miles. He began confiding in her about his dream. Robert Bolt was nearing fifty, he observed, while he, David Whiting, was only half that age. He could wait, he told her, wait for Robert Bolt to die, and then he knew Sarah would be his at last. The woman writer seemed to think David Whiting was being deadly serious.
Not enough people die in Gila Bend to support a funeral home. So when the autopsy doctor in Phoenix completed his work on David Whiting, he sewed the body back up and shipped it to Ganley’s funeral establishment in Buckeye—thirty miles north of Gila Bend— to await claiming by next of kin.
There was some question about next of kin. David Whiting had filled in the next-of-kin blank on his passport with the name “Sarah Miles.” No other next of kin had stepped forward. For three days no one seemed to know if David Whiting’s parents were dead or alive. Finally on Wednesday the Gila Bend chief of police received a call from a woman on the East Coast who said she had once been engaged to David Whiting. Among other things she told the chief the name of a person on the West Coast who might know how to reach the mother. After several further phone calls, the chief finally learned of a certain Mrs. Campbell of Berkeley, California.
On Thursday, February 15, a small grey-haired woman stepped off the Greyhound bus in Buckeye, Arizona. She proceeded to Mr. Ganley’s establishment on Broadway and introduced herself to Mr. Ganley as Mrs. Louise Campbell, the mother of David Whiting. She persuaded Mr. Ganley to drive her into Gila Bend to see the chief of police.
There was trouble in the Chief’s office that day. As soon as she walked in Mrs. Campbell demanded to know how the chief had located her. No one was supposed to know where she was. She demanded to be told who had tipped him off. The chief asked her about David Whiting’s father. She told him they had been divorced long ago. She told him that three weeks before David’s death the father had suffered a near-fatal heart attack and was not to be contacted under any circumstances. Her present husband, David’s stepfather, was spending the winter in Hawaii for his poor health and she didn’t want him contacted either. She said she wanted David Whiting’s personal property. The chief told her he couldn’t release it to her until after the completion of the inquest, scheduled for February 27. He agreed to allow her to select a suit for David to be buried in.
“The chief opened up the suitcase and she grabbed everything she could and ran outside to the car with it, clutching it in her arms,” Mr. Ganley recalls with some bemusement. . . . “Oh, she went running from one room to the other in the police station and finally the chief said, ‘Get her the hell out of here, will you?’ She grabbed everything she could get before they could stop her. I was picking out certain belongings in which to bury him. She just grabbed them. . . .”
Ten days later, Mrs. Campbell reappeared at Mr. Ganley’s funeral home. It was nine o’clock at night. She was accompanied by an unidentified man.
She asked Mr. Ganley to take the body out of the refrigerator. She wanted to examine it, she said.
Mr. Ganley protested. “I said, ‘Well, lady, why don’t you take him into the County Mortuary . . . we don’t like to show a body like this, he isn’t clothed, he’s covered with, uh . . . he’s been in the refrigerator.’ She said, ‘Well, that’s all right.’”
Mr. Ganley took the body out of the refrigerator and wheeled it out for Mrs. Campbell’s inspection.
“She wanted to know if all his organs were there,” Mr. Ganley recalled. “She said, ‘Could you open him up?’ I said no, we won’t do that. Well, she wanted to know if the organs were there and I said well I presume they are.”
A few days later Mrs. Campbell showed up at Ganiev’s funeral home again, this time with a different man, whom she introduced as a pathologist from a neighboring county. Again she demanded that the body he brought out of the refrigerator for inspection. Again, with reluctance, Mr. Ganley wheeled it out.
Mr. Ganley asked this pathologist if he had any documentary proof that Mrs. Campbell was, in fact, the boy’s mother.
“He told me that he just assumed that she was. So I said well, okay, go ahead. So he opened him up and checked the organs, to see if they had all been returned after the first autopsy.”
It was during this session, Mr. Ganley recalled, that Mrs. Campbell did some checking of her own. She examined the star-shaped wound on the back of the head and found it sewn up. She complained to Mr. Ganley about that.
“She asked me why we did that, and I said, well, to keep it from leaking all over the table. And she said, ‘Don’t do anything else to it.’ And then she’d probe up in there with her finger.”
“She actually put her finger in it?”
“Oh yeah. . . . She never expressed one bit of grief except when I first saw her and she sobbed . . . well, one night she kissed him and said poor David or something.”
How badly had David Whiting beaten Sarah Miles? You will recall that Sergeant Hinderliter remembers Sarah telling him on the afternoon of the death that David Whiting had “slapped” her. It was the sergeant’s impression that Sarah meant she had been slapped just once. He had asked her where Whiting had slapped her. She had pointed to the left side of her head. The sergeant does not recall seeing any marks, or any bruises, or any blood. Eleven days later Sarah told the police and the press that David Whiting had given her “the nastiest beating of my life.”
This is how she described it.
“He started to throw me around the room like they do in B movies. . . . This was the most violent ever in my life. I was very frightened because all the time I was saying, ‘Hold your face, Sarah, because you won’t be able to shoot next day’ . . . he was beating me on the back of my head . . . there were sharp corners in the room and he kept throwing me against them . . . I was just being bashed about. . . . he was pounding my head against everything he could . . . it was the nastiest beating I’ve ever had in my life. It was even nastier because it was my friend you see.”
A lot had happened between the Sunday afternoon of February 11 when Sarah told Sergeant Hinderliter about being slapped and the evening of February 22 when she told the Arizona State Police about the “nastiest beating.”
On Monday morning, February 12, an MGM lawyer named Alvin Cassidy took an early plane from L.A. to Phoenix, drove out to Gila Bend and advised members of the cast and crew of The Man Who Loved Cat Dancing that it would not be wise to talk to detectives from the State Police without the advice of counsel. MGM people stopped talking.
On Monday afternoon the cast and crew of Cat Dancing began checking out of the Travelodge and heading for a new location two hundred miles southeast in the town of Nogales on the Mexican border.
On Monday evening Rona Barrett broke the story on her nationally syndicated Hollywood gossip show.
Rona had sensed something funny going on the night before when she attended the Directors’ Guild premiere of Lady Caroline Lamb. Someone had given Rona a tip that Robert Bolt, who was attending the premiere of his film, had received a “very upsetting phone call.”
Monday morning Rona began talking to her sources in Gila Bend. By Monday evening she was able to tell her national audience of a report that Sarah Miles had been beaten up in her motel room by her business manager, a former Timecorrespondent. Rona called it “the alleged beating”—alleged because, according to Rona’s sources on location, Sarah Miles was “on the set the next day showing no signs of having been attacked.”
On Wednesday of that first week, MGM hired two of the best criminal lawyers in Arizona—John Flynn of Phoenix and Benjamin Lazarow of Tucson—to represent Sarah, Burt and the nanny.
The MGM legal armada at first succeeded in working out a deal with the detectives. Sarah, Burt and a few others would tape-record informal, unsworn statements about the night of the death, and answer, with the help of their attorneys, questions put to them by detectives. The detectives and the County Prosecutor made no pledge, but MGM hoped, through this taping device, to avoid having Sarah and Burt and the rest of the cast subpoenaed to testify publicly at the forthcoming coroner’s inquest.
These recorded interviews with the detectives, which have come to be known as the “Rio Rico tapes,” took place on Thursday, February 22, at the Rio Rico Inn of Nogales, Arizona, where the MGM people were quartered. Sarah’s description of the violent, nasty beating quoted above, comes from one of these tapes.
The deal fell through. Gila Bend Justice of the Peace Mulford Winsor, who was to preside at the inquest, was not satisfied with this absentee-testimony arrangement. He issued subpoenas for Sarah, Burt, Lee J. Cobb, the nanny, and the two other MGM people, commanding them to appear in person in Gila Bend on February 27 to take the stand and testify.
MGM’s legal forces promptly went to court. They asked that the subpoenas be quashed on the ground that appearances at the inquest would subject the six people to “adverse publicity and public display.”
On February 27, just a few minutes before the inquest was about to open in Gila Bend, Justice of the Peace Winsor was served with a temporary restraining order barring him from calling Sarah or Burt to testify. Justice Winsor decided to proceed with the inquest without them, and called Sergeant Hinderliter to the stand as the first witness.
But the movie company had not counted on the determination of tiny, grey-haired Mrs. Campbell, who turned out to be a shrewd operator despite her fragile, grief-stricken appearance.
Early that morning in Phoenix Mrs. Campbell had hired her own lawyer, presented him with a thousand-dollar retainer, and told him to contest the MGM injunction. Then she caught the first bus out to Gila Bend. On the bus she sat next to a reporter for the London Sun who was on his way out to cover the inquest. She introduced herself to the English reporter as a correspondent for a Washington, D.C., magazine and asked him for the details of the case. She wanted to know whether it were possible to libel a dead man.
When she arrived at the courthouse, a one-story concrete all-purpose administrative building, Mrs. Campbell began passing out to the press Xeroxed copies of a document which she said was David Whiting’s last letter to her, a document which proved, she said, that David Whiting was neither unhappy nor suicidal. (While this “last letter” certainly did not give any hint of suicidal feelings, neither did it give a sense of much intimacy between mother and son. David Whiting began the letter by announcing that he was sending back his mother’s Christmas present to him, and went on to request that she send instead six pairs of boxer shorts. “I find the English variety abominably badly cut,” he wrote. “Plaids, stripes, and other bright colors would be appreciated, and I suggest you unwrap them, launder them once, and airmail them to me in a package marked ‘personal belongings.’”)
Next Mrs. Campbell approached Justice Winsor and asked him to delay the start of the inquest until her lawyer, who she said was on his way, could be present to represent her. She didn’t give up when he refused and opened the inquest. She continued to interrupt the proceedings in her quavering voice with pleas for a recess to await the appearance of her lawyer. At one point Justice Winsor threatened to have her removed.
It came down to a matter of minutes. By mid-afternoon the two men from the County Attorney’s office conducting the inquest had called their last witness, and the Justice of the Peace was about to gavel the inquest to a close and send the coroner’s jury out to decide the cause of David Whiting’s death. At the last minute, however, the judge received a phone call from the presiding Justice of the Superior Court in Phoenix. Mrs. Campbell had secured an order preventing the coroner’s jury from beginning its deliberations until a full hearing could be held on the question of whether Sarah, Burt and the nanny should be forced to appear in person to testify. Justice Winsor recessed the inquest, and Mrs. Campbell walked out with her first victory. She’d only just begun. On March 7, after a full hearing, the court ruled in her favor and ordered Sarah, Burt and the nanny to appear at the inquest. Finally, on March 14, the three of them returned to Gila Bend and took the stand, with Mrs. Campbell seated in the front row of the courtroom taking notes.
There were strange stories circulating about Mrs. Campbell. There was a rumor that she might not be the boy’s mother at all. Other than the “last letter,” she hadn’t shown any identification to Mr. Ganley. The copy of the last letter she was handing around showed, no signature. Mrs. Campbell said she herself had written the word “David” at the bottom of the copy. She had left the original with the signature at home, she said. “Naturally I treasure it . . . that’s why I didn’t bring it.”
Mrs. Campbell refused to give me her home address or phone number. She insisted on keeping secret the whereabouts of both David Whiting’s real father and his stepfather, her present husband. She implied that anyone attempting to contact the real father, who was recovering from a recent heart attack, might cause his death: she was protecting him from the news, she said.
She described herself as a free-lance science writer, as a former writer for Architectural Forum, as a member of the faculty of the University of California at Berkeley, and as retired. She insisted at first that her married name was spelled without a “p” in the middle. Then suddenly she began insisting that it was spelled with a “p.”
She described herself frequently as “a woman without means,” and a “woman living on a fixed income,” but she hired four of the top lawyers in the State of Arizona to work on the case. She claimed to have flown to England with her aging mother to visit David a few months before he died.
“My only interest in this whole affair is to protect the name of my son,” she maintained. “He was not a suicidal type, he was not the type to beat up women.”
She was curiously silent about certain areas and curiously ill-informed about others. There was his marriage, for instance. Mrs. Campbell led me to believe that I was the first person to tell her that her son had been married. This revelation took place in the Space Age Lodge, a motel next to the Gila Bend Courthouse building, a motel distinguished by the great number of “life-sized” Alien Beings crawling over its roofs and walls. The second session of the inquest—the one at which Sarah and Burt had finally testified—had just come to an end and Mrs. Campbell was seated at a table in the Space Age Restaurant handing out copies of various affidavits to reporters and occasionally responding to questions.
“Mrs. Campbell, has David’s ex-wife been in touch with you?” I asked.
“His what?” she demanded sharply.
“His ex-wife, the one who—”
“David was never married,” she said firmly.
“What about the London Express story which said he was married to a Pan Am stewardess, and that he used her Pan Am discount card to fly back and forth to England?”
“What wife? What are you talking about? Where did you read that? I never heard of any marriage.”
(It is possible that she may have been feigning surprise here, although to what purpose is not clear. The mother of the girl he married told me she herself was certain her daughter never married David Whiting. Nevertheless there is a marriage certificate on file with the Registrar of Vital Statistics, Cook County, Illinois, which records the marriage of David Andrew Whiting to Miss Nancy Cockerill on January 29, 1970. Apparently there was a divorce also, because the wife is now remarried and living in Germany.)
Later that same day I had a long talk with Mrs. Campbell in the coffee shop of the Travelodge Motel, where she was staying during the inquest.
He was born in New York City on either August 25 or 26, she told me. “I’m not sure which is the right one, but I remember we always used to celebrate it on the wrong day.” She leaps quickly to prep school. “He did so well at St. Albans that he was admitted to Georgetown University on a special program after his junior year and. . . .”
When I asked her where David lived, and where he went to school before prep school, she cut off my question. “I don’t see what that has to do with anything. I prefer not to tell you.” She proceeded to attempt to convince me to drop my story on David Whiting and instead write an “exposé” of one of the Arizona lawyers hired by MGM, and “how these attorneys use their power and influence in this state.” She would give me inside information, she said.
“It was always expected that David would go to Harvard,” she began again when I declined to drop the story and returned to the subject of David Whiting. “For a boy of David’s ability it was perfectly obvious he was headed for Harvard.”
He didn’t make it. Something about too many debutante parties, and not quite terrific grades in his special year at Georgetown. David Whiting went to tiny Haverford College instead. He majored in English there and wrote an honors thesis “on F. Scott Fitzgerald or Hamlet, I can’t remember,” Mrs. Campbell told me.
“There was a line from The Great Gatsby I do remember,” she told me. “That was David’s favorite book, and it’s a line I think applies to what I saw here today. It was about the kind of people who always have others around to clean up the mess they leave.”
I later checked the Scribner edition of The Great Gatsby: “They were careless people, Tom and Daisy—they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made.”
A Fitzgerald Story of Sorts:
She met him at Mrs. Shippens’ Dancing Class. Her name was Eleanor, and she was a granddaughter of F. Scott Fitzgerald and Zelda. He was—well, she never knew who he was, in the sense of family, but it was assumed that the dancing students at Mrs. Shippens’ were from the finest families of Washington, Virginia, and Eastern Shore society. He certainly acted the part. His name was David Whiting.
When the male pupils at Mrs. Shippens’ reached a certain age, they were placed on Miss Hetzel’s list. Miss Hetzel’s list was a register of eligible males worthy of being called upon to serve as escorts and dancing partners at the finest debuts and cotillions.
Eleanor met him again at a Hunt Cup weekend. She found him sometimes witty, sometimes amusingly pretentious in his efforts to be worldly. In November, 1963, she wrote him inviting him to be her escort at a holiday dance at Mrs. Shippens’. She still has his letter of reply, because of a curious device he employed in it.
Centered perfectly between the lines of his letter to her were the unmistakable impressions of what seemed to be a letter to another girl. This ghostly letter in-between-the-lines was filled with tales of nights of drinking and lovemaking in expensive hotel suites with a girl named “Gloria.” Eleanor is certain there was no Gloria, that the whole thing was an elaborate fake designed to impress her, if not with its truth, at least with its cleverness.
“He was always worrying about the way he looked—we’d be dancing or something and he’d always be checking with me how he looked, or giving me these, you know, aristocratic tips about how I looked, or we looked.”
And how did he look?
“Well, he was very fat at first, I think.”
“Oh, quite tremendous. I mean pretty heavy. He’d make jokes about himself. But then all that changed. He spent a summer in North Africa and Libya with a movie production company. He came back from that summer looking much more thin and intense,” she remembers. “He came back and all he was talking about was taking over that movie company, and oh, he had great dreams. I remember taking a walk with him—we were at some party and we were both nervous, and we took a walk through this garden and he just went on and on, just—it was the first time I’d seen him thin and he was talking about how he was gonna take over that movie company, and how great he’d been and how he was going to be a producer. . . . He’d always talked about movies, he could name every movie and every movie star that was in them—I mean, some people do that but he was good, he knew them all.”
She drifted away from him—“He was never my boyfriend or anything,” she says pointedly—and didn’t hear from him for almost two years when one day she got a phone call in her dorm at Sarah Lawrence.
It was David Whiting, then a student at Haverford. “Well, I hadn’t seen him and I didn’t know where he was at school, and he said, ‘Will you come and see me, I’m at Princeton.’ So I took the bus down. I got there I guess about nine in the morning, and called him up and he said could I come over to the room—I didn’t know it wasn’t his room—so I walked in and he just poured this tall glass of straight gin and no ice and said, ‘Will you have some?’ And I said, ‘No, I don’t really think I’m in the mood, I was sort of wondering what we’re gonna do today,’ and he said, ‘Well, I think we’ll stay in the room until tonight when we’ll go over to some clubs.’ I could sort of see the day’s program unfolding. . . .”
For the next two hours he tried to convince her to sleep with him. “It could be really boring the way he talked about himself so much and how his ego would be damaged if I didn’t sleep with him. I remember it was this scene of me sitting up, you know, every once in a while, and we’d talk and we’d stretch out and I’d say, ‘Well, I’m going,’ and he’d throw me down. And he finally got in a real bad mood, and I went.”
“Did he ever admit to you that he was just posing as a Princeton student?”
“Oh yes, at the end I think he did.”
“Did he think he could get away with it?”
“Well, I guess if we’d never left the room he could have.”
Some Last Effects of David Whiting: an inventory of items left behind from his eighteen-month career as Hollywood correspondent for Time.
—One 275-watt Westinghouse sunlamp. Left in a file cabinet in his old office in the Time suite on Roxbury Drive in Beverly Hills, across from the “House of Pies.” “He used to come in after midnight and sit for hours with the sunlamp on—I don’t know if he was working or what,” the Time switchboard operator recalls. Once he didn’t turn it off. “I came in in the morning one day and I smelled smoke, and I checked in David’s office, and it was his sunlamp. He’d left sometime early in the morning and he’d just put it in his drawer without turning it off. It was smouldering in there, he might have set the place on fire.”
—One pocket memo book with the notation “Cannes No. 6” scrawled in Magic Marker on the front cover. From the same file cabinet. Not long after he had been transferred to the Hollywood job, David Whiting took off for Cannes to “cover” the film festival. A Paris correspondent for Time had been under the impression he had been assigned to cover it. There was some dispute. The Paris man filed the story. David Whiting took many notes. Interviews with producers, directors, starlets. Memos to himself. A sample memo to himself from “Cannes No. 6”:
General Memo :
-morn, look good
—One magazine story, written under an interesting pseudonym, for Cosmopolitan. The pseudonym is “Anthony Blaine,” a synthesis of Amory Blaine and Anthony Patch, the heroes, respectively, of Fitzgerald’s first two novels, This Side of Paradise and The Beautiful and Damned. The Cosmopolitan story by “Anthony Blaine” is about Candice Bergen. He met her in Cannes in 1970. He fibbed about his age to her, he played the worldly bon vivant for her, he followed her to Spain where she was making a movie, he continued to see her back in Beverly Hills. He was possessed with her, he told friends. He was just a good friend to her, she told me.
—One box kite, still in the possession of Paula Prentiss. David Whiting was doing a story for Time about Paula and her husband, Dick Benjamin. The angle was going to be the idea of a happy marriage, he told them. He visited them a second time in their apartment in New York, and “there was a big change from the first time we met him, I could tell something was wrong,” Paula recalls, “that he needed something from us. He wouldn’t come out and say it, but we could tell, he’d sit and drink martinis and pop pills all the time. But we did have some good moments with him. I remember he brought us a box kite and he took us out on the beach and showed us how to fly it.” (The story about Dick and Paula never appeared in Time. It did show up in the November, 1971, issue of Cosmopolitan, this time under David Whiting’s real name. Cosmopolitan also published a David Whiting story about Sarah Miles, the one he had been “researching” when he began following Sarah around for Time, the story, published in December, 1971, is titled Sarah Miles: The Maiden Man-Eater and the subtitle reads: “She uses words that would make a construction worker blush, but from her they sound refined.”)
—One list of all the girls David Whiting had ever kissed. “I walked into his office one day and he had his big debutante album out—it had all his invitations and dance programs, and dashing photos of David and the debs,” a woman who writes for Time recalls. “And he was working on a list he told me was a list of all the girls he’d ever kissed—just kissed, that was enough— and he was going to add it to the album I think.”
—One Bekins Warehouse storage number, the index to the artifacts David Whiting left behind when he left for England. Included are some of his many Savile Row suits he decided not to bring back to London with him. “Let me tell you about his suits,” the friend who has custody of the Bekins number told me. “He used to fly to London—on his wife’s Pan Am card, of course—fly there on a Thursday to have a fitting done. He’d come back Monday, then fly back again the next weekend for the final fitting and bring back the suit.”
—One copy of The Crack-Up by F. Scott Fitzgerald, a battered, underlined paperback bequeathed to a woman he knew. Two passages have been cut out with a razor blade. One of the underlined passages: “I didn’t have the two top things: great animal magnetism or money. I had the second things, though: good looks and intelligence. So I always got the top girl.”
A passage cut out with a razor blade: the fourth verse from a poem called “The Thousand-and-First Ship,” a Fitzgerald attempt at a modern version of Keats’s “La Belle Dame Sans Merci”: “There’d be an orchestra/ Bingo! Bango!/ Playing for us/ To dance the tango,/ And people would clap/ As we arose,/ At her sweet face/ And my new clothes.”
They checked into the Gila Bend Travelodge on Monday, January 29. At first David Whiting took the room adjoining Sarah’s. Hers was number 127, his 126; an inner door connected the two. He didn’t last there very long. Rooms 126 and 127 are in the section of the motel most remote from traffic. They could be reached only by walking back from the highway, past the Travelodge bar, past the length of the larger two-story rooming unit, all the way to the rear of the parking lot and around the back of a smaller, single-story row of Travelodge cubicles. The bedroom windows of numbers 126 and 127 face nothing; they look north upon miles and miles of cactus and mesquite waste. Closer at hand to numbers 126 and 127 is the Travelodge garbage shed.
On Friday, February 2, four days after David and Sarah checked into these adjoining rooms, David was forced to move. Sarah’s five-year-old son Thomas and the nanny hired to care for him were arriving from England that evening. So, on Friday afternoon, nine days before his death, David Whiting moved out of number 126 and into number 119, a room across the parking lot in the two-story motel building.
He seems to have chosen this place of exile with some care. The view, for instance, had two peculiar advantages. For one, the line of sight for someone looking straight out the bedroom window of number 119 runs straight across a short span of parking lot and then directly along the walkway in front of the row of rooms he left behind, right past the doors to numbers 126 and 127. No one entering or leaving Sarah’s room could escape the notice of an observer looking out the window of number 119.
The other, more subtle advantage to this observation post had to do with the placement of a staircase. A broad openwork staircase of wood planks and iron bars descends from the second floor of motel rooms above number 119 and touches ground on the sidewalk in front of the room, forming a slanting screen in front of the bedroom window. Outsiders in the Travelodge parking lot can’t see through the confusing lattice of horizontal steps, diagonal banisters, and vertical railing supports to the bedroom window of 119 behind it. But someone peeking out from within the bedroom window of 119, from behind this sheltering screen, can see quite well, although at first it is something like looking out from within a confusingly barred cage.
Sarah says she never knew where David had moved. She’d never bothered to find out, having no occasion to visit him.
But she knew he was watching her. Keeping track of her movements. She’d return from a day on the set and as soon as she walked into her room, the phone would ring and he’d want to know what she’d be doing that night, and with whom.
He had been acting extraordinarily possessive from the moment they arrived at Gila Bend. She hadn’t been prepared for anything quite like it. Before they’d left England he’d seemed in better shape than he’d been in a long time. He’d been working on a screenplay, he’d been going out with women, he’d been less obsessed with managing her personal life.
“But as soon as we touched down in America he was back to square one,” she says. “He was the old David again.”
Sarah speculates it might have something to do with the way she worked. “When I’m on a picture I’m—see, he had known me as a girl who lived in the country, who loved horses and who lived a quiet life,” Sarah told the inquest. “When I get on a film I like to get to know everybody. The wranglers—I never met wranglers before. Christ, they’re marvelous people, you know. I mean I want to spend all my time with cowboys.”
So Sarah went out at night. Going out in Gila Bend didn’t mean going far. It meant eating at Mrs. Wright’s Colonial Dining Room, next door to the Travelodge, then walking back across the parking lot to the Travelodge Cocktail Lounge for drinking and dancing to a country-and-western jukebox. For Sarah—according to Gila Bend locals who hung around with the cast and crew—going out meant dancing a lot, flirting, tossing off four-letter words in a merry way. (A Women’s Wear profile of Sarah, published a week before David Whiting’s death, features a picture of Sarah perched in a sex-kittenish pose on one of the black Naugahyde banquettes in the Travelodge Cocktail Lounge. The Lady with the Truckdriver’s Mouth is the title of the story.)
Meanwhile David Whiting stayed in. At first she’d invite him to come to the bar with her, Sarah says, but he’d refuse and stay in his room and watch for her return. He kept to himself, remote from everyone but Sarah, and Sarah began keeping her distance from him. Waitresses at the Travelodge Coffee Shop recall David Whiting coming in alone night after night, sitting at the counter and ordering, night after night, a shrimp cocktail and a club sandwich.
During the day he’d haunt the shooting set in the desert, a dark and formal figure amidst the real and costumed cowboys and the casual MGM production officials. He’d have one of his Nikons with him, and he’d hover around Sarah clicking off stills. Or he’d have some papers he wanted her to look at, other papers he’d want her to sign. He began getting on the nerves of the MGM people. There are reports he’d been getting on Sarah’s nerves.
The first big fight broke out in room 127 on the evening of Tuesday, February 6. The nanny was in the middle of it. Janie Evans is her name, she is twenty-three years old, dark haired, dark eyed, and rather sexy. She had been hired for this Gila Bend trip one week before Sarah and David left England. Sarah had hired her on the recommendation of David Whiting, and there is good reason to believe that David Whiting and the soon-to-be nanny had been seeing each other before the hiring.
In any case David and the nanny had mutual friends in London, and one of them was a woman named Tessa Bradford, and it was a curious story about David and this Tessa Bradford that led to the Tuesday-night fight.
The nanny had been talking to Sarah about David. That winter in London, the nanny told Sarah, David had developed an obsession for Tessa Bradford. He had haunted her house, followed her car, called her at all hours, rented a Mercedes limousine to take her to the theatre. After all this Tessa Bradford had dropped him, the nanny told Sarah. She had thought David was crazed.
That Tuesday night in room 127 Sarah asked David about the story. He became enraged, rushed into room 126, dragged the nanny back to Sarah’s room demanding that she “tell the truth.”
“Why didn’t you tell the truth? Why did you say it was a Mercedes when it was only a mini cab? Why did you say I kept phoning her, I only phoned her five times,” Janie Evans recalls him yelling.
Then he turned on Sarah. He grabbed her. “He had her—his hand on her neck like this,” the nanny testified at the inquest, “wallowing her head backward and forward, and I shouted at him and Sarah pushed at him, and he went through the door and she threw a vase right after him . . . it didn’t hit him, it smashed on the concrete outside.”
“He got upset that I didn’t get upset about him seeing another woman,” Sarah explains. “But I couldn’t take his private life seriously.”
Other things started going wrong for David Whiting. On Wednesday, February 7, the producer of Cat Dancing, Martin Poll, approached David on the set. As usual David had been recording Sarah’s performance with his Nikon. Poll hinted strongly that David’s presence was not entirely welcome.
“He wasn’t in anyone’s way,” Poll told me, “but for myself I like to have a very private set and it was a closed set from the beginning of the picture, and it was distracting to have photographs taken all the time.”
“Did you ask him to stay off then, or what was the actual conversation?” I asked Poll.
“I am really not interested in sitting on the griddle,” was all Poll answered.
On Thursday, February 8, Sarah saw David Whiting for the next to last time.
“He came into my room that evening and his face was ashen and white, and more sallow than I’ve ever seen it. And he put the script on the bed and he said, ‘I’ve just read it and it’s no good at all. I can’t write anything.’”
After that, nobody remembers seeing David Whiting outside his motel room.
On Friday morning David Whiting called the motel manager to complain about the reception on his TV. He was getting sound but no picture, he said. But when the motel manager came to the door of number 119 to see about getting David his picture back, he found the DO NOT DISTURB card hanging from the doorknob. He kept checking, the manager recalls, but the DO NOT DISTURB sign never came down.
There are indications that David Whiting was trying to get out of Gila Bend. Thursday night he placed a call to a woman in Washington, D.C. He talked to her for eighty-four minutes. They had been engaged once. He had continued to confide in her after he left her behind for Hollywood. That night he told her that “the particular situation there in Gila Bend was over for him,” she recalls. He didn’t sound overjoyed about things, but neither did he sound suicidal, she says. He did say he wanted to see her and talk to her “about this situation in Gila Bend and about him and me.” He talked about flying to Washington to see her.
Two nights later, Saturday night, about an hour before midnight David Whiting received a call from a friend in Beverly Hills. The friend wanted to know if David was going to attend the Directors’ Guild premiere of Lamb Sunday evening. “No,” David told the friend, “Sarah and I think it will be a bummer.”
Nevertheless, David told his friend, he was thinking of leaving Gila Bend for Hollywood sometime in the middle of the next week.
David’s voice sounded slurred that night, the friend recalls.
“It sounds like you’re into a couple of reds,” he told David.
“No,” David replied. “Mandrax.”
Burt Reynolds wanted a massage. It was close to midnight when he returned from the Pink Palomino, picked up his phone and asked the desk to ring the room of the Japanese masseuse.
Reynolds was staying in room 135. It was in the same single-story block of cubicles as Sarah’s room. The two rooms were no more than six or eight yards apart, almost back to back, in fact. However, as close as they were physically, it was still necessary to go all the way around the building to get from one to the other, and going around the building meant passing directly in front of David Whiting’s screened-in bedroom window.
The Japanese masseuse was staying in room 131. Her name was Letsgo (an Americanization of her Japanese first name, Retsuko) Roberts, and she had been summoned to the Travelodge on Friday afternoon to tend to Sarah, who had suffered a bruising fall from a horse. Letsgo and Sarah got along so well that she was plucked from her regular tour of duty at a place called The International Health Spa in Stockdale, Arizona, and installed in a room at the Travelodge.
About midnight on Saturday Letsgo received a phone call from Burt.
He asked her to come over to room 135 and work on him. When Letsgo walked into Burt’s room she found Sarah there, she told me. She had the feeling the two of them had been drinking.
“They were kind of—kind of, you know, not drunk—but kind of happy, you know, after drink,” Letsgo recalls.
Burt, attired in a white terry-cloth dressing gown, proceeded to lie on the bed, and Letsgo proceeded to give him a two-hour massage.
Meanwhile Sarah chatted with Burt. She apologized for leaving the party early with Lee J. Cobb. She told him about an old boyfriend of hers. He told her about an old girl friend of his. Sarah turned on the TV, watched a British film; she ate an apple and a banana; she lay down next to Burt on the double bed and dozed off, according to Letsgo.
About two a.m. the masseuse offered to walk Sarah back to her room, but Burt told her he’d see that Sarah got back safely. The masseuse left.
An hour and fifteen minutes later Burt walked Sarah around the back of the building to her room.
Back in his own room, Burt had hardly slipped off his clothes and slipped into bed when the phone rang. It was the nanny. She was saying something about Sarah being beaten up, something about David Whiting. He heard a scream over the phone, Burt told Sergeant Hinderliter the following afternoon. He heard no scream over the phone, Burt testified at the inquest four weeks later.
Scream or no scream, Burt put his clothes back on and headed around the building for Sarah’s room. It was at this moment that the paths of Burt Reynolds and David Whiting may have crossed. David’s violent encounter with Sarah had just come to an end. He ran out of her room just about the time the nanny called Burt for help. If David Whiting was proceeding to his own room while Burt was on his way to Sarah’s, David and Burt might have met in the parking lot at the northwest corner of the building.
When Burt first told the story of the events of that night to Sergeant Hinderliter, he did not mention encountering David Whiting or anyone else on his way to Sarah’s room.
Ten days later in the “Rio Rico tapes” and then again on the witness stand at the inquest—much to the surprise of Sergeant Hinderliter—Burt testified that he did see “someone” as he was heading around that corner.
“It was to my left as I came around. . . . I saw someone going in the door, and the door slammed very hard behind him. . . . At the time I didn’t know whose room it was nor could I identify him since I’m not very good at identifying backs, but it looked like a man, and the door slammed behind him. Later I found out, the next day, that that was David Whiting’s room.”
And then, a few minutes later, leading the wounded Sarah back to his own room, something caught Burt’s eye. “As I rounded the corner to go to my room I saw the drapes open and close,” in the window of the same room whose door had slammed behind a man a few minutes ago. There was no light on in the room behind the drapes, he told the inquest, a detail which makes his observation of the moving drapes all the more acute, since the window of that room is well-screened from view by a staircase.
At this point, Sarah testified at the inquest, Burt told her, “If I was not as mature as I am now, I would lay him out.”
The following afternoon, after the body of David Whiting had been discovered, the masseuse heard this story from Sarah. Sarah and Burt were back in Burt’s room. “Mr. Reynolds wanted to go down and fight him, Mr. Whiting, but Sarah, she stopped him. . .” the masseuse told me. “She told Mr. Reynolds it would cause more trouble.” Sarah testified that shortly after she arrived at Burt’s room she became worried about the well-being of the man who had beaten her. She told Burt she wanted to call up David Whiting “to see if he was all right.” It was not physical injury she was concerned about, it was injury to David’s feelings, she says. “Because whenever he has hit me he has always been so ashamed afterward, so remorseful. . . .”
But Sarah did not make the call. Burt advised her to “deal with everything in the morning,” and she went to sleep. Had she in fact made that call she might have saved his life.
Not much is known of the movements of David Whiting that night. Sarah did give David a call early in the evening to inform him that Burt had invited her to attend the birthday celebration at the Pink Palomino in Ajo. Sarah says she invited David to come along and that David refused. He was in his room at eleven p.m. calling Hollywood. It is reasonable to speculate that he stayed up waiting, as usual, for Sarah’s return. He may have spent these hours peering out from behind his sheltered observation post. In the absence of anyone crossing his line of sight, the picture outside his bedroom window consisted of the empty walkway past Sarah’s room and a blank brick wall, the narrow end of the one-story unit containing Sarah’s room.
At night the management of the Gila Bend Travelodge switches on an intense blue spotlight implanted among the dwarf yucca palms which line that blank stucco wall. The blue spot illuminates the sharp green spears of the yucca palms and casts confusingly colored shadows of their fanlike arrays upon the wall, an effect apparently intended to create an air of tropical mystery in the Travelodge parking lot.
If David Whiting had been watching at just the right moment, he might have seen Sarah cross the parking lot from the Travelodge Cocktail Lounge and head toward Burt Reynolds’ room.
Three things are known for sure. Sometime before three-thirty a.m. David Whiting entered Sarah Miles’s bedroom. Sometime after she encountered him there, he returned to his own room, where he left bloodstains. And sometime before noon the next day, he returned to Sarah’s room and died.
He had a key to Sarah’s room. “I kept on saying, ‘David, are you taking my keys, because they’re not here anymore,’” Sarah told the inquest. “And he said, ‘I don’t need to take keys. You know me, I can pick a lock.’ He was very proud of the fact that he could pick locks.” Nevertheless a key to Sarah’s room, number 127, was the only item found on him after his death.
The only witness to the goings-on in room 127 was the nanny, Janie Evans. “I think you’ll find that the nanny is the key to this whole thing,” Sarah’s lawyer in the case, Benjamin Lazarow of Tucson, Arizona, told me, as he slipped a tape cassette—one of the “Rio Rico tapes”—into his Sony, “You listen to this cassette with the nanny on it. Listen to how scratchy and worn out it sounds. You know why? It’s because the detectives kept playing it over and over again. They were very interested in the nanny’s story.”
The first thing she saw in room 127 that night, says the nanny, on the tape, was Sarah lying on the floor with David Whiting on top of her bashing her head on the floor. “That’ll teach you!” David was yelling at Sarah, the nanny says. (Ten days before the “Rio Rico tapes,” on the afternoon following the death, the nanny had told Sergeant Hinderliter that Whiting had slapped Sarah, but that she didn’t know if she had actually seen it or not.)
The nanny ran over and tried to pull Whiting off Sarah, she said. She failed, and finally, responding to Sarah’s plea, picked up the phone and called Burt.
When Burt arrived, the nanny returned to her bed in room 126. Twenty minutes later she was dozing off when she heard noises in Sarah’s room, it sounded like someone opening and closing a drawer in there, she says. She called out, “Sarah?” but no one answered. This led her to assume that David Whiting had returned. “I was scared. I mean he had been violent. I didn’t want to see him so I didn’t say anything more.”
She went back to sleep, she says. After he finished playing the “Rio Rico tapes,” Attorney Lazarow took out a tape he made on his own of an interview with the nanny. At the end of the interview, Lazarow suddenly asked her a peculiar question:
“Did you hit David Whiting over the head with anything?”
She did not, she replied. I wondered what had prompted Lazarow to ask the question in the first place.
“Oh, I don’t know,” Lazarow said. “Maybe I was just trying to shake her, see if there was something she was leaving out of her story. We were trying to figure out how he might have gotten that star-shaped wound and we figured maybe it happened when the nanny was trying to pull Whiting off Sarah during the fight, but both she and Sarah said no.”
The star-shaped wound on the back of David Whiting’s head has yet to be explained away.
An MGM lawyer attempted to explain it away by suggesting that in a fit of rage David Whiting simply smashed the back of his head against a wall. Others suggest that David Whiting was, literally, star struck that night, and that Burt Reynolds was the star. Reynolds has a reputation in Hollywood for an explosive temper and an itch to fight. Before the death, he regaled Gila Bend locals with tales of past punch-outs, adding that he had decided to leave that part of his life behind now’ that he had become a big star. A woman who knew Reynolds intimately for years told me that he used to blame it on his spleen. His spleen had been removed after a high-school football injury, and ever since then he’d been unable to control his violent temper because, he said, the spleen had something to do with controlling the rush of adrenalin. All of which helps explain why Reynolds became such an obvious target for suspicion; none of it is evidence.
Spleen or no spleen, if Reynolds had lost control of his temper and given Whiting a beating, it seems likely that the body would show more evidence of violence than it did.
According to Dr. Robert Wright, who performed autopsy number two on the body of David Whiting, the most violent interpretation that can be made from a reading of the marks left upon the body is this: someone grasped Whiting firmly by the shoulders, shook him, and either shoved him back against a wall causing him to hit his head, or threw him down causing him to strike his head on the ground.
State Police crime-lab people found no evidence on either the walls or the bathroom floors of rooms 119, 126, and 127 to suggest that a bloody bashing had taken place in any of those rooms. (The bedroom floors are carpeted.)
The parking lot outside is covered with asphalt. If it happened, it could have happened out there in the parking lot. But a hard rain swept through Gila Bend in the early morning hours of that Sunday. Any bloodstains that might have been left upon the parking-lot asphalt would have been washed away. The mystery of where and how, and by whose hands, if any, David Whiting received his star-shaped wound remains unsolved.
Does it matter? Dr. Wright thinks it matters. Dr. Wright is a forensic pathologist for the Coroner’s Office of the City and County of San Francisco, and a professor of forensic pathology at the University of California Medical Center. He was called upon by Mrs. Campbell, David’s mother, to perform an autopsy after she had the body shipped out of Arizona and installed in the refrigerator of a funeral home in Berkeley, just one day before the third and final session of the inquest.
“The force of the impact to the head,” Dr. Wright declared in his autopsy summary, “could well have caused a temporary loss of consciousness (a brain concussion), and may have caused him to behave in a stuporous fashion, and to be unmindful of his subsequent acts.”
He could have been knocked silly, in other words, and in that state of silliness taken two or three too many pills, killing himself unintentionally. It was a borderline overdose. David Whiting might have been unaware he was crossing the border.
Dr. Wright’s conclusion must, of course, be weighed against the milder conclusion of the original autopsy doctor who had not been selected by the boy’s mother. But his report does give some substance to something the mother said to me in the coffee shop of the Travelodge.
“The horrible part is, severe-intoxication doses of this drug can produce deep coma. And the horrible thing is if these people thought he was dead—the pulse would have been faint—they could have been drunk or high, suppose they didn’t know how to take a pulse—they could have sat around for hours, while his life ebbs away.”
The nanny woke up at seven-thirty in the morning, she said. She was very cold. She walked through the connecting door into Sarah’s room and found the outside door wide open to the chill morning air. She shut the outside door and headed back for the inner door into her own room.
The nanny said she never saw a body in the course of this little expedition. When Sergeant Hinderliter came upon the body about twelve-thirty he found the legs from the knees down sticking out beyond the end of the dressing-room partition. Walking back from closing the outside door that morning, the nanny was walking straight toward the end of the dressing-room partition and, presumably, straight toward the protruding legs of David Whiting. There was light: the lights were still on in the room from the night before. But she was drowsy, the nanny said, and she saw no body.
This means one of three things:
The body was not there.
The body was there and the nanny did not, in fact, see it.
The body was there, dead or alive, the nanny saw it and went back to sleep without reporting it. Or else she reported it to someone, and that someone waited four hours before reporting it to the police.
Which leads to another unresolved question: how long before she reported it did Sarah find the body?
“At one time she told me she went back to her room at eight o’clock in the morning,” Sergeant Hinderliter told me, recalling his interview with Sarah the day of the death. “And the next time she turned around and said it was ten o’clock. I didn’t question her on the time at that time because she was upset, and because at the time of my interview I was just working on a possible drug overdose.”
Eleven days later, in the “Rio Rico tapes,” and then again at the inquest, Sarah said it was around eleven-fifteen when she returned to her room and found the body.
Sarah was on the witness stand. The Deputy County Attorney had just led her gently through her account of the death, eliding over any discussion of her stay with Burt Reynolds.
Now came the moment many of those following the case closely had been waiting for. The Deputy County Attorney seemed to be approaching, gently of course, the subject of Sarah’s Sunday-afternoon statement to Sergeant Hinderliter. People wanted to know, for instance, whether Sarah had been slapped or beaten.
“Now, do you remember talking to the policeman that came the next morning?” the Deputy County Attorney asked her, meaning Sergeant Hinderliter, and afternoon, not morning.
“Well, I was terribly shook up the next morning. Do you mean the policeman?”
Yes, said the Deputy County Attorney, he meant the policeman.
“By the time I saw the policeman I had heard that Mr. Whiting was dead,” Sarah replied. “This was when I was in a bad way.”
“Do you recall that conversation with the officer at all?” the Deputy County Attorney asked.
“No. I just told him what had happened.”
“But you remember what you told him at this time?” the Deputy County Attorney persisted.
At precisely this point Sarah burst into tears.
“The truth,” she sobbed urgently. “The same as I’m giving you now, I think.”
The courtroom was silent. At his desk, the Deputy County Attorney looked down at his hands as if in remorse for having trespassed the bounds of decency with his ferocious questioning. From his bench, the Justice of the Peace leaned over toward Sarah and patted her hand comfortingly. When Sarah had wiped the tears from her eyes, the Deputy County Attorney started an entirely new line of questioning and did not venture near the subject again.
There was one final moment of high melodrama at the inquest. The questioning was over, and Sarah, face flushed and stained with tears, asked to make two final statements. First, she declared, she had never resisted testifying before the inquest. “I was bulldozed by my husband, producers, Burt Reynolds, MGM,” she said. “I wanted to go as soon as I could . . . and I was not allowed to do this and for this I feel a grudge.”
And second, she said, there was the matter of David Whiting’s body, still languishing at that time in Mr. Ganley’s refrigerator wrapped up in a sheet. (As of this writing, about three months after his death, the body is still languishing unburied in the refrigerator of the Bayview mortuary in Berkeley, “awaiting further tests” and further word from Mrs. Campbell, who hadn’t been heard from in some time, an employee of the mortuary told me.)
“I hear from my attorney,” Sarah told the Gila Bend courtroom, “that somebody doesn’t want to bury this boy and that the state is going to bury him.”
Sarah rose up in the witness stand, eyes wet. “Well, l would like to bury him!” she cried. With that, she rushed from the courtroom.
Sarah Miles never contacted him, Mr. Ganley told me. “No sir. I’ve never heard from Miles or anyone of that type. In fact,” said Mr. Ganley, “they weren’t even interested in David Whiting after his death.”
I asked him what he meant by that, and he told me this story.
It was the afternoon of the death. Mr. Ganley was in room 127 with the body of David Whiting, helping the investigators prepare it for shipment to the County Morgue in Phoenix for an autopsy.
“Miss Miles was in the room next door, and she sent word over she wanted to come in and get a dress because they were having a party up at the bar and she wanted to get up there. And the investigators wouldn’t let her have the dress. They told her when they were through with the room she could get anything she wanted out of it.”
“But that was what she wanted—a party dress?”
“Yeah, she wanted to go to the Elks Club, they were having a barbecue for Reynolds’ birthday,” Mr. Ganley said.
Meanwhile, Burt Reynolds was in his room talking with a couple of his friends, trying to decide whether to go to that Elks Club party or not. The party was for him, of course, and he would disappoint a lot of the Gila Bend people if he didn’t show up. But then, there had been that unfortunate death, and that made it hard for him to feel like celebrating.
Finally, according to one of the people in the room with Burt, the decision came down to this. “Burt said something like if it had been an accident, that was one thing, then it was tragic, you know, and it was no time to party. But if it was suicide, if this guy was so worthless he didn’t have the guts to face life, then why spoil the party?”
He went to the party.