Elizabeth Taylor: The Michael Todd Burial Mystery

Elizabeth Taylor had seven husbands, but only one of them was dug up in Chicago. It was also the case that launched a notorious Hollywood private eye's career.

So when Hollywood makes a movie about the life of the (second) most beautiful woman in the world, the director had better focus on some intriguing Chicago lore.

The story involves husband No. 3, producer Michael Todd, and two Chicago Outfit types who dug up his body at Jewish Waldheim Cemetery in Forest Park in 1977.

Legend has it they were searching for a 10-carat diamond ring. And legend says they never found it.

The story also involves private eye Anthony Pellicano, a human ferret and convicted eavesdropper who often bragged about his Outfit connections.

He used the Michael Todd grave-robbing caper to launch himself right out of Chicago and into Hollywood, where he became Private Eye to the Stars. Without Todd's remains being dragged around that cemetery, it's possible that Pellicano would still be working divorces in Chicago, peeping through keyholes.

"It was a difficult thing for Elizabeth Taylor to go through," said Arthur Bilek, executive vice president of the Chicago Crime Commission, "but for Pellicano, it was the beginning of the rest of his life."

These days, Pellicano, 67, sits in a federal prison in Safford, Ariz., convicted in 2008 on federal wiretapping and racketeering charges. His schemes helped some top Hollywood figures and hurt others, including Sylvester Stallone, Garry Shandling, and developer Robert Maguire.

Pellicano will be in his mid-70s when he walks in 2019 (his scheduled release date), and so far, he's keeping his mouth shut. But if he ever decides to get gabby at the end, I'd love to buy him a cup of tea and ask if he used his Chicago Outfit connections to find Todd's remains.

It begins in 1958 when Todd was on board his airplane, the Lucky Liz, and died in a fiery crash.

Taylor wanted a closed casket, and he was buried in a simple grave at Waldheim. But there wasn't much of a body for Taylor to bury.

"There was ash, bits of burned clothes, and a piece of a seat belt, that's all," said Bilek.

And 19 years later — in June of 1977 — the grave robbers dug up what was left of Todd. A Chicago Tribune article described the crime:

"The grave robbers dug down several feet, then pried open the coffin lid. They smashed through a glass case inside to get to a rubber bag containing what remained of Todd. Police said they were 'baffled' by the crime.

"'It could be the work of sick pranksters,' speculated Sgt. Richard Archambault, of the Forest Park police.

"'It might be a possible extortion attempt,' Archambault said. 'Or it might have been the work of an anti-Semitic organization that wants to attract attention to its cause. Who knows? Maybe someone thinks he can make some money selling the remains.'"

Then Pellicano — who had steadily been building media contacts in Chicago and who was working on a tip from an "informant" — showed up at the cemetery. He wasn't alone.

With Pellicano was WBBM-TV news anchor Bill Kurtis and a camera crew. They were soon joined by police.

It must have been dramatic, the cops and the private eye walking around the grave, trying to find Todd.

"They go off so many feet one way, then so many feet the other way," Bilek said. "Then Pellicano walks off into the bushes, and yells, 'Hey, I got it!'" - ChicagoTribune


Click for video

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Streetwise Gumshoe to the Stars

When Hollywood's A-list wants protection from gossip and lawsuits, they put Anthony Pellicano on the case. Some see him as a pushy showoff, but he says he likes to play hardball.

Saturday September 11, 1993

Chicago Sun-Times

By SHAWN HUBLER and JAMES BATES, TIMES STAFF WRITERS

......Then there was the matter of producer Michael Todd's bones, which disappeared in 1977 from a Forest Park, Ill., cemetery. Todd had been married to actress Elizabeth Taylor when he died in a 1958 plane crash.

The grave robbery made headlines. Police scoured the cemetery in vain. Then a phone rang in the detective division. Pellicano said he had an informant; he knew where the bones were buried. Police met him at the graveyard. Pellicano had an anchorman in tow.

Todd's remains--a few bones and a melted belt buckle--were right on the cemetery grounds, under a pile of leaves and dirt about 75 yards from the grave. The grave robbers, Pellicano told police, had been after a 10-carat diamond ring, a gift from Taylor that they mistakenly had believed was inside Todd's casket.

A 1983 government sentencing report maintains that a mobster-turned-informant told authorities that two mob figures were the ones who exhumed Todd. But the story making the rounds in Chicago even today is that Pellicano orchestrated the event to gain publicity in hopes of being hired to help find Chicago candy heiress Helen Brach, who disappeared in 1977.

"I've been hearing that story for years. It's a great story, but there's no way I would know if it's true. The guy is a legend here," said lawyer Glen Crick, former director of enforcement for the state agency governing private investigators.

But Pellicano's critics--Chicago archrival Ernie Rizzo among them--gleefully refer to him as "the grave robber." And police say the story has become part of the city's detective lore although there is no evidence linking Pellicano to the disappearance.

Pellicano--along with his defenders in Chicago--says the tale is fueled by professional jealousy.

"Ernie Rizzo is a fruit fly," Pellicano said in one of his more printable comments about the man.


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