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Two famous Hollywood murders had North Dakota connections

Two high-profile unsolved murders of Hollywood women had many things in common, including fathers with North Dakota connections. Despite the fact that the incidents occurred nearly 40 years apart, the similarities are uncanny. But this does not s...

Two high-profile unsolved murders of Hollywood women had many things in common, including fathers with North Dakota connections.

Despite the fact that the incidents occurred nearly 40 years apart, the similarities are uncanny. But this does not suggest that there were any connections between these two homicides.

On Nov. 28, 1963, Thanksgiving Day, actress Karyn Kupcinet was strangled in her Hollywood apartment. Kupcinet was a 23-year-old actress who appeared in the Jerry Lewis movie "The Ladies Man" and was on several television shows. According to a story in the Chicago Daily News she was believed to have made a frantic call on Nov. 23 declaring, "The President is going to be killed." Twenty minutes later, President Kennedy was shot in Dallas.

In February 1964, the NBC "Today Show" carried a list of people who died violently soon after Kennedy's death and may have had some link to the assassination. The first name on the list was "Karyn Kupcinet."

Kupcinet was the daughter of famed newspaper columnist and television host Irv Kupcinet. Irv Kupcinet, better known as "Kup," was born in Chicago in 1912 and later played football for the University of North Dakota Fighting Sioux. After graduating in 1935, he played football for the Philadelphia Eagles, but his career was cut short by a severe shoulder injury. He then became a sports reporter for the Chicago Times, an NFL referee and a radio commentator for Chicago Bears games.

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In 1943, Kup was given his own newspaper column, "Kup's Corner," which was later syndicated in more than 100 newspapers. He was also a pioneer television talk show host in 1945. His 1957 show on NBC, "America After Dark," evolved into the "Tonight Show." In the book "Forgive My Grief," author W. Penn Jones wrote that Kup knew Jack Ruby and it was through this connection that the Kupcinets learned of the plot to assassinate the president. It was this knowledge that led to the killing of Karyn Kupcinet. Irv Kupcinet always maintained that neither he nor his daughter had any prior knowledge of the plan to kill Kennedy.

On Dec. 24, 2000, author Susan Berman's body was found in her Beverly Hills home with a gunshot to the back of the head. Berman wrote two books, "Lady Las Vegas" and "Easy Street," which detailed her life as a Mafia princess. She was the daughter of Davie Berman, the man who, along with Bugsy Siegel and Meyer Lansky, created Las Vegas' first modern resort in 1947, the Flamingo Hotel. After Siegel was murdered later that year, Berman took over the Flamingo. Berman spent his early years in Ashley, N.D.

Susan Berman grew up in Las Vegas, sheltered from the mob activities of her father. To her, it was a happy time with many memories of a loving dad, which was reflected in her books. In 1998, she wrote and produced, "The Real Las Vegas," a television special narrated by Richard Crenna for which she received a nomination from the Writer's Guild of America.

When her body was discovered, police initially believed it was gang-related. Days earlier, she had talked with her good friend, actress Kim Lankford. Susan told her, "I have information that's going to blow the top off things." Most people believed at the time that she knew who killed Bugsy Siegel and was going to publicly reveal the information.

It is interesting to look at the similarities of the two homicides. Susan Berman and Karyn Kupcinet were both born in the 1940s, Berman in 1945 and Kupcinet in 1941. Both were killed over the holidays, Berman on Christmas Eve and Kupcinet on Thanksgiving. Besides the North Dakota connections of their fathers, both Mr. Berman and Mr. Kupcinet were Jews and prominently associated with a particular city. Early on, Davie was known as "The King of Las Vegas," and Kup was known as "Mr. Chicago."

Both women were believed to have information about famous assassinations - Karyn, involving President Kennedy, and Susan, involving Bugsy Siegel. The murders of the two women were also initially believed to be mob-related.

A final similarity involves the prominence of the primary suspect in each case. The primary focus in the Karyn Kupcinet slaying involved her boyfriend, actor Andrew Prine. Prine was the star of the television show, The Wide Country, a series that Karyn also appeared. Reports were that Prine got Karyn pregnant the summer before and had encouraged her to get an abortion. He was supposedly trying to break off their relationship at the time of her murder.

The primary suspect in the Susan Berman case is Robert Durst. Durst was a New York real estate developer who ran a $650 million operation with his brother. He attended UCLA with Susan and the two became close friends. In 1973, he married 19-year-old Kathleen McCormack. On Jan. 31, 1982, while a fourth-year medical student at Albert Einstein School of Medicine, she vanished. According to friends, "Kathie" went missing not long after telling several friends that if anything happened to her, to point authorities toward her husband. Susan acted as an informal spokeswoman for Durst after the disappearance of his wife. It has been speculated that Durst killed Susan because he feared she would reveal information about Kathleen's death to authorities.

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No one has been brought to justice for either slaying and the cases remain open. Once again, I do not believe there is any connection between the homicides of these two women, but I do find it fascinating to look at the similarities in each case. Hopefully, justice will be served one day.

"Did You Know That" is a Sunday column that focuses on interesting people, places and events that had an impact on North Dakota, or even the country. It is written by Curt Eriksmoen and edited by Jan Eriksmoen of Fargo. Send your suggestions for columns, comments or corrections to the Eriksmoens at: cjeriksmoen@cableone.net .

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