Stompanato, a former US Marine, aka "Handsome Harry" "John Steele" and "Oscar" (so named for his prodigious manhood resembling the Academy Award trophy) was the hired muscle, an enforcer, for notorious gangster Mickey Cohen.
He was also the boyfriend of sweater girl siren movie star Lana Turner – then at the height of her fame.
Turner's daughter, Cheryl Crane described Stompananto in her book Detour: A Hollywood Story as having "B-picture good looks. His wardrobe on a daily basis consisted of roomy, draped slacks, a silver buckled skinny leather belt and lizard shoes."
His violent outburst and jealous rages of Lana's costars were legend, having flown all the way to England to menace Lana's costar Sean Connery. Connery slugged him, took his pistol away and with the help of Scotland Yard had the love sick thug deported.
Lana and Johnny had seemed to patch their differences up as the smooth tuxedoed criminal squired her to many champagne fueled nights of debauchery.
BUT on the night of April 4, 1958, Tinsel Town's hottest trial lawyer, Jerry Geisler, got a breathless call from a very familiar voice:
"This is Lana Turner – something TERRIBLE has happened!"
According to Hollywood Babylon author Kenneth Anger, when Geisler arrived at Turner's colonial-style Beverly Hills mansion, Lana was in tears as her daughter Cheryl wailed hysterically.
Then Geisler saw the reason – the bloodied still-warm corpse of Johnny Stompanato, ripped to shreds by multiple stab wounds.
According to testimony, the night had began with Stompanato violently abusing Lana for her refusal to cover his gambling debts to the mob. As his violence escalated, little Cheryl crouched, listening outside the bedroom door.
The crazed mobster bellowed at the top of his lungs, "I'll cut you up and I'll get your daughter too – that's MY business!"
In terror, Cheryl raced to the kitchen and grabbed a nine-inch butcher knife.
Lana explained what happened next – in court: "Everything happened so quickly — I did not even see the knife in my daughter's hand.
"Stompanato stumbled forward, turned around and fell on his back. He choked his hands on his throat. I ran to him and lifted up his sweater. I saw the blood… (and) made a horrible noise in his throat …"
With a distraught movie star mother giving the performance of a lifetime on the witness stand, the jury returned verdict in less than a half hour: justifiable homicide.
Yet, rumors persisted that Cheryl, a minor, had taken the rap for her mother and THAT Lana had actually stabled Stompanato to death.
As the media frenzy ignited- love letters revealed, secret diaries published, tawdry snapshots traded for money, Lana and Cheryl's relationship disintegrated.
Cheryl was made a ward of the State of California and sent to a home for problem girls, which she escaped in 1960. She was recaptured and finally released in 1961. Los Angeles police in 1969, busted Cheryl for pot possession. Finally Cheryl, admitted she was gay to her mother who unwaveringly accepted her choice.
However, within a year of the Stompanato tragedy, Lana was back where she belonged, on the big screen not the big house.
She starred as a tarnished woman in a lurid tale of tempestous mother-daughter relationships – the now classic film "Imitation of Life".