The Tragic Life & Murder of Model Dorothy Stratten

Dorothy Ruth Hoogstraten, later immortalized as Dorothy Stratten, was born in 1960. Only three years later, her father abandoned the family. Her mother remarried and was soon divorced yet again. Dorothy was often alone and always in search of a father figure.

Stratten was an unlikely pin-up girl. She was very self conscious of having big hands, which was normal for a young woman who was 5-foot-9. She spent much of her time writing melancholic poems about death and loneliness. She didn’t busy herself with preening her wholesome good looks that would one day bring her fame.

She was 17 years old and working in a Dairy Queen in Vancouver when she met her future husband and murderer Paul Snider. She’d been working at Dairy Queen since the age of 14 and had no idea what plans this man had for her. He saw something special in her, something that would make them both rich.

Dorthy Stratten and Paul Snider

Snider had also grown up in Vancouver but had moved to the U.S for a while. He failed in keeping regular jobs, so he eventually became a pimp. According to Teresa Carpenter in her Pulitzer Prize-winning article, he would drive around in a Corvette wearing a stereotypical mink coat.

His stint as a pimp didn’t go well. He tucked his tail between his legs and went back to Vancouver, where he ended up wooing Stratten, who was much younger.

After the two began dating, Snider hired a photographer to take nude photos of Dorothy. He sent the images to Playboy. That was the beginning of Dorothy Stratten’s rising star, and by August 1979, she was Playmate of the Month. After she appeared in the magazine, she was offered television and film roles, which included the kitschy parts in “Fantasy Island,” “Skatetown,” “Buck Rogers in the 25th Century” and “Galaxina.”

As her star rose, Snider clung to Stratten and pushed her to marry him in the summer of 1979.

Stratten’s Surprising Rise and Horrifying Fall

After her smaller parts, Stratten surprised everyone, including herself by also landing some serious roles that included “They All Laughed” starring Audrey Hepburn and Ben Gazzara. The film was directed by the very respected director Peter Bogdanovich, who quickly fell in love with Stratten. By the spring of 1980 the two were a couple very much in love.

Soon after the affair began, Stratten told her estranged husband she was leaving him. He already was living with another woman, so she assumed it was okay to meet in person with him.

On August 14, 1980, Dorothy met with Snider in the home they once shared to finalize the split.

The next day, Stratten was found dead in the apartment, half her face blown away by a blast from a 12-gauge shotgun. Snider was there too, also dead from a self-inflicted wound.

Police reported Stratten had been raped, but it was impossible to say for sure whether the act came before or after the murder.

The Killing of the Unicorn

Dorthy Stratten and Peter Bogdanovich

Haunted by the loss, Bogdanovich wrote a brilliant biography about her called The Killing of the Unicorn. In it, he wrote,  “I could hardly believe that she existed, that she wasn’t a dream.” Heartbroken, he went on to marry Stratten’s younger sister eight years later. The two were divorced in 2001.

In 1981 Jamie Lee Curtis played Stratten in Death of a Centerfold, a television film about Stratten’s life and death.

In 1983, Mariel Hemingway starred as Dorothy Stratten in the film about her tragic life, called Star 80. For the role, Hemingway even went so far as to have breast augmentation to fully bring Stratten to life on the screen. The movie was very well received.

In 2012, Dorothy Stratten was remembered in an origami exhibition in Vancouver, in which paper sculptures were crafted of her Playboy centerfolds.

To this day, Stratten’s name still comes up in Hollywood, where she haunts the imagination of many.

Some people have reported seeing the shadowy image of a beautiful blonde at the old Playboy building on Sunset Boulevard, while others tell of pale mist floating over the ground near her grave.