The Real ‘Psycho’ Murder That Had Nothing To Do With Ed Gein

By Nolan Moore on Tuesday, September 1, 2015
psycho
“I discovered Marli was still alive. It turns out she’s been so busy fishing in Utah, hiking in Alaska, swimming with dolphins in Florida and generally living life to the full that she had no idea she was meant to be dead.” —Robert Graysmith

In A Nutshell

In 1988, actress Myra Davis was murdered in her California home. The culprit was Kenneth Dean Hunt, a handyman with incredibly sordid past. But as journalists and author Robert Graysmith investigated the case, they discovered a strange connection to Alfred Hitchcock’s horror classic, Psycho.

The Whole Bushel

Everybody knows Ed Gein was the inspiration for Psycho. One of America’s most famous murderers (and amateur interior decorators), this crazy Wisconsinite was the basis for Robert Bloch’s 1959 novel which in turn was adapted into Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 horror film. So when most people think of “real-life Psycho murder,” they probably remember that plaid cap, the horrifying furniture, and the infamous human skin suit.

Of course, Gein isn’t the only killer associated with the Hitchcock classic. In the early 1960s, journalists claimed Henry Adolph Busch—a California killer who strangled three women—was inspired by the black-and-white slasher flick. In fact, Busch actually took one of his victims to see the movie just hours before ending her life, but the theory doesn’t really hold up, especially since Busch started his killing spree months before Psycho hit theaters.

However, the only killing directly connected to the film itself occurred in 1988. The victim was Myra Davis, an elderly actress who made a living doing commercials. But long before she was hawking cookies and lemonade on TV, Myra was working as actress Janet Leigh’s body double on the set of Psycho, particularly during the iconic shower sequence. Wearing a flesh-colored leotard (because she wouldn’t do nude scenes), Myra stood in for Leigh whenever the film crew needed to check the on-set lighting levels. Believe it or not, Myra kept pretty busy. Even though the shower scene lasts less than three minutes, it actually took a week to film, and according to Cinefix, required 70 different camera setups.

Fast-forward a few decades, and the 71-year-old Myra is living in West Los Angeles. In a perfect world, she would’ve spent her final years in peace. Unfortunately, she made the mistake of hiring Kenneth Dean Hunt. Hunt was an incredibly troubled individual who spent quite a bit of time behind bars for molesting women as a teenager. As a 22-year-old, Hunt earned his living as a handyman, and his mother-in-law convinced Myra to offer Hunt a job. But instead of fixing faulty light fixtures, Hunt raped the elderly actress and strangled her to death in June 1988.

Unfortunately, Hunt escaped the long arm of the law because the police suspected Myra’s drug addicted grandson. Of course, a creep like Hunt is always bound to strike again, and after molesting several more women, he punched his 67-year-old neighbor so hard that the man died after hitting his head on the sidewalk. Hunt spent a few years behind bars for manslaughter, but when he was released, he got back to doing what he did best: killing people.

Once again, Hunt’s mother-in-law convinced another acquaintance to hire Hunt as a handyman. This unlucky lady was 60-year-old Jean Orloff, and as you can probably guess, this didn’t end well. In fact, Hunt almost escaped a second time, once again thanks to the police. The detectives and coroner investigating the case decided Orloff had died of a heart attack, completely ignoring the bruising on her neck, the broken ribs, and the broken blood vessels in the eyes and mouth. Fortunately, their incompetency eventually saved the day, and it was all thanks to a bit of paperwork.

When Orloff’s body was shipped to the mortuary for cremation, officials realized the coroner hadn’t signed the death certificate. That meant a second coroner had to come out and do everything all over again, and this time, he realized this was no heart attack. After that, the puzzle pieces started falling into place. Hunt’s brother-in-law told authorities he suspected Hunt was involved in both murders, and when authorities took the handyman’s DNA, they found a match at both crime scenes. Finally, over 10 years after Myra Davis’s death, Hunt was found guilty and sentenced to life in 2001.

This is where the story takes an unusual turn.

After Hunt was found guilty, newspapers reported on the Psycho connection, but they screwed up the victim’s name. Instead of reporting Myra Davis was dead, the Associated Press claimed Hunt’s first victim was Marli Renfro, a Playboy cover girl who also worked as a body double for Janet Leigh. Only instead of helping with lighting checks, Renfro did all the nude scenes where cameras didn’t need to see Janet Leigh’s face. (Remember, this sequence took seven days to film, so Leigh probably needed a lot of help.)

When the story hit the presses, everyone believed Renfro was dead, including Robert Graysmith. A cartoonist-turned-author, Graysmith was the man who wrote Zodiac, the book that inspired the 2007 David Fincher movie. (In the film, Graysmith is played by Jake Gyllenhaal.) Graysmith was interested in writing a book about Renfro, but after doing a little bit of digging, he discovered the newspapers had it wrong. Davis was the real victim, not Renfro, and the Playboy cover girl was alive and well.

Graysmith finally revealed the truth in his book The Girl in Alfred Hitchcock’s Shower, but in addition to setting the record straight, the author made a truly unsettling assertion. According to Graysmith, Hunt was actually obsessed with Psycho and was actually intending to kill Marli Renfro. Hunt, just like the Associated Press, mistook Myra Davis for her Psycho co-star.

“Everyone confused them,” Graysmith said, “even a murderer.”

Show Me The Proof

Featured photo credit: Paramount Pictures via YouTube
LA Times: The Man Who Almost Got Away
The Guardian: Secrets of the Psycho shower
LA Times: Killer of Women in ’88, ’98 Gets Life Term
Cinefix: Psycho Shower Scene (video)
Executed Today: Henry Adolph Busch