Entertainment

Officials try to ID body in home of 1959 Playmate

Wednesday, May 04, 2011
Vickers, who may have died months ago, was 74. (AP Photo/Los Angeles Times, Edward Game)

Vickers, who may have died months ago, was 74. (AP Photo/Los Angeles Times, Edward Game)

There were few signs that anything was amiss at 1950s-era Playboy playmate Yvette Vickers' one-bedroom house in Beverly Hills.

Lights were left on. A telephone book that had been delivered and sat in front of her house eventually disappeared. And neighbors recalled that she loved to travel to Las Vegas.

Then, the letters started piling up in the mailbox.

The mail carrier left notes asking where the former B-movie actress was. Neighbor Susan Savage also grew concerned after she saw the yellowing envelopes and the cobwebs that grew around them.

Savage managed to get inside the house, finding a badly decomposed body and a space heater set to "on" nearby.

"I just screamed," Savage recalled Tuesday. "I got out of there right away."

Authorities do not suspect foul play, but say it could take a week to determine definitively that it was Vickers' body. The remains could have been there from a few months to a year, Los Angeles County Assistant Chief Coroner Ed Winter said.

The discovery on April 27 on the tree-lined neighborhood overlooking the city shocked some neighbors.

"There is a feeling of safety on this street," said author Terri Cheney, who has lived there since 1994. "You don't feel like that would happen here - someone being neglected like that."

For many neighbors, Vickers was the elegant, blond-haired woman who kept to herself and tended to her flowers.

She was born Yvette Vedder on Aug. 26, 1928, in Kansas City, Mo. She took up acting and, in the 1950s, appeared in "Attack of the 50 Foot Woman," "Attack of the Giant Leeches" and other cult films.

Her first film role was as a giggling girl in "Sunset Boulevard" in 1950. In 1957, she appeared in the James Cagney-directed, "Short Cut to Hell," but it flopped and she turned to B-movies.

"She was quite a looker, very beautiful," said Don Prell, 81, who married Vickers in the mid-1950s and lived in the house on Westwanda Drive. Prell said Vickers was an only child and was the daughter of a saxophonist who knew the legendary Charlie Parker.

"I was very impressed with that," said Prell, a bassist who played with The Bud Shank Quartet.

Prell added it was her desire to be an actress that helped lead to their divorce 2½ years into the marriage.

"I came back home off the road and she left a note or something saying she wanted to get out," he said.

Prell found out later his ex-wife was the Playboy magazine playmate, July 1959, when he saw her layout in the back room of the San Francisco Symphony where he performed.

"I saw the photo and said, `that's my ex-wife up there!"' he said. "The guys there thought it was pretty crazy, a bass player married to someone in Playboy.

"It's probably been a hit all my life," he said.

On Tuesday, various news organizations camped outside the two-story, brown rustic home sitting on a steep hillside. The house is located next to two modern homes that dwarf it. Ivy and bougainvillea were draped on a front window. The grounds were overgrown.

A handwritten note at the front gate read: "Deliveries, please ring doorbell." A stone walkway wrapped around the house.

When Savage, an actress, got inside the house last week, she saw the glow of Vickers' computer and found the heater.

Cobwebs were six to eight feet long, hanging from the ceiling, and there wasn't any drywall between the wood framing. She crawled through the walls to get upstairs because there was garbage and other items blocking a door.

Then, she found the body.

Savage is unsure what is going to happen to her neighbor's belongings and the house if there isn't any family. Despite finding the body, she felt she was being a good neighbor.

"I found her and I feel like I have a sense of responsibility," she said.

(Copyright ©2014 WPVI-TV/DT. All Rights Reserved.)

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