Reel Reviews

The Death of Dominique Dunne

Dominique DunneAnother Victim of the Poltergeist Curse?

Dominique Dunne was a beautiful and promising young actress most known for her performance as the older sister on the hit movie Poltergeist (1982). Five months after the release of the movie, with her career beginning to blossom, Dominique would be strangled to death at her West Hollywood apartment by her estranged boyfriend John Sweeney.

Dominique Dunne was born on November 23, 1959 in Santa Monica, California. The youngest child of producer, screenwriter, novelist Dominick Dunne, she would eventually find herself on the fast track to becoming another successful Hollywood type within the Dunne family. Her oldest brother was also an actor as well as a director and producer. She also had aunts and uncles who were in the business.

Dominique DunneFollowing her Calling
After her parents' divorce, Dominique would find herself in New York for a brief spell before eventually moving back to Beverly Hills. Upon graduation from High School, Dominique decided the acting profession would be her calling, and in fact, she was doing quite well for herself having landed roles on several major TV series such as Breaking Away, CHiPS, Fame, Family, Hill Street Blues, Lou Grant, Fame, and St. Elsewhere. Dominique would also go on to appear in such films as Diary of a Teenage Hitchhiker (1979) and The Day the Loving Stopped (1981). In 1982, she would land her biggest role yet, a prominent role in Poltergeist, a film written by Steven Spielberg. The future was definitely bright for this young flame. In fact, the role in Poltergeist lead to her becoming a regular cast member on the science fiction series V which was shooting a four-hour pilot episode. Her role was eventually taken over by Blair Tefkin.

John Thomas Sweeney
As Dominique's status in the Hollywood acting scene began to escalate, so did the attention to her as an available young bachelorette. She would soon attract the eyes of a prominent young chef at the ritzy Ma Maison, John Thomas Sweeney. The two would soon become a couple, but trouble for Dominique began almost immediately. Sweeney was an abusive cad, both emotionally and physically. Following the advice of loved ones around her, Dominique would eventually break off her relationship with Sweeney finding relief that he was finally out of her life.

"I've Killed My Girlfriend"
But on the evening of October 30, 1982, while at her home on 8723 Rangely Drive, Dominique would find herself in a brutal argument with her former boyfriend. While rehearsing a scene from V with fellow actor David Packer, Sweeney showed up and wanted to discuss moving back in with her. But Dominique would have nothing to do with that. Their argument would spill out into the driveway where Sweeney grabbed her forcibly by the throat until she fell to the ground.

The police were eventually called to the scene and upon his arrest, Sweeney would exclaim, "I've killed my girlfriend." But little did he know that, first of all, she was no longer his girlfriend, and secondly, she was not dead. The actress was only unconscious but was quickly whisked to the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center emergency room where she was stabilized, but remained in a coma for five days.

At around 11:00 am on November 4, 1982 Dominique's heart would stop beating. It was widely held that her family pulled the plug on her life-support equipment, but doctors maintain that she never gained consciousness and simply died. Dominique Dunne was but 22 years old.

Dominique Dunne's body was buried at Westwood Memorial Park in plot section D, L-189 with a grave marker that reads "DOMINIQUE DUNNE, Beloved daughter and sister, 1959-1982, Loved by All." Ironically, she was killed by a man who professed to still love her. Nice guy! Her gravesite is near that of family friend, Natalie Wood.

Dunne in PoltergeistThe Aftermath
At John Sweeney's trial for the murder of Dominique Dunne, it was revealed that one of the reasons she had wanted to break up the relationship with him was because he had already attempted to strangle her once. She would become fearful of him and ordered him to move out of her house, after which she changed the locks. During the trial, a letter from Dominique to Sweeney was read aloud to the jury, in which she stated, "The whole thing has made me realize how scared I am of you and I don't just mean physically. I'm afraid of the next time you are going to have another mood swing." Unfortunately, the jury was not allowed to hear testimony from a former girlfriend of Sweeney's who had also endured beatings from him. Luckily, this girl only sustained a broken nose and a collapsed lung.

John Sweeney was only convicted of involuntary manslaughter, but after the trial, an angry judge lashed out at Sweeney stating that he believed Sweeney's act was more along the lines of murder than manslaughter. Sweeney was sentenced to the maximum prison term of 6 1/2 years.

The American Justice System
But in June of 1986, John Thomas Sweeney would be released from prison, having only served slightly less than 4 years behind bars. Don't we love the American justice system? After his short prison term, Sweeney changed his name to John Maura and moved up north to disappear from the controversy surrounding the death of Dominique Dunne. Update: Sweeney (as John Maura) has been located. You can read through the threads here to see how he was found.


Is there a Poltergeist curse?

Many have pondered this very question and numerous web sites dredge the details ad nauseam. While it's easy to simply discount the facts as pure coincidence, a quick glance at the claims reveals curious, if not downright suspicious, circumstances. Following is a list of all the people involved with the Poltergeist films that met an early demise. You be the judge:

  • Dominique Dunne was killed at the hands of her estranged lover.
  • Heather O'Rourke, who played Carol Anne, the youngest daughter, in all three Poltergeist films (Poltergeist, Poltergeist II, Poltergeist III) died from septic shock brought about by a bowel blockage that burst, filling her body with deadly toxins. She was originally treated for the flu, but died while on the operating table as doctors were attempting to remove her blockage. She died in 1988.
  • Will Sampson, who played the "good spirit" in Poltergeist II did not survive a heart/lung transplant. He died in 1987.
  • Julian Beck, who played the "bad spirit" in Poltergeist II died from the ravages of stomach cancer.

To sum up...both actresses who played the young daughters and the actors who portrayed the "good spirit" and the "bad spirit" all died within a 6-year period. Coincidence?


Letter from Dominique Dunne to her eventual murderer:

"Selfishness works both ways, you are just as selfish as I am. We have to be two individuals to work as a couple. I am not permitted to do enough things on my own. Why must you be a part of everything I do? Why do you want to come to my riding lessons and my acting classes? Why are you jealous of every scene partner I have? [...]

Why must I recount word for word everything I spoke to Dr. Black about? Why must I talk about every audition when you know it is bad luck for me? Why do we have discussions at 3:00 A.M. all the time, instead of during the day? [...]

Why must you know the name of every person I come into contact with? You go crazy over my rehearsals. You insist on going to work with me when I have told you it makes me nervous. Your paranoia is overboard..... You do not love me. You are obsessed with me. The person you think you love is not me at all. It is someone you have made up in your head. I'm the person who makes you angry, who you fight with sometimes. I think we only fight when images of me fade away and you are faced with the real me. That's why arguments erupt out of nowhere. [...]

The whole thing has made me realize how scared I am of you, and I don't mean just physically. I'm afraid of the next time you are going to have another mood swing... When we are good, we are great. But when we are bad, we are horrendous. The bad outweighs the good."


Dominique Dunne Discussion Forum

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Death of Dominique Dunne Discussion Forum


More Dominique Dunne Stuff:

8723 Rangely Drive
8723 Rangely Drive, where Dominique was living at the time of her murder. The argument between Sweeney and Dunne spilled out onto the driveway to the left of the house.

 

8723 Rangely Drive
Photo of the actual house used in the 1982 film, Poltergeist

 

Cedars Sinai Hospital
Cedars-Sinai Hospital, where Dunne remained in a coma for 5 days before expiring.

 

John Thomas Sweeney
Photo of John Sweeney during his trial. He has since changed his name to John Maura and works as a chef in Kentfield, Ca.
John Thomas Sweeney (Maura) lives here
Photo of what may be John Maura's (changed his name from John Sweeney) home in Kentfield, CA. Thanks goes to the great sleuth work of Morbidly Hollywood friends who tracked this down. You can read how they found the house here. If you live around here (the address can be found in the thread linked immediately above), don't do anything stupid. It's just nice to know the guy can't totally disappear from what he's done. How would it feel to know you're eating food prepared by the same hands that were wrapped around the throat of poor Dominique Dunne and squeezed until the life left her body?

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