Paul Snider’s roommates have noticed his bedroom door is closed, but they wait three hours to open it. They then crack it to check on the Canadian, estranged from his wife at the time. When they do, they instantly see something they’ll never forget. Inside, blood spatters cover the walls and bodies are lying on the floor of a gruesome crime scene.
On February 29, 1960, Simon and Nelly Hoogstraten welcomed their daughter Dorothy Ruth into the world. Years later, the world would get to know her by her stage name, Dorothy Stratten. But, at that point, she was just a young girl growing up in Vancouver, British Columbia, to Dutch parents.
By the time she turned three, however, Stratten’s life would change dramatically. That year, her father deserted her family, which had grown to include her younger brother, John. Stratten’s mother remarried, but she divorced her second husband too. This left Stratten longing for a father figure as she continued to grow up.
As a teenager, Stratten went to Centennial High School in Coquitlam and she picked up a part-time job at a Dairy Queen in Vancouver. She worked there for three years before a particular customer caught her eye. His name was Paul Snider – he was 26 years old, while Stratten was only 17 at the time.
Before meeting Snider, Stratten didn’t spend much time fussing over her looks. Admittedly, she did feel a bit embarrassed about having large hands, but they were proportionate to her 5-foot-9 frame. Other than that, though, her exterior was of little concern. Instead, Stratten focused more on writing poetry, sometimes covering dark subject matter such as loneliness and even death.
Meeting Snider would send Stratten on a completely different trajectory, though. Her new suitor had experienced a rough upbringing that gave way to an adulthood spent working outside of the law. Namely, Snider was a pimp – he had shuttled his girls around Los Angeles in a gold limousine before returning to Canada in 1977, where he met the teenage Stratten.
Although many people in town disliked Snider, it wasn’t hard to understand why he appealed to Stratten. For one thing, her new boyfriend lavished her with expensive gifts. Indeed, growing up in a broken home had never afforded the teenager such luxuries. Plus, Snider had a fancy apartment, where he’d whip up dinners and play guitar for her.
Snider had more than one motive for wooing Stratten, though. According to a source who spoke to Village Voice in November 1980, he saw her as “class merchandise.” As such, he didn’t push the teenager to work as one of his prostitutes – instead, he encouraged her to model.
Specifically, Snider hoped that he could get Snider onto the pages of Playboy. Her photographer would earn a $1,000 finder’s fee for discovering the young beauty, if the editorial team selected her to appear in the magazine. The first round of pictures didn’t get the teenage model any work, though.
So, Snider enlisted the help of another photographer, Ken Honey, who’d had success getting other women into Playboy. At first, Honey didn’t want to photograph Stratten – she was, of course, underage at the time. But she got her mother to sign a form consenting to the shoot and, from there, things started to take off for her.
Meanwhile, in Los Angeles, Playboy founder and editor-in-chief Hugh Hefner flipped through the photos that Honey had snapped of Stratten. Presumably, he liked them because, in August 1978, Stratten boarded a plane from Canada to the City of Angels. The teenager had never been on a plane before that journey.
Not many people arrive in Hollywood to find the quick success that awaited Stratten. She masterfully posed for a test shoot with Playboy and earned the title of Playmate of the Month in August 1979. The honor spurred a change in her personal life, too. That’s because Snider trekked to Los Angeles to propose to his soon-to-be-Playmate girlfriend.
Snider’s romantic gesture ensconced his ulterior motive – he had long hoped that Stratten’s career would be his meal ticket, too. And it seemed as though the plan was starting to come to fruition. In the fall of 1979, for instance, Hefner himself stepped in to make sure that the Canadian teen had a work permit so that she could stay in the U.S.
Meanwhile, it wasn’t just Hefner who had noticed Stratten’s star power, either. Many of his magazine’s photographers lauded her modeling skills – and that landed her a meeting with Hollywood agent David Wilder. As he described her in Village Voice in 1980, “A quality like Dorothy Stratten’s comes by once in a lifetime. She was exactly what this town likes, a beautiful girl who could act.”
And as Stratten started going on auditions, it was clear that the town did, indeed, like her. She snagged parts on both TV and in movies, castings that called for a woman with undeniable beauty. But, behind the scenes, things weren’t as pleasant for Stratten, who wasn’t so sure about her future with her fiance.
Snider, of course, pressured Stratten to walk down the aisle and make their union official. But she felt unsure about her beau, as did her friends. According to Village Voice, when they expressed their fears, though, Stratten would respond, “He cares for me so much. He’s always there when I need him. I can’t ever imagine myself being with any other man but [Snider].”
So, Stratten obliged Snider’s continual requests to get married – and they exchanged vows on June 1, 1979, in Las Vegas. The newlyweds returned to Los Angeles and moved into a new home, which they shared with a doctor who often visited the Century City Playboy Club. The young man spent much of his time with his girlfriend, though, so Stratten and Snider mostly had the Spanish-style abode to themselves.
Through all of Stratten’s ongoing success, Snider became more and more obsessed with the life of luxury they would eventually lead. He promised his new wife they’d move into a Bel-Air mansion – on the back of her career, of course. But Snider’s fantasies about the future only served to turn off Stratten, who felt pressure to succeed for both of them.
Snider had, indeed, taken the driver’s seat in Stratten’s career. He monitored her use of alcohol and barred her from smoking. He also worried about men who would try to get between them and taught her ways to gently rebuff someone. Still, Snider told his wife she might have to accept advances from powerful men, such as Playboy’s leader, Hefner.
Hefner later said that nothing like that happened between him and Stratten. He told Village Voice in 1980, “There was a friendship between us. It wasn’t romantic. This was not a very loose lady,” Still, Stratten felt close enough to Hefner to tell him about her 1979 marriage – and he countered with his own concerns about her new husband.
Heffner continued, “[Stratten] knew I had serious reservations about [Snider]. I had sufficient reservations that I had him checked out in terms of a possible police record in Canada. I used the word – and I realized the risk I was taking – I said to her that he had a ‘pimp-like’ quality about him.”
Hefner’s concern also came from the fact that he knew Stratten was a star, and she could be one of the first Playmates to make the jump to bona fide stardom. He added, “Some people have that quality. I mean, there is something that comes from inside… That magic she had. That was a curious combination of sensual appeal and vulnerability.”
And Stratten’s Playboy links would, indeed, push her further into the spotlight. She had a part in the TV special The Playboy Roller Disco and Pajama Party, which landed her guest-starring roles on Fantasy Island and Buck Rogers in the 25th Century. Then came an even bigger announcement – she was 1980’s Playmate of the Year.
This should have been a joyous occasion for both Stratten and Snider, who had long dreamed of such a distinction for his wife. However, the former pimp started to realize that her rising star had started to push Stratten out of his league. So, he dug in his heels and tried to assert complete control over her career and her finances.
Fortunately for Stratten, she’d soon get a reprieve from Snider. After a series of auditions with director Peter Bogandovich, she had landed a featured part in his upcoming comedy They All Laughed, which would star Audrey Hepburn. Filming would take place in New York City – and Stratten declined her husband’s request to join her on set.
Instead, Stratten arrived alone and made no mention of the fact she had a husband. Indeed, Playboy had long kept that information under wraps, too. Finally on her own, the Playmate developed feelings for someone new. Everyone on set found out about it when she and director Bogdanovich started arriving together, holding hands.
As Hefner recalled, Bogdanovich gushed about Stratten and the movie they had made together. The Playboy head told Village Voice, “He was very very up. Very excited about her and the film. I don’t think that he was playing with this at all. I think it was important to him. I’m talking about the relationship.”
But as Stratten filmed, she started to detach from her husband on the West Coast. When Snider would call and express his love for her, she wouldn’t reciprocate. Then, she enlisted someone to screen her calls. Still, the star agreed to meet with Snider while she went on tour in Canada – although her colleague, Liz Norris, implored her not to.
In fact, Norris offered Stratten a bodyguard to protect her from Snider, but she refused the service. Instead, she met with her husband on her own – and the pair fought viciously in the hotel where both of them had booked rooms. Later, Stratten said that she asked Snider if he wanted to leave Hollywood behind and try to fix their marriage in Vancouver, but he said no.
Of course, Snider felt he was losing his grip on Stratten and, perhaps more importantly to him, the income from her burgeoning career. He suspected that she might also be having an affair. Eventually, the former pimp received a letter in the mail from his estranged wife, saying that they were separated both emotionally and fiscally.
Upon her return to Los Angeles, Stratten didn’t return to the home she once shared with Snider. Instead, she moved in with Bogdanovich, who lived in the Bel-Air Estates – the very neighborhood that her ex had dreamed they’d live when they hit it big. Still, the model and ingenue felt a bit of remorse for having moved on from her marriage.
In fact, Stratten still had a soft spot for Snider and wanted him to live comfortably after the divorce. She even offered to meet him for lunch, and the pair did so on August 8. Although Snider approached the reunion with excitement, his estranged wife would go on to burst his bubble. Indeed, she told him she was in love with her director, Bogdanovich.
However, the meeting with Stratten proved to be the last straw for Snider. From there, his behavior shifted and, in the next five days, he was laser-focused on obtaining a weapon. He tried to get a machine gun, but an associate talked him out of it. Then, he found a rifle for sale in the newspaper’s classifieds section. He bought the firearm, and its seller showed the Canadian how to load it and shoot it.
Meanwhile, Stratten planned another meeting with Snider, in which they would decide how much he would get in their divorce. Those in her circle told her to present him with a specific figure which he’d receive. She felt as though they’d tie up their loose ends in their final meeting on August 14, 1980, to which she arrived around noon.
At that point, Snider shared his home with two people, both of whom had come back by 8:00 p.m., about eight hours after Stratten came over. The duo noticed that their roommate’s bedroom door remained shut – and they thought it meant that the married couple wanted privacy. But what lay behind the door was far worse than what they imagined.
About three hours later, the roommates decided to enter Snider’s bedroom – and they walked into a grisly crime scene. He had shot Stratten and killed her with a single bullet. Then, he’d turned the gun on himself. Investigators later estimated that he had waited an hour after slaying his wife to commit suicide. They also found that Stratten had been brutally raped prior to her death.
Patti Laurman, just 17 years old, was one of the two people sharing Snider’s house. She described the discovery that she and their third roommate had made that day, telling News.com.au in May 2019, “It was terrible. The first thing you saw was [Snider’s] body laying on the floor, and then you saw [Stratten] laying on the bed.” Elsewhere, another source described “gore on the walls and curtains.”
Shortly thereafter, Playboy founder Hefner heard the news about Stratten’s death. He then called Bogdanovich, who took the news so intensely that he required sedation. Eventually, he issued a statement in honor of his late girlfriend, who he had planned to make his wife after her divorce from Snider.
“There is no life [Stratten] touched that has not been changed for the better through knowing her, however briefly,” Bogdanovich said in a statement. “[She] looked at the world with love, and believed that all people were good down deep. She was mistaken, but it is among the most generous and noble errors we can make.”
For his part, Hefner tried to warn Stratten about her husband – but he told Village Voice that the murder-suicide all came down to Snider’s greed. Even after her death, though, Stratten’s story lives on in a pair of movies, as well as in songs inspired by her story.