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The Mysterious Death of Anneka di Lorenzo


Photo credit: Sy Presten Associates

MONDAY, 24 OCTOBER 2011. The only two news reports about this are maddening to the nth degree. It is rather easy to see through the reports, and we are not the only ones who caught the contradictions and impossibilities.

Though we never knew Anneka, we were nonetheless rather fond of her, and so the news comes as a blow. What is especially frustrating is that Anneka alone held the answers to many Caligulan questions, and we desperately wanted to reach out to her. Now we shall never be able to. For those of you who don’t know, Anneka was one of the bit players in Caligula who didn’t have so much as a word of dialogue.

It was not until well after the casting had been completed and the filming was underway that Anneka diLorenzo (birth name Marjorie Lee Thoreson, married name Anneka Vasta) and a few other Penthouse models were awkwardly added to the movie at the insistence of presenter Bob Guccione.

UPI Photo, 15 February 1980

Though she quickly became friends with producer Franco Rossellini and his mother Lina Pugni, a friendship she maintained for the rest of Franco’s and Lina’s lives, she had to suffer terrible consequences as a result of the movie. She had a heck of a tragic life and was swindled a thousand times over.

After her experiences with the world of Penthouse, she started life afresh, away from the limelight. Despite all she had been through in her teens and twenties and thirties, she decided to live a normal life. She joined the Screen Actors Guild, married a Philip Vasta Jr, and had a daughter upon whom she obviously doted. Rather than get the usual 9-to-5 office job, she chose to be a little more creative. With help from her husband and friends she launched several business ventures (The Forever Young Experience Inc, The Anneka Thoreson Yoga and Wellness Corp, and possibly others I don’t know about), which seem not to have been successes. We need to look at this realistically, though. Only 5% of small businesses succeed at all. We have to give her credit for trying valiantly. Her determination was admirable, undoubtedly, and her determination led her to become a Certified Nursing Assistant, which is not a bad thing to be. In an attempt to shed her previous notoriety, she moved about constantly and was probably never listed in the phone book, which made her almost impossible to find.

We just learned that she died on 2 January 2011 on the grounds of a Naval facility. This was mysteriously kept out of the news until 22 October 2011. Military-beat reporter Jeanette Steele of Sign on San Diego News broke the sad story, which was syndicated and picked up by countless news outlets. The Daily Mail was one of these, and it ran an abridgment of Steele’s report with some added background history that puts paid to the widespread claim that Anneka ever saw the money she won in court. Fox News offered the only other report that I know about, and it has to be seen to be disbelieved. From what little has been reported, I can’t make head nor tail of what happened in Southern California last January, though I can certainly think of a plausible scenario. Judging from the sparse release of information, it could not possibly have been suicide or accident, despite official assertions to the contrary. Something odd happened and the Naval Criminal Investigative Service is surely withholding important details.

Anneka deserved much better than this.

The Sign on San Diego News story included the above photo (credited to “A Photo/Bocklett”) of Anneka diLorenzo with H R Giger posing in front of one of his paintings. Many of the news outlets that picked up this story have included this photo as well. There has been some concern about the propriety of including a photograph of Giger in the widely published story of an unrelated death. There’s nothing to worry about. Apparently there is a dearth of available vintage photographs of Anneka, and this is simply the best of the batch. But now that we’re on the topic of this photo, we see that it’s most curious. What is its provenance? Let’s do some investigating. According to the various web sites, this photograph was taken in New York City on the opening day of a Giger exhibit, Monday, 8 April 1980 — but the 8th of April 1980 was actually a Tuesday. The New York Times and other contemporary local newspapers make no mention of any such exhibit. With the help of Film Sketcher and Museum HR Giger, we learn that this was indeed sometime in early April 1980 in Manhattan, at the Hansen Galleries, Giger’s American agent at that time. The Hansen Galleries were closed Mondays, and so this photograph was most likely snapped on Tuesday, 8 April 1980. The only details I have been able to garner come from the poster and from an advertisement in New York magazine, volume 13 number 15, Monday, 14 April 1980, p 11.


This exhibition was sponsored by Bob Guccione and was entitled “H.R. Giger — Paintings and Graphics: Giger’s Alien Filmdesign, 20th Century Fox.” Guccione’s sponsorship would have entailed almost no cost, firstly because Giger was already on his way to the US since he had been nominated for an Academy Award for his work on Alien, and secondly because the Hansen, being Giger’s agent, needn’t have paid an arm and a leg for his services. Further, the concurrent April 1980 issue of Penthouse had a large section devoted to Giger, which was essentially free advertising, piggy-backing on the success of someone else’s hit movie. Guccione’s sponsorship would also explain Anneka’s presence, as he was using her at the time to promote a number of his ventures. For what it’s worth, the Hansen Galleries (41 E 57th St) were a mere four blocks from the Penthouse East cinema (969 3rd Ave) where Caligula was playing, which, in turn, was only three blocks from Penthouse headquarters (909 3rd Ave), which was just a mile from Guccione’s Manhattan townhouse (14–16 E 67th St). When you casually read about these things, all these separate sites seem to cover a dauntingly vast area and give the impression of a massive enterprise. But when you explore a little more you find they can all fit into the palm of your hand.

Okay, now that we’ve finally gotten that photograph out of the way, let’s parse through the only news reports. According to the original Sign on San Diego News report and to the later Fox News TV report:

Anneka left Los Ángeles probably around 4:00 in the morning on Sunday, 2 January 2011, and checked into Room 160 at Motel 6, 750 Raintree Drive, Carlsbad CA 92011, just before 6:00 a.m.
She didn’t call it a night at 6:00 in the morning, because, after all, the 7:20 sunrise would happen soon enough, so what on earth would be the point of crashing in a motel room? She drove around (she probably had a few errands to run, or maybe she just needed an early breakfast at a 24-hour diner), and she made several telephone calls over the next two and a half hours. We are not told with whom she spoke, nor are we told what she said. But we can figure out by reading between the lines that whatever she said did not alarm her family or friends.
There were small incisions on her chest and wrists, “consistent with a halfhearted suicide attempt.” By definition, that means they were also consistent with a halfhearted homicide attempt. The deepest wound was half an inch.
A bloody steak knife was later found on the floor in front of the passenger seat of her car. The blood was Anneka’s, but there was no report about whose fingerprints were found on the knife, and no indication that the knife was ever even tested.
Her bloody clothes were wrapped in a plastic bag.
That means that AFTER she received the incisions from the steak knife, she cleaned up, changed her clothes, and wrapped her bloody clothes in a plastic bag to keep them from ruining the seat and carpet of her car. That is NOT consistent with a suicide attempt.
In the morning when it was only 39°F or 40°F outside (about 4.4°C) she went to a “popular” scenic outlook just off of Interstate 5. It couldn’t have been too popular that particular morning.
Her neck and back were broken WHILE SHE WAS STILL ALIVE.
There is no access to the ocean from the scenic outlook.
“NCIS doesn’t think she jumped into the ocean,” and yet she drowned in the ocean.
On Monday, 3 January 2011, Anneka’s family reported her missing. That means they were either expecting to hear from her, or they were expecting her to answer her mobile phone as she always did when they called, and they were worried by her uncharacteristic silence. (Had they ever reported her missing before after a single day of not answering the telephone? If that had happened in the past, you can bet that the news stories would have capitalized upon that recurring event. But they did not. So the family’s missing-person report was unique, and that alone tells us that Anneka was not in the habit of going silent. On the contrary!)
On the afternoon of Tuesday, 4 January 2011, her naked corpse was discovered washed ashore on restricted Naval grounds. Her age was indiscernible, indicating that she was waterlogged, having been dead a considerable amount of time in the water, though I’m no expert and cannot guess how long.
Says Naval investigator Rachel McGranahan, “we don’t have any evidence that this was a homicide.”
Says Fox News, “They’re pretty sure it’s a suicide.”
The few people who posted comments underneath the Sign on San Diego story for the most part accept the suicide verdict, which may mean that most people who read that leading story will similarly buy into it.
Sil Peña: “How sad, why must our lives end in a why we can’t find an answer?”
Rob Viskil: “Sounds like she might have swam out in the ocean and just drowned herself! and they found her body washed up on the shore.”
Mike Bishop: “I’m very sympathetic to her family, but come on. Her body has a number of hesitation wounds, she’s emotionally unstable, and sometimes a suicide is just a suicide — no matter how much disbelief the family may have.”
Alan Phillips: “Most likely it was a suicide, but we’ll probably never know for sure.”
Sharon Golden: “...I read the article and I personally feel from the evidence collected that she tried to kill herself.... It also sounds like she was bi polar because she was took Lithium but none was found in her blood, clearly one can conclude she most likely tried to end her own life....”
Lisa Merrill: “Mental illness. It is rampant and to me this is what it sounds like.”
Mark Allen: “Sounds like suicide to me, and the family is in denial....”
VaLori Michel Haver: “While it would be wonderful if anyone who had a child never harmed themselves, it just isn’t so.... It’s a shame this woman didn’t have a trusted therapist or more mental health assistance when her family noticed her mental deterioration.... A person whose only value had ever come from being nude may very well strip before exiting.”
It doesn’t take much to convince people, does it? (Her “only value had ever come from being nude”????? Oh give me a break! That’s about the nuttiest and most offensive insult I’ve ever read. Talk about a rush to judgment from someone who doesn’t know the first thing about her.) Now, think, please. It is highly unusual for a literate person, who’s gainfully employed in a career that matches her personality and goals, who is not taking any drugs or medications, who has close family ties and is in daily touch with her relatives, who dearly loves her daughter and speaks with her every day, to commit suicide without warning and without leaving a note. Yes? Am I wrong about that?
Her car, parked at the scenic outlook, was not found for over 48 hours — in Southern California, where traffic cops are perpetually hunting for suspicious cars and fanatically ticket/tow cars parked even one second past expiration time, and who log every car parked on public property every several minutes.
There is no obituary. There is no report of her death until Saturday, 22 October 2011, MORE THAN TEN MONTHS LATER.
According to Fox News, the NCIS “wanted to go public over the summer” — HALF A YEAR AFTER HER DEATH — “but her family asked not to,” even though such a request would never be honored by government authorities or the media. Admittedly, though, someone posted information-wanted signs along I-5 “from late January to April,” those these generated no responses.
The family do not for a moment believe the suicide verdict, but now that the news media have, effectively, characterized them as being in denial, nobody will ever believe their story, which, admittedly, they cannot prove or back up in any way simply because they have never and will never be granted access to the evidence.
According to Fox News, “In the nearly eleven months since Vasta died, NCIS says it has followed a series of leads,” even though that was impossible since — apart from family and motel staff who had no leads — nobody was informed of Anneka’s death.
According to Naval investigator Rachel McGranahan, “This is our last appeal to the media, to the public,” but in actuality it is the FIRST appeal to the media and to the public. It is the ONLY appeal, and it is TOO LATE.
According to Fox News, “NCIS says if this last appeal for information leads nowhere, the case’ll be closed.”
People in the area would have been hard-pressed to say anything about a stranger momentarily glimpsed a few hours earlier or a day earlier or two days earlier. But people in the area were never asked to say anything until MORE THAN TEN MONTHS LATER, when NOBODY could possibly remember a stranger momentarily glimpsed on the morning of Sunday, 2 January 2011. (To help make that concept clear, think back and try to remember a stranger you momentarily glimpsed on the morning of 2 January 2011. Can’t do it, can you?)
To build the case for suicide, the initial report mentioned that Anneka had been “Divorced and in and out of jobs” (unlike anyone else?), and Fox News spoke about Anneka’s having hit hard financial times (unlike anyone else?). That may or may not be true, but the reports do not connect that statement with another statement they make, namely that Anneka was at the time working as a Nurses’ Assistant. I suspect that was a typo for Certified Nursing Assistant, which Anneka had been previously, and which is a pretty darn good job. The average salary for a Certified Nursing Assistant, according to, is $96,000/year, the sort of income few of us dare dream of. Was Anneka actually earning that much money? I have no way of knowing. If she were, in fact, working merely as a Nurses’ Assistant in Los Ángeles, her salary would have been only about a third of that. So we do not know precisely what her job was or what her salary was, but we do know that she had enough money at the very least to own and drive a maroon 2001 Mazda 626 sedan, fill it with gas, rent a motel room, and chat daily with her family on her mobile phone. She was living in Sherman Oaks, near a sister who was apparently close. There is not a chance that Anneka’s family would have abandoned her to hunger and homelessness, nor would they have left her to fend for herself with overdue debts, if there were any. They would have taken care of her, and such an assurance from close relatives would surely have greatly alleviated any financial worries.
Further to build the case for suicide, Fox News mentioned that Anneka was “unstable,” whatever that means. Susan Thoreson was quoted as saying that “I think Anneka did make suicidal gestures to herself,” and yet that quote is most likely spurious, or at least pulled violently from its context, as it contradicts her other statements. Might this statement have been in reference to Anneka’s behavior in her teens or during her worst years of the 1980s? Might this statement have been in reference to a reaction to a trauma, for instance, a divorce? If Susan made such a statement, she couldn’t have been referring to January 2011.
To build up the case even more, the reports mention that lithium and an empty bottle of Xanax were found in Anneka’s car. To the original journalist’s credit, she does admit that no drugs were found during the autopsy, which shows that Anneka was not dependent upon those or any other drugs, which in turn is a strong indication that she was not “unstable” after all. We do not know why the lithium was prescribed, nor do we know why the Xanax was prescribed, nor do we know the dispensing or expiration dates. For all we know, those bottles may not have been touched in years. Let me put this a different way. Have you ever suffered a severe trauma, for instance an attack by a mugger or an assault by the police? Did you find that shortly afterwards you could no longer function or sleep? Did you visit your HMO? Were you surprised to get a prescription for Xanax or something similar? Did you take that medication for only a few days to find that you were well on your way to recovery, upon which you stopped taking the medication? Does that mean that you are “unstable” or “emotionally fragile”? Much of what Anneka had experienced in the 1970s and 1980s was a living nightmare that would have destroyed a lesser person. She came out of it all intact and decided to devote her life to helping people. That’s not what I call “unstable.” Besides, she had recently been through a divorce, and perhaps that brought a temporary relapse that required some sedatives. But she had stopped taking them for a long enough time that there was not a trace of them left in her system! For the news reports even to mention these two medications, which Anneka was not taking, was irresponsible at best. For the news reports to mention these two medications to imply suicidal tendencies is downright outrageous. She was NOT TAKING THEM!!! How can medications NOT being taken suggest suicidal tendencies? That she was not taking them suggests strongly that she did NOT have suicidal tendencies.
Susan did admit that “When Anneka got paranoid, she would run away. It was that fear-or-flight stuff.” Pulled from context, we do not know if that referred to a previous chapter in Anneka’s life or if it was still part of her behavior to the end. Consider what she had lived through during the 1970s and 1980s: theft, breached contracts, sexual slavery, investigators following her every move and probably going through all her garbage cans trying to find every piece of dirt on her, all of which was presented in court in the most sensationalistic ways in order to smear and humiliate her, routinely, for many years. After undergoing that sort of treatment, paranoia and fear were only to be expected. It is really no wonder that she made it enormously difficult for any stranger to trace her whereabouts, and it is really no wonder that she moved about constantly so that the various people-finder services on the Internet would not be able to keep up with her. Further, considering what would happen on Sunday, 2 January 2011, Anneka’s paranoia would seem to have had a reasonable basis in fact. Yes, Susan did say “that her sister began showing symptoms of shaky mental health about six or eight years ago.” But what does that mean? From the way the news story is constructed, we are supposed to infer that Anneka “ran away” as a result of a paranoid panic attack early in the morning on Sunday, 2 January 2011. But she did NOT run away. She took a little two-hour trip and rented a motel room and stayed in touch by mobile telephone. That’s not what I call “running away.” Would you call that “running away”? We are not told why she took that little trip. Could it have been that she just wanted to visit with a friend? attend a conference? meet with someone for a business proposal? shop for a new apartment? or maybe even just see a show? That part of the story is intentionally missing from the news reports. It is also worth noting how Anneka’s sister Susan is quoted only sparingly, and how the two most important quotes are mere fragments of sentences, which seem to be inserted into the news story out of context. What else did she say to the reporters? Probably a great deal, but we’ll probably never get the full quotes.
To recapitulate, a woman stabbed with a knife changes into clean clothes and wraps the bloody clothes in plastic to keep her car from getting soiled. Before she has a chance to make a report or seek help, she drives to a scenic outlook on a chilly morning when no one else would show up. She suffers a broken back and broken neck after which she drowns in the ocean even though there’s no access to the ocean from the scenic outlook and even though the Naval investigator says she did not jump into the ocean. Her naked body is found washed ashore two days later. (What happened to her clothes?) There was no warning and no suicide note. Her car, which would normally have been impounded before close of day on Sunday, is not discovered until Tuesday afternoon or evening. There is no obituary, no people from the area (apart from the motel staff) are questioned, and there is no press story of her death until more than ten months later, when it is announced that the case is about to be closed. The verdict is suicide. You see? That’s how stupid I am. I don’t see how any of that adds up to suicide. I guess I’m just another one of those tiresome feeble-minded nut-cases who’s dumb enough not to believe what our respected authorities tell us to believe. Yup, that’s right. Well, as a former friend repeatedly challenged me years ago in regard to other wild claims made by respected authorities, “Why would they say it if it’s not true?” At least one reader thinks more or less as I do. Check out HK’s comment at Daily Mail Online: “So she stabbed herself in the chest twice? broke her neck & spine magically — yet got down the cliff and into the water — and swam until she drowned? yeah right.” One final rhetorical question: Why was it only Fox News that carried on-camera interviews with the Naval Investigators, and how convincing do we think those Naval Investigators are? The reporters and researchers really had to hunt around to make a case for suicide — empty bottles, fragments of carefully selected quotes, a divorce, a job change — and overemphasized them, blowing them out of all proportion, while at the same time they deliberately underemphasized the most important and telling evidence — sudden unexpected disappearance, knife, fingerprints, bloody clothes, plastic bag, scenic outlook on cold morning, route from outlook to ocean, nature and timing of injuries, timing of discovery of car. As far as I’m concerned, something entirely different happened back in January, and this cockamamie suicide story is a cover that’s being used to libel the victim and her family in a pathetic effort to make a case. And so what else is new? Anyway, this is how you have to read the mainstream media’s news, no matter what the topic. The information is sometimes there, but it’s fragmentary, misleading, lopsided, and sometimes flat-out invented out of nothing. To figure out what actually happened you really have to expend some energy teasing out the clues.

Anneka diLorenzo, director Tinto Brass, and Lori Wagner between takes

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