Shot by Own Hand, Police Say
Los Angeles Herald-Examiner, December 31, 1971
Peter Duel, 31, co-star of the western television series Alias Smith and Jones, committed suicide early today by shooting himself in the head in his Hollywood Hills home, police reported.
The nude body of the actor was found beneath the Christmas tree in his home shortly before 2 a.m. by his long-time friend, Dianne Ray, 29, according to investigators.
Miss Ray told police that she had been invited to Duel’s Beechwood Village home at 2552 Glen Green to watch the Alias Smith and Jones series, which airs Thursday at 8 p.m.
Police said Miss Ray told them Duel had been drinking heavily and after that show watched the Los Angeles Lakers-Seattle Supersonics basketball game.
Miss Ray said she went to bed in an adjoining room before the game was over, according to investigators. The woman told police Duel suddenly came into the bedroom around 1:25 a.m., took a .38 caliber revolver from a box, and left the room saying, “I’ll see you later.”
Minutes later, she said she heard a shot fired in the living room.
Miss Ray, who told police she was an unemployed secretary, said she found Duel’s body underneath the Christmas tree. Investigators said a single bullet hole was found in the right temple.
A gun was found at his feet, they added.
Investigators said the way the gun was found, the position of the body, and the angle of the head wound led them to believe it was suicide.
The bullet that killed Duel entered the right side and exited the left side, police said. There was a half-dollar-size hole in the front window of the home through which the bullet is believed to have passed.
At 9:45 a.m., Det. Sgt. John Edwards found a bullet laying in a carport at 2545 Glen Green, directly across from Duel’s house. The detective said it looked like a slug from a .38 caliber weapon.
Hollywood police said they originally thought Duel was murdered when it appeared two shots were fired. Investigators said, however, a second spent round in the chamber was fired last week by Duel.
They said Duel apparently fired a shot from the same gun at a notice on a wall in a room near the living room. Investigators said the notice informed him he had not been elected to the board of the Screen Actors Guild.
Miss Ray told police that Duel had a drink in his hand when he came into the bedroom and that he was remorseful.
Investigators were dispatched to the scene in response to an anonymous telephone call.
Miss Ray was questioned at length by Hollywood police, then released. She left the Hollywood station with Duel’s brother, actor Geoffrey Deuel, 27.
An associate of Duel said the actor had been cheerful during a full day of performing on the set yesterday.
“He filmed an episode for the show, and he was due on the set at eight o’clock this morning to wrap it up,” said Allen Cahan, unit publicist for Alias Smith and Jones.
“I spent Christmas Day with him too,” said Cahan. “He was fine, in good spirits.”
“He was so talented, it was unbelievable,” said Cahan. “Certainly he was not unhappy with anything in his professional life.”
Brent Unger, 24, a student said he had just moved in next door to Duel at 2556 Glen Green about a month ago and “only knew him to say hello.”
“Last night, I had my girlfriend over,” he said. “We watched TV. We could hear his (Duel’s) stereo playing, and all the lights in his house were on.”
Unger said he didn’t hear a shot. He said he wasn’t aware of anything going on next door after he went to bed until police awakened him at 2 a.m.
Two sisters, neighbors on the other side of Duel’s home, Mrs. Jean Kepley and Mrs. Betty Mathison, described the actor as “just a peach of a young man.”
Peter Duel, whose real name was Deuel, played the role of Hannibal Hayes while co-starring with actor Ben Murphy in the ABC television network series about two Western outlaws trying to reform themselves.
Neighbors said Duel, a bachelor, opened his home often to young struggling actors who constantly streamed in and out of the neighborhood.
Duel was a native of Rochester, N.Y., and came from a long line of physicians. His father, grandfather, great grandfather, two uncles, and a cousin were doctors. His mother was a nurse. But he, his sister, and brother turned to the stage. The other two kept the original spelling of their family name — Deuel.
He attended St. Lawrence University in Canton, N.Y., then switched to American Theater Wing in New York City. He then joined Shakespeare Wright’s Repertory Company and later toured with Family Service Group putting on shows for schools and PTAs.
His first movie was Wounded in Action, which led to a role with the national company of Take Her, She’s Mine, starring Tom Ewell.
Since moving to Hollywood, he appeared in many television shows including Combat, 12 O’Clock High, The Fugitive, Ironside, The Name of the Game, Marcus Welby, M.D., The Young Lawyers, The Bold Ones, The Young Country, and ABC Movies of the Week and World Premieres. He also was in several Gidget episodes and starred as the young newlywed opposite Judy Carne in Love on a Rooftop.
Duel’s death will not affect the Alias Smith and Jones series this year since all filming for the remainder of the season is complete.
Photo Caption: Television Actor Pete Duel. Playing leading role in series Alias Smith and Jones.