Florida Authorities Reopen Unsolved Cold Case Killing Of Playboy Playmate Star Stowe
“Nobody deserves to be murdered, and especially someone that is trying to get back on the right track,” her friend says.
A former Playboy Playmate who once dated a performer from Kiss was murdered in Florida decades after she found fame on the West Coast.
On the afternoon of March 16, 1997, Dennis Pickering, now a former detective with the Coral Springs Police Department, responded to the report of a dead woman lying face-down behind a drugstore.
“I noticed she had a star tattooed on her body,” Pickering recalled of the strangled victim. “And I kind of kiddingly said to [another] detective, ‘You know, back in the ‘70s there was a girl who was dating Gene Simmons who had a tattoo in the very same spot.’ She was a centerfold for Playboy.”
Despite the odds, Pickering learned the victim was, in fact, the same Playboy Bunny he was referring to: Star Stowe, Playmate of the Month in February 1977.
Originally from Little Rock, Arkansas, Stowe had a “small-town-girl vibe” who aspired to be a dancer and rock musician, recalled Stella Tetenbaum, a Playboy Mansion hostess from 1978 to 1980.
Stowe was plunged into the world of rock when she met Kiss bass-guitarist Simmons at the Hotel Sahara in Las Vegas, where he was performing at the time. The two took a shine to each other, and she thought he was an “adorable” and “down-to-earth” guy, unlike his onstage persona, Stowe’s friend Jeff Olson said.
Stowe and Simmons were a couple for three years and the two appeared to be crazy about each other. At one point during their time together, Simmons reportedly encouraged Stowe to send her photos to Playboy. At age 20, she got her big break thanks to the magazine.
“Star didn’t understand much about what would happen after she was used up and there wasn’t somebody there to catch her,” Tetenbaum said, explaining she knew firsthand how life in Hollywood — and behind the closed doors of the Playboy Mansion — could be “scary” and “dangerous.”
According to Stowe’s friend, Olson, the Playmate was allegedly advised to take drugs and alcohol while hanging out with Hugh Hefner. Over time, her addictions began to get the best of her and she grew depressed.
Tetenbaum said Stowe was always in a haze and “needed to be put in rehab” but never got any help.
Simmons and Stowe eventually split and the Playboy Playmate’s life spiraled out of her control. By 1980, Stowe, fed up with the lifestyle at the Mansion, cut ties with Hugh Hefner and Playboy, depriving the now-22-year-old of the money she made with personal appearances, promotions and other opportunities.
In 1981, Stowe moved to Las Vegas, married an aspiring rock musician, and the two had a son. She began stripping to support her family, and she and her husband eventually split.
Once the dancing jobs in Las Vegas dried up, Stowe moved to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, where she continued to perform. In over her head and still in the throes of drug and alcohol addiction, she eventually turned to sex work to make ends meet.
On March 15, 1997 — almost 20 years to the day her centerfold in Playboy hit newsstands — Stowe was seen getting into a vehicle in Fort Lauderdale. She was found dead the following afternoon.
“I was heartbroken. Nobody deserves to be murdered, and especially someone that is trying to get back on the right track,” Olson said of his longtime friend.
Pickering said he and other detectives worked hundreds of hours on the case, but Stowe’s murder remains unsolved over 25 years after she was strangled to death.
The case was recently reopened and detectives reportedly are attempting to use DNA evidence collected during the investigation to identify the former Playboy Playmate’s killer.
Olson now wonders what could have become of Stowe had she not scored the gig with Playboy when she was a young woman. “I think she could have made it,” he said.
For more on this case, stream The Playboy Murders on discovery+.