Never-released photos of James Dean’s fatal car crash go up for auction next month
Photos of late actor James Dean’s fatal car accident that were to be used in court are going to auction in August and are expected to bring in $20,000.
The 24-year-old was driving west on US Route 466 in California, bound for a racing event in Salinas, on September 30, 1955, when his 1955 Porsche 550 Spyder collided with a 1950 Ford Tudor driven by a Navy veteran, Donald Turnupseed. In Dean’s passenger seat was his Porsche mechanic, Rolf Wütherich, who survived the accident.
“The early death of James Dean reverberates to this day,” said Bobby Livingston, executive vice president at RR Auction. “These images offer an intensely unique perspective of the crash location and the resulting carnage — many of the photos taken only hours after the accident.”
According to RR Auction, the black-and-white photo collection consists of 12 overhead views of the intersection where the accident occurred and 18 “ground-level” photos, nine of which have more up-close details of the aftermath of the accident and mangled vehicles.
Six of the photos have inside and outside views of Dean’s Porsche. His racing number, 130, is prominently displayed on the back along with a “Little Bastard” decal.
On the back of the ground-level photos, “Wütherich vs. Turnupseed-Dean-Coulter” is written in pencil, referring to Wütherich’s attempt to sue the insurance companies of both Dean and Turnupseed for a double fractured jaw and a severely torn left hip that required multiple surgeries, according to RR Auction.
The legal proceedings never came to fruition, with Wütherich returning to West Germany in 1957.
There’s also a signed letter of provenance from Robert A. Coyle, the son of Robert Everett Coyle, who served as the attorney for Turnupseed and his insurance company.
“When the case was dropped, he was still in possession of the photographs and being a history buff, made sure they were not destroyed,” the letter says.
The wrecked Porsche went on national tour as a highway safety exhibit, but it went missing while being transported from Florida to California, according to CNN affiliate WLS.
The Volo Auto Museum outside Chicago offered a $1 million reward for the wreckage and told WLS that it got a credible tip about the Porsche’s whereabouts in 2014.
The man “said he was 6 years old at the time and was present as his father and some other men put the wreckage behind a false wall in a building in Whatcom County, Washington,” museum Director Brian Grams said.
Grams said in 2015 that the man passed a polygraph test regarding the details of his story but did not want to reveal where the building was until he had a signed deal for a portion of the museum’s reward money. The museum would pay that reward money only if it got legal ownership of the Porsche, according to WLS. However, the wreckage remains missing.