Dominique Dunne was twenty-one years old in 1981 when she met John Sweeney at a party. Sweeney was seven years her senior and the attraction was instant. Sadly, rather than leading to love and marriage, it led to violence and death.
The petite Dominique, daughter of writer and movie producer Dominick Dunne, sister to actor Griffin Dunne and niece to authors Joan Didion and John Gregory Dunne, seemed destined to make it in the celebrity soaked world of Los Angeles. By comparison, the athletic Sweeney grew up in a Pennsylvania coal town, the son of an alcoholic who frequently watched his father beat his mother.
Both were creative types; Dominique was an actress with a handful of roles under her belt while John was chef assistant to Wolfgang Puck at the trendy and glamorous Ma Maison restaurant. On the surface, they made a good match. Both loved Europe, animals (Dominique was very much an animal rescuer) and cooking. Her diminutive size contrasted nicely to his just over six foot frame. Both were ambitious. Sweeney however desperately wanted to fit into the elegant world of L.A. and Hollywood he saw nightly at Ma Maison. Dominique gave him entry into that world.
The two moved into a rented house together within weeks of meeting. What should have been an exciting and romantic time quickly turned ugly for Dominique. She found out that Sweeney was no Prince Charming; he began to display controlling and jealous behavior. They would fight and Dominique would leave their shared residence to return to her mother Lenny’s home to escape Sweeney and his abuse. Unfortunately, after a few days apart, she would inevitably return.
On August 27, 1982, after a particularly bitter argument, Sweeney grabbed her long, dark hair and yanked her so viciously that handfuls of it came out in clumps. A frightened Dominique ran to her mother’s house, where Sweeney followed. He banged on the doors and windows, demanding to be let in. Lenny threatened to call the police. Sweeney returned to their West Hollywood home to wait out Dominique. She returned a few days later.
Barely a month later, on September 26, 1982, another argument ensued and Sweeney grabbed Dominique by the throat, threw her on the floor and began strangling her. A friend who was staying with the couple at the time heard the assault and…