Actor Claudine Longet Kills Ski Champion Vladimir Sabich

American professional skier Vladimir Sabich was killed by his girlfriend, French entertainer Claudine Longet. The prosecution’s case was hampered by serious mistakes by local police. As a result, Longet was tried and found guilty of misdemeanor negligent homicide, instead of murder, spent thirty days in jail, and paid a twenty-five-dollar fine.

Summary of Event

The exclusive ski town of Starwood, near Aspen, Colorado, was turned into a media circus on March 21, 1976, when French entertainer-actor Claudine Longet was arrested for the murder of her boyfriend, international ski celebrity Vladimir “Spider” Sabich. Rumors of alcohol and drug abuse, combined with talk of the couple’s imminent separation, surrounded the trial, while key blunders made by the Aspen Police Department damaged the prosecution’s case. [kw]Actor Claudine Longet Kills Ski Champion Vladimir Sabich (Mar. 21, 1976)
[kw]Longet Kills Ski Champion Vladimir Sabich, Actor Claudine (Mar. 21, 1976)
[kw]Sabich, Actor Claudine Longet Kills Ski Champion Vladimir (Mar. 21, 1976)
Sabich, Vladimir
Longet, Claudine
Sabich, Vladimir
Longet, Claudine
[g]United States;Mar. 21, 1976: Actor Claudine Longet Kills Ski Champion Vladimir Sabich[01590]
[c]Drugs;Mar. 21, 1976: Actor Claudine Longet Kills Ski Champion Vladimir Sabich[01590]
[c]Law and the courts;Mar. 21, 1976: Actor Claudine Longet Kills Ski Champion Vladimir Sabich[01590]
[c]Murder and suicide;Mar. 21, 1976: Actor Claudine Longet Kills Ski Champion Vladimir Sabich[01590]

Sabich was born on October 1, 1945, in Sacramento, California, to Vladimir and Fran Sabich. His father, a California Highway Patrol officer, nicknamed him Spider shortly after his premature birth because the boy’s gangly arms and legs looked like an arachnid. Spider grew up in the remote mountain town of Kyburz, near Lake Tahoe, California. The family, consisting of three children (Spider was the middle child), grew up with a great appreciation for education, physical activity, and the outdoors. Spider began skiing at a very early age, winning tournaments throughout his childhood, and he earned a scholarship to attend the University of Colorado. While at Colorado, Spider met Coach Bob Beattie. With fellow skiers Billy Kidd and Jimmy Huega, Spider went on to place fifth in the slalom at the 1968 Olympics, emerging as America’s premier skier.

Claudine Longet and her daughter, Noelle, at a ski event in Aspen, Colorado, days before the murder of Longet’s boyfriend, champion skier Vladimir Sabich.

(Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

In 1972, Spider turned professional and won the professional tour that year and in 1973. His good looks, along with the increased popularity of skiing, led to several product endorsements and magazine covers. His popularity also attracted the beautiful Longet. Longet, born on January 29, 1942, in Paris, France, had married American singer Andy Williams in 1961 and enjoyed a mildly successful singing and acting career herself. Longet and her three children (from her marriage to Williams) moved in with the ski star.

After two years together, rumors began to spread that the celebrity relationship was turning sour. Spider had confided in family and close friends that he wanted Longet to move out, but he adored her three children. While dressing after a shower, Longet, who had been seen drinking in a local bar all afternoon and was rumored to be distraught over the impending break up, allegedly entered the bathroom and shot Spider once with a .22 caliber pistol. (The pistol had been purchased by his father for his younger brother in Europe, while Spider was competing there in the Olympics.) Spider bled to death in the back of the ambulance from a single gunshot wound to the abdomen. Longet was at his side in the ambulance.

On April 6, 1976, Longet was charged with reckless manslaughter, defined by the presiding judge in the case as “consciously disregarding a substantial and unjustifiable risk.” If convicted, Longet could be sentenced to ten years in prison and receive a maximum fine of thirty thousand dollars, or both. The trial became a celebrity event in the sleepy town of Aspen, with Longet’s former husband Williams beside her throughout the ordeal. Because of the celebrity status of Longet and Spider, the jury selection process was extensive. More than three hundred prospective jurors were placed on standby and sixty two more were questioned by the prosecution and defense before the final twelve jurors and two alternates were selected. Longet hired a top defense team that argued the shooting was accidental, maintaining that the firearm accidentally discharged while she was asking Spider to teach her how to use the gun.

The prosecution’s case was hindered by three main obstacles: First, the police had obtained Longet’s Diaries;Claudine Longet[Longet] diary without a warrant while she was in the ambulance with Spider. The diary contained passages expressing concerns and desperation over the possibility that Spider would leave her. Because the diary was obtained illegally, the key information it contained could not be used in court. Second, blood and urine samples, taken from Longet the day of the shooting, showed traces of cocaine and alcohol. These samples could not be admitted at trial because the tests on them were performed unlawfully. Third, the murder weapon found at the crime scene had been wrapped in a towel by someone at the scene and stored in the glove compartment of a police officer’s car for several days. It should have been handled by a firearms expert and properly stored as evidence. Because the weapon was mishandled, the defense was able to claim evidence tampering.

On January 14, 1977, Longet was found guilty of misdemeanor negligent homicide, “a gross deviation from the standard of care that a reasonable person would exercise” and a crime that carried a maximum sentence of two years and a five thousand dollar fine, or both. Longet, however, was given two years probation, ordered to spend thirty days in jail beginning on a date of her choosing, and fined twenty-five dollars. Her defense team argued for straight probation, claiming that the singer was not a threat to society. Longet pleaded with the judge to have mercy on her because she had children, but the judge insisted she serve the time, stating there would be public outrage if she spent no time in jail. Upon receiving her sentence, Longet, maintaining her innocence, said of the killing, “there is not really very much to say. Only that I have too much respect for living things to do that. I’m not guilty.”


While several people in the Aspen community supported Longet, believing the killing was accidental and that Longet should not be imprisoned, many more people believed that she had gotten away with murder. The rumors of drug abuse and emotional instability surrounding the trial added to the outrage many felt when Longet received her sentence.

As with most celebrity crimes and trials, the murder became a part of American popular culture. Spider brought competitive skiing to the American conscience and his good looks and charismatic personality ensured his celebrity. Claudine Longet was a beautiful and frail actor and singer that had been welcomed into American homes regularly through Andy Williams’s Christmas specials. The trial became a media flurry, involving youth, beauty, fame, and murder, and Americans watched attentively. The NBC (National Broadcasting Company) late night comedy show Saturday Night Live took advantage of the trial’s popularity with the skit “The Claudine Longet Invitational,” which parodied a downhill skiing competition wherein the participants were accidentally shot by Longet during their ski runs.

The Sabich family later filed a civil suit against Longet for $1.3 million. The case was settled out of court, and Longet signed a confidentiality agreement promising to not speak publicly about her relationship with Spider or about the murder. Longet also had to agree to never publish a book about her life and the trial.

Longet remained in Aspen after her release from prison but was harassed. She adhered to the confidentiality agreement and other stipulations ordered by the court in the civil suit. She never again performed in show business. Sabich, Vladimir
Longet, Claudine

Further Reading

  • Coleman, Annie Gilbert. Ski Style: Sport and Culture in the Rockies. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2004. A look at the effects skiing has had on American culture through the lifestyles, triumphs, and tribulations associated with the sport.
  • Doonan, Simon. Whacky Chicks: Life Lessons from Fearlessly and Fabulously Eccentric Women. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2003. This entertaining book explores the lives of eccentric and notorious women, including Claudine Longet.
  • Fry, John. The Story of Modern Skiing. Lebanon, N.H.: University Press of New England, 2006. A comprehensive exploration of the contributions Spider Sabich and others made to American professional skiing. The book also delves into the circumstances surrounding Spider’s murder.

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