.....Lansing Brown placed the head of a match under the rusty hammer of one of the pistols and then pulled the trigger to ignite the match in order to light a cigarette. The pistol, which evidently hadn't been used for over sixty-five years, still housed a charge of powder and an old bullet. The click of the hammer caused the charge to explode and the corroded bullet struck the top of a table located between the two friends, ricocheted, striking Columbo in the left eye, and then entering his brain.
Brown would collapse following police interrogation; their suspicions had been aroused by a statement from a servant who alleged that he'd heard Columbo and the photographer arguing violently in the den. However, Brown was released following a court inquest. The verdict: "This jury finds that Russ Columbo came to his death by a gun wound accidentally inflicted by Lansing Brown. Brown is absolved of all blame." The singer's relatives and friends agreed with this ruling. A number of professional "dirt" diggers, an inevitable consequence of the Hollywood scene, spread stories of suicide due to an unrequited romance. Doctors attempted to save his life by surgery, but it was too late. Carole Lombard [with whom Columbo had a long-term relationship] rushed down by automobile from Lake Arrowhead after being telephoned by surgeon George W. Patterson, but it was close pal and actress Sally Blane who was at Columbo's bedside when he died at 7:30 PM. He was 26 years old.
At Russ Columbo's funeral, Lansing Brown was spotted alone at the back of the church; he remained on his knees throughout the service, crying and trembling. Brown, by all accounts, was a broken man, devastated by his part in Russ Columbo's death. At the end of the inquest when he was offered his pistols back by Detective Joseph Page, he adamantly refused, stating, "I never want to see those things again! Keep them!" When Columbo's cousin, Alberto Colombo, a music director for RKO, was found dead in his car in 1954, the mob was implicated. This gave rise to the rumor that Russ had been killed by the mob as well. For the next several years, magazine articles would proclaim forthcoming films based on Columbo's life linking singer Johnny Desmond or actor Tony Curtis to the projects. In 1992, Tom Cruise and Michelle Pfeiffer were slated to play Columbo and Lombard, but the project quietly fell through.