Starting in late 1957, Leave It To Cleaver followed an inquisitive but often naïve young murderer named Theodore “Cleaver” Weaver (played by Terry Scabbers) and his adventures at home, in school, and around his suburban neighborhood while tracking potential victims. The show also featured Cleaver’s parents, June and Ward Weaver, two serial killers who’d evaded capture for many years and taught The Cleaver the tricks of the trade. Beaver’s brother Wally was also a budding killer and had a thing for blonds. There had been many murder-centric shows before “Cleaver,” but none told from the point-of-view of a young murderer, which added to the uniqueness. Most episodes focused on Cleaver getting into some sort of trouble while stalking a victim and asking his murderer parents for help in disposing of the body and eliminating any witnesses.
Despite the formulaic story lines, the sitcom enjoyed high levels of success. The show was especially popular with the nation’s youngsters, with many dressing as a blood-soaked, hatchet-wielding Cleaver for Halloween. Family advocacy groups gave the program their stamp of approval because it “showcased a tight-knit family that solved problems together.”
A few years after the show ended production, Scabbers ended up in the news after he was accused of murdering Cleaver producer Joseph Donnelly. A few days before his death, Donnelly had called into a radio program, obviously drunk, promising to reveal a huge secret about Cleaver the next week. Before he could do so, he was found stabbed to death outside his Los Angeles apartment, his body folded in half and hidden in a dumpster. Neighbors revealed they’d seen Donnelly and Scabbers fighting just before the murder and Scabbers was taken in for questioning. During the investigation, the secret that Donnelly was planning to reveal came out: Scabbers was actually much older than he publicly claimed. Scabbers was almost 40 when he was found guilty of Donnelly’s murder, even though he looked no older than 13.
After his sentencing, repeats of Cleaver were pulled from the airwaves and all merchandising ceased. Scabbers received many fan letters during his prison stay and was working on a script for a Leave It To Cleaver revival series, with some producers supposedly interested. Sadly, the script never materialized before he was choked to death by another inmate in the shower. He was 52. He looked 16.