(published in Uncle John’s “AHH INSPIRING” Bathroom Reader)

Smells like Murder:

The Suspicious Death of Kurt Cobain

Premature death seems almost to be an occupational hazard among rock stars. But that doesn’t make it any less difficult for fans to accept, particularly in the case of suicide. It is easier to suspect foul play. But this one seems more suspicious than most. The deceased: Kurt Cobain, leader of Seattle grunge band Nirvana. Gained notoriety with the 1991 angst-filled anthem “Smells like Teen Spirit.”

How he died: On April 8, 1994, an electrician spotted the dead body of Cobain lying on the floor of a greenhouse room above the detached garage at Cobain’s Seattle residence. Police determined Cobain had injected himself with heroin, then stuck the business end of a shotgun into his mouth and pulled the trigger. Near the body they found a “suicide note.” According to media reports Cobain’s wallet, open to his driver’s license, was next to the body, evidently to make identification easier after the blast to the head.

To the police, and most of the media, it looked like a clear, if unfortunate, case of another rock star destroyed by his demons. Even more unfortunate, scores of Cobain’s young fans around the world committed copycat suicides following the reports his death.

Were those reports based on a faulty investigation? Did the police overlook evidence that might point to a different conclusion?

Suspicious Facts

• At the time Cobain was shot he had three times the lethal dose of heroin in his blood. According to experts even an addict such as Cobain would be comatose with that level of the drug in his body, incapable of positioning a gun and pulling the trigger. Cobain had two fresh needle marks, one on each arm. Did Cobain inject himself twice? If he was intent on committing suicide why didn’t he just let the overdose do its work? Or was both the second injection and the shotgun blast the work of someone else?

• There were no legible fingerprints on the shotgun which killed Cobain. (The gun wasn’t even tested for fingerprints until nearly a month after Cobain’s death.) Fingerprints can be wiped off a gun, but is that what happened to the gun that killed Cobain? If so, who wiped the gun clean, and why?

• The only part of the “suicide note” found by Cobain’s body that sounds like he planned to kill himself is the last four lines— and some handwriting experts believe those lines were written by someone else. Most of the note is a rambling, anguished apology to his fans for his lack of enthusiasm, and seems to be more about his resignation from the music industry than suicide. (Shortly before his death he had decided not to headline the Lollapalooza tour, turning his back on a $9.5 million contract.) Only the last four lines are addressed to his wife and daughter. Was suicide an afterthought, or did he have no intention of killing himself?

• The license which was by the body was not left there by Cobain but put there by the first policeman on the scene who found Cobain’s wallet nearby and displayed the license by the body for photographs.
• Someone was attempting to use Cobain’s credit card until just hours before Cobain’s body was discovered, even though, according to the coroner’s report, Cobain died four days earlier. Cobain had last used the card to buy a plane ticket from L.A to Seattle on April 1. The card was not found in his wallet.

What Really Happened?
If suicide appears unlikely, accidental death seems next to impossible. How could the 27-year-old Cobain, a hardened addict, so seriously misjudge his heroin dose? And after such a dose, how could he have accidentally positioned the shotgun on his chest and pulled the trigger? If we rule out suicide and accident, that leaves only—murder. But who would have wanted to kill Cobain and make it appear a suicide?

The Love Connection
Cobain’s rock star wife, Courtney Love, was in the Los Angeles area at the time Cobain’s body was discovered. But according to Tom Grant, an L.A. private investigator, Courtney Love herself was likely involved in a conspiracy to kill her husband, possibly with the aid of Michael Dewitt, the male nanny who lived at the Cobain residence. Possible motives according to Grant:

• Cobain had told her he was leaving her; if the pair divorced Love would get half, at best, of Cobain’s estate. With a suicide she would get it all.

• Cobain’s record sales would increase after a suicide, giving Love even more money.

• Her own career would benefit. (Love and her band, Hole, went on to headline the Lollapalooza tour in place of Cobain and Nirvana.)

Grant has a unique perspective— Love hired him to find Cobain after Cobain escaped from a drug rehabilitation center just a few days before he died. Grant continued his investigation after Cobain’s body was found and was disturbed by the inconsistencies and contradictions in Love’s behavior:

• Love phoned in a missing persons report on April 4, the day Cobain died according to the coroner’s report. Claiming she was Cobain’s mother, Wendy O’Conner, she told Seattle police Cobain had bought a shotgun and was suicidal. But a receipt found on Cobain’s body showed Cobain’s best friend Dylan Carlson bought the gun for him almost a week earlier, before Cobain entered the rehab center. According to Carlson Cobain wanted the gun for protection, not suicide. By phoning in the report was Love trying to plant the idea that Cobain was suicidal?

• Love directed Grant to look for Cobain in a number of Seattle luxury hotels, and to check out his drug dealers. Even though Dewitt, the nanny, had told Love he had talked with Cobain at their residence on April 2, Love did not tell Grant he had been seen there. Was Love trying to keep Grant from finding Cobain too soon?

• When Grant visited the Cobain residence with Dylan Carlson the day before Cobain’s body was found, there was evidence that Dewitt had been there recently. (Neither Grant nor Carlson looked in the greenhouse.) Later the same day Dewitt told friends he was leaving for L.A. Grant says he had the feeling Dewitt was avoiding him.

• The electrician who found Cobain’s body was hired by Love to check the security system at the residence and, according to Rosemary Carroll, Love’s entertainment lawyer, she specifically told him to check the greenhouse. Was she setting him up to find the body?

Fade Away
In the note found beside Kurt Cobain’s body his last words, before the disputed last four lines, were “…it’s better to burn out than to fade away.” Did he think blowing his head off was the only way out of his apathetic malaise, or did he simply plan to leave the music scene near the peak of his popularity to avoid becoming just another mass-marketed rock star, ultimately drifting into irrelevance? Unless the police investigation is reopened we will probably never know.

copyright©Jim McCluskey 2002-2012