How Did Kurt Cobain Really Die? The Murder Conspiracy Theory, Explained
On April 8th, 1994, Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain was found dead of a gunshot wound sustained on April 5th, 1994, in his Seattle home. Many, including the Seattle Police Department, believe this gunshot wound was self-inflicted. Some do not.
When there's room for it, and even sometimes when there isn't, distraught fans of beloved celebrities taken before their time will construct theories to compensate for the sometimes random and often reckless, tragic waste that is the loss of the celebrity's life. Did Elliott Smith stab himself, or did his girlfriend do the stabbing? What about Marilyn Monroe—did she kill herself, accidentally or on purpose, or did someone want her dead? Is Tupac alive somewhere, laughing, just LOLing his butt off, having a blast?
Some of these theories are more compelling than others. (For real, who killed Marilyn?) (And also I don't buy the Elliot Smith story.) (And where is Tupac?) Today, we'll sift through a theory that has nagged at me since I was a brainless 12-year-old; a case the Seattle Police Department receives requests to reinvestigate at least once per week, mostly through Twitter: The death—murder?—of Kurt Cobain.
The Rome Overdose
Unfortunately for Courtney Love—Hole frontwoman, Cobain's erstwhile wife, and the mother to his child, Frances Bean Cobain—it is impossible to talk about the theory that Kurt Cobain was murdered without acknowledging the theory that Courtney Love was the woman behind the murder. It is, more or less, the only theory.
The seeds of this theory were planted about a month before Cobain's death. While touring in Munich in March 1994, he was diagnosed with bronchitis and laryngitis.
Because of these health issues, Nirvana canceled the remainder of their European tour and Cobain flew to Rome for treatment. On March 3rd, 1994, Courtney Love joined him there, along with the couple's live-in nanny Michael Dewitt, and described the trip in an interview with Rolling Stone published in December of 1994:
Kurt had gone all out for me when I got there [Rome]. He'd gotten me roses. He'd gotten a piece of the Colosseum, because he knows I love Roman history. I had some champagne, took a Valium, we made out, I fell asleep. The rejection he must have felt after all that anticipation–I mean, for Kurt to be that Mr. Romance was pretty intense.
Love claims she woke up around 4 A.M. and found Cobain unconscious after he ingested "50 fucking pills," leaving behind a note Love claims read, in part, "You don't love me anymore. I'd rather die than go through a divorce." He'd overdosed on Love's prescription Rohypnol, mixing it with champagne.
When asked if she thought this was a suicide attempt, Love told Rolling Stone, "...There was a definite suicidal urge, to be gobbling and gobbling and gobbling."
This, and similar statements made after his death regarding his overdose in Rome, is why the Rome incident is often cited in the case against Love. (Well, this and because some believe Love slipped Cobain the Rohypnol in a murder attempt, but this more frequently.) Many believe she only categorized it as a suicide attempt after Cobain's death in order to plant the idea that Cobain had, in the months preceding his death, been suicidal.
Others involved in the incident maintain that it was never thought of as such.
A doctor who treated Cobain that morning was quoted in Max Wallace and Ian Halperin's murder conspiracy text Love and Death: The Murder of Kurt Cobain saying, "We can usually tell a suicide attempt. This didn't look like one to me." In a Rolling Stone piece about Cobain's death, Janet Billig, of Nirvana's management Gold Mountain Entertainment, maintains Cobain clarified his non-suicidal intentions after recovering from the overdose: "A note was found but Kurt insisted that it wasn't a suicide note. He just took all of his and Courtney's money and was going to run away and disappear."
Not very nice, but, you know.
Pete Cleary, a friend of Cobain's, spoke directly about the Rome incident and alleged Cobain history-rewriting in Who Killed Kurt Cobain? (an earlier version of Wallace and Halperin's Love and Death):
"The thing you have to remember about all the talk of Kurt being suicidal is that all the talk only started when Courtney came out after the death and said Rome was a suicide attempt and the media picked up on all her examples of Kurt being suicidal. That's when all these people started saying, 'Of course he was suicidal, just listen to his music.' But that's a bunch of crap. Sure he was a moody guy and got depressed quite often. That applies to a hell of a lot of people, including me. But nobody ever talked about Kurt being suicidal before he died, nobody."
A New Attitude
In a theory that dovetails with the idea that Love attempted to plant false ideas of a drug-addled and suicidal Cobain in the media, Cobain murder truthers insist he had turned a corner in the months before his death. He was serious about sobriety, a happy, new father, and—perhaps most significantly—cured of the persistent and debilitating stomach pain the led him to abuse heroin.
The fix came after a specialist diagnosed a pinched nerve related to his scoliosis in the summer of 1993. Cobain's close friend Dylan Carlson spoke about the effect this had on Cobain in Max Wallace and Ian Halperin's Who Killed Kurt Cobain? saying:
"Kurt became a new person after that. He stopped retreating into the dark side that everybody came to associate with him and actually seemed cheerful. Part of it was Frances, I think, but the stomach thing was the most important."
Music journalist Everett True wrote about a more upbeat Cobain in the March 1994 edition of Melody Maker:
"Although it's no secret that in the past Kurt Cobain has taken drugs, sometimes to excess, the last time we met (in Seattle, last December -1993), he seemed completely 'clean.' That is, he was clean, optimistic and happier than he'd been for years....I knew that he'd cut down on his drug taking for a while....He hadn't taken alcohol in any serious quantity for several years, that's for sure."
In the April 1994 edition of Melody Maker, published after Cobain's death, Buzzcocks frontman Pete Shelley—who had been on Nirvana's final tour—also noted that he seemed clean in his last months:
"He seemed really clean when we were on tour. In some ways it was a bit awkward because he wasn't really joining in the very mild debauchery that went on."
El Duce: Murder for Hire?
In Nick Broomfield's documentary Kurt & Courtney, Eldon Hoke, also known as "El Duce," singer of Seattle band The Mentors, claims Courtney Love approached him at a record store in Hollywood and offered to pay him $50,000 to kill Kurt Cobain.
"You had some deal with Courtney, right?" asks Broomfield. "Yeah, she offered me 50 grand to whack Kurt Cobain."
He describes the conversation in an April, 1996 High Times article:
C Love: "El, I need a favor of you. My old man's been a real asshole lately, I need you to blow his f–king head off."
El Duce: "Are you serious?"
C Love: "Yeah, I'll give you $50,000 to blow his f–king head off."
El Duce: "I'm serious if you are."
C Love: "Where can I reach you?"
El Duce: "You can reach me here."
Before his Kurt & Courtney interview ends, El Duce laments not taking Love up on the offer, saying he passed it to a friend: "I told Alan—I mean, my friend. I'll let the FBI catch him. That's just the way it's done."
Two days after filming the interview with Broomfield, El Duce was run over by a train in Riverside, CA and killed. There were no witnesses, and his death was pronounced an accident.
Cobain struggled after returning to Seattle from Rome. (Gold Mountain Entertainment's Janet Billig says he went "cuckoo.") According to a Rolling Stone article published in June of 1994, his relationships with both Courtney Love and Nirvana were unstable.
On March 18, 1994, Love called police officers to report a domestic dispute with Cobain. From Rolling Stone:
After police officers arrived at the scene, summoned by Love, she told them that her husband had locked himself in a room with a 38-caliber revolver and said he was going to kill himself. The officers confiscated that gun and three others, along with a bottle of various unidentified pills.
(For what it's worth, Cobain told police he did not intend to take his own life that night.)
Spurred by this incident, on March 25, Rolling Stone reports Courtney Love, bandmates Krist Novoselic and Pat Smear, and several friends, including Janet Billig, met with him in his Seattle home with an intervention counselor.
The intervention took two days, and, although Love originally intended to leave with Cobain and enter rehab together, she left with Billig after the first night. She flew to Los Angeles and checked into the Peninsula Hotel, in Beverly Hills, to begin an outpatient program.
On March 30, before leaving for Exodus Recovery Center in Marina del Rey, Cobain acquired a shotgun and a box of ammunition from friend Dylan Carlson, telling him he suspected intruders on his property. Carlson told Rolling Stone, "He was going out to LA. It seemed kind of weird that he was buying the shotgun before he was leaving. So I offered to hold on to it until he got back."
Cobain kept the shotgun. He left Exodus, jumping over the brick wall that surrounded the center, after only two days.
(All of this looks quite bad for those who believe Cobain was murdered, yes.)
Tom Grant: Private Investigator
The largest advocate for the reinvestigation into Kurt Cobain's death is, probably, Tom Grant. ("Not my cousin Trent?" No, not your cousin Trent.) Grant is a former private investigator who was hired on April 3rd by Courtney Love after Cobain went missing from rehab.
Grant runs the website cobaincase.com, a very thorough resource for anyone interested in more Kurt Cobain murder-related information, where he explains that "after several months of intensive investigation, including dozens of taped interviews with Cobain's closest friends and family members," he believes Courtney Love and her live-in nanny Michael Dewitt (whom you might remember from Rome) conspired to kill Cobain.
We won't get into all of it, truly only Tom Grant has that kind of time, but the main thrust of his argument concerns a few points of interest in the days surrounding Cobain's death:
- Love—currently living at the Peninsula Hotel—told Grant to find someone in Seattle to watch over various locations, including the apartment of Cobain's drug dealer, in case he showed up. She failed to include Cobain's Lake Washington home, a significant absence because Dewitt later revealed that he had seen Cobain there on April 2nd, after he returned to Seattle from California, and had a short conversation with him. Dewitt claims he promptly told Love about this conversation, but whether or not she admits to this is a but murky. Dewitt gave a statement to the Seattle Police Department on April 18th, 1994:
- On April 6th, the team still unable to find Kurt, Grant decided to go to Seattle himself and have a look. When Love was asked why she wouldn't be joining him, she reportedly replied, "I can't, I have business I have to take care of here." A little rude...
- Grant requested Love not tell anyone he was traveling to Seattle, in case anyone was in contact with Cobain, and she agreed. Love later alerted Dewitt of Grant's impending arrival, telling Grant, "He won't tell anyone."
- Upon arriving in Seattle, Grant picked up Cobain's friend Dylan Carlson (from whom he bought that gun, you remember). After searching for Cobain and the locations Love specified, they took it upon themselves to check his Lake Washington house, which they accessed through an unlocked window. Grant didn't know about the greenhouse above the garage, where Cobain's body lay at that moment, so they did not find him.
- What they did find, however, after returning the next day, April 7th, was a note on the main staircase from Dewitt: "I can't believe you managed to be in the house without me noticing. You're a fucking asshole for not calling Courtney..." Grant says, "I had a feeling the note was intended for me to find, not Kurt. It just seemed phony."
Cobain's body was found on April 8th, 1994, in the greenhouse of his Lake Washington home. Tom Grant, along with Max Wallace, Ian Halperin, and Cobain murder truthers all over the world, note several details that don't add up about the crime scene.
The Suicide Note:
"It's a suicide note," you're thinking. "What could be fishy about a suicide note?" My goodness you are thick. Many believe Cobain's note—which doesn't hint at suicide until its final lines—was intended as a note to his fans, informing them that he had decided to end Nirvana and leave the music industry.
The final lines stand out from the rest of the note, clearly, and although the Washington State Patrol concluded the handwriting was Kurt's, Grant is not so sure:
My own tests with that so-called "suicide" note indicated that when it is enlarged on a copy machine, the inconsitencies [SIC] become even more clear. The ink printed line of that one critical comment, ("which will be so much happier without me"), are thinner than all of the ink printed lines in the rest of the note. At the very least, this indicates that line was added after the rest of the note was completed. The pressure from the hand using the pen to add that line was not consistent with the pressure from the hand that wrote the body of the note.
Too Much Heroin:
Before he was shot, Kurt Cobain injected (or, was injected with) three times the lethal dose of heroin. In 2004, on the ten-year anniversary of Cobain's death, Wallace, Halperin, and Grant sat down for an interview with Matt Lauer to discuss their theories. They touched on the heroin thing:
Wallace: "The forensic pathologist that we spoke to said that there's no way this guy could have injected a triple lethal dose of heroin into his system, then rolled down his sleeve, put away the drug kit, picked up the shotgun and shot himself. He would have been incapacitated within seconds.
Lauer: "Well, wait but aren't there people you talked to who did say that it was a possibility?"
Wallace: "With heroin, there is no ceiling level. So there's always a very minute possibility that this could have happened."
But two medical examiners Dateline spoke to said Cobain's tolerance to drugs, acquired through repeated abuse, might have enabled him to turn the gun on himself. Three other medical examiners said the information was inconclusive.
Police reports state no legible fingerprints were found on the gun cartridge, the shotgun itself, or the pen used to write Cobain's alleged suicide note. As he wrote in Who Killed Kurt Cobain?, and stated in the Lauer interview, Halperin notes, "Dead men don't wipe fingerprints off their own guns." (Though, fingerprints can be smudged upon firing.) (Certainly dead men don't wipe fingerprints off their own pens, though.)
Also, Here Is Something to Consider:
It is often reported that Cobain had placed his license next to his body, in order to be more easily identified by police. However, the ID was found in his wallet and placed there by a police officer in order to photograph.
So, there you have it. Was he murdered? Probably not. But also: maybe.
This is Illuminati Month on Black Bag, in which Gawker locks itself in the woodshed and breaks out the red yarn to explore its favorite conspiracy theories.