Who Killed Kurt Cobain?|
MOJO issue 54 - May 1998
(Full Cover) (Inside Flap)
LATE IN THE EVENING OF APRIL 19, 1997, A BALD, and burly punk rocker reeled drunkenly across the platform of Riverside Metrolink railway station, on the fringes of Los Angeles, watched while a train came barrelling down the track towards him, then either stepped - or fell - off the platform and onto the track. Death was instantaneous.
As soon as the news hit the LA punk underground, people began wondering if there was another way the accident could have happened. If, maybe, it hadn't been an accident to begin with.
Eldon Hoak, 'El Duce' to his public, would have relished the controversy. He had, after all, spent his entire life courting it, and in the 21 years since he formed the punk band, The Mentors, he never had far to look.Through the mid- 80s, The Mentors were one of the star turns at Tipper Gore's PMRC (Parents' Music Resource Center) investigations, as she testified before Congress on the subject of obscenity in rock, producing The Mentors' Golden Showers as evidence for the prosecution. "Bend up and smell my anal vapours,' the future Second Lady quoted El Duce, "your face will be my toilet paper."
A decade later, El Duce himself appeared on The Jerry Springer Show discussing the "shock rock" which his porno-punk rockers so delighted in detailing. And on April 2, 1996, the Globe tabloid went to press with El Duce's most extravagant gesture yet, the claim that Courtney Love had personally offered him $50,000 to blow her husband's head off - a claim without a shred of corroboration or evidence in support, either then or since. The 39-year-old El Duce was never afraid of making enemies. But this time, even his friends agreed, he really had gone too far.
According to El Duce, Love first approached him outside the Rock Shop, a Hollywood music memorabilia store, in December 1993. "She wanted me to be her hit man," El Duce announced. "It was a straight offer - I murder Kurt Cobain, she gives me $50,000."
He wasn't afraid to repeat his claims, either. He granted interviews to anyone who asked for one. He formed a new band, an offshoot of The Mentors, the unequivocally titled Courtney Killed Kurt. And when British documentary director Nick Broomfield showed up at his Southern California ranch on April 11, 1997, shooting for his Kurt And Courtney documentary, he happily told his story again, while Dr Edward Gelb, one of America's leading polygraphists, monitored his story on a lie detector machine (not quite the credible evidence it was hoped, given that the test's independent witness fell asleep before its conclusion).
El Duce had no doubt that Love's offer was serious: "She told me she didn't care how I did it - she just wanted her husband dead." Cobain, she explained to him, was fed up with her hanging around with other guys, and was going to divorce her. But he was worth millions, and Love was determined that she was going to keep the money. "With the marriage about to end," El Duce reasoned, "she knew the only way was to have Kurt killed and inherit [it]." And he admitted he was tempted by her offer: "I'm not a wealthy man, and $50,000 is a lot of money." Of course he didn't do it, and when Love came looking for him again, in March 1994 according to Rock Shop manager Karush Sepedjian he was away on tour and they never met up. But less than 10 days later, when Cobain was found dead above the garage of his home, El Duce was not too surprised. "I was like, Whoa! I wonder if she actually did pay some sucker to blow his head off."
Eight days after his polygraph test, he was dead. As his remains were scraped off the track, the question now convulsing conspiracy fantasists was whether she had paid some other sucker to wipe out El Duce too.
The death of Kurt Cobain never looked like it was going to lie quietly. From the moment his body was found, by electrician Gary Smith, on April 8, 1994, the grapevine buzzed with rumour. The official story was simplicity itself. That Friday morning, Gary Smith arrived at the Cobains' Seattle home to install a new security system. There was no answer at the front door, although a television was on inside; so he got to work, following wires along the garage to the upstairs room once used by the Cobains' daughter's nanny, Michael 'Cali' De Witt. Looking in a window, he saw an up-ended plant, and what he initially thought was a mannequin. It was only when he saw the blood that he realised he was wrong. It was about 8.40 am, and Kurt Cobain was dead.
Smith called the police; it was his employer who phoned the local rock radio station KXRX. They initially ignored the report: hoax calls - not least those involving Cobain - were fairly commonplace. It took a second conversation and a confirmation call to the police to convince the station. By 9.30, the news was cutting into the morning rush hour traffic.
Cobain wasn't supposed to have been in Seattle at the time. A week earlier, on March 28, the singer had entered the Exodus Recovery Center in Marina Del Ray, just outside LA, finally making good on his repeated promises to seek help for his drug problems. Three days later, however, he quit and flew home.
Immediately upon his return hooking up with one of his oldest friends, musician Dylan J. Carlson, Cobain purchased a Remington M- 11 20-gauge shotgun. The next day, April 2, he called Love in LA, where she, was gearing up for the release of Hole's new album, Live Through This. "No matter what happens," he told her, "I want you to know you made a really good record." Love was taken aback. "Do you mean you want a divorce? Or are you going to kill yourself? "
"No. But remember, no matter what happens, I love you."
Alarmed, Love at once called Seattle police, filing a missing persons' report, and twice over the next few days officers visited the Cobain home in search of the singer. They never found him. Neither did Tom Grant, a Beverley Hills private detective whom Love hired to join the search; neither did the workmen who were installing new security lights around the grounds of the house.
But Cobain was there all the same, in his nest above the garage. And sometime on the evening of April 5, a mixture of heroin and Valium coursing through his system, he scrawled a note to Courtney and daughter Frances Bean; planted it in a mound of soil he'd tipped out of a plant pot; then reached for the newly-purchased shotgun. And lying on the floor, with the stock gripped firmly between his sneaker-clad feet, he pulled the trigger.
So much for the official story.
So why, for example, could the authorities find no identifiable fingerprints on the gun? Dead men, after all, rarely have the presence of mind to wipe down the weapon they have just blown their heads off with. Why was there no mention of suicide in Cobain's final letter? Why-did the authorities appoint one of Courtney Love's own friends, Dr Nikolas Hartshorne, as officiating coroner? Who was using Cobain's credit card in the days immediately following his death? And why did he even bother shooting himself when there was so much heroin in his system that it constituted a lethal overdose in itself? And then there were the incidental details the circumstantial evidence which pointed towards darker conclusion.
Ever since Cobain and Love were married, tales of domestic discord had circulated widely, culminating less than three weeks before Cobain's death on the night a terrified Love called police to the couple's home, insisting that Cobain had locked himself in the bathroom with a gun, and was threatening suicide, murder and more.