The Seattle Times|
May 11, 1994
Questions Linger After Cobain Suicide
Credit Card Activity, Details of Last Days Intrigue Investigators
by Linda Keene, Duff Wilson, Ferdinand M. De Leon, Vanessa Ho, Patrick
MacDonald, Mery Murakami, Peyton Whitley
Kurt Cobain’s death a month ago wasn’t the open-and-shut suicide case
Seattle police originally indicated.
Only now are police finally satisfied the Seattle rock star spent his final
hours alone and died from a self-inflicted gunshot would without the
possibility of foul play.
Detectives have spent more than 200 hours interviewing Cobain’s family and
friends, his reputed heroin dealer and others. They even hired a handwriting
expert to review the note found by Cobain’s body to make sure it was
“We went to some pretty remarkable ends to come to this conclusion, to
eliminate any questions in the future,” said Sgt. Don Cameron of the Seattle
Police Department homicide squad.
Even so, some people close to the case, including a private investigator
hired by Cobain’s wife to look for him when he was missing, say there are
unanswered questions about the death of Nirvana’s lead singer.
– Where did Cobain spend his final 80 hours, and who was with him? Cameron
said police believe he was staying alone in a house in a secluded area near
Carnation, but there was no confirmed sighting of him there or in Seattle.
– What role did heroin play, and where did Cobain get it?
– Who was trying to use Cobain’s credit card - a card that had been canceled
by Cobain’s wife, Courtney Love - for days after he died?
– Why wasn’t the body found by friends familiar with the Seattle house and
who were there during the time Cobain was missing?
Cobain, 27, spent his final days eluding Love and the friends, police and
private investigator she had called to help find him when he
uncharacteristically cut off contact.
He had been despondent and defiant and locked in combat with his wife.
Cobain’s actions are hard to trace, fueling speculation there was more to
his suicide than the public, press or police know.
Here is much of what is known, gathered from police records and interviews
with people who knew or came into contact with Cobain during the last weeks
of his life:
Evidence of Cobain’s self-destructive behavior surfaced in early March when
he overdosed on pills and champagne while in Rome.
Love later said it was a suicide attempt. Cobain, when he came out of his
coma, insisted it had been an accident.
Was it? Cobain’s despair over his unwanted stardom and his growing reliance
on drugs prompted friends to say he was depressed, but few thought he was
On March 18, Love called Seattle police to report that her husband was armed
and suicidal after he locked himself in a room with a gun in their home in
Seattle’s Madrona neighborhood, overlooking Lade Washington. But when Cobain
talked to police, he said he had just been trying to get away from Love and
hadn’t known there was a gun in the room.
Four days later, a Graytop Taxi was called to the couple’s home. The driver,
Leon Hasson, said the two quarreled viciously in the back seat while en
route to a used-car lot at Westlake and Denny Way.
After giving him a generous tip, they departed and resumed their argument in
front of the owner and an employee at the American Dream used car lot. Love
had wanted Cobain to keep a Lexus they had purchased Jan. 2 but returned a
few days later: Cobain was more comfortable with something less luxurious.
Joe Kenney, owner of the car lot where the couple purchased a ‘65 Dodge Dart
for $2,500, said Love appeared unstable and dropped a handful of pills while
heading into a restroom. Kenney says he and the employee commented to each
other that they should ask Cobain to autograph his CDs soon, because it
didn’t look like neither one of them would be around much longer.
Time for ‘Tough Love’
Three days later, on March 25, Love surprised Cobain with a “tough love”
intervention concerning his drug use. About 10 people took part, including
four record company executives, some musician friends and Cobain’s best
friend, Dylan Carlson.
The intervention was tense. Danny Goldberg, a former Nirvana manager and
Atlantic Records vice president, said Cobain was “extremely reluctant: and
“denied that he was doing anything self-destructive.”
By meeting’s end, people thought Cobain had softened and had been persuaded
to seek drug treatment. He agreed to leave for a detox program in Los
Angeles that day.
Also that day, Love took a chartered jet from Boeing Field to San Francisco
and then flew to Los Angeles the following day. She checked into the plush
Peninsula Hotel in Beverly Hills to undergo drug treatment in an outpatient
setting, under the twice-a-day care of a psychiatrist in her $500-a-day
Rosemary Carroll, Love entertainment industry attorney in Beverly Hills,
said Love was trying to support Cobain’s treatment by getting treatment
herself. (Love has declined to be interviewed.)
Cobain, though, never made it to Los Angeles that day. Although friends took
him to the airport, he changed his mind and went back to Seattle, according
to a Capitol Hill friend who is also a heroin dealer. The dealer, who did
not want to be identified, said Cobain visited her apartment that evening.
She said Cobain said to her: “Where are my friends when I need them? Why are
my friends against me?” The woman recalled, “He just felt like, ‘What’s
wrong here, you know? Why am I the wrong one?’”
Cobain was upset, but was he suicidal? Some friends and family members
didn’t think so.
His paternal grandmother, Iris Cobain, said “everything seemed fine” when
she and her husband last talked to Cobain in late March.
“We never really asked him about Rome. He said it was an accident.”
In that last conversation, Cobain confirmed plans to go fishing in April
with his grandfather. “When he talked to me he seemed to be happy,” Iris
After the intervention, Cobain hung around Seattle for five days until
Wednesday, March 30, when he finally agreed to go to the Exodus Treatment
Center in Los Angeles. But before he left, he visited Carlson in Seattle’s
Lake City neighborhood.
Cobain wanted to buy a shotgun, said Carlson, who had been at the drug
intervention five days before.
“He complained there were prowlers damaging his house,” explained Carlson.
“I had no reason not to believe him.”
Carlson said Cobain gave him the money to buy a Remington Model 11 20-gauge
shotgun at Stan’s Gun Shop. The salesman remembers Carlson and knew he was
with someone else, but the other person hung back and wasn’t identifiable.
Why Cobain didn’t buy the shotgun himself isn’t known. There’s no
registration or waiting period for shotguns.
Cobain was no stranger to guns. Three guns were taken from his home by
police after a June 1993 domestic disturbance, and four guns were taken
after the March 18 call.
Cobain Heads for L.A.
Cobain apparently brought the shotgun home, put it in a closet and caught a
flight to Los Angeles, where he checked into the Exodus Recovery Center.
At Exodus, Cobain was visited by his daughter, Frances Bean Cobain, and her
nanny. It would be the child’s last visit with her father. Love apparently
did not visit but talked to Cobain by phone many times, the last time about
6 p.m. on his second day there, Friday, April1. Without explanation, Cobain
left Exodus an hour later, telling staff member he wanted to go outside to
smoke a cigarette.
Instead, he went to the airport, where he reportedly signed autographs at a
ticket counter before boarding the 10:20 p.m. Delta Airlines flight to
Seattle. He arrived at 1 a.m.
When Love learned that day that Cobain had left the detox program, she
immediately canceled Cobain’s Seafirst credit card. She told Tom Grant, the
private investigator she had hired to find him, that she hoped it would help
her track him in order to help him.
As it turned out, though, canceling the card made it more difficult to track
Cobain because the bank stopped recording the precise location of the
attempted charges. It only recorded the category of business and amount of
money that the card holder attempted to charge.
Attempts Made to Use Card
In the next few days, numerous unsuccessful attempts were made to use the
card for cash, flowers and other unspecified purposes - including two
mysterious charge attempts well after the medical examiner says Cobain died.
Police are still unsure who was trying to use the card.
After arriving in Seattle early Saturday morning, April 2, Cobain returned
to his Madrona home. His appearance there surprised and concerned Michael
DeWitt, a friend who was staying at the house and who worked as a nanny for
Cobain’s and Love’s daughter.
Dylan Carlson said he received a call from DeWitt saying Cobain had shown up
at the house and that he “looked bad; was acting weird.”
“I told the nanny to confiscate the gun if he knew where it was,” Carlson
said. “By that time, I was sufficiently alarmed.”
And for good reason. Graytop Taxi supervisor Paul Szaly says Cobain was
driven to a gun shop that morning to buy shotgun shells.
A receipt for the ammunition was later found at Cobain’s house.
After that, Cobain’s trail disappears. There are unconfirmed sightings of
the thin, blond man, but nobody seems to know where he was from that
Saturday until his death, which the medical examiner says occurred three
days later - sometime after noon on April 5.
Police think Cobain had been to the secluded property that he and Love owned
in Carnation. It features a ramshackle cabin and a newer house, overlooking
woods and a pond.
But nobody reported seeing Cobain there in the final days of his life.
On Sunday, April 3, Cobain, or someone else with access to his credit-card
number, attempted several charges. Bank records show that a $1,100 charge
was denied mid-afternoon, followed by a series of rejected attempts ranging
from $2,500 to $5,000, apparently to try to get cash. On Monday morning,
April 4, there were two unsuccessful attempts to get $86.60 worth of
Later on Monday, Cobain’s mother or Love, or both, called the Seattle Police
Department to file a missing persons report as the search for Nirvana’s lead
Some sightings put him on Capitol Hill, spending time with the woman friend
who was also a heroin dealer. At least two people say she told them Cobain
had come by her apartment Tuesday night, April 5. But the woman denies it,
and the date conflicts with the medical examiner’s estimation that Cobain
died sometime that day.
The following morning, April 6, someone tried to charge $1,517.56 for a cash
advance on Cobain’s credit card at 7:07 a.m.
Seafirst Mastercard records indicate the card was not present, so it may
have been a phone charge or an in person attempt without the card. No other
information was saved by the bank.
Tom Grant, the former deputy sheriff hired by Love, arrived in Seattle and
began his search for Cobain on Thursday, April 7. He and Dylan Carlson
checked Cobain’s Madrona house at 3:30a.m. and again at 9:45 p.m. They saw
no sign of the missing musician.
They didn’t look in the greenhouse room atop the detached garage.
That’s where Cobain’s body lay, undiscovered, according to the medical
examiner’s estimated time of death.
Grant said he felt “a little foolish” that he and Carlson hadn’t looked in
the greenhouse, but he said it was dark and raining and he hadn’t been seen
Still, he was surprised Cobain’s best friend didn’t suggest they look there.
But Carlson said he didn’t know about the room. “For all the times I’d been
there, I didn’t even realize there was a room above it associated with the
house,” he said.
Grant and Carlson spent the rest of their time checking the Carnation
property, the heroin dealer’s apartment and other locations.
Meanwhile, Love was rushed to a Los Angeles hospital on April 7 for what her
lawyer said was an allergic reaction to prescription drugs. Police arrested
her for suspected heroin possession, but prosecutor’s later said the
substance was legal and declined to file charges.
Also that day, at 4 p.m., DeWitt, the nanny who was staying at the Madrona
home, took a taxi to the airport and flew to Los Angeles. That left the
house empty. DeWitt has said he never knew Cobain’s body was lying in the
room above the garage.
And on Friday, April 8, at 1:35 a.m., yet another unexplained charge was
attempted on Cobain’s credit card, for $43.29.
Later that morning, Cobain’s body was found by an electrician who was
installing an outdoor security light. The Remington shotgun rested on
Cobain’s chest, and next to the body was a cigar box filled with heroin
The cigar box looked like something used by street addicts, not by a
millionaire. “The shooting kit next to him looked like an alley downtown,”
said Police Capt. Larry Farrar. “It was just as dirty a stinking drug box as
I’ve ever seen.”
Also next to the body was a note, stuck into a plant container with a
ballpoint pen. It appeared to have been written in two parts.
The top of the note was written in smaller handwriting and, while it
reflected unhappiness, never clearly referred to suicide. The bottom of the
note, in much larger writing, ended: “Please keep going Courtney. for
Frances. for her life which will be so much happier without me. I LOVE YOU.
I LOVE YOU.”
The note piqued police curiosity, and they hired an expert to examine it.
When the expert concluded both parts were written entirely by Cobain, it
seemed to resolve any suspicions about his death.
There’s been no foul play, police said - just an early death that no one
could fully explain.