Today marks the 25th anniversary of the tragic and unfortunate death of Kurt Cobain. As we mark another year past since Cobain’s untimely death, we take a look back at the events surrounding a case that has been closed as a “suicide,” but in reality has so many more questions that beg to be asked and answered.
Live For Live Music’s Bob Wilson spoke with licensed private investigator and former L.A. County Sheriff’s Dept. detective Tom Grant, who was actually hired by Courtney Love to “find” Kurt Cobain when he “went missing” and has studied all of the finer details of the case. We also take a look at the two main publications about the case by NY Times #1 Best-Selling author Ian Halperin and Max Wallace, who both suggest the case should be, at the very least, “re-opened”. Along with interviews from Grant and Halperin, we take a look at their theories and facts surrounding the case to find anything but a clear-cut suicide case for one of rock n’ roll’s most enigmatic protagonists.
Kurt Cobain: A Hole In My Life – The Anniversary Of a Rock Legend’s Death
[Originally published 4/5/14]
by Bob Wilson
In 2014, headlines incorrectly declared that Seattle police were reopening the case on the death of Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain. Cobain was found dead at his home on April 8th, 1994, three days after he expired in what is ruled as a suicide. Workman Gary Smith spotted the corpse in the greenhouse on Cobain’s property through a window, as he was installing security lighting. Four rolls of film which police had taken at the time of Cobain’s death had been left undeveloped and had sat in evidence. With the twentieth anniversary of the case approaching, police decided to develop the film. Seattle Det. Mike Ciesynski clarified the current status of the case to the press, “It’s a suicide. This is a closed case.”
Ian Halperin and Max Wallace produced two books on the events surrounding Cobain’s death, Who Killed Kurt Cobain? (Birch Lane Press, 1998), and Love And Death: The Murder of Kurt Cobain (Atria Books, 2004). L4LM spoke with Ian Halperin, #1 NY Times bestselling author and award-winning filmmaker. “The only thing I suggest is a re-opening of the case”, stated Halperin. He bases this “solely on the forensic evidence.” The horror that haunts Halperin is the number of copycat suicides emulating Cobain, which is a trend sadly still occurring. There have been “around 200 now,” and Halperin feels it would be unthinkable if Kurt Cobain wound up not even having killed himself after all of these misguided souls had followed suit. The author makes no accusations and is very clear about that. As for the suicide verdict, he would like to “reverse it to undetermined.” Then the case could be investigated anew from there, and authorities could determine what truly happened when considering all information on a fair and open scale.
Halperin’s books with Max Wallace investigated the allegations of Tom Grant, a licensed private investigator and former Detective in the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department. Grant was hired by Courtney Love to find Kurt Cobain when he left the Exodus Recovery Center in Marina Del Ray, California on April 1st, 1994, and could not be located. Love phoned in a missing person’s report to the Seattle police, pretending to be Cobain’s mother Wendy O’Connor. Love remained in Los Angeles, sending Grant to find Cobain with the help of her friend Dylan Carlson. Love stated–in O’Connor’s name–that Cobain was missing, suicidal, and in possession of a shotgun. Grant later evaluated this call as being a diversion to paint Cobain as suicidal, as he was being set up to be murdered. The impression left by Love’s report would be that no less than the singer’s mother felt that Cobain was a danger to himself, and head the investigation toward a verdict of suicide.
Tom Grant’s theory leans heavily on the amount of morphine in Cobain’s blood, as heroin turns to morphine once it enters a person’s bloodstream. The level in Cobain was triple the maximum lethal dose to a severe addict. Grant’s contention is that with this much heroin in his bloodstream, Cobain could not have lifted the Model 11 20-gauge shotgun to his mouth and pulled the trigger. The autopsy has never been released to the public, so the exact amount of drugs in Cobain’s bloodstream is based on a newspaper account. Experts still debate whether or not Cobain could have fired the gun under these circumstances.
Original reports stated that Cobain was barricaded in the small greenhouse room, with a stool wedged up against the door. In truth, a simple push button lock was all that sealed the room. Someone potentially could have simply pushed the button and closed the door behind them as they left. Reports said that Cobain left his license out for identification purposes, in case disfigurement hid his identity. In reality, a police officer had removed the license from the singer’s wallet, which then was photographed in pictures taken at the scene.
The suicide note left actually seemed to describe that Cobain was quitting Nirvana, and had tired of stardom. Nirvana member Dave Grohl confirmed years later that the group was breaking up, in an appearance he made on the Howard Stern program. The size of the writing at the end of the note changed dramatically, and it was only there that Cobain seemed to say a permanent goodbye to his wife and young daughter. Tom Grant was also concerned that the gun, the shells, and the note all had no discernible fingerprints, and the note appeared to be (at least in key parts) a forgery. The gun was not checked for prints by authorities until May 6th, 1994, a full month later. The note was only released because Tom Grant pretended to need glasses to read it when Courtney showed it to him, and he asked to run a copy off on her fax machine.
The autopsy was completed on April 8th, 1994, the same day that Cobain’s body was discovered. In a case full of unexpected twists and turns, the coroner was Dr. Nikolas Hartshorne, the producer of several Nirvana concerts who had personally known Cobain and Love. Critics allege that the case should have been investigated as a homicide, and not initially begun with a conclusion of suicide as it moved forward. Hartshorne later was killed in a B.A.S.E. jumping accident in Switzerland, on August 6th, 2002.
Tom Grant went on the Tom Leykis radio program, and stated bluntly that Courtney Love and Michael ‘Cali’ DeWitt were involved in a conspiracy to kill Kurt Cobain. Love responded to Grant’s allegations by offering him work on different cases, which he feels was a bribe. DeWitt was a friend to the couple and the nanny for the couple’s daughter, Frances Bean Cobain. DeWitt was in the Cobain home when Cobain was missing, and had seen Kurt there as DeWitt lay in semi-sleep in bed. A note DeWitt left for Kurt to call Courtney is believed by Grant to have been staged. DeWitt was himself an active heroin user and former boyfriend of Courtney Love. Love later had DeWitt’s father do extensive renovations to her home and got ‘Cali’ a lucrative job with Geffen Records.
Tom Leykis read a retraction regarding Grant’s allegations on his program at the behest of Westwood One, which Leykis said he read against his will. Someone was using the credit card Cobain had purchased a plane ticket back to Seattle with after he left Exodus drug rehab facility until the time his body was discovered. Grant believes it was DeWitt. Police never have proven who was using the card while the singer lay dead in the greenhouse. That issue seems to be begging for clarification, and needs to be settled for the sake of closure at the very least.
Tom Grant told L4LM that he was not giving interviews until a 2015 documentary told from his perspective, Soaked In Bleach, was released [Note: The film is out now]. He did consent to answer a question on whether Cobain had nitrates on his hands from firing the shotgun. He said that (Nitrates) are “meaningless in this case.” He went on that “anyone standing in a small to medium sized room with their hands exposed, especially the palms, (like in a robbery where the gunman orders the victim to raise his or her hands), would test positive for GSR with a gun, rifle or shotgun, where the GSR is carried by the air in the room, like a sneeze (but more intense). (Nitrates) end up on all exposed surfaces, including the hands of someone who did not even pull the trigger”. Grant went on to say that “most GSR is invisible to the naked eye, unless the weapon were fired at very close range. So of course Cobain would have GSR on his hands and his face, whether he was murdered or committed suicide”.
From the time Courtney Love hired Tom Grant to locate Kurt Cobain, he began to tape nearly every conversation he had with all of those involved. Grant has recordings of Love discussing Cobain seeking a divorce from her (many of the tapes can be played on Grant’s website: cobaincase.com). Love and Cobain had a prenuptial agreement, as she seemed initially destined to become the bigger star. When Cobain’s light wound up shining more brightly, Love stood to suffer financially if the couple divorced. Grant also theorizes that Love also would potentially gain considerable sympathy if Cobain committed suicide, rather than divorced her. In Grant’s mind, this was the motive behind what he labels a murder.
Cobain had overdosed on Rophynol and champage at the Excelsior Hotel in Rome on March 4th, 1994. Courtney Love told journalist Robert Hillburn of the Los Angeles Times that Cobain was in a coma for 20 hours, and legally dead. Later, Love would claim that what was reported as an overdose was actually a suicide attempt, and she had burned the note. Love stated he had “gobbled” 50 tablets from her prescription. Dr. Oslavo Galletta treated Cobain, and he told Halperin and Wallace that, “We can usually tell a suicide attempt. This didn’t look like one to me.” This discrepancy in the accounts led Tom Grant and others to question if Love was using this amended story to build a false trail of a history of suicide, to cover wrongdoing in the singer’s death.
Tom Grant’s account has him speaking to Cobain and Love’s lawyer, Rosemary Carroll. Rosemary represented Kurt and Courtney, and was the former wife of Jim Carroll of The Basketball Diaries fame. According to Grant, Cobain was intending to divorce Love, and Carroll urged him to investigate the circumstances of Cobain’s death. Carroll also said that in Love’s backpack, she found samples of Love practicing someone’s handwriting. This aroused suspicion due to the suicide note Cobain left seeming to be more about retiring from music than permanently from life. The end of the note seemed to include an addition made at a later point–possibly written by a second person. Carroll also stated that Love wrote a memo for herself to “get arrested,” which she indeed did while Grant was searching for her missing husband. The point we wonder about is whether Love seeking an iron-clad alibi for herself in Los Angeles was what exposed that Cobain was murdered back in Seattle. When Carroll realized that Grant was taping the conversation while she expressed doubts over suicide, she uttered, “Oh, sh*t”. And she added, that “is just my theory”, before hanging up. She has not commented publicly on these matters.
Love was charged with drug possession, and for having a doctor’s prescription pad in her hotel room. Love was cleared, but it seems strange that she would leave a memo seemingly foretelling of the arrest regarding this key moment in time. Accounts have her calling in her own overdose from the telephone in her hotel room. Another possible scenario for Love practicing handwriting was to possibly forge prescriptions, and later her doctor covered for her saying he merely forgot his pad in the hotel room. The circus-like lifestyle of these musical heroin abusers causes such tumult, that clarity is hard to find in the events at hand. Had Grant not audio taped so many conversations, the atmosphere would be so muddied, it would be nearly impossible to detect much fact from fiction in this sordid tale.
Another chapter in this strange set of events involves musician Eldon Hoke (known as “El Duce”) alleging that Courtney told him: “El Duce, I need a favor of you. My old man’s a real assh*le. I need you to blow his f*cking head off”. Hoke’s place in the music scene with his band The Mentors put him in the same sphere as Love’s band Hole. Hoke says he was told to make the murder look like a suicide. One would dismiss this as fantasy, except nothing in this case seems to wind up clear cut, or easily dismissed. Hoke passed a lie detector test administered by renowned expert Dr. Edward Gelb, who says there is no doubt that Hoke was telling the truth. Then a week after Hoke spoke on camera for BBC documentarian Nick Broomfield (“Kurt & Courtney”) in April 1997, he was run over by a train in Riverside, California. He had stated his friend “Allen” fulfilled the contract. Fellow musician Allen Wrench was the last person to see Hoke alive.
If you want to learn more about the case, seek out the writings of Halperin and Wallace, and look through the contents of Tom Grant’s website. To say we are “through the looking glass” is an understatement. Perhaps it would be more appropriate to say that we are “down the rabbit hole”. The last word here goes to Ian Halperin, and some poignant thoughts he shared about the loss of the artist who left us so sadly, amid so much controversy:
“Kurt Cobain – the man, his music and his legacy – will never be replaced in pop culture. He is the last veritable music icon. Twenty years after his death, new generations continue to be inspired by his incredible lyrics and unique voice. Unfortunately, he never got to see the treasure of his life grow up, his precious daughter Frances Bean. The world is more empty without Kurt here. Imagine how much more music he could have given the world if he’d still be here. RIP Kurt!”
[Originally published April 2016]