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The Mysterious Death of Kurt Cobain

| April 5, 2013 | 26 Comments

Seattle, April 8, 1994, 9 a.m. An electrician named Gary Smith arrived at Kurt Cobain’s home in Seattle to install a new security system. Though there was no answer at the front door, Smith got to work. As he climbed on the roof, following wires along the garage to a room above it, he looked through a window. Inside he saw an overturned plant and what he thought was a mannequin lying beside it. When he noticed the blood, he called the police.

Kurt Cobain, 27, had been missing for six days. On March 30, he had checked himself into the Exodus Recovery Center, outside L.A., seeking help for his drug problems (Cobain told a close friend that he had been “shanghaied” into treatment by Gold Mountain, the company that managed his band Nirvana).

Meanwhile, his wife Courtney Love was in L.A., doing press for the release of her group Hole’s new record, Live Through This. According to Love, Kurt called her from rehab and said, “No matter what happens, I want you to know you made a really good record.” She said, “What do you mean?” He replied, “Just remember, no matter what happens, I love you.”

After three days at Exodus, Kurt scaled the compound’s six-foot wall, and caught a plane back home (the dramatic escape wasn’t necessary, as he was actually free to come and go). Upon learning of her husband’s escape, Courtney hired Tom Grant, an L.A.-based private investigator to find him. Grant had an assistant in Seattle set up surveillance on the Cobain residence, along with a “dope house” where Kurt was thought to buy narcotics. At the same time, Kurt’s mom Wendy O’Connor, fearing her son might be suicidal, filed a missing-person report with the Seattle police.

Upon his arrival home at around 2 a.m. on April 2, Kurt had a brief exchange with Michael DeWitt, the male live-in nanny that he and Courtney had hired. At 8 a.m., Kurt had breakfast, then went to a sporting goods store to buy cartridges for a recently acquired Remington M-11 20-gauge shotgun.

All the while, he managed to elude the Seattle police. Disguised in a hunting hat, an overcoat and big sunglasses, he was recognized by several people around town, who described him as looking “ill” and “out of it.”

Sometime on the evening of April 5, he barricaded himself in his studio above the garage by locking one French door and propping a stool against the other. He wrote a one-page note addressed to “Boddah,” his invisible childhood friend, and propped it in a mound of dirt from an overturned plant. He smoked a few cigarettes, drank from a can of root beer, then injected himself with a potent cocktail of heroin and Valium. He put the drug paraphernalia back in a cigar box. He laid down two towels and a brown corduroy jacket, and opened his wallet to show his driver’s license. He then reached for the Remington M-11. Lying on the floor, with the shotgun’s stock gripped between his sneaker-clad feet, he pulled the trigger with his thumb.

There are some disturbing inconsistencies and questions when it comes to this official story. Let’s start with the shotgun. It wasn’t examined by Seattle Police until a full month later, and when it was, there were only unidentifiable smudged fingerprints, as if it had been wiped down. It’s possible that the smudged prints were caused by the force of the discharge, which would naturally move the gun through Cobain’s hand. But if he had bought the gun weeks before, why weren’t there other prints on it? (In the original police report, it said that marks on Cobain’s hands were consistent with firing a gun; two years later, the police admitted that this detail was actually a mistake, added by a rookie cop at the scene).

And what about the drugs? Kurt had 225 mg of heroin in his blood, three times the lethal dose. There were intravenous punctures in both arms. According to medical experts, that much heroin would leave a person completely incapacitated or cause them to lapse into a coma. That is, if it didn’t kill them instantly. It’s not uncommon for those who OD on heroin to be found with the needle still in their arms. That’s how quickly one lethal dose can kill you. Kurt was somehow able to roll down his sleeves, put his needle and spoon away, arrange the towels, then lie down on the ground and pull the trigger of a shotgun.

The note that he left behind raises even more questions. First, it reads less like a suicide note than an open apology to fans from a man who’s considering quitting the music business. Here’s an excerpt:

“The fact is, I can’t fool you, any one of you. It simply isn’t fair to you or me. The worst crime I can think of would be to rip people off by faking it and pretending as if I’m having 100% fun. Sometimes I feel as if I should have a punch-in time clock before I walk out on stage. I’ve tried everything within my power to appreciate it (and I do, God, believe me I do, but it’s not enough).”

When he does address his wife and daughter, it’s in the third person. An odd choice for a suicide note. At the end, he quotes Neil Young—“It’s better to burn out than to fade away”—then signs off “Peace, love, empathy.”

There are an additional four lines scrawled at the bottom of the note, in what appears to be completely different handwriting:

“Frances and Courtney, I’ll be at your altar.

Please keep going Courtney, for Frances.

For her life, which will be so much happier without me.

I LOVE YOU, I LOVE YOU!”

While it’s remotely possible that Kurt’s handwriting was affected by the drugs or his mood, there’s something odd in the complete change of tone (and what exactly does “I’ll be at your altar” mean?) Handwriting analysis of the note has been inconclusive.

There are other questions—Why was the ejected shell of the shotgun found to the left and not the right of the body? When Courtney found out that Kurt fled rehab, why did she contact a private eye and not the police first? Why were the private eye and the police told to watch a drug dealer’s house and check hotels for Kurt, but not told that the nanny Michael DeWitt had seen him at the house? Why was a good friend of Courtney Love’s appointed as examining physician?

Yet another odd twist. In 1996, a punk musician named Eldon “El Duce” Hoke claimed that three years earlier, Courtney Love had offered him $50,000 to murder Kurt Cobain. Hoke even passed an on-screen polygraph test with his claim in Nick Broomfield’s documentary Kurt & Courtney. Eight days after the polygraph test, Hoke was found dead on a railroad track outside L.A.

These unresolved strands have been woven into conspiracy theories that still provoke heated discussion today among fans and friends. Ironically, the one who’s been most outspoken about a murder conspiracy is Tom Grant, the private investigator who Love hired. In 2005, in an interview with Uncut, Cobain’s longtime friend Kim Gordon, of Sonic Youth, said she believed that Kurt was murdered.

It’s clear that Kurt Cobain was thinking about a change of life—quitting the music business, divorcing Courtney Love. Always a reluctant rock star, he was obsessed with his own artistic obsolescence. In the months before he died, he told friends, “I’m just recycled Lennon” and “It’s impossible for me to look into the future and say I’m going to be able to play Nirvana songs in 10 years. There’s no way. I don’t want to have to resort to doing the Eric Clapton thing.”

At the same time, it’s also known that he had a lifelong struggle with depression and drug use. As Cobain’s mother, Wendy O’Connor, told Entertainment Weekly, “Kurt’s problems were ongoing, and we struggled with them for years. I talked him through so many nights. He was probably a mis- or undiagnosed depressive, which runs in my family … The way I explain it is, have you ever been hit in the stomach and lost your breath? It’s a horrible, panicky situation. Can you imagine being in that state of mind—in that state of anxiety and fear—for years? He was a wonderful person, but he just couldn’t stand the pain anymore.”

—By Bill DeMain

—From Performing Songwriter Issue 93, with stories behind the mysterious deaths of Jim Morrison, Sam Cooke, Jeff Buckley and Kurt Cobain.

Photos © John Van Hasselt/Corbis & Scott Weiner/Retna

Category: Best of PS

Comments (26)

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  1. David Elsworth says:

    I just cannot believe that they never searched the room above the garage ? Wasn’t a very good investigator was he ?

  2. Dana says:

    Re: Jody I agree with you just checked that site and personally speaking he was murdered! it really makes me mad that this society will jump to any conclusion about famous Rock Stars and Actors about their deaths. So much has happened throughout all decades that cases like the late Kurt Cobain, Michael Jackson, Marilyn Monroe the list goes on. I watch a lot of true documentaries and true stories. Recently I purchased Conviction never new much about this story, Kenneth Waters was convicted for first degree murder and spent almost 20yrs in Jail! His sister knew he was a innocent man and went as far to become a lawyer to prove his innocence. When he finally was released he only lived for 6mths he had a fall and died instantly. Being in jail that long caused his depression and anxiety after all those years to find out he was innocent. Am so tired of people ‘judging’.it is time that the truth be known for the late Kurt Cobain, So please people do not judge who are we to know what really happened. As for Courtney Love never did admire her at all perhaps only Courtney knows the real truth hey. What about the Malayasian flight that mysterseriously has disappeared ?
    too many conspiraries, media the Government’s. On that note the truth will come out someday maybe not in my generation but the next one.

  3. Jay says:

    I work as a latent print examiner, and despite media portrayals, it is HIGHLY unlikely to get fingerprints from guns. The metal makes the fingerprints smudge extremely easily, not to mention drug addicts give terrible fingerprints regardless. If they printed the wood part of shotgun, the graining on the wood would make the prints highly distorted. Other factors- like sweat and pressure- can make the fingerprint into a virtual circle. Personally, if I was going to kill myself I would be sweaty and gripping the gun for dear life.
    I can’t speak for the other parts, but statistically only about 10% of all prints lifted are usable (of those less than 1% are the perp’s). Go watch a true crime show and see if they ever match a fingerprint on a gun to the suspect… They won’t.

  4. issy says:

    i dont really care much about the info here but i blame courtny cuz if they never got married he probably would still have depression but might not have gone as far as to commit suicide it ball seems very fixed

  5. Brian says:

    Via, you are dumber than this “author”. The shotgun was found UPSIDE DOWN, causing the ejector port to be facing to the RIGHT. Almost as bad as this guy saying the butt of the gun was between Kurt’s feet as he laid down as this would have made it IMPOSSIBLE for Kurt to put the gun in his mouth as the M.E. claims.

  6. Bee Nezz says:

    When a person has a form of so called weakness,like ‘depression’, other people will use that to cover up evil doings, people knew he suffered from depression, so how easy would it be to play on that illness, and use it to a murderers advantage.. Cobain would have been at a point in his life ,where a mans psyche either makes or breaks..27 is an unusual time for a person .The music industry has a habit of their stars dying at 27, right at the peak of the cause, and then all of a sudden they shock the “real” world into believing these ‘Stars’ have killed themselves…too many unanswered questions,for my liking..

  7. Jody says:

    http://www.justiceforkurt.com. If you want to check out the timelines. Also copies of the police files. The timeline is most impressive(I think) and enough evidence to back the story up.
    I think anyone would have found this site, but if you haven’t, read it before you decide what your opinion is.

  8. vis says:

    AussieTrev shotgun he used is a semi-automatic gun and it works like a pistol. means it eject shells automatically and then load fresh one. and why on his left side? it’s all about how you hold a rifle. propably he held it with it’s trigger down, other way he wouldn’t be able to lock it between his legs,don’t you think? and that’s why shell was found on left and not right side. there was no murder and nothing to give any suspicions that it was. sorry for my english.

  9. Jessica says:

    GREG

    Thank you Greg for your response, if you could please leave a contact email I will email you my interview questions ASAP

  10. Greg says:

    JESSICA

    You can email me. I am a published author and have some interesting and passionate feelings on the topic.

  11. Greg says:

    JESSICA

    Hi you can interview me. I’m a published author and have thoughts on this. Passionate thoughts.

  12. Shan says:

    Kurt didn’t kill himself Courtney has something to do with it too many stories what about justice for Kurt?

  13. Jessica Malone says:

    Hi

    My name is Jessica Malone, I am currently studying Entertainment Management and I am doing a thesis on the death of Kurt Cobain.

    After reading this and some of the comments on here I was wondering if any readers would like to participate in a short interview that I will be conducting.

    It would be greatly appreciated if I could get some feedback. If you would like to participate please comment back on this and I will get in contact with you.

  14. AussieTrev says:

    I have 1 major question about this statement = Why was the ejected shell of the shotgun found to the left and not the right of the body?

    Here is my question =

    How can somebody shoot themselves in the head … and then eject the spent cartridge from the shotgun? The shell doesn’t eject automatically. What am I missing here???

  15. Ryan says:

    This is the saddest story for Generation X and comparable to our parents losing the Beatles at their peak…
    I have put this off for years as it was too much to think of during school and I didn’t know much of what Tom Grant had to say about the oddities in the story.
    Anyone who has the ability to make sense of simple logic is inclined to question the inconsistencies.

    1. Michael Dewitt was at the residence before the “exodus”. (Seattle)
    2. Kurt fled from the Exodus Recovery Center…
    3. Courtney canceled Kurt’s own credit cards, but she was too late.(CA)
    4. Kurt purchased two plane tickets and flew home. (Seattle)
    5. Michael “Cali” Dewitt supposedly leaves a letter addressed to Kurt.
    • DeWitt’s letter is to “KURT” & equates to ‘I didn’t see you come in & how did you get in last night?’
    6. Grant never sees this letter and keeps searching.
    7. Where was Dewitt, was he still at the residence when the discovery was made? Yes.

    There’s enough evidence in the 7 facts I just stated to bring reasonable doubt on the ‘official’ story. There is actually more missing information on Courtney’s whereabouts during all of this & the divorce consultation. There was even a prenuptial agreement over Kurt’s estate, but that only works if he is alive.
    Dewitt was Courtney’s friend from her past, but this isn’t needed; however, the amount of money she sent with Dewitt as he left Seattle is astounding. She sent him to rehab & paid a ‘roadie/nanny’ close to 50k for some kind of services rendered.
    For Dewitt to be missing for any amount of time during 6 days at his primary residence without the child being home is questionable. Yet, his letter proves that he was home, but Kurt had gone unnoticed as he entered his ‘own’ home! (If you were upset as much as they claimed Kurt to be and at your own residence, would you not vent as you entered the door?)
    Finally, we’ve touched on the underlying factors that go unspoken & now we can finish this little immersion into those 6 days of infamouy. Dewitt was home, but only when it was fitting for his alibi a.k.a. the letter he wrote to Kurt. How could he not know of the manhunt taking place around him or how could he avoid it as he was there…?
    Simply put… Dewitt was there for the entire time, he was home when Kurt had come home, and he was home to hear the blast! He is crucial in knowing the last days and he was a junkie as well; however, Courtney whisked him away with the cash. (It would be hard for a junkie to answer a line of questions from any authority much less the SPD when the junkie is in withdrawal.)

    Dewitt is responsible and Courtney is the definitive kingpin behind the entire fall of Kurt Cobain. DeWitt’s history proves that he is very much capable of committing the act to the utmost degree.

    (If I’m wrong and the SPD was right in their judgement, then I would assume that Seattle must be the suicide capital of million dollar men that are running from someone or something.)

    No one runs, buys plane tickets, and crosses the Western U.S. with possible withdrawal symptoms & a death wish… the notion is lewd!

  16. Michael says:

    Cobain Lies – The Fall Of Rome
    My Story is about my best friend sadly he did not live to tell his story. He wanted to do so much and had so much passion about so many things he just needed someone to believe in him. Anxiety consumed him his mind was always going in survival mode you might say. Always wanting to be someone besides who he was never liked living in Arizona his Granny was all that he had in AZ.
    So a man that finds out later in his life that Kurt Cobain was his brother you can imagine the anxiety that comes with that. He was always trying to be closer to feeling nothing by being high so with prescription drugs klonopin that was prescribe to him and a high dosage OxyContin it too his life.
    He was not trying to kill himself he was just trying to get higher he had never taken OxyContin before he heard it was called hillbilly heroin and thought I can handle this and took two he loved/abused heroin – china white it was a escape but never meant to be a suicide he is so pissed right now that he was so stupid. Thank You again for the support the future is full of possibility make your dreams come true be who you are gay, bi, trans, intersexual or str8 whatever just LOVE yourself and others….
    Don’t Abuse prescription drugs !!!!!

  17. Nick cobain says:

    Horse shit!!!

  18. knowone says:

    I think Courtney had something to do with it. i don’t think he killed him self! everything about this story sounds fishy to me.

  19. ruthie lawson says:

    Watch the movie Kurt and Courtney Good Research and has alot of info on him.If you have a ps3 Download Crackle and its free and you can watch it there..

  20. tacara says:

    who writes this garbage?

  21. Jay says:

    This article should be deleted, it is full of media misconception. I am not even going to bother taking the time to point out the mistakes but anyone who has done even a bit of research on Kurts death knows that this is crap journalism at its best, thank god for the internet…..

  22. amber says:

    This guy who wrote this article has a lot of WRONG information regarding where Courtney was at the time (she stayed in L.A. and she tried to get herself arrested on drug charges while also trying to Make it look like she tried to kill herself),who the electrician called FIRST before he called THE POLICE (a radio station), that supposed message left by Kurt Cobain to Courtney love is also something that didn’t happen (according to Love) she claims she never talked to Kurt Cobain ofcourse it is documented that Kurt Cobain tried to get in Contact with her….what else in here is a.lie or a further distribution of misinformation? Oh yea WENDY did NOT file the missing persons report!!! ( it was Courtney Love PRETENDING to be Kurt’s mother!) Oh and all that information about how Kurt eluded people by wearingthis get up and ate breakfast and tried to by some cartridges??? I think that was actually Michael DeWitt and not Kurt Cobain because we don’t have a record of where Kurt was when he was missing.

  23. Julie Ann Olick says:

    Does anyone know a really good site about Kurt?
    I’m doing a research paper on him and I kinda need some help looking for a good site…
    Thanks!
    Julie

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