Kurt Cobain murder conspiracy theories
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Kurt Cobain was lead singer, guitarist, and songwriter for grunge rock band Nirvana. Officially he shot himself dead on April 5, 1994. However, a minority of people believe he was murdered, possibly by his widow Courtney Love. Most of these claims can be traced back to private investigator Tom Grant, who has been involved in the case since shortly after Cobain's death. Rumours were given new life in 1997 when shock-rocker Eldon "El Duce" Hoke took time out from promoting his brand of "rape rock" to claim he knew who was the murderer, and then fell asleep drunk on a train line with fatal results. Meanwhile, Love has come out with her own crazy theories. Almost everybody, including the police and Cobain's bandmates, accepts the official verdict, though some of his friends and family have expressed doubts.
- 1 Brief life
- 2 Death
- 3 Official theory
- 4 Conspiracy theory
- 5 Theorists
- 6 Evidence against the official theory
- 7 Even crazier stuff
- 8 In reality
- 9 See also
- 10 References
Cobain was born on February 20, 1967 in Aberdeen, Washington and formed Nirvana in 1987. The band was highly influential in 1990s rock music, the release of their breakthrough sophomore album Nevermind in 1991 often credited with overturning the "classic" rock and hair metal styles of the '80s and ushering in the rise of alternative rock to a position of mainstream dominance in the rock world, and Cobain was a role model to and personification of the "slacker" ethos of Generation X, those who were young adults in the 1990s, and an iconic figure for young people in the decades that followed.
By 1991, Cobain was abusing alcohol and drugs and was suffering from mysterious stomach pains which he attempted to self-medicate. He is also reported to have been suffering from clinical depression and bipolar disorder. As Nirvana became more successful, he became increasingly uneasy with his media-appointed role as the spokesman for a generation. On April 8, 1994, after several days of being missing from a rehab facility, he was found dead from a gunshot wound in Seattle, leaving his wife, rock musician Courtney Love, and daughter Frances Bean Cobain. He was 27 years old.
Kurt's body was found in a greenhouse at his home at 171 Lake Washington Boulevard East, Seattle, Washington, USA, on April 8, 1994, by an electrical contractor. Forensics showed that he had died on April 5 from a shotgun wound, which was initially reported in the press as directly to the head, but later was described in various Cobain biographies as being through the mouth, after taking a large amount of drugs including heroin. A suicide note and pen were found near his body. The gun used had been purchased for Cobain by his friend Dylan Carlson, a member of rock group Earth.
His death is generally believed to have been the result of suicide, which might be explained by his health problems, addictions, and unhappiness with his and his band's fame. The evidence for suicide includes Cobain's mental health, the suicide note, the nature of his wounds, and his collection of guns.
This is the opinion of the Seattle Police Department. The idea that Cobain committed suicide is also accepted by his two Nirvana bandmates Krist Novoselic and Dave Grohl, by journalist (and his and Love's friend) Everett True, and by Cobain's father Donald.
It is almost impossible to prove that nobody else killed Cobain if you start claiming the suicide note was faked, Cobain was drugged, and the crime scene manipulated. But equally, without a clear motive or any evidence of murder, the balance of probabilities clearly points to suicide.
The general theory advanced by Tom Grant and others appears to be that Love found out that Cobain was planning to divorce her, cut her from his will, and leave her. As a result, she allegedly hired a hitman who rendered him comatose with an injection of heroin and then shot him dead, possibly for his money or to prevent him leaving. It is suggested that Seattle police then collaborated to cover up the true murderer.
Claims that Love did it for money are common, and there is evidence that Cobain described her as obsessed with money, possibly as a joke. There is, however, no evidence that she was short of money, and her band Hole was growing in popularity at the time. A week after Cobain's death, Hole's album Live Through This, recorded in October 1993 and taking a more commercial and tuneful direction than their earlier material, was released to excellent reviews, going on to sell 1.6 million copies. Alternative motives might be love or revenge, but Love's enemies assume she was cold and calculating.
Many fans of Cobain are extremely hostile towards Love, which has doubtless sustained their campaign to prove she killed him. It is not unusual for obsessive fans of a musician to be jealous of or hostile to their idol's partner; fans' hatred of Love is compared to the negative reaction that Yoko Ono has faced ever since she began her relationship with John Lennon. Cobain's ex-girlfriend Mary Lou Lord has accused Love of being a "sociopath" and a fake; of failing to use her fame for humanitarian purposes; and of spreading lies about Lord including that Lord killed Love's guinea pig.
Love's actions were criticized following Cobain's death, usually laden with sexism. Arguments consisted of slut-shaming, claims that Cobain had secretly written her songs (denied by Love's bandmates and sound engineers), and disapproval that she went forward with her tour that was scheduled before Cobain's death instead of "staying home and grieving". This is not evidence of murder, but it is misogynistic bullshit that poisons the well.
Private investigator Tom Grant was hired by Courtney Love to find Cobain after he went missing from a rehab facility, and then to investigate Cobain's death. He came to believe that Love had Cobain murdered, based on factors including heroin levels in Cobain's blood, handwriting evidence that purportedly showed Love had added to the bottom of Cobain's letter references to suicide, Love's claims about Cobain's earlier suicide attempt, Carroll's information about Cobain's plans to change his will, and other circumstantial details.
British documentarist Nick Broomfield made a 1998 film Kurt & Courtney, which set out to investigate whether Courtney murdered Kurt. Despite including the testimony of Eldon "El Duce" Hoke, who claimed Love had Cobain killed, the film did not find clear evidence of murder. Broomfield concluded that it was probably suicide, but Broomfield was critical of people around Cobain for failing to support him, and particularly of Love for the way she behaved after the death, including her control over Cobain's legacy and her refusal to licence any of Nirvana's music to Broomfield.
Eldon "El Duce" Hoke
Broomfield recorded an interview with Eldon "El Duce" Hoke of the band The Mentors, who claimed that Courtney Love offered him $50,000 to kill Cobain. El Duce died a few days after the interview on April 19, 1997 when he was hit by a train while drunk, ruled "misadventure". This naturally looks very suspicious to conspiracy theorists, despite El Duce's history of alcohol abuse, misogyny, and numerous attempts to be as outrageous as possible. Hoke implicated someone called Allen, identified by some fans as Allen Wrench of the band Road Whore, although there is absolutely no evidence for this and Hoke is perhaps the least trustworthy witness imaginable.
Love's estranged father is reported as saying, "No doubt she was capable. I can’t prove she pulled the trigger, but I can prove her involvement to a high degree of certainty."
Ian Halperin and Max Wallace
They wrote 2 books, Who Killed Kurt Cobain? (1999) and Love and Death: The Murder of Kurt Cobain (2004), the latter with Grant's help.
Soaked in Bleach
A 2015 docu-drama directed by Benjamin Statler and again made with the help of Tom Grant.
Gus van Sant's Last Days
This 2005 movie is a fictionalised imagining of the last few days in the life of a fictional rock musician called Blake who somewhat resembles Kurt Cobain, made by a director closely linked to the same Pacific Northwest area. It is not a documentary or a biopic.
Other people have expressed scepticism about Kurt killing himself, particularly in such a violent way. This includes Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth, who were friends of Cobain, and Cobain's grandfather, Leland Cobain. These doubts might be a common reaction in cases of suicide, and it is not clear when someone is quoted whether their words represent a settled belief.
Evidence against the official theory
People who believe Cobain was murdered point to a number of inconsistencies in the official account.
Cobain had taken heroin shortly before killing himself, and drug paraphernalia was found next to his body. Post-mortem tests found a very high level of the drug in his body, 1.52 mg per liter of blood. Theorists claim this would be so much that Cobain would be unable to hold the gun and pull the trigger. However, other experts say this would depend on how habituated Cobain was to heroin, and he had been using it for a few years. Indeed, a dose that would put a 300 pound man in a coma would likely be barely enough for an addict like Kobain to even nod off.
Cobain killed himself with a long-barrelled shotgun, which it is suggested would be hard to use to shoot oneself in the head. However, the police seemed to accept this was possible. For comparison, Ernest Hemingway killed himself with a long-barrelled pigeon gun. Seattle police reportedly released photos showing a police officer posing with the gun in various positions. It was also later determined that the entry wound was through the mouth, very easy to do with a shotgun and using one's thumb or forefinger.
Lost or missing evidence
There were theories that the gun had been melted down as part of a conspiracy, but police released a series of photographs in 2016. This misapprehension may have arisen because Love declared an intention to have Cobain's other guns melted down, while the suicide weapon remained with police. There were also a number of rolls of film taken by the police which were not released until long after the death; and a note by Cobain was not released until 2014; this drip-drip-drip of information fueled conspiracy theories. Tom Grant claimed that Seattle police either botched the investigation or deliberately lied to cover up the true culprit.
It has been asserted either that Cobain did not write the note, or that the note did not refer to suicide but to Cobain's plans to either leave Courtney Love or put Nirvana on hiatus. According to the latter theory, Cobain only wrote a part of the note, and somebody added references to suicide at the end. The last four lines are written much less neatly, which could mean they were added by Love or the hitman (although it would be a terrible forgery)... or they could have been written after he took some of the drugs just prior to his suicide.
Tom Grant, a leading proponent of murder theories, claims to have found a "handwriting practice sheet" from Love's handbag which shows Love had been practicing faking Cobain's handwriting.
A second note was released by police in 2014. Sometimes incorrectly described as a suicide note, it contains criticisms purportedly by Cobain of Love: he calls her a bitch and complains about her being obsessed with money. There is no indication of when the note was written. Even the Daily Mail, always keen to bash Love, conceded it could be taken more than one way: "Was the note written in anger by a resentful Cobain, desperate to escape his unhappy marriage? Or was it a play on words penned with the knowledge of Love, that the musician carried around to remind him of their unconventional bond?" Love later stated that she had written the note, a claim supported by two sources who examined the handwriting, including Love’s sister, Nicole Jon Carroll, and a former employee of the Kurt Cobain estate who has closely examined Cobain’s and Love’s journals. Additional comparisons between the note and other samples of Love's writing have lent support to this claim.
Claims that Courtney Love lied about an earlier suicide attempt
Cobain overdosed on Rohypnol in March 1994 and was hospitalized in Rome, Italy. At the time Love said that Cobain had attempted suicide, while a doctor who treated him reportedly said that it did not look like a suicide. This could be seen as an attempt by Love to promote the idea that Cobain was suicidal. However, it is only circumstantial evidence at best, and if you believe Love planned to kill Cobain because he announced he was leaving her (the most plausible motive), you would have to construct a timeline that includes Love finding out about his plans well in advance, dropping hints of suicide, then waiting a month before killing him.
PI Tom Grant claimed that Cobain's lawyer Rosemary Carroll told him that Cobain was planning to change his will to exclude Love, as part of plans to leave and divorce her. This could be a motive for Love to murder him. However, Carroll has since refused to comment, so it is hard to know what weight to attach to this.
There is a variety of other circumstantial evidence that is contested by various people, which does not prove murder but may cast doubt on official accounts.
- Could the door of the outbuilding where Cobain was found be locked from the outside, or must Cobain have locked it from the inside?
- The absence of fingerprints from the gun, suicide note, or pen: they could have been washed or rubbed off in the moist environment.
- Claims one of Cobain's credit cards was allegedly used between his death and the discovery of his body. This might suggest robbery and murder.
- Love (or anyone else) has never sued anybody for claiming Cobain was murdered. Uh, why would they?
- Why did Cobain get the gun? Grant claims he was scared for his life, although the evidence for this is not strong. But Cobain also had a number of other guns in his home, and it would not be unusual for a young man from a small town in Washington state to have an interest in guns.
Even crazier stuff
The CIA did it!
Love reportedly told Hollywood Inquirer in 2016 that Kurt Cobain was killed by the CIA because of his anti-establishment political views. She claimed that for years she believed government surveillance had harried Cobain to suicide, but she had recently received CIA files proving murder.
Starting in 2020, QAnoners started to connect the death of Tim "Avicii" Bergling to the pizzagate conspiracy, due to the music video of "For a Better Day" showing fictional scenes of child trafficking. Since Avicii committed suicide, the conspiracy theorists started connecting other musicians that had died of suicide to the pizzagate theory as well, such as Chester Bennington and Chris Cornell. Some of the really loony ones even believe that Cobain was killed as part of the conspiracy, with the belief that Cobain was killed by a cabal of Satan-worshipping child traffickers, including the Clintons. A time when Cobain supposedly talked about a Seattle trafficking ring a few months before his death is used as "evidence".
In reality, the problems with this theory should be obvious. You'd have to assume that the president of the US, with all of his detractors, was able to get away with murdering one of the most popular artists of the time, and completely avoid suspicion for over 25 years despite all of the conspiracy theorists who spent years looking for any minor inconsistencies in Kurt Cobain's death, when in reality, he couldn't even get away with an affair. If there was even minor evidence that the Clintons were involved, it would have been used in smear campaigns against the Clintons for years (like with Benghazi, Vince Foster, etc., and even those are unsubstantiated) but it clearly never happened.
If anyone killed Cobain, it was a member of one of the hundreds of 80s band Nirvana killed off at the turn of the decade.
- Tupac Shakur, the other '90s music legend whose violent end spawned a cottage industry of conspiracy theories.
- Death By Misadventure: El Duce, Dirt City Chronicles, April 2012
- See the Wikipedia article on Suicide of Kurt Cobain.
- Obituary: Kurt Cobain, The Independent, 10 April 1994
- The “Kurt Cobain was murdered” brigade is back: Photos of his suicide gun reignite conspiracy theories, Mary Elizabeth Williams, Salon, 18 March 2016
- Kurt Cobain, Adam Sweeting, Guardian, 9 April 1994
- Case Outline, Tom Grant, The Kurt Cobain Murder Investigation
- Love Me Do: Courtney Love talks to Laura Barton, Laura Barton, The Guardian, 11 Dec 2006
- Kurt Cobain case: New photos show suicide gun, police say, CBS, Mar 17, 2016
- Courtney Love's father claims he can prove SHE was responsible for Kurt Cobain's death, Daily Mail, 1 2014
- See the Wikipedia article on Live Through This.
- Kurt Cobain's Ex-Girlfriend Goes After Courtney Love, Graham Hartmann, Loudwire, February 4, 2016
- From Despair To Here, The Quietus, April 16, 2014
- See the Wikipedia article on Kurt & Courtney.
- Courtney Love and the film that can't be shown, Independent, Jan 18, 1998
- See the Wikipedia article on Eldon Hoke.
- Untitled, anonymous poster, kurt4ever.zzn.com and vblah.tripod.com
- Soaked in Bleach, IMDb
- Last Days (2005), IMDb
- Hemingway's Suicide Gun, Garden and Gun
- Was Kurt Cobain murdered?, Daily Mail, 13 October 2015
- , Seattle Times, 2 May 2014
- , Medium, 2 May 2014
- “Kurt Cobain was killed by the CIA" says ex-wife Courtney Love, archived from the original at World News Daily Report, Nov 29, 2016.