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Music

Five musicians who were embroiled in mysterious murder cases

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Sex, drugs, rock ‘n’ roll and the money to be made in music has meant that it is never far away from crime and controversy. Hell, you can’t make it through a single awards ceremony without some skirmish arising, so it perhaps isn’t all that surprising that the annuls of history are scattered with stories of musicians either being embroiled with or convicted of murder cases. 

Sometimes these are as nebulous as a CD being blamed for some horrific crime in a gross misunderstanding of psychology. However, there are other times when a mystery is afoot or else there isn’t a mystery to be unearthed at all. In short, music has had its fair share of brushes with the law. 

Below we have delved into true crime cases from the history of music and picked out five moments whereby stars have either perpetrated or somehow became involved with a murder case. From the nebulous link of a young Edith Piaf to gang crime to the tragic slide from sanity of pioneering music producer Joe Meek, these are five occasions when murder and music have sadly mixed. 

Five musicians embroiled with murder cases:

Edith Piaf

Louis Leplée was considered the prince of the Montemarte homosexual subculture in Paris. His cabaret Le Gerny’s in Pigalle was a renowned hotbed of gay prostitution, blackmail and bribery. It also happened to be the place where Édith Piaf got her start. As the legend goes, Leplée discovered the enigmatic Piaf performing on a Parisian street corner, back in 1935. He instantly recognised her soul-baring brilliance, signed her up and unveiled her to the luminous Parisian underworld with the stage name of La Môme Piaf (The Little Sparrow).

On the morning of April 6th, 1936, Leplée was murdered in his own apartment. Official dossiers from the time describe a statement from his housekeeper who claimed that in the dead of night four men forced their way into the apartment via brute force and shot Leplée dead while he slept. The men then proceeded to ransack his house in search of 20,000 Franks that they failed to find. 

In the following days, the police would storm Le Genry’s in a public show of force and Piaf would be arrested while the press snapped pictures. Piaf had ascended to lofty heights of fame just to see her celestial star plucked from the plastic firmament of celebrity and plunged into the depths of press-driven despair, all within a year of being discovered from a lowly street corner. 

Piaf was endlessly questioned by the police and accused of accessory to murder. Leplée had been killed by mobsters with ties to Piaf and the police believed that they had acted under her command. There was absolutely no evidence to support this and the star was acquitted, but not before her name had become entrenched in a melee of besmirching headlines.

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The Beatles

Of course, The Beatles were never involved in murder in a direct sense, that certainly isn’t a headline that has somehow escaped you. However, that didn’t stop their name from being mentioned amid the harrowing case of Charles Manson who actually accused The White Album as being the motivating factor for his despicable cult slayings.

In particular, he blamed the song ‘Helter Skelter’ for his actions. “It is not my conspiracy. It is not my music. I hear what it relates. It says ‘rise.’ It says ‘kill.’ Why blame it on me? I didn’t write the music,” he said when he stood trial. He believed that the song about an amusement park actually detailed a forthcoming race war. As Family member Brooks Poston later said, Manson told his cult on New Year’s Eve in 1968: “Are you hep to what The Beatles are saying? Helter Skleter is coming down. The Beatles are telling it like it is.”

Naturally, this is only indicative of his own warped mind, nevertheless, very few crimes in history have been as closely linked to culture given Manson’s ties to the music industry and the movie stars who he chose to target. In fact, culture seemed to be the crux of his twisted viewpoint. Manson had been a serial youth offender, but mostly of petty crimes. Then he learnt to play the guitar while in prison, after being taught by an inmate named, Alvin ‘Creepy’ Karpis. He saw music as a way to achieve the notoriety he craved.

Eventually, he would even jam with Neil Young who recalled: “A few people were at this house on Sunset Boulevard, and the people were different. I didn’t know what it was; I was meeting them, and he was not a happy guy, but he seemed to have a hold on girls. It was the ugly side of the Maharishi. You know, there’s one side of the light, nice flowers and white robes and everything, and then there’s something that looks a lot like it but just isn’t it at all.” No record contract came to fruition for Manson and this dark side that young sense came to grisly fruition. 

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Joe Meek

Robert George ‘Joe’ Meek was an English record producer, musician, sound engineer and songwriter, he pioneered the space-age sound distinct and prevalent amidst early pop-culture, and he near enough invented experimental pop music. Despite his creative achievements, Joe Meek also killed his landlady, Violet Shenton, before turning the shotgun on himself. There was more than a little trouble in this music luminary’s paradise.

His hit-making headquarters resided in the humble setting of a flat 304 Holloway Road, London — the sound empire above a handbag shop. Although the image of one of music’s most influential producers scurrying around a bedsit trying to craft the perfect timpani roll is a comic tableau, it also represented an exile and journey into a dangerously personal realm.

Meek had become fascinated with the idea of communicating with the dead via his homespun studio. He would plant recording devices by graveyards, and he once captured the fateful sound of a cat’s gentle purr, interpreting it as speaking to him in human tones, pleading for generalised help. Buddy Holly took the brunt of his beyond the grave obsession, as he believed the bespectacled songsmith was visiting him in dreams, once again delivering nondescript messages. As his mental health deteriorated, Meek became a sort of prisoner to his ramshackle studio flat, claiming aliens were substituting his speech by controlling his mind.

The underlying cause for these delusions was multifaceted; firstly he suffered from bipolar disorder, paranoia and schizophrenia, all little known conditions by today’s standards, and none of which were helped by Meek’s frequent recreational drug use, and lastly, perhaps most troubling of all, he was plagued by the fears of being a persecuted and possibly prosecuted homosexual male.

Tragically, these came to the fore when he began to believe the rival producer Phil Spector was stealing his techniques either via his landlady acting as a spy by eavesdropping down his chimney, or that the producer had invaded his bathroom studio by supernatural means. Ultimately, the mental torment proved too much for him and his landlord tried to help he enacted a gruesome murder-suicide. 

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Phil Spector

In 2003, Phil Spector was at the House of Blues one night when he met model and actress Lana Clarkson. Later that night, the pair left together and entered Spector’s limousine. A few hours later, Spector’s driver called the police and said that his boss had informed him that he had just shot someone.

When the cops arrived at his property, they found Lana Clarkson dead with a gunshot wound to her face. Spector protested his innocence. His story was that she was kissing the gun in a seductive act when she fired it. He asserted that it was an accidental suicide. While there is, in fact, evidence that suggests this might have been the case, a string of former sexual partners claimed that he had also pulled a gun on them, and his former behaviour proved damning.

Over the course of his trailblazing career as a producer, pulled a gun on many artists and people in his personal life. When he was recording John Lennon’s cover album in 1973 he would arrive at the studio late and high on amyl nitrate wearing elaborate fancy dress costumes each night. His surgeon outfits or karate kit openly displayed his pistol. One night he discharged that pistol inches away from Lennon’s head. The laidback former Beatle merely remarked: “Phil, if you’re going to kill me, kill me. But don’t f**k with my ears. I need ’em.”

Leonard Cohen also encountered similar problems when he was working with that star producer. As he recalled, the studio was “armed to the teeth … you were slipping over bullets and biting into revolvers in your hamburger.” These worrying signs then manifested in a harrowing moment when Spector shoved a gun to Cohen’s neck and said, “Leonard, I love you.” Cohen slowly pushed the barrel away, replying, “I hope you do, Phil.”

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Keith Moon

Keith Moon’s highwire ways are well-documented. In fact, he was almost murdered himself when he made an impromptu helicopter trip to Oliver Reed’s house, only for Reed to try and blast the unexpected chopper from the sky with a shotgun. His life would also become a paradigm of how the sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll attitude of the music industry can go too far. 

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In 1970, after a night in a pub in Hatfield, Hertfordshire, Moon’s car was barricaded by a group of local skinheads who took issue with Moon’s flamboyant ways. Moon’s chauffeur Neil Boland exited the vehicle to try and calm matters while Moon remained inside. Moon later panicked and in an attempt to ensure his party could get away from the situation he got behind the wheel and forced the car through the crowd, despite being drunk and without a license or insurance. 

However, tragically, as he drove forward, unbeknownst to those in the car, Boland had become trapped under the vehicle. As Moon subsequently sped away, Boland was dragged along the street. He died in hospital later that night. Moon was initially charged with Boland’s death along with several driving charges. Ultimately, he was cleared as the death was deemed accidental, but he was still found guilty of the driving offences. 

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