The Truth About ‘Who Killed Nancy?’ –
It’s Friday the 13th of October, 1978 and every red top in the UK is screaming the same headline. Even a handful of the so-called serious newspapers have jumped on the bandwagon in condemnation of one particular man.
Forget trial at The Old Bailey, because this is trial by Fleet Street’s finest. And by the following Friday the accused has all but been hung, drawn and quartered by an army of hacks baying for blood.
So, what could possibly be causing enough of a stir to warrant items on both the front and the back end of the BBC Nine O’Clock News? Well, it’s a story that began unfolding some 3,000 miles away, as the inhabitants of New York City woke up on Thursday morning the day previous.
The young man thought to be involved had been ruffling feathers on this side of the pond before he’d even been part of the rock n’ roll group who were once again receiving so much tabloid attention. Under the sink that morning in the bathroom of room 100 in New York’s landmark Chelsea Hotel, the New York police had found the near-naked body of Nancy Laura Spungen, a 20-year-old junkie, stripper and sometime prostitute. She was also, more recently, the girlfriend of Sid Vicious, public enemy number one, and very much ex of the Sex Pistols.
Spungen was the victim of a single stab wound to the lower abdomen, made with a Jaguar K11 hunting knife. The knife was identical to the one Spungen had recently bought as a gift for Vicious, the 21-year-old British punk musician better known to his family has Simon Beverley.
While the British public, prompted by the press, was adding the title of ‘murderer’ to a list of supposed crimes that included sticking a safety-pin through the nose of the Queen, over in the holding cells of NYPD’s 17th precinct, a scared young man was suffering the worst kind of heroin-withdrawal cold turkey. Crucially, he had no memory whatsoever of the events that led him to be there.
Just over three months later, following two other suicide attempts and while on £50,000 bail posted by Richard Branson of Virgin Records, Sid overdosed on heroin at a party celebrating his most recent release from incarceration. He was found dead in bed by his mother, Anne Beverley, at 63 Bank Street in Greenwich Village, NYC.
The Spungen case was quietly closed via a big rubber stamp, and within 12 months the world’s press and the NYPD alike were far more concerned with the death of a Beatle at the hands of a mad fan. In the meantime, Sid’s legacy included the ‘fact’ that he’d murdered Spungen, despite a growing mountain of evidence to the contrary.
I met Anne Beverley in the early summer of 1985. We were brought together by something I had written for the now-defunct Spiral Scratch magazine. Within a week she asked me to be her son’s biographer. Three books followed, the most recent and most complete, being Sid Vicious: No One Is Innocent (Orion Books).
Anne herself committed suicide on September 16th 1996, but not before sending me a letter explaining the last job she had in mind for me. She wanted me to obtain some genuine answers regarding events that took place in the Chelsea Hotel on the night of Thursday October 12th, 1978. In the ten years that followed I did plenty of digging, re-interviewed many of Sid’s closest friends, spoke to retired officers from the NYPD, made numerous trips to the US and Europe, and made it my duty to leave no stone unturned.
Two things gradually became clear. First, despite their problems, Sid and Nancy were truly in love – described by Malcolm McLaren as a modern-day Romeo and Juliet. Second, the murder investigation was riddled with fundamental flaws. The time of the murder has never been specified, but having pieced together who spoke to who and when, it appears likely to have taken place between 5am and 7am.
At the time, Sid was on the drug Tuinol as heroin was increasingly hard to find in Manhattan following a massive NYPD crackdown. Almost certainly supplied by dealer Rockets Redglare (though he wasn’t the only dealer to visit the hotel room that night), Sid necked a handful of the premium-strength pills, regularly given to cancer patients to ease their pain. The medical report from the Bellevue Hospital which Sid attended the following day states that he would have been ‘out cold’ for at least seven hours after taking the Tuinol, and was very lucky to have survived given the amount he swallowed.
A large amount of money appears to have vanished from the couple’s room that night. Sid netted around $6,000 in cash from a number of successful solo gigs at Max’s Kansas City in the days before the murder. He had also just received a raft of royalties from Virgin Records for his ‘My Way’ single, which reached number 7 in the UK charts.
Sid & Nancy were visited that night by many people including fellow junkies, musicians, dealers and the NYPD. Witnesses there on the night have independently confirmed there was a serious amount of cash in room 100, totalling as much as $20,000. The NYPD appears to have been unaware of this money until much later. As one witness states: “The next morning I tried to tell the cops something in the hotel lobby, but they just weren’t interested!”
Another key question remains unanswered: why would Nancy crawl to the bathroom to die? She was stabbed just once (not ‘butchered’ as the British press reported) in the bedroom; the location confirmed by the blood trail. She would then have taken around three hours to bleed to death, giving her plenty of time to open the room door and scream for help. With Sid unconscious on the bed, was the door blocked by the murderer/thief?
Almost all the witnesses, residents, staff and visitors to the Chelsea Hotel on the night in question, whom I have interviewed for the documentary film ‘Who Killed Nancy?’, believe the case was never properly investigated by the NYPD.
Why? Having spoken to a number of officers involved, many admit the case was shoddily handled. It seems that the police simply went for the easy ‘smoking gun’ option. Given his reputation, the fact that his knife was used and he was in the room, Vicious was an obvious suspect. Significantly, the lead-time for preparing a ‘murder one’ court case is in the region of six months. Sid was dead less than four months after Nancy, and the investigation was halted without the proper digging required to answer key questions.
It was a convenient conclusion by the NYPD – and by much of the world at large – but that doesn’t mean it was the truth. Hopefully, my documentary goes some way to giving Sid the fair trial in death he never had in life…
Who Killed Nancy? – The Movie
Directed by Alan G Parker
Moxie Makers/Soda Pictures/Bill & Ben Productions
Glen Matlock, Don Letts, Alan Jones, Mark Helfond, Steve Dior, Elliot Kidd, Hellin Killer, Peter ‘Kodick’ Gravelle, Malcolm McLaren, Handsome Dick Manitoba, Kenny ‘Stinker’ Gordon, Steve English, Keith Levene, Sturgis Nikides, Kathleen Wirt, Kris Needs, Alan G Parker, Sid Vicious & Nancy Spungen, John Holmstrom, Howie Pyro, George X, Rev Victor Clitchio,The Sex Pistols Experience, Viv Albertine, Edward Tudor Pole, Lee Black Childers, Neon Leon, Steve ‘Roadent’ Connolly, Ned Van Zandt, John ‘Boogie’ Tiberi, Simone Stenfors, Esther Dior….
With Music by;
Steve Diggle (Buzzcocks) Terrorvision, Ricky Warwick, Steve Dior, Neon Leon, Pizzo, The London Cowboys, and of course Sid Vicious!
World Premier will be held on 2nd February 2009 at the Notre Dame Hall, Picadilly Circus, London, England. Monday February 2nd 2009 – On the 30th Anniversary of Sid Vicious’ death. VIP after show party featuring The Sex Pistols Experience and some ‘very special guests’ follows directly afterwards.
Opens in UK cinemas Friday February 6th 2009. Alan G Parker and selected cast members will be doing Q&A sessions along with screenings of the movie, at selected cinemas across the country in the two weeks following this release. Movie plus extras to be released on DVD Monday 30th March 2009 - (available to buy from the Sex Pistols Experience store).