| Sam Cooke |
(Singer, songwriter, activist)
January 22, 1931
|Died||December 11, 1964 (Age 33)|
Los Angeles, California
Cause of death
Sam Cooke was an American singer, songwriter, and entrepreneur. Considered to be a pioneer and one of the most influential soul artists of all time, Cooke is commonly referred to as the "King of Soul" for his distinctive vocals, notable contributions to the genre and high significance in popular music.
In 1964, Cooke was shot and killed by the manager of a motel in Los Angeles. After an inquest and investigation, the courts ruled Cooke's death to be a justifiable homicide; since the very beginning, his family and others have questioned the circumstances of his death.
Cooke was born in Mississippi and later relocated to Chicago with his family at a young age, where he began singing as a child and joined the Soul Stirrers as lead singer in the 1950s. Going solo in 1957, Cooke released a string of hit songs, including "You Send Me", "A Change Is Gonna Come", "Cupid", "Wonderful World", "Chain Gang", "Twistin' the Night Away", "Bring It On Home to Me", and "Good Times". During his eight-year career, Cooke released 29 singles that charted in the Top 40 of the Billboard Pop Singles chart, as well as 20 singles in the Top Ten of Billboard's Black Singles chart.
Cooke was also a central part of the Civil Rights Movement, using his influence and popularity with the white and black population to fight for the cause. He was good friends with boxer Muhammad Ali, activist Malcolm X (assassinated in 1965) and football player Jim Brown, who together campaigned for racial equality.
Death Official Narrative
Cooke was killed at the age of 33 on December 11, 1964, at the Hacienda Motel, in Los Angeles, California, having checked in with Elisa Boyer, a woman he picked up in a nightclub earlier that evening, and who later turned out to be a prostitute. Answering separate reports of a shooting and a kidnapping at the motel, police found Cooke's deceased body. He had sustained a gunshot wound to the chest, which was later determined to have pierced his heart. The motel's manager, Bertha Franklin, claimed to have shot him in self-defense. Her account was immediately disputed by Cooke's acquaintances.
The motel's owner, Evelyn Carr, (some sources identify the motel owner's last name as "Card), said that she had been on the telephone with Franklin at the time of the incident. Carr said she overheard Cooke's intrusion and the ensuing conflict and gunshot. She called the police to request that officers go to the motel, telling them she believed a shooting had occurred.
The official police record states that Franklin fatally shot Cooke, who had checked in earlier that evening. Franklin said that Cooke had banged on the door of her office, shouting "Where's the girl?!", in reference to Elisa Boyer, who had also called the police that night from a telephone booth near the motel several minutes before Carr had. Franklin shouted back that there was no one in her office except herself, but an enraged Cooke did not believe her and forced his way into the office, naked except for one shoe and a sport jacket. He grabbed her, demanding again to know the woman's whereabouts. According to Franklin, she grappled with Cooke, the two of them fell to the floor, and she then got up and ran to retrieve a gun. She said she then fired at Cooke in self-defense because she feared for her life. Cooke was struck once in the torso. According to Franklin, he exclaimed, "Lady, you shot me", in a tone that expressed perplexity rather than anger, before advancing on her again. She said she hit him in the head with a broomstick before he finally fell to the floor and died.
Boyer told the police that she had first met Cooke earlier that night and had spent the evening in his company. She said that after they left a local nightclub together, she had repeatedly requested that he take her home, but he instead took her against her will to the Hacienda Motel. She said that once in one of the motel's rooms, Cooke physically forced her onto the bed, and then stripped her to her panties; she said she was sure he was going to rape her. Cooke allowed her to use the bathroom, from which she attempted an escape but found that the window was firmly shut. According to Boyer, she returned to the main room, where Cooke continued to molest her. When he went to use the bathroom, she quickly grabbed her clothes and ran from the room. She said that in her haste, she had also scooped up most of Cooke's clothing by mistake. She said she ran first to the manager's office and knocked on the door seeking help. However, she said that the manager took too long to respond, so, fearing Cooke would soon be coming after her, she fled from the motel before the manager ever opened the door. She said she then put her clothes back on, hid Cooke's clothing, went to a telephone booth, and called the police.
Boyer's story is the only account of what happened between her and Cooke that night; however, her story has long been called into question. Inconsistencies between her version of events and details reported by diners at Martoni's Restaurant, where Cooke dined and drank earlier in the evening, suggest that Boyer may have gone willingly to the motel with Cooke, then slipped out of the room with his clothing to rob him, rather than to escape an attempted rape. Cooke was reportedly carrying a large amount of money at Martoni's, according to restaurant employees and friends. However, a search of Boyer's purse by police revealed nothing except a $20 bill, and a search of Cooke's Ferrari found only a money clip with $108 and a few loose coins.
However, questions about Boyer's role were beyond the scope of the inquest, the purpose of which was only to establish the circumstances of Franklin's role in the shooting. Boyer's leaving the motel room with almost all of Cooke's clothing, and the fact that tests showed Cooke was inebriated at the time, provided a plausible explanation to the inquest jurors for Cooke's bizarre behavior and state of undress. In addition, because Carr's testimony corroborated Franklin's version of events, and because both Boyer and Franklin later passed polygraph tests, the coroner's jury ultimately accepted Franklin's explanation and returned a verdict of justifiable homicide. With that verdict, authorities officially closed the case on Cooke's death.
Problems with Official Narrative
Most who knew the singer refused to accept the official story. To them, this violent and unreasonable behavior seemed so unlike the fundamentally gentle man they knew, including gentle to women. Bertha Franklin was a former madam with a prior criminal record. Boyer was arrested on prostitution charges shortly after Cooke's death, and in 1979 was found guilty of second-degree murder following another shooting. The $5,000 Cooke was carrying the night of his death was never recovered.
Also other elements of the case don't add up. Cooke had been shot with a .22 pistol, but the gun registered to Franklin was a .32. The bullet that passed through his body was taken into police evidence and then quickly went missing. His autopsy revealed a 2-inch bump on his head. Franklin claimed that after she shot him, she dropped the gun and beat him with a wooden broom handle. Yet the gun still contained numerous bullets. If Franklin was frightened for her life, why would she drop the loaded gun she had just fired in favor of a stick? The woman appeared to have no marks or injuries when she testified before cameras five days after the murder occurred. This is surprising given the fight she described. Guests at the motel told police that they never heard any gunshots or sounds of an altercation. At the moment Cooke confronted her, Franklin was on the phone with the motel owner, who testified to hearing much of the struggle on the other end of the line.
Crime scene photos appear to show abrasions on Cooke's body. Singer Etta James, who viewed Cooke's body at his funeral, wrote in her memoir that Cooke's head was "practically disconnected from his shoulders. That's how badly he'd been beaten. His hands were broken and crushed…They tried to cover it up with makeup, but I could see massive bruises on his head. No woman with a broomstick could have inflicted that kind of beating against a strong, full-grown man."
Speaking in the 2017 documentary Lady You Shot Me, forensic pathologist Dr. Cyril H. Wecht argued that Cooke's death was not justifiable homicide because Cooke, wearing a sport coat and nothing else, "had no weapon and [Franklin] was not in fear of her life."
- Dream Boogie: The Triumph of Sam Cooke by Peter Guralnick (2005)
- Dream Boogie: The Triumph of Sam Cooke by Peter Guralnick (2005) page 619-628
- Guralnick 2005, pp. 616–619.
- Dream Boogie: The Triumph of Sam Cooke by Peter Guralnick (2005) page 643
- Bronson, Fred (2003). The Billboard Book of Number 1 Hits: The Inside Story Behind Every Number One Single on Billboard's Hot 100 from 1955 to the Present. Billboard Books. p. 30
- Dream Boogie: The Triumph of Sam Cooke by Peter Guralnick (2005) page 626-629