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May 4, 1999

Who Killed Kurt Cobain?

The Max Wallace Interview

by Gary James

It was five years ago, April 8, 1994 that the world learned of Kurt Cobain's death. While officially labeled a suicide, the continuous speculation surrounding the circumstances of Kurt's death has never stopped. It's been long rumored, but never proven, that Kurt Cobain was in fact murdered.

But why?

Investigative journalists Ian Halperin and Max Wallace have attempted to get to the bottom of this mystery. Their effort can be found in the book, "Who Killed Kurt Cobain? The Mysterious Death of An Icon" (Birch Lane Press).

We talked with Max Wallace about his book and why police should re-open the investigation into Kurt Cobain's death.

Q: Max, the one person who could end all the speculation surrounding Kurt's death is Courtney Love.
A: Right.

Q: So, why doesn't she step forward and answer all of the accusations and questions of the critics and put this matter to rest? Is this controversy helping sell Nirvana CD's?
A: Well, it's either that, or she has something to hide, one way or another. The thing is, if I were her and I was completely innocent and somebody accused me of participating in the murder of my husband, I wouldn't be very happy. I wouldn't be too eager to cooperate, and I would do everything I could to stop them, which she's done. She's sent private detectives after us. She's made every effort to suppress our book. But, if I was guilty and I really was involved in the murder of my husband, I would also do everything I could to suppress it. So, I don't think it means anything one way or another that she's done this. Either way, it makes sense. But, certainly she could clear up a lot of these things if she was just willing to answer a few questions and cooperate, and she never has. She seems to have done everything to block this. She had Kurt's body cremated almost right after his death, which eliminates most of the evidence. It's very difficult to determine a lot of these things now, without the body. She also had the gun destroyed.

Q: So you believe she had something to do with it?
A: No, I don't necessarily believe that at all. What we have done is look at both sides of the case, examine all the various conspiracy theories, and try to prove or disprove them. I can say that I haven't been able to find a smoking gun linking Courtney to the death, but there is certainly a lot of suspicious behavior and a lot of suspicious facts, but that doesn't necessarily mean she murdered her husband as various people have charged.

Q: What is it you'd like to see happen?
A: All we're doing in the book is calling on the authorities to re-open the investigation and to answer a lot of these questions and explore this evidence. They can. The Seattle Police is never going to do that because they'd have to admit they screwed up. They'd have a lot of egg on their face. So, it has to be an outside law enforcement agency like the FBI If the FBI did get involved, I think they could clear up a lot of these questions. I think that's really the only hope.

Q: What would it take to bring the FBI on board?
A: You have to remember there's a lot of pressure. Courtney is very powerful, and she has very powerful lawyers working for her. Her private investigator, the guy she stuck on us, Palladino, he worked for Bill Clinton. His name is mentioned in the congressional reports, during the impeachment trial, the 81 questions put to Clinton. He worked for Clinton during the '92 campaign and seems to have continued to work for him. Her (Countney's) mentor is David Geffen who is very influential and has a lot of pressure brought to bear by her camp to make sure that this goes away.

Q: When this investigator of Courtney's, Jack Palladino, confronted your partner in his (Ian Halperin's) courtyard and offered to take him to dinner to discuss the findings in the book, why didn't your partner excuse himself, go into his apartment and call 911? Couldn't he have had this guy arrested for trespassing and harassment?
A: He wasn't harassing. He didn't really harass him.

Q: O.K., how about trespassing? He was on his property?
A: Well, he was in the courtyard, and I guess that's the gray area of whether it's trespassing, and it wasn't his property. It was the landlord's property. You see, at this point, we had been trying for a long time to get Courtney Love's side of the story. We were very troubled at having to report on these allegations without getting her side of the story. These are very serious allegations. And finally there's somebody actually representing Courtney Love standing there. Ian's instinct was to say, "Let's do it." At least this is a person that can relay this message. As much as Palladino tried to pump Ian for information, Ian was trying to pump him for their side of the story. How does she answer these allegations? This was our biggest concern at the time. We were on a lecture tour, and he arrived again. He confronted us, and this time I was there, and we got to sort of debate him. Some of the questions he sort of brushed off. It was the first time we were really able to get Courtney's side of the story.

Q: Are you still being watched by Courtney's people?
A: I don't think so. They wanted to find out what we had. This was clear because they kept trying to get the manuscript. They wanted to know if we were going to print the manuscripts of her (Courtney's) entertainment. Her entertainment lawyer had this long relationship with Tom Grant (private detective Courtney hired to find Kurt) before he was fired by Courtney. Grant taped all these conversations in which Courtney's own entertainment lawyer and friend (Rosemary Carroll) was expressing her suspicions about the death. It was Rosemary Carroll who really hired Palladino. Palladino told us this. It wasn't Courtney's behalf. It seemed they were very interested in these conversations. They're very damning. We've heard these conversations.

Q: What is Tom Grant doing with these recordings? What is he waiting for?
A: He's waiting to turn them over to someone like the FBI, or he's waiting for this case to go to court. The tapes themselves don't prove anything. They don't prove that Courtney Love did it. But, they prove that he's not just a crackpot trying to cash in, and they prove he didn't make up this story for his own personal gain. I've heard these tapes, and they have Rosemary Carroll believing that Kurt might have been murdered. She doesn't accuse Courtney on these tapes, but it's still damning and it goes a long way in establishing Grant's credibility.

Q: There was a gentleman named Drew Gallagher who was going to write a book in which he reveals the name of Kurt Cobain's killer. Has that been done?
A: Yeah, and actually that's been done. It's kind of tenuous.

Q: From your book, "Tom Grants asserts that a heroin addict with as much heroin in his blood as Kurt's would not have been able to pick up a shotgun and shoot himself..."
A: That's right.

Q: "That he would have been unconscious before he could have raised and pointed the gun."
A: Yeah.

Q: That's a good point. Why weren't Seattle Police suspicious about that?
A: O.K. Here's what happened. First, the coroner arrives on the scene, the chief medical examiner. He declares it a suicide immediately. He sees the note. He sees the gun. He doesn't do any physical examination. For the police, the medical examiner tells them it's a suicide, it's a suicide. Now, anybody would've concluded it's a suicide just looking at the scene. A medical examiner is always supposed to be a little more thorough, use some science to back up his claim, but he didn't. He said it was a self-inflicted gunshot wound. The press were told this a few minutes later, and the world learned that Kurt Cobain committed suicide. This was all before anybody had investigated anything, or done an autopsy, or discovered there was all this heroin in the body. It was a rush to judgment, and that's it. Then the autopsy gets done as a matter of routine, and they find these levels of heroin. First of all, it's very difficult to interpret this unless you have experience. You have to have a lot of experience with heroin levels and heroin overdoses to understand these things. We know about Hartshorne's (chief medical investigator) conflict of interests. He was a very good friend of Courtney Love, which he never revealed to anyone. He didn't tell the police this. No one knew this, in the department. But, he later admitted that they were friends in Los Angeles and friends with her first husband. So there's a huge conflict of interest.

Q: You go on in your book to say, "Grant theorizes that Kurt may have shot up with somebody he knew, somebody who supplied heroin pure enough to cause an overdose. Then, when Kurt slipped into unconsciousness, the person shot him and placed the gun to look like a suicide." Why? Why would a dead Kurt Cobain be worth more than a "live" Kurt Cobain?
A: That's simple. The police are supposed to look at motive. Motive doesn't prove anything, but means, motive, and opportunity are the three criteria. A motive would be a very, very powerful motive, and this would be one of the things that's most damning about Courtney, when you look at her potential involvement. They had a pre-nuptial agreement, and this is public. She talked about this publicly. She said, "We have a pre-nuptial agreement because I don't want Kurt running away with all my money," half-jokingly at the time. If they had gotten a divorce, she wouldn't have gotten anything, or she would've gotten a very small settlement based on the terms of the pre-nup. Community property laws would not apply. So, this is a very rich guy whose future royalties are worth tens of million of dollars.

Q: That much money? Nirvana was that successful?
A: Not only were they that successful, but when the Nirvana biopic eventually comes out, remember she (Courtney) and the daughter control all his royalties; that soundtrack will probably sell 30 million copies. Think of how much money that is. His first album was huge, "Never Mind Me." Fifty, one hundred million dollars for Geffen Records, who knows how much money? The actual soundtrack from the film is gonna be the biggest soundtrack of all time. Everybody is gonna buy this soundtrack. There's a lot of recordings sitting in the vaults that have never been released. There's definitely a lot of money still to come. Just like Elvis, The Beatles, and Jimi Hendrix, they're still making huge amounts of money. O.K. so, if they were gonna get a divorce, she would've been left high and dry. Now, Rosemary Carroll told Tom Grant, and this is among the things he has on tape, that in fact, Kurt had approach her about getting a divorce lawyer, shortly before his death. Courtney, at around the same time also, approached Rosemary Carroll and asked her to find the meanest, most vicious divorce lawyer she could find. If this is true, which it is, with the pre-nup and the fact that Kurt was divorcing her, that's a huge motive. Any police investigator would conclude this if they looked at that kind of evidence. This didn't prove she did it, they would say, but it certainly proves she had a motive for the death, a very damning motive. It would at least lead them to investigate further, but this was never done. So, this is not only a financial motive, just a jealousy motive. So, this is two different types of motives in one that we know. Once again, it doesn't prove anything, but it certainly is suspicious.

Q: "Despite Grant's extensive findings, he has got to provide genuine evidence proving the death was a murder and that Courtney was involved. Detective Cameron of the Seattle Police Department has publicly stated that he would be glad to re-open the case if he had some evidence." Has there been any movement on the part of Detective Cameron or the Seattle Police Department to re-open this case?
A: Well, Cameron retired. That's part of the problem. The Seattle Police Department is never going to admit they made a mistake, and I don't think they're trying to cover anything up. I think they really believe it was suicide. I know we have talked to members (of the Seattle Police Department), and they're very suspicious. They were actually very cooperative. We were given some inside police department information. They were very suspicious when they saw that information afterwards. They were troubled that Cameron wouldn't do anything, wouldn't look into this, and would close the case. They think that Cameron rushed to judgment.

Q: I thought Keith Richards made an interesting observation. "After Kurt tried to off himself in Rome, I was surprised that the people who were supposed to be taking care of him, let him buy a shotgun and more rounds for days. They knew he barely escaped doing himself in already."
A: Except that, at the time, nobody did know that, that was a suicide attempt and it wasn't a suicide attempt. The only person who said it was a suicide attempt was Courtney, after he died. The doctor in Rome said it wasn't a suicide attempt. The record company said it wasn't a suicide attempt. Kurt himself said it wasn't a suicide attempt. There was no evidence whatsoever that it was a suicide attempt. It was obviously a drug overdose. The only person who said it was a suicide attempt was Courtney, two days after he died. So, Keith Richards, when he read that, believed Rome was a suicide attempt. So, it's ingrained in people's heads if Rome was a suicide attempt, then of course he committed suicide. But, he wasn't suicidal. His best friend Dylan Carson bought him the gun. Why would his best friend who says he knew Kurt better than anybody, and he knew Kurt wasn't suicidal...? He would never have bought his best friend a gun if he thought he was suicidal. That's not something a friend does. He said Kurt wasn't suicidal, and that he'd never seen happier in his life during that period. He was happy. He had a new daughter. He doted on his daughter, and his stomach problems were gone.

Q: You told me Dave Grohl (Nirvana member) admitted on a Howard Stern program that Nirvana was breaking up, backing up Tom Grant's theory that the suicide note was not a suicide note.
A: That's right.

Q: Did Grohl say anything else?
A: No. He wouldn't talk about it. He wouldn't go into detail. He said, "I don't talk about that. Stern was actually trying to get him to say the conspiracy theory was ridicules, and Grohl wouldn't say that. That was the interesting thing.

Q: Is there one fact that really raised your eyebrow in terms of Kurt's death being suspicious? And Max, who killed Kurt Cobain?
A: I think the most telling evidence is the heroin evidence. That is something we have not been able to explain. There's not a case in the history of forensic pathology that we've been able to find, that somebody with that kind of dose would be able to roll down their sleeves, put away the heroin kit, and shoot themselves. That's definitely the most eye-opening evidence. In terms of who I believed kill him, until I see the smoking gun evidence, I don't know what to believe.


Gary James files his interviews from Syracuse, NY.


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