By Paul Scott
Last updated at 7:14 PM on 23rd January 2009
The murky half-light of a bleak New York
winter's morning had yet to
penetrate the small rear bedroom of an airless apartment in the city's
bohemian Greenwich Village.
Stepping over empty bottles and
half-eaten plates of spaghetti (the untidy remnants of the previous
night's party), two police officers from the tough 6th Precinct stood
in the doorway and surveyed the scene.
Pushed up hard
against the far wall was a bed. Lying amid the crumpled sheets,
illuminated by the unforgiving glow of a single light bulb, was the
naked dead body of a young man.
Tragic love story: Sex Pistol Sid Vicious was accused of the murder of his girlfriend Nancy Spungen
Manhattan's hardened policemen, it was hardly an unfamiliar scene. But
the death of the 21-year-old in the messy ground-floor flat at 63 Bank
Street did offer the New York Police Department a rather convenient
solution to a potentially messy murder investigation.
the dead man, John Ritchie, who had taken his last breath just hours
before, was better known as British punk rocker Sid Vicious
prime suspect in the murder of his American girlfriend, Nancy Spungen.
however, the Sex Pistols bass guitarist, who was on bail charged with
stabbing Spungen to death at their Manhattan hotel four months earlier,
was dead and the file could be closed with the minimum of fuss.
He killed Nancy, they assumed, then died
of an overdose. End of story.
But many of those who knew the couple
have always questioned this official version of events.
on the 30th anniversary of his death, a new film is set for release
which presents the fascinating theory that Vicious was innocent of
murdering his blonde lover.
Its makers claim to have
uncovered evidence which reveals that a series of police blunders and
apathy by detectives led the authorities wrongly to pin the blame on
In fact, the film contests, medical
carried out on Vicious at the time of his arrest showed the musician
would have been incapable of the attack, because he was out cold at the
time after taking so much of a powerful sedative that it would have
killed all but the most hard-bitten drug users.
the film Who Killed Nancy? asserts for the first time that 20-year-old
Spungen, the daughter of a wealthy middle-class Philadelphia family,
was killed by another resident at the hotel - a shadowy
named Michael, who spent that last fatal night in the room with the
As the murderer robbed and killed
Spungen for the
huge stash of cash they kept there, Vicious, it is claimed, slept
through the attack, only waking to find his lover's dead body in the
The documentary's British director, Alan
Parker, who has spent 24 years investigating the life and death of the
star and has written a series of well-received books on the subject,
tracked down more than 180 witnesses and unearthed previously unseen
He also spoke to several witnesses who are adamant that Vicious was innocent. Crucially, Parker says police found the fingerprints of six people who had been in the couple's room at New York's rundown Chelsea Hotel in the early hours, but none was ever interviewed.
One witness, who subsequently became a
to tell detectives that he thought Vicious was not the murderer, but
was given the brush-off by investigating officers.
Meanwhile others pointed the finger of suspicion at the man known only as 'Michael', who one friend of the couple swears remained alone in the room with them during those fateful final hours. He disappeared after the murder and police made no effort to track him.
Troubled: Spungen and Vicious in London, 1978
have followed this story for over 20 years,' says Parker. 'The more I
researched and dug around, the more I became convinced that Sid was
innocent. The police thought they had their man, and when he died the
whole thing could be put away and forgotten about.'
just how much of the film's thesis stands up to scrutiny and how much
is based on the plethora of wild conspiracy theories that have grown up
about the deaths of Sid and Nancy over the past three decades?
Spungen's killing did seem, at first, to be a routine murder
investigation. A rock groupie who had turned her back on her genteel
Jewish upbringing and become a heroin addict, funding her habit at one
time by working as a stripper and prostitute, Nancy was found dead in
her underwear in the bathroom of Room 100 of the Chelsea Hotel.
monolithic Chelsea had once been a Mecca for writers and artists. Dylan
Thomas, Andy Warhol and Bob Dylan had all once lived there. But by the
late 1970s, it was little more than a sprawling drugs den populated by
a seedy coterie of Manhattan low-life.
Spungen, who had
been dating Sid Vicious for a year, had been stabbed once in the
stomach by a hunting knife that London-born Vicious had bought days
earlier to protect himself when he ventured out into New York to buy
It was Vicious himself who phoned police
to say he
had found her dead body, and an hour later on the morning of October
12, 1978, in a holding cell at the Third Homicide Division, Vicious
famously confessed: 'I did it because I'm a dirty dog.'
police, it seemed, had their man. With his taste for violence, animal
torture and swastikas, Vicious was, after all, the repellent face of
punk rock in all its snarling ugliness.
His band, the Sex
Pistols, had shocked Britain with their foulmouthed rants on TV and
their anti-monarchy hit, God Save The Queen.
He had killed his lover, it seemed, in
the ultimate act of rock debauchery while out of his mind on drugs.
Vicious was later to retract his confession, claiming he could not
recall anything about the night Nancy - dubbed 'Nauseating
the star's own mother - had died.
perhaps, given that the police report obtained by Parker reveals
Vicious was dosed up on powerful sedatives at the time of her murder.
Indeed, witnesses who were at an impromptu party in their room the
evening before her body was found claim he took up to 30 Tuinal
tablets - a strong barbiturate.
Few could survive such a massive dose,
claims Parker, and even those who could would be put into a deep coma
for many hours.
several witnesses who passed in and out of the couple's first-floor
room in the early hours say Vicious was out for the count. And at least
two say the previously unknown Michael, who lived on the sixth floor of
the hotel, was with Sid and Nancy as late as 5am - around
she was stabbed.
So what could have been a possible
motive for the killing? In a word: money. Vicious, who had quit the Sex
Pistols nine months earlier after a bitter fall- out with the group's
lead singer Johnny Rotten, had gone on to have a Europe-wide solo hit
with a tuneless version of the Frank Sinatra classic My Way.
Just days before Nancy's death, he had
received $25,000 in cash - royalty payments from Richard
Branson's Virgin Records.
say that on the night before Spungen's death, the room was awash with
money. The following morning, however, the cash was gone, and Michael
was later seen carrying a large wad of cash secured with one of Nancy's
purple hair ties.
So just who was the mysterious Michael?
Details of the alleged killer are sketchy, but he was described by
witnesses as a young, slim, blond man with a penchant for alligator
shoes. He spoke with a British accent and had moved into the hotel
recently, befriending Vicious and Miss Spungen.
of the couple's friends remember seeing him with them in the days
before Nancy's death, and one, musician Neon Leon, who had been with
the couple on the night of the killing, says he rang Nancy shortly
before the time that she is estimated to have been stabbed. He says he
could hear the man he knew as Michael talking in the background.
resident of the Chelsea, Victor Colicchio, also stopped at the couple's
door shortly before the stabbing and says Michael was inside.
none of the witnesses knew Michael well, and his last name remains a
mystery. Only one hand-drawn picture by the couple's friend, singer
Steve Dior, offers any evidence of what he looked like: slimly built,
with shoulder-length hair.
Controversial: Vicious on stage in San Francisco with fellow Sex Pistol Johnny Rotten in 1978
is adamant that this is the man he believes killed Nancy and who
disappeared soon after with the bundle of the couple's cash.
resident at the sleazy Chelsea Hotel was a would-be actor called
Rockets Redglare - who had been born 'Michael Morra'.
within days of Nancy's murder he allegedly confessed to a friend that
he was the real killer.
Redglare, who was raised in a
tough district of Brooklyn, had been an unofficial minder and drugs
dealer to the couple. He was a well-known figure on Manhattan's Lower
East Side and went on to star with Madonna in the Hollywood movie
Desperately Seeking Susan and with Tom Hanks in Big. One English friend
of the couple, Zoe Hansen, met Redglare after the killing and says he
admitted to her he had been in the room that night and told her: 'I did
Redglare, himself an addict, died, aged
52, in May
2001 of a combination of kidney and liver failure caused by his years
of drug use.
But despite his mysterious confession,
witnesses insist that Redglare - who was American,
dark-haired and 25
stone - was not the man they blame for Nancy's murder. That
it seems, vanished without a trace.
And so, with no other
suspects to hand, the police charged Vicious with Nancy's murder. He
was remanded in custody, but his manager, the colourful Malcolm
McLaren, hired a top New York lawyer called James Merberg to win him
Within days, Vicious was free on a
$50,000 licence which had been put up by his record label boss, Richard
little more than a month later, however, Sid was back inside the
maximum security Riker's Island jail after glassing a man in a fight in
a New York club. He spent nearly two months behind bars in the prison's
detox wing before he was again released on bail.
Vicious had a new girlfriend, a would-be actress called Michelle
Robson. On the day of his release - February 1, 1979
- Vicious, his
mother Anne Beverley and a few friends went back to Robson's apartment
for a celebration meal.
After eating spaghetti bolognese,
Vicious asked his mother - herself a hopeless addict
- to find him
some drugs. He complained that what she brought him was not strong
enough, and another friend was dispatched to get some more.
unknown to Vicious, this second batch of heroin was more than 95 per
cent pure and nearly three times stronger than most of the heroin sold
on the streets of New York. After taking it, Sid collapsed.
was revived by his girlfriend and mother, but they decided not to call
an ambulance because they feared he would be thrown back in jail for
breaking his bail conditions. It was to prove a fatal mistake.
Later that night, alone in the bedroom,
he injected more of the powerful heroin. The following morning, he was
pathologist who examined his body said the star's tolerance to the drug
had been weakened by his period behind bars. That, and the potency of
the heroin, had killed him.
Police quickly announced they were not
looking for anyone else in connection with Spungen's death.
Anne Beverley discovered what appeared to be a suicide note in the
pocket of her son's jeans. Written some days earlier, Vicious told his
mother he wanted to be reunited with 'his' Nancy.
discovery of the letter led some friends to speculate that Nancy's
death had been a suicide pact that had gone wrong, and Spungen had
administered the fatal knife wound herself.
In fact, ten
days after her death, Vicious had attempted to slash his wrists, and
just a few months earlier the couple had told a British music magazine
of their plans to take their own lives.
After his death,
the punk rocker's mother requested he be laid to rest in the same plot
where Nancy was buried, but her parents refused. The following week,
Anne flew with her son's ashes to the Philadelphia cemetery and
secretly sprinkled them over Nancy's gravestone.
His mother, who committed suicide in
1996, remained convinced of her son's innocence until her dying day.
she died, Anne told me to clear her son's name,' says Parker.
'Everything I have found out since makes me believe that Sid was
It is unlikely we shall ever now know
sure. But could it be that the undeniably unpleasant and violent
Vicious really was the victim of an injustice after all?
Who Killed Nancy? is released on February 6.