The Not So Lonesome Death of Nancy Spungen

Anne Bardach wrote this lengthy investigative piece following Nancy's murder at the Chelsea Hotel. It appeared in the Soho Weekly News on October 26th, 1978.

On Friday, October 13, this reporter happened to be at the Chief Medical Examiner's office, researching a story, when Nancy Laura Spungen's possessions were being examined. Her parents had just left after identifying the body. The talk between Dr. Michael Baden, the chief examiner, and his associate, Dr. Geeta Natarajan, centered on the paraphernalia and drugs confiscated from the room Nancy had shared with her boyfriend Sid Vicious at the Chelsea Hotel.

The following reconstruction of Nancy Spungen's last eleven hours is based on interviews with people who had contact with the couple on October 11 and 12 and on information from sources at the D.A.'s office and the Third Homicide division. Included are several statements made to me by people who testified at the secret Grand Jury hearing last Thursday, October 19, about the nature of their testimony before that body.

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Countdown to Murder

9:45 p.m. - Sid Vicious and Nancy Spungen strolled down the hall from their room at the Hotel Chelsea to visit Cathi O'Rourke and (Neon) Leon Webster in Leon's room, no. 119. Cathi, who had known Nancy for several years, described the visit in these terms:

Sid sat on Leon's bed, leafing through a portfolio of old photos of himself. "I've lost my looks," he commented ruefully, "I really used to look good." While Nancy paced the room, entreating the group to "come up with some drugs, good drugs." Sid sat quietly, stroking his face with one of his new knives. He said at one point that he had "no future."

He "had the knife to his face," recalls Cathi, "...Nancy turned around to him and said 'Fuck off,' and he put the knife down." Cathi also remembers seeing Nancy bare her arm and make a muscle, admonishing Sid, "'Feel my muscle. I'm strong. I carried Sid up from the restaurant. I can carry him, but he can't carry me.'"

Midnight - Nancy and Sid left Room 119 around midnight, recalls Leon, when Cathi went to her go-go dancing job in New Jersey. Leon claims he went to Max's, but Vicious' manager, Malcolm McLaren, "doubts that he went to Max's because nobody saw him there." According to a "friend" who requests anonymity, Leon was at the Nursery, another punk club.

12 to 12:30 a.m. - Leon states that the couple returned to their own room when they left his, but McLaren says that "Sid told me that he left the hotel around midnight."

2:30 a.m. - Rockets Redglare says he received a frantic phone call at his Queens apartment from Nancy "begging" him to come to their room at the Chelsea and "please bring Dilaudids," (a variant of synthetic morphine, known on the streets as D-4s). She also requested "some new hypodermics."

3:00 a.m. - According to Neon Leon and Leon's manager, Skip Wayne, Sid and Nancy were in the lobby around 3 a.m. Leon and Skip have made several contradictory statements.

3:05 a.m. - Lisa Garcia, who lives next door to Sid and Nancy's room, in 103, had just come home at 3 a.m. Minutes later she heard "two or three very loud knocks at my door" and a male voice yelling, "Let me in, let me in, I'm not playing." Lisa said the voice frightened her. She did not open the door. Soon after, she went to sleep and did not wake until late Thursday morning.

3:15 a.m. - Rockets arrived at the Chelsea. He claimed that he had been unable to come up with anything Nancy had asked him to bring. Nancy was "wearing a long T-shirt over black underpants... and Sid was lying on the bed in black pants and a shaggy sweater." They talked some about Rockets becoming Sid's bodyguard to protect him from street fights, but mostly about scoring Dilaudids for Nancy. (Both Sid and Rockets are on methadone programs.)

3:30 to 4:45 a.m. - The phone rang many times while Rockets was in their room. Nancy only picked it up once, "and had a brief conversation." Neither Nancy nor Sid made any outgoing calls.

"They were crazy about D-4s," recalls Rockets. "She told me she would pay $40 for each D-4. She would shoot six. Sid would do four. She had a higher tolerance than Sid. It was the only thing they could shoot. I'm an ex-addict. I would shoot Sid because he's got collapsed veins, and anyway he's not too good at it."

However, Rockets claims there were no D-4s to shoot up that night during the two hours he was in their room. "I showed up there," he says, "to be comforting."

Nancy was very agitated about not be­ing able to score while "Sid kept going to the door every time there was a noise. He would drag himself up. Tuinals are funny that way. One minute you're completely out of it, the next minute you're a little ambulatory."

Sid left the room twice, briefly, and came back soon. Once "he went to the door... he was so out of it... he fell back."

"At one point Nancy went to her bag," continues Rockets, "and some $50s and $100s spilled out on the floor. She told me that if I could get 40 Dilaudids for her she would give me twice the price. She said to me, 'Rockets, you could make $800'... Now this money, it was new money [new bills]. She tells me that she has $1400 to spend on dope that night."

Shortly before 5 a.m., Rockets left the couple in their room. He says that he stopped at the from desk in the lobby to make a phone call and observed Steven C., whom he identified as Nancy and Sid's regular "Quaalude and Tuinal dealer," turning the corner and entering the elevator.

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Leon's Time Clock

4 a.m. - Neon Leon, who returned to his room at 3:30 a.m. with Kelly (a go-go dancer who lives in Room 301), says that Nancy called at 4 a.m. saying "They were very high on Tuinals and Sid was crashing out." and asking if Leon had "some pot."

4:15 a.m. - Leon and Kelly say they "heard four or five really loud knocks at his door." He ignored them. Around a half-hour later, he claims to have heard some noises coming from the hallway, something dropped on the hard tile floor, something that made a metallic, tinny sound. Maybe a knife.

5 a.m. - The resident of Room 228 called the hotel desk to complain about "some guy banging away at the door." Kenny, the night bellhop, went up to handle the complaint. He found a very unruly, noisy Sid Vicious meandering around the hall. "He went to hit me," remembers Kenny. "He asked me could I take him. He went at me again, so I hit him and I just kept pounding him till he went down to the floor." The two wrestled until Kenny was certain he had subdued Vicious. When Kenny stood up, Vicious whined. "Is this what you do to a drunk?"

"He had a bloodied mouth and there was blood all over his face and nose and t-shirt," recalls Kenny. "When I was leaving to go back downstairs, I saw that he was going to the stairs... I don't know if he went to his room... when I got back to the desk it was 5:15 a.m."

5:30 a.m. - A resident of the hotel, who refuses to be identified, claims that Sid staggered into her room dripping with blood at 5:30 a.m.

Just before 7:30 a.m. - Vera Men­delssohn lives next door to Sid and Nancy's room, in Room 102. She recalls that some time before 7:30 Thursday morning she heard a series of moans coming from a woman in the room next to her. She says she was "very frightened" by the sound, which she described as "coming from a person who was alone." "It didn't sound as though someone was with her," recalls Vera, "because she didn't call someone's name. She was just moaning."

When the sound of the moans ceased, she fell back to sleep.

9:30 a.m. - Herman Ramos, the deskman, received an "outside the Hotel" call from a male, claiming that "There is trouble in Room 100." Ramos sent Charles the bellhop upstairs to find out what was going on.

10 a.m. - Before the bellhop returned, Sid Vicious called down to Ramos, saying "Someone is sick, need help."

Between 10 and 10:30 a.m. - Ramos called for an ambulance, and later for the police.

10:30 a.m. - As Rob Braden, an NYU student in Room 105, left for school, he saw Sid Vicious coming up the stairs and walking down the hall towards his room.

10:45 a.m. - Ambulance and police from the 10th precinct arrived. Nancy's body is discovered in the bathroom of Room 100, the 3rd Homicide Zone was notified.

11:00 a.m. - Vera Mendelssohn, awakened by the noise of the police, left her room shortly after 11:00 to see what was happening in the hallway. She was granted permission to look into room 100, where she saw the body of Nancy Spungen on the bathroom floor. In the hallway she saw Sid surrounded by policemen.

"His face looked battered," recalls Ms. Mendelssohn, a 48-year-old sculptor, "and he said many times, over and over, 'Baby, baby, baby.'" She believes he was weeping. When Sid recognized her he said, "I killed her... I can't live without her." Vera says she was so stunned that she cannot recall whether she heard him say "She fell on the knife." or "She must have fallen on the knife." She remembers Sid talking about being "very high on Tuinal."

Early Thursday afternoon, October 12, police arrested John Ritchie, aka Sid Vicious. After making statements to the police and the D.A., Vicious was charged with second-degree homicide in the death of Nancy Laura Spungen.

Homicide in the second degree is the most serious murder charge in regard to the death of a civilian, as first degree is generally reserved for the murder of a police or corrections officer in the line of duty. Next is Manslaughter 1 or 2. On the law books, there are two categories of second degree homicide: 1. murder with intent (or premeditation) and 2. conscious participation in a person's suicide.

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"Our First Punk Rock Murder"

By 1 p.m., the Forensic Crime Scene Unit arrived at the Chelsea to do their job: to photograph the premises, body, and paraphernalia, and to collect all contributory evidence. All homicides and deaths of a suspicious nature are routinely investigated by one Forensic Unit, and autopsied by the Chief Medical Examiner's office. For both units, the Nancy Spungen case was, Police Sgt. Thomas Kilroy's words, "our first punk rock murder."

Forensic's prize at the Chelsea, the suspected murder weapon, was a Jaguar K-I I folding knife with a 5" blade, complete with the appropriate blood stains and fingerprints. The 007 knife, frequently misreported in the press as the murder weapon was only one of several knives in Sid Vicious' collection. According to Neon Leon, the Jaguar knife "was a gift he got that day from Nancy... to protect himself." Detective Gerald Thomas confirms that "more than one knife was confiscated."

Sometimes Forensic misses an item or two. James O'Connor, administrative assistant at the CME, recalls a case a few years back when the ME went to the premises of a murder of an elderly lady in the Bronx. "We asked Forensic if they had finished with their search," recalls O'Connor, "and they said yes - then one of our team opened a closet and out fell another dead body."

Forensic, in its zeal to find a murder weapon in Room 100, overlooked a few items lying in the middle of the room, virtually drenched in blood: three hypodermic needles, a bottle of Tuinal pills and "some brown flaky powder." These items were noticed by associate medical examiner Dr. Geeta Natarajan. The diminutive, Indian-born Dr. Natarajan, regarded by her colleagues as "an ace," arrived at the hotel around 3:30 Thursday afternoon. She collected Forensic's finds along with her own and brought them with the body back to the CME's Mortuary at 520 First Av. for autopsy and toxicology and serology [bloodstain] testing at 5:30.

Aside from three large trunks, Sid and Nancy seemed to use plastic Harrod's shopping bags to store most of their possessions. One bag emptied on the CME's table contained assorted personal photos of the pair and memorabilia carefully enclosed in plastic envelopes, enough black hosiery to "leg" a convent, and Vicious' celebrated chain and lock. One of the enclosed photos showed the half-inch-thick metal bike chain adorning Sid, another showed the chain around Nancy's throat. There was very little money in the room and "only pocket money" in Sid's possession.

Apprised of Sid Vicious' reputation in England - "he's bigger than Elvis," said an English observer to the proceedings - Dr. Baden and Dr. Natarajan made preparations for an extensive autopsy and testing.

The autopsy, which was not completed until 8:30 Friday evening, concluded that Nancy Spungen died of external and internal hemorrhaging caused by a 1" wide incision into the lower abdomen, deep enough to rupture the mesenteric blood vessels.

According to O'Connor, who has been at the CME for 20 years, "If the person who stabbed her wasn't so prominent, and we wouldn't have to testify in court, the autopsy would have been done in an hour, or a hell of a lot sooner." Also found on the body were track marks, contusions and ecchymoses (the medical term for bruises, black and blue marks). Of particular interest were two bruises found on Nancy's face, one the size of a quarter on the right side of the chin. The other, larger bruise on the side of her right eye corresponds with Skip Wayne's report of a fight between the two which resulted in "Sid bashing Nancy over the head with his guitar." According to Neon Leon and Cathi O'Rourke, Nancy came to their room the night before her death wearing a red beret. She removed the hat, showed the bruise and said. "Look what Sid did to me."

Pressed for her findings, Dr. Natarajan explained that "a knife wound as opposed to a bullet wound cannot be distinguished definitely as homicidal or suicidal... but, as there was no note [written and left by the deceased], the evidence does not stand up as suicidal."

The autopsy of Nancy Spungen was no simple matter. Although there was only one stab wound, the ME's job was com­pounded by Nancy's deteriorated condition - the result of her much-publicized sadomasochistic relationship with Vicious and her drug addiction. In O'Connor's words, "A person who dies with a lot of drugs on board, dies very differently than a person not on drugs." Until toxicology and the serology tests are completed, the exact time of the stabbing and of death are not certain.

At present, tests are continuing for heroin, morphine, Tuinal, Dilaudid, methadone and Quaalude. Present speculation is that Nancy Spungen was stabbed between 6 and 7 a.m. and died between 8 and 10 a.m.

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Not an Overdose, an Underdose

Shortly after midnight, Monday October 23, Sid Vicious attempted suicide in the room he shared with his mother at the Hotel Seville.

According to Malcolm McLaren, who was summoned by Sid's mother, Sid had gone "into the bathroom and cut his arms and wrists with a razor and a crushed light bulb."

When his mother discovered him, he said, "Go to Malcolm's if you don't want to watch."

Joe Stevens arrived with Malcolm McLaren and found "Sid lying on his bed, his arms all torn and shredded... he was just lying there talking, saying he had 'made a pact with Nancy' and he wanted some 'ludes to finish it off.'"

Vicious had been radically detoxifying methadone. In less than one week he had been reduced from 90 milligrams daily to 35 mm. under the supervision of his doctor, Dr. Teich.

Vicious was rushed to Bellevue where he was immediately administered methadone. His arms were treated and wrapped. "They were pretty messy," said McLaren, "but fortunately he didn't break any major arteries and vessels." His condition is now stable.

Anne Bardach