The Vicious Affair

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New Musical Express article containing a brief interview with Sid Vicious while he was incarcerated at Riker's Island Prison. It was printed on October 21st, 1978.

ON SUNDAY, IN AN EXCLUSIVE interview with NME, Sid Vicious gave his version of the events which led up to his arrest for the murder of Nancy Spungen.

When we spoke to Vicious, he was undergoing heroin detoxification treatment in the hospital wing of New York's Riker's Island Prison. Even though he appeared overwrought and confused about his situation, he was adamant about one thing: his innocence.

Vicious is charged with second degree murder, and intends to plead Not Guilty.

From New York, JOE STEVENS filed the following report.

RIKER'S ISLAND is a heavily guarded remand centre and short-term jail situated in the Hudson River, not far from La Guardia Airport. The prison population consists almost exclusively of blacks and Puerto Ricans.

The island has a tough reputation, and is supposedly a drug-trafficking centre.

Accompanied by Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren and Sid Vicious' mum Ann Beverley, I met Vicious in the prison hospital wing. When we told him that according to both London evening papers on Friday, Sid had"confessed" to Ms. Spungen's murder, he angrily denied the reports.

"When the fuck did I make a confession?" he retorted. "I was well out of it, mate!"

Over the course of our visit, Sid detailed his version of the events which took place in room 100 of the Chelsea Hotel between Wednesday evening and Thursday morning. His story is as follows:

He remembers waking up sometime during the night and seeing Nancy sitting up in bed fingering the knife they had bought earlier in the day, ostensibly to protect themselves from junkie scavengers who hung around the methadone clinic Sid frequented. Sid dozed off again before he could ask Nancy what she was doing.

His next recollection is of waking up a few hours later and seeing blood all over Nancy's side of the bed.

"There was blood everywhere. On the sheets, on the pillow-case, all over the mattress and the floor leading into the bathroom. My first thought was that she had been killed."

He stumbled into the bathroom and found Nancy - still breathing - slouched under the bathroom sink. After a futile attempt to revive her, Sid ran out into the lobby yelling for help.

He then ran into the room and called the hotel reception desk, saying, "Get an ambulance up here quick. I'm not kidding!"

Minutes later it wasn't an ambulance but the police who arrived. When they saw the scene they turned to the dazed ex-Pistol - who, it was later revealed, had at the time been taking Tuinol - and said:

"Listen kid, why'd you do that?"

"Why'd I do what?" replied Vicious.

"Why'd you kill the girl?"

"I didn't kill her."

"If you didn't kill her then why can't you look me straight in the face?"

"All right," retorted Vicious, "I'm looking at you straight in the face. I didn't kill her, mate."

The two cops laughed at Vicious' denial, then pushed him up against the wall face first and handcuffed him.

ACCORDING TO police, Nancy died of "a stab wound inflicted after midnight on Wednesday". They later recovered the weapon, a large folding knife with a black wooden handle, and are said to be investigating reports that an unidentified young man had been with the couple until 4:00 am that morning.

Vicious was meanwhile taken to Riker's Island.

The following day he appeared in court, where he seemed understandably distressed and not a little disconnected. He was charged with second degree murder under his real name, John Simon Ritchie, and bail was set at $25,000 - much to the dismay of New York's finest, who had expected bail to be denied.

By this time Malcolm McLaren had arrived in New York - Vicious is still contracted to him - telling the British press before he left that "one of the reasons I want Sid out is to record a new album in New York. With a bit of luck, the money from the record will pay for the trial."

McLaren engaged the respected New York law firm of Prior, Cashman, Sherman and Flynn to represent Vicious. Estimates of the legal fees likely to be involved are in the region of $100,000.

McLaren also engaged some private investigators to follow up, amongst other leads, a theory that the death had some connection with the activities of a Puerto Rican gang that has recently taken over drug operation on the Lower East Side, who sometimes congregate in a bar near the Chelsea Hotel.

Soon after his court appearance, Vicious was moved to the hospital wing of Riker's Island, where he is undergoing heroin detoxification.

On Sunday Sid's mother, Mrs. Ann Beverley, arrived in New York armed with a sleeping bag and obviously ready for a long seige. We went to see Sid in hospital.

When Mrs. Beverley - a very cool-headed lady who spent time on the hippie trails when Sid was ten-years-old - started getting a bit soft with her boy, Sid said: "Listen, I'm not a mama's boy. I'll fight my own battles."

Sid seemed to be unaware of the pressures building up around him, of the fact that the U.S. courts will probably be only too happy to make an example of him to any aspiring punk desperadoes. And, of course, Nancy's death is taking its emotional toll.

That same day Nancy's body was buried in her parents' home city of Philadelphia.

On Monday, Virgin Records telegraphed the bail money to McLaren in New York, and Sid was released on Tuesday morning.

If, when the case is heard, Vicious is convicted, the absolute minimum time he will spend in prison, with parole, is seven years. The maximum is twenty-five.

© Joe Stevens/New Musical Express
Scan by Michele Montalvo