Femme Fatale

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This is an article from the March 2000 issue of Mojo, and was written by Mark Paytress, author of the biography 'Vicious: The Art of Dying Young'. While the transcript is complete, page 3 is currently unavailable for download.

It was an easy case: Sid killed Nancy. Except for a missing $14,000, a bungled drugs deal, and several witnesses never questioned. Mark Paytress plays gumshoe.

Breakfast time, October 12,1978. Room 100, Chelsea Hotel, New York.

The body of Nancy Spungen, a twenty-year-old peroxide punkette, was lying on the bathroom floor. Blood, apparently originating from a wound to the lower abdomen, discoloured her body and underwear. A five-inch hunting knife, similarly bloodstained, lay close by. In the main room, a pale, dishevelled 21-year-old punk sat at the end of the bed: head bowed, shaking, unable to speak, reluctant to move. A trail of blood from bed to bathroom provided a clear umbilical cord of blame. "Name, kid?" "Sid Vicious." Case closed.

No one believed Sid was innocent. Not his teenage fan club in their 'She's Dead, I'm Alive, I'm Yours' T-shirts, who hailed the episode as another triumphant 'punk' moment. Not the wider public, not even Sid, whose desire for self-preservation went out with his Soul Boy baggies. Within four months, he was gone too. The coroner's report read "Acute intravenous narcoticism" but if Sid OD'd on anything, it was the bondage of his own mythology. Sid's death closed the book on the events of October 12. Sure, there have been theories - of suicide pacts and shady drug dealers - but nothing tangible. Yet tucked away in the December 1978 police report into Nancy's death was a brief reference to the fact that Room 100 had been robbed that night. It failed to mention that up to $14,000 in cash may have been stolen. Of several visitors to Room 100 on the night of Nancy's death, only one - an informer - was questioned. More crucially, the report states that Vicious "had enough Tuinol in his bloodstream... to have killed a horse". He was barely conscious that night, a fact we can now back up with eyewitness accounts. Still sure Sid Did It?

On August 24, Sid and Nancy flew to New York on the proceeds of a ramshackle London performance by Sid's pickup band, Vicious White Kids. They took a low-rent room at the Chelsea Hotel, terminus for the Manhattan drug trade, where Sid quickly discovered that his notoriety meant little in New York. Jeff Magnum (musician and Chelsea Hotel resident): "Cheetah Chrome [The Dead Boys] arrives and says, 'Look who I've got with me. It's Sid Vicious.' The only thing Sid said was, 'So you're Jeff Magnum, you think you can beat me up?' It was absolutely bloody pathetic. It's like, God, you're such a little wimp."

Between regular visits to the Spring Street methadone clinic, Sid played shows at Max's Kansas City and CBGB's in September. Magnum was one of the first to be asked to join: "The rehearsals were ridiculous. Vicious didn't even remember the lyrics to his own songs. We went to Max's and Sid was face down in a bowl of salad the night we were supposed to go on." Things marginally improved when Arthur Kane and Jerry Nolan (the old New York Dolls rhythm section) and The Clash's Mick Jones sat in. Worse, Nancy was acting as his manager. Terry Ork was booking shows at Max's: "This was the best thing we'd heard in New York! If you were gonna offer the guy $100, now you could offer $45 and she'd still say yes. They came by because Sid wanted to do a gig and they needed the money. They're both on heroin. You could tell these guys were gonna be in the grave before Christmas."

The pair feasted on methadone, heroin, Tuinol (a strong barbiturate) and pain-numbing Dilaudid. Cheetah Chrome: "Sid got beaten up a lot. He got sold a lot or crap because he was a born victim. He drew attention to himself, something you don't wanna do when you're copping dope in New York City." Time to tool up. "Dee Dee Ramone had given Stiv Bators an 007 hunting knife at one of our first gigs," recalls Cheetah. "Stiv carried it with him all the time. That really impressed Sid. Dee Dee was his hero, so he wanted a hunting knife too. We all went down to Times Square so Sid could buy one. I think Nancy bought one, too. The pair had bundles of cash. They were out of it on Tuinol and dropping $100 bills as they walked. People followed us waiting for the next bundle to fall." Another Chelsea resident, Eliot Kidd, insists the pair received $14,000 days before Nancy's death, most likely a Virgin royalty payment - Paul Cook and Glen Matlock recall receiving handsome cheques around this time.

The robbery in the early hours or October 12 was largely disregarded because he police thought Nancy's death was a lovers' tiff gone wrong. Later, Alex Cox's Sid And Nancy biopic played up the 'accidental' theory, that Nancy stumbled into Sid's knife during an argument over drugs. In fact, little attention has been paid to the comings and goings to Room 100 that night which may hold the key to a rather different outcome in rock's most infamous murder.

Sid and Nancy apparently spent much of the evening of the 11th with an unnamed girl who left the hotel around midnight. Two tabloid versions, both largely ignored by the police, come into play. Local dealer Rockets Redglare said Nancy phoned him around 1.30am; he turned up soon after with forty Dilaudid capsules. Redglare maintained that he left the room between four and five - just as Tuinol dealer Steve Cincotti arrived. Cincotti, who suffered psychiatric problems, died in an unrelated incident weeks later.

Guitarist Neon Leon, staying just down the hall, also passed the buck. Sid showed up at his room around midnight, he claimed. Despite being in a depressed state, he showed Leon (who also played at the CBGB's shows) his new knife, and gave him his leather jacket. However, Eliot Kidd, recalls seeing Neon Leon in Room 100 that night - and that Neon later told him that when he left, Sid and Nancy were alone with Rockets Redglare. It s likely that several people were in Room 100 well into the early hours of October 12. Eliot Kidd claims to be one of them: "We heard there was a party going on over at Sid's place and I arrived with a couple of girls at about four in the morning. Nancy was still alive because she let us in. Neon Leon was there with his girlfriend Kathy. There were at least half a dozen people there... it was very crowded for a small room. Sid had passed out. Nancy said, 'Oh, he ate about thirty Tuinol.' We left about five am and Nancy was still talking and Sid was still out."

"I talked to Sid the day he got out," Kidd recalls. "He told me that he woke up, walked into the bathroom and Nancy was under the sink, blood everywhere, and she was dead." Yet, despite the influx of cash from Virgin and the New York shows, Sid was arrested with pocket change. "Nancy would have flipped out if she caught somebody trying to steal from her. And bear in mind there's a knife in the room, and if you get a rat into a corner you're gonna get bit." Steve Cincotti is dead; Neon Leon went to ground, resurfaced with his own record company, then disappeared again; Rockets Redglare sold his story and went AWOL.

When the New York police got to the hotel, around ten am October 12, Sid was alone with Nancy's body. Dazed ("I was out of it. mate." he said later), he was arrested, handcuffed and taken to the Third Homicide Division on 51st Street. By the time Nancy's body was removed at 5.30pm, Sid had been charged with second degree murder.

The next day, after a ten-minute hearing, he was sent to the hospital wing of Riker's Island Prison. Within the week, Nancy had been buried near her family home in Philadelphia.

Sid was out (Virgin met his $50,000 bail), and Anne 'Ma Vicious' Beverley had arrived to take care of her son. She wasn't a great help: on October 22, in their shared room at the Seville on Madison Avenue, Sid took a razor and made suicidal slashes all over his body.

After a spell in Bellevue Hospital, Sid's suicidal urges seemed behind him. He even had a new partner, 22-year-old dancer Michelle Robinson. "It did seem strange," says photographer Eileen Polk, "but then Sid Vicious on his own was no good to nobody." Unfortunately, an altercation with Patti Smith's younger brother Todd at Hurrah's nightclub on December 9 meant that he was sent back to Riker's - and this time he was really on his own.

Sid was gang raped and beaten during his second stay at Riker's Island. Jerry Nolan remembers visiting and finding Sid with a black eye and shaking uncontrollably. "I guess Vicious was the wrong nickname to take into Riker's with you," says biographer Alan Parker. But despite the abuse and the crushing withdrawal symptoms, the Sid Vicious who re-emerged for his court hearing on February 1, 1979 had, said photographer Joe Stevens, "cleaned up beautifully". That was despite the best efforts of Anne Beverley, who'd occasionally smuggle heroin in for her 'Si'.
Unfortunately, it was another of mum's little favours that contributed to Sid's death. After the February 1 hearing, Sid was released later in the day and whisked away for a celebration party at Michelle Robinson's Manhattan flat at 63 Bank Street. On the menu was spaghetti Bolognese, two six-packs of Bud and $100 for Sid to score.

"Anne gave him the money," said Eileen Polk. "She was like, 'He's gonna get it from somewhere so at least if I give him the money I know he's gonna come home.' Later on, the atmosphere changed. An English guy came over and brought Sid the dope. When Sid came out of the bathroom, he turned blue, then white, then blue again. Then he passed out on the bed and everybody was massaging and shaking him. I was really scared and went home." At noon on February 2, Polk received a call from Michelle: Sid was dead. The heroin that killed him had been the purest to hit the New York streets in living memory. For once in his life, Sid Vicious didn’t get ripped off.

© 2000 Mark Paytress/Mojo