On the 12th of October 1978, Nancy Spungen made her final dramatic exit through the front doors of the Chelsea Hotel, not in her usual rock chick garb, but in a body bag strapped onto a gurney. She was 20 years old.
Within hours the rumour mill, the press and police had already decided that it was her boyfriend Sid Vicious who had delivered the fatal wound, but because Sid himself died before the case came to trial, there are still some very unanswered questions about Nancy’s last night at the Chelsea.
In August 1978 Sid and Nancy had moved into New York’s Chelsea Hotel, some say that they were escaping from their own self-inflicted, leper-like unpopularity back in London. The Sex Pistols had split under a storm cloud of resentment and bad feelings in the January before, and now Sid under the management and stewardship of Nancy had been offered some solo shows at New York’s Max’s Kansas City.
The Chelsea Hotel was no stranger to being a residence of the “arty” and the extreme, and so the pair holed-up, in relative anonymity, inside Room 100 and continued to spend most of their time, money and energy on their shared and spiraling drug habits.
The night before had started off like any other one of their chaotic, co-dependent, self-destructive evenings in, visitors, other residents and dealers came and went, and one or other of them passed out. The official version of the story runs something like this; Sid and Nancy had been drinking, using drugs and fighting, and at 10am the following morning, on the 12th October Sid called down to the front desk asking for help. Nancy’s blood spattered body was discovered on the bathroom floor, she was already dead, and obviously Sid was suspect number one.
The police knew of the couple’s notoriety, they saw drug paraphernalia strewn around the room, they saw Sid’s collection of knives, and Nancy dead of a stab wound on the floor. Open and shut case. Or was it? What were the other possibilities…?
The autopsy, by associate medical examiner Dr. Geeta Natarajan, conducted on the Friday evening concluded that this was not a frenzied attack. 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, and that fatal injury had occurred sometime between 6am -7am.
At around 2.30am Nancy allegedly had called drug dealer and bodyguard, Rockets Redglare asking for Dialaudids and some new hypodermics. Rockets apparently arrived at the Hotel, although allegedly without any drugs, but stayed until around 5am. By 5.30am the front desk is alerted to a man shouting and banging on doors, the hotel bellhop Kenny, allegedly confronts a drugged up Sid in a corridor, and watches as he goes back downstairs to his room.
At 7.30am, their nearest neighbour Vera Mendelssohn in Room 102 heard moaning sounds from the room next door, 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.” At 9.30am Herman Ramos the duty desk man receives an outside call warning him of an incident in Room 100. At 10am Sid calls the front desk asking for help, and the police and ambulance are called.
According to some reports on the web, drug dealer Rockets Redglare knew Nancy had a lot of money in the room, Sid had just received a royalty payment in cash and would be paid in notes for his appearances at Max’s. Nancy was distrustful of banks, and would simply keep the money in bags, accumulating thousands of dollars in the room.
Sid, by all accounts had taken a large enough dose of barbiturates to knock out an elephant by the time Rockets supposedly left at 5am. But what if Rockets hadn’t left, or had returned with an accomplice, re-entered the room, which Nancy often left unlocked, and tried to steal the cash. When they were caught by a sleeping Nancy, who tried to stop the theft, they stabbed her as a result. When Sid finally woke, he would have had no idea what happened.
Allegedly there was no cash found in the room after Nancy’s death, which in itself raises questions, Sid would not have stolen his own money.
The knife cited as the murder weapon by the police, had been wiped clean of blood and fingerprints, begging the question, why would Sid have wiped a knife when there was a body in the bathroom? And if it had been Sid, then who and why would someone from outside the hotel have called to alert the desk to a potential situation?
There are others who say that Nancy, in the ultimate act of chaotic attention seeking had even stabbed herself, never intending to actually die, but with Sid passed out on the bed, there was no-one to save her or call for help, which fits with both the neighbour’s report of moaning at 7.30am, and the autopsy report.
We’ll probably never know what actually happened on the night of 11th/12th October 1978, but like everything involving Nancy, there are questions, discrepancies, confusion, mis-direction and a pitiful air of unfinished business.
References and further reading…
Sid & Nancy – the final hours SALON magazine
Who Killed Nancy? the movie HERE