A Punk Rock Murder Mystery

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.

e974e3f1188b2ea174e70e032f0fc9b4Within 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.

Sid-Vicious-and-Nancy-Spungen-3The 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 d06e3558409c35271aefad3264c4be54went, 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.

sid-vicious-nancy-spungen-b77b6bc9-44b9-4052-b014-1d9e59c1133dAt 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.

5e60b31499c64c58efa6c54d873ff387According 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…


lovekillsblogspot featuring original 1978 report

Sid & Nancy – the final hours SALON magazine

Who Killed Nancy? the movie HERE


4 thoughts on “A Punk Rock Murder Mystery

  1. Over the years I have reached the conclusion that Sid probably didn’t kill Nancy. I just got a bad feeling when I heard they had parked up in The Chelsea Hotel, notorious and monolithic. I knew that their habit had gone from bad to epidemic scale and they were in the right spot to pursue their drug follies. Plus the lowlife who frequented their room could have believably robbed them and stabbed Nancy.
    What surprises me is that there was no intervention from Sid’ British management team which included Malcolm McLaren who was waxing rich from Sid’s ascending star. Anyone could tell that Sid was a handful and Nancy needed support to handle her and his growing drug dependence. She didn’t get that. Everyone was happy that Sid was a viable success and left him isolated within that, free to get wasted and idle away his spare time.
    He probably had ADHD, Asperger or something on the autistic spectrum. What is called Special Needs today and Nancy wasn’t trained to deal with issues arising from that. She could talk the talk and walk the walk but wasn’t together enough to properly handle Sid’s economic assets. They needed a bodyguard, medical assistance and time for rehabilitation to survive Sid’s heady fame. Not a slide into sleaze in shabby chic environs. A stranger in a strange land, for Sid with only Nancy there for him at a meaningful level. His lover, partner, best friend, mentor, drugpal and company all rolled into one. Course she had a fatal attraction for zoned-out druggy male musos so she knew it was no moonage daydream.
    Their British mates had abandoned them back home when their drug dependency took a turn for the worse.
    So they clung to each other in a mounting storm of acclaim and public recognition. Their habit grew because they could afford it. And Sid’s fame grew bc he was so real, not a hype. Funny and self-aware when he was performing. He may have already been a Rock & Roll suicide waiting to happen but for a moment he was still with us. Nancy may have been a car crash in slow motion but she wasn’t at the wheel.
    And they failed to get the urgent and vital support needed at the right time. His management failed them, his friends ran from them. He was treated like a common criminal and suffered appalling treatment in the US prison system. So no surprise he didn’t fancy his chances second time around when it looked like he would be incarcerated for a long time. Our Sid, the Bromley boy, Ferry fan and now rockstar.
    That mixture of public adoration and private insecurities can make for some great songs and performances.
    And Sid was in that mould. Had he lived it would have been fascinating to watch his trajectory across the musical world, his development and increasing maturity and confidence. But maybe they were only meant to shine for a while and go out with a bang not a fizzle.
    Love is the drug.
    RIP Sid and Nancy

  2. I met Sid & Nancy in London just before they headed off for New York never to return. I knew Sid from earlier so I was relieved when he introduced me to Nancy. And I liked her, she was NY RockChick cool and a good negotiator in trying circumstances. She was manager material.
    Yh she had a habit but most people i knew did various drugs at the time.
    Heck even Blondie rocked a heroin habit and they were in the Top Ten of the pop charts.
    I knew Sid would go down a storm in New York and Nancy was encouraged that someone else could see Sid’s star potential as well.
    Before he left, Sid mentioned that he still coveted the vintage and rare sailor’s knife that we had fought over earlier… To prove it, he pulled the knife out of his pocket and started carving idly on his forearm with it.
    Give it to Domino as a present from me, were my final words to him as I walked away not looking back.

  3. It’s great to see a blog about those who actually were in the 70s-80s punk scene. Please keep posting, I love your blog!

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