Death of a grunge legend

After his suicide a decade ago, some suspected it was not what it appeared. Now new controversy has landed Kurt Cobain's widow, Courtney Love, on the front pages and breathed new life into some old questions. Read an excerpt from "Love & Death: The Murder of Kurt Cobain," by Max Wallace and Ian Halperin, below:

Grant opens the safe and takes out a huge box of cassette tapes he recorded between April 1994 and January 1995. They represent more than thirty hours of conversations relating to the Cobain case. To our disappointment, however, the tapes containing what Grant considers the most crucial evidence in support of his murder theory are still off-limits. They will be turned over to the FBI, Grant tells us, if the case is reopened.

Still, the prospect of listening to the vast bulk of what transpired immediately before and after the discovery of Kurt’s body is irresistible; we are eagerly anticipating hearing whatever new clues they may reveal. On the strength of our first book, we are generally considered the foremost journalistic authorities on the death of Kurt Cobain. But as we sit listening to Grant’s tapes over the next three days and well into the nights, we quickly realize just how much we didn’t know about the events of April 1994—indeed, how much we had got wrong, or just plain missed.

While the tapes don’t answer all the questions, they are extremely damning and provide the first objective perspective of the events surrounding Cobain’s death. Together with police reports we have obtained under Washington State’s Freedom of Information laws, they go a long way toward answering the still-lingering mystery of how Kurt Cobain really died.

Sunday, April 3

On April 3, 1994—Easter Sunday—Tom Grant is in his Beverly Hills office with his associate, Ben Klugman, finishing up the paperwork on an old case, when the phone rings. The caller is a woman seeking a detective to find out who is using her husband’s credit card. She does not identify herself but asks Grant if he can meet her in her suite at the nearby Peninsula Hotel. “We’re kind of famous,” she adds.

An hour later, Grant and Klugman arrive at the Peninsula—a five-star Beverly Hills hotel favored by celebrities—and immediately recognize the woman who greets them at the door. “If you leak this to the press, I’ll sue the fuck out of you,” Courtney Love warns them as they enter the room.

Her husband, Courtney tells Grant and Klugman, is Kurt Cobain; he escaped from an L.A. drug rehab center two days ago and hasn’t been seen since. She lied during the initial phone call, she confesses. In an attempt to limit Kurt’s movements, she has had his credit card canceled by falsely claiming it was stolen. To help locate her husband, she wants Grant to call the credit card company and get a list of all the transactions made on the card before it was canceled. At this point, Grant informs her that she doesn’t need a detective for that but can do the job herself. “I’d have to charge you fifty bucks just to make a phone call,” he says.

“What? That’s not enough money for you?” Courtney snaps back. She tells them Kurt has only one credit card and, without it, he has no access to money, since she has also had his bank cards canceled. When Grant asks whether Kurt can obtain funds from other sources such as friends, she tells him that Kurt is totally “helpless” and has no friends. “This guy can’t even catch a fucking cab by himself.”

Then Courtney tells the pair that she believes her husband is suicidal. He has bought a shotgun, and she fears he may be planning to use it: “Everybody thinks he’s going to die.”

Grant and Klugman return to the office to get a form for Courtney to sign authorizing the release of Kurt’s credit card records. By the time Grant returns to the Peninsula later that afternoon, Courtney is frantic; she has apparently taken his advice and phoned the credit card company herself.

Kurt, she discovered, had booked a plane ticket about half an hour after he left the rehab on April 1. He paid $478. This, it turned out, was the ticket he used to fly from Los Angeles to Seattle. But it appears this wasn’t his only purchase. At 5:30 p.m. the same day, while he was still at Exodus, Kurt had used his MasterCard to purchase two other plane tickets on United Airlines. The credit card company could not ascertain the flight date or the destination for these two tickets, only the amount he had paid. Courtney tells Grant that Kurt may be going east to stay with his friend Michael Stipe, the leader of his favorite rock group, R.E.M. Stipe had invited Kurt to record with the band in March, before the Rome overdose, and had even sent a plane ticket, which Kurt never used.

“I don’t know where the hell he is,” Courtney says. “I was figuring he goes up to Seattle and picks up his guitar. And then he flies to Atlanta. . . . [R.E.M.] are recording in Knoxville. He has two tickets. I’m curious if he bought a plane ticket for somebody else.”

She tries to persuade Grant to hack into the airline’s computer system. She wants to know whether Kurt has taken a flight out of Seattle and, if so, with whom he’s traveling. Telling him it’s “done all the time,” she says she would be willing to pay a hacker $5,000 to tap into the computers of Delta and United airlines. “If he’s taken those plane tickets, I want to know where he’s gone.”

Grant demurs: “Yeah, and then the next thing you read about me is that a major P.I. in Beverly Hills has been arrested for computer hacking.”

But Courtney is persistent, urging him to hire “some sleazeball” to do the job. She tells Grant she “grew up on Nancy Drew,” so she knows how these things are done.

Grant tells her that, even if she wrote a check for $300,000, he still wouldn’t break the law because it’s not worth the risk of going to prison. “Whatever I do,” he insists, “I’m going to do it legally.”

From the tone of Courtney’s voice, it’s obvious that she is in a panic about the second plane ticket. Grant soon finds out why.

“I think Kurt wants a divorce,” she says. “If he wants a divorce, that’s fine. If we got into a divorce and it came down to a custody battle, I’d win in a second.” She shares something else. Kurt had left her a note in Rome in which “he says he’s leaving me.” At this point, Grant is still unfamiliar with much of the couple’s history, and he knows nothing about Kurt’s recent overdose in Rome. So this revelation means little to him.

Courtney proceeds to tell Grant about the prenuptial agreement that she and Kurt had signed before their wedding in February 1992: “Despite our prenuptial, my name is on all of our homes and all of our assets. . . . I don’t want a divorce out of this. The only way a divorce will happen is if I bust him for infidelity.” Then she confesses that she fears exactly this scenario; she is convinced that Kurt is having an affair with a Seattle heroin dealer named Caitlin Moore, who she says has a history of “fucking rock stars.”

Courtney tells Grant she’s convinced that if Kurt is in Seattle, he’s with Caitlin. She asks him to bug the drug dealer’s house. Again, Grant refuses. Courtney then reveals that she had already sent a friend over to Caitlin’s house with $100 to buy heroin as an excuse to see if Kurt was there. He wasn’t. She tells Grant that Kurt has a pattern of using girls, then says, “If he’s fucking her, look out . . .” Her tone softens as she tells Grant that she and Kurt “have a good marriage,” but says she thinks he is upset at her because “I’m so antidrug” and that, whenever Kurt does drugs, they fight. “When he brings drugs home, I do them, too,” she says. She tells him that even Kurt’s mother is “terrified of him” now, claiming that Wendy “abused him a lot” when he was a child, but now Kurt appears to have forgotten about it and forgiven her.

Grant asks whether Kurt has any favorite hangouts in Seattle where he might be holed up. She tells him that he liked to check in to a seedy Aurora Avenue motel called the Marco Polo, where he would occasionally go to shoot up. Then she steers the conversation back to Caitlin, demanding Grant find a Seattle P.I. to stake out her apartment. In an undertone to herself, she says, “If you’re fucking someone else, Kurt, I’m going to nail you.”

She then confesses that, the day before, she planted a phony story in the press that she had suffered a drug overdose in a ploy to attract Kurt’s attention and get him to contact her. A reporter from the Associated Press has now called asking about the incident. Courtney asks Grant what he thinks she could tell them:

“My record’s coming out in eight weeks and all publicity’s good publicity. . . . What should I tell the Associated Press? . . . If it goes in and I deny it—and I can deny it all the way to the bank—and people will believe me if I deny it and say it never happened. . . . What I can say is that [Kurt] left rehab, and I had come down to L.A. with the baby and our nanny to support him, and when he left, I got very depressed and had to be hospitalized for some sort of nervous breakdown . . . that way, there’s no drugs involved and Kurt doesn’t get in any trouble because it looks like he wasn’t meant to be in rehab in the first place and he felt pressured and jumped over the wall. I mean, how’s that for spin? It’s gonna appear that I attempted suicide. Even if it says I ODed on Xanax and booze, that would be fine, but if it says heroin, I’m in deep shit. I don’t use heroin anymore. I haven’t since my daughter’s been born, certainly. I haven’t used it in almost two years except intermittently when Kurt’s brought it home. . . . You know, I’ve been dealing with the media for a long time. Hopefully tomorrow this AP thing will hit that I’m in a coma.”

When Grant asks her if she thinks Kurt might resent the fact that she tricked him, she shrugs off the possibility, insisting Kurt would never find out because “the people I had do this [plant the false story], I paid.” In her world, Courtney says, people are “scared of me” so “they don’t fuck with me.” The fact that the press always perceives her as “completely tragic and fucked up” anyway, she continues, might work to her benefit because she has a record coming out, so “selfishly, it might even help sell records.”

Although he says he didn’t realize it at the time, Grant believes this conversation is highly significant.

“In retrospect,” he says, “I realized that Courtney was trying to plant a trail of clues that the couple had some sort of suicide pact. You’ll see later that many writers reported this pact, based on things that Courtney told the public after Kurt’s death. In this discussion the first day I met her, she actually admits to me that her planted story was designed to falsely convince people that she had attempted suicide while Kurt was missing. I think it was a calculated effort to gain sympathy with Kurt’s followers to help them make the seamless transition from Nirvana fan to Hole fan.”

Grant’s Easter Sunday conversations with Courtney are extraordinarily revealing and include the first concrete evidence of the couple’s long-rumored marital breakup. But as remarkable as these April 3 disclosures appear, they may not be nearly as significant as what she failed to tell Grant that day.


This material is excerpted from "Love & Death: The Murder of Kurt Cobain" by Max Wallace and Ian Halperin. Copyright (c) 2004 by Ian Halperin and Max Wallace. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission from the publisher.