Let’s Sum Up Once Again What We Know About Elliott Smith’s Death

It seems that no matter how many times we will repeat that Elliott’s death was NOT determined as a suicide by the coroner, people will treat it like a suicide. The LAPD has left his case open, and because the same thing cannot be repeated in all the threads, forums and message boards of the world wide web, here are a few points to sum up what we know so far.

Stabbing through the heart is extremely difficult to do, less than 2 % of the people who commit suicide choose this method and they, very often, have hesitation marks (as people try to find a place to enter the knife through the ribs). Plus people usually remove their clothes to do so. Elliott had not done any of this (no hesitation marks, he was stabbed though his clothes) which is still not totally impossible but very odd and unusual. Stabbing through the clothes often points to homicide and people have argued that Elliott didn’t want to be caught shirtless, which is ridiculous because photographs of him shirtless do exist.

Both wounds had reached the heart and could have been fatal per se, and many of the people who stab themselves do it under the influence of some substance, whereas Elliott had no alcohol or no drugs in his system at the time of the incident. He had a normal dose of antidepressant (at therapeutic or sub-therapeutic levels) which, by the way, also contradicts what Chiba has said, about Elliott going cold turkey about everything.

Chiba has stated that she was afraid Elliott would jump from the balcony when he was stabbed. Robin Peringer has said in a Filter magazine interview that he helped Chiba clean up the blood throughout the house after the suicide. From this, I get that Elliott was moving around (or even running away from something?) after he had been stabbed. People have said that it is possible to walk and run after been stabbed, but this is not my point. Why was he doing this? If he wanted to kill himself he had no reason to jump from the balcony… Talk about overkill!! He had no reason to run unless he was afraid of something.

Elliott had small cuts, one on his upper right arm and other ones on his left and right palms. Chiba worked very hard to convince everyone (Spin article and Gil Reyes’ movie ‘Searching for Elliott Smith’) that these cuts were done by Elliott himself because he was a cutter. However Dr Scheinin, who did the autopsy, said to me these cuts were not compatible with self cutting, they were not reflecting the pattern, and their locations were not consistent with self cutting, plus these cuts were tiny. Scheinin said they could be interpreted as defense wounds or due to Elliott mishandling the knife at the time of the stabbing. Still you have to realize that he had one on his upper right arm and he was right handed. Odd again.

When I was at Schultz’s book (‘Torment Saint’) presentation at Skylight books, Gil Reyes took me apart and told me that these cuts may have ocured when Elliott bumped himself on the balcony. Out of the blue he was giving me another explanation, which I don’t buy at all: I could understand bruises in this case but not cuts. This sounded like a desperate attempt, as they are probably pissed off that I have dismissed their first explanation with my interview with Dr. Scheinin.

Chiba removed the knife when Elliott was still standing (as stated in the police report) and he collapsed. Imagine doing this to someone still standing? Not so easy to do. Plus, she is an art therapist and has worked with abused children, I work in a school and I have CPR training every year, they tell us about not removing impaled objects in a wound. A therapist told me she should have known you should never remove a knife from a wound. People have said she could have panicked, but this is one sketchy thing to add to the list.

Chiba said they were having a terrible fight, then she locked herself in the bathroom and heard a scream/thud (these two different words have been used in her narrative). However, the police, to my knowledge, does not have a time line of the events and we just know she called 911 at 12:18 pm, but how long had they been fighting? We don’t know… How much time passed between the stabbing and the call? I don’t know, but I was told by someone very close to Elliott (sorry if I can’t reveal this person’s name) that she waited a certain amount of time before calling 911 ‘because her cell phone was not working’… this is what she said…  but they had a land line, so why did she wait? And why did she admit this to this person in the first place? I have no clue.

Chiba was very eager to give parts of Elliott’s journal to the police when they came, and Elliott’s family didn’t recover the journal. She picked the pages that were supporting suicide ideation. Then she refused to talk to the police furthermore (this is in the police report). The suicide note was not found by the police, it was Chiba who noticed it when she was questioned by the police. Nobody has never confirmed if it was Elliott’s writing or not, and the vagueness and impersonal nature of the message (‘I’m so sorry—love, Elliott. God forgive me’… not even I’m so sorry Jenn??) tells us this could have been a note written at any moment. Thus, several things are very questionable regarding this note:

–       first we still don’t know if Elliott wrote it
–       second, why writing a note to a person who is right there?
–       Third, if Elliott killed himself, he did it very fast in a moment of pure rage, as he didn’t even remove his clothes, he didn’t even pre-try (he had no hesitation marks)… but he took the time to write a note?

It has also been question of Elliott’s previous ’suicide attempt’, already mentioned in the police report, and likely a reference to what is sometimes called ‘the cliff attempt’. It is not actually confirmed to be an attempt as suicide: Elliott jumped from a cliff while running drunk one night with some friends, however his intentions weren’t clear at all and he was frequently joking about it in interviews.

Chiba had a plane ticket for Hong Kong and left the country a few days after it happened; she had a stop in Boston and she came back when she saw that the police was not prosecuting. She stayed in Los Angeles for a few weeks then left again for New York, London, South Africa…. I have proof of this, and she stayed over there for months.

I was told by different people that Chiba entered into Elliott’s life because she was his drug provider. Jerry Schoenkopf, (Elliott’s drug counselor), and at least two other people told me the same thing (one was involved in Elliott’s professional life and the other one a woman who unfortunately died of a drug overdose a year ago). In particular, this woman was Chiba’s drug provider, who was giving her money to get heroin for Elliott. It doesn’t prove Chiba killed Elliott of course but it gives you another perspective on the story she told Schultz (author of ‘Torment Saint’) and Liam Gowing (author of the Spin article)… ‘We were both shy and staring at our feet. He bought me a drink and we talked about Russian literature‘.

On July 30, 2004, not even a year after Elliott’s death, Chiba sued Marta Greenwald, Elliott’s stepmother, for breach of oral contract, quantum merit, declaratory relief and constructive trust. She lost the suit because of her lack of a talent agent license, something that was required to perform certain duties controlled by the Talent Agencies Act. She sued for $1 million and although this doesn’t mean she is guilty of anything, it paints a real bad picture of her character. Who does that to people who have just lost their son?

This is a brief summary of what I have learnt over the years, I have tried to sum up the most important points and I am sure the details of all the information could fill a 50-page book. In conclusion, let’s always keep in mind that the coroner ruled the case as ‘could not be determined’. ‘Were the directions of the stab wounds more consistent with suicide or murder?’ I asked Dr. Scheinin during an interview, ‘Either way,’ she answered, ‘there is no way to tell’. ‘There was nothing that tipped the scales one way or other’… ‘In this case, there was truly no clearcut way to assign the mode of death’ she had already written in 2006 during an email exchange.

If the coroner could not determine what way Elliott died, let’s face it, there are only a few things which weigh towards suicide, and none of them are evidence:

–       an history with depression and drugs (but Elliott was drug free the day he died)
–       a supposedly previous suicide attempt, which wasn’t really one
–       a supposed suicide note, which may have been about other random event

Everything else I have mentioned rises a lot of suspicions.

Originally published on Rock NYC (August 24 2014)


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