Do you remember about the HBO series, ‘Autopsy’? It was hosted by Dr. Michael Baden and it was trying to demonstrate how forensic sciences assist in solving crimes. Dr. Baden has investigated high profile deaths (including Sid Vicious and John Belushi’s deaths) and he was even a defense witness during Phil Spector’s murder trial, but he has been a medical examiner for forty-five years and has performed more than 20,000 autopsies. This tells it all, and you can read his entire and impressive bio here.
As everyone knows, we are in a dead end regarding Elliott Smith’s death, we may never know how he died, so I decided to contact Dr. Baden,… why not? He may answer? This is the message I left on his website.
‘I am wondering whether you would be interested by the story of singer songwriter Elliott Smith. He died of two stab wounds in October 2003, and the case has been left open since, although the police are not investigating anymore. The police first thought it was a suicide, as his girlfriend, who was present at the scene, told them he had threatened to kill himself in the hours preceding the incident.
This is what she told the police: they had a heated fight (their neighbors heard it), she locked herself in the bathroom and when she opened the door (upon hearing a scream/noise) she found him standing with the knife planted in his chest. She removed the knife, he walked away and collapsed a little bit further.
She called 911 around noon and told the police it was a suicide. Of course, because of Elliott’s past history with depression and drug addiction, it wasn’t hard for the police to believe her, she even provided pages of his personal journal as a proof he had a suicidal ideation. However, Elliott was clean at the time of his death (the autopsy revealed no drug or alcohol in his system, just therapeutic doses of antidepressants), and he was looking up to the future according to many people (he was recording a new album, was supposed to participate in a music festival in a few days, was writing a soundtrack and had just started a foundation). The police interrogated her at the scene but she took a lawyer in the following days, and refused to talk further.
The autopsy also revealed that there were no hesitation marks around the two stab wounds, and that Elliott was stabbed through his clothes, two oddities for a suicide by stabbing. Furthermore, he had two fresh tiny cuts, one on his medial right arm at the level of the interphase between the biceps and triceps muscles, another one on the volar left thenar eminence, that the coroner interpreted as possible defense wounds. However, it was not certain: I talked to LA county coroner Doctor Scheinin who did the autopsy and she said Elliott also could have done these by mishandling the knife. However, Elliott was right handed, and the first one is located on his right arm, which is odd. Plus his girlfriend tried very hard to explain to the media that Elliott was a cutter and could have done these cuts to himself on purpose. However, Dr. Scheinin told me these cuts were absolutely not the type that cutters do to themselves.
He died at 1:36 pm of exsanguination. Both stab wounds were obliquely oriented in the sternal area of the chest, stab wound #1 was about 2 inch-deep and stab wound #2 was between 5 and 7 inch-deep. Dr. Scheinin said that both were fatal per se and the numbering on the autopsy didn’t necessarily reflect the order of the stabbing.
The girlfriend also gave to the police an alleged suicide note written on a post it note, that says ‘I’m so sorry—love, Elliott. God forgive me’. No fingerprints were identifiable on the knife and the police kept the note, the knife and other evidence but they don’t seem to pursue any investigation.
I have been interested by his case because his music means a lot to me… Plus, I met him a few times and he was a very nice, generous and smart person. Not knowing how he died is not acceptable. Since his death, I have been very suspicious of his girlfriend’s story, and I have been able to learn a few things about the case (including her questionable behavior) although many people who were in their circles don’t even want to talk about it, or at least not publicly. According to a person I talked to, it is possible that some people have witnessed domestic violence from her part, preceding the tragic event of October 2003
I have communicated with Elliott’s family, but it is a very divided family, his parents divorced when he was very young, and they both remarried, The two sides don’t get along at all. His father was simply too devastated when it happened and hasn’t been able to get involved much, but he and his wife were actually sued by the girlfriend less than a year after Elliott’s death, as she thought she was entitled to get a part of the estate. Nevertheless, at least one side of his family is also suspicious of the girlfriend’s story and encourages fans like me to seek for the truth.
There are many more elements to the story, and if you are interested, I would be more than happy to provide you any information I may have. This is what the autopsy concluded in 2003:
‘The mode of death is undetermined at this time. While his history of depression is compatible with suicide, and the location and direction of the stab wounds are consistent with self-infliction, several aspects of the circumstances (as are known at this time) are atypical of suicide and raise the possibility of homicide. These include the absence of hesitation wounds, stabbing through clothing, and the presence of small incised wounds on the right arm and left hand (possible defensive wounds). Additionally, the girlfriend’s reported removal of the knife and subsequent refusal to speak with detectives are all of concern. Since a complete knowledge of the circumstances surrounding the stabbing is lacking, the mode will remain undetermined until such time as sufficient additional information becomes available.’
I used to watch your show ‘Autopsy’ on HBO, and I thought you may be interested by this sad story. Elliott was very talented and he died at the young age of 34. I know that you probably receive millions of emails about unsolved cases, but I hope that this one will trigger your attention. Thank you!
Originally published on Rock NYC (March 17 2015)