A close family member: ‘I am 99% sure that Jennifer told Elliott she was pregnant a week or two before his death. He told me he had “good news” to tell me but couldn’t for a few days because Jennifer hadn’t given permission for him to tell anyone yet. After he died, Jennifer informed me that she might be pregnant and would let me know when she knew for sure. She let me know she wasn’t after a couple of weeks…. Jennifer told me that the argument she and Elliott had was over whether or not he was going to drive her to an appointment with her therapist, since she couldn’t drive legally due to a recent dui. I later found out that the argument was much more serious. Mark Swanson, who Elliott lived with in New York, told me that Jennifer told him at Elliott’s memorial service that Elliott had told her the morning of his death that he was leaving her… Jennifer told me that her call for an ambulance was delayed because her cell phone wasn’t working properly. I talked with Elliott on a land line a few days before he died… Jennifer told me that she refused to open the bathroom door even though Elliott cried and begged her to open it. She then said she opened the door when she heard a thud. I asked why she opened the door when she heard a thud when she hadn’t opened it when he begged her. She then said it wasn’t a thud, it was a scream like nothing she’d ever heard before… Jennifer told me she felt guilty because she was the one who initially left the knife out. Unfortunately, I failed to ask her about the circumstances involved…. No fingerprints were found on the knife. Elliott’s fingerprints were not on it. Neither were Jennifer’s, even though she stated she foolishly pulled the knife out…. Elliott had no romantic relationship with Jennifer for a number of months after he split with Valerie and moved into Jennifer’s home. He had alienated or cut himself off from everyone close to him, so he was vulnerable in a way he hadn’t been before. I do not believe he ever would have become involved with Jennifer were that not the case…. My experience with Jennifer is that she could come across in a very sincere way, in which I was certain she must be being honest, and then tell me something totally inconsistent with the same sincerity.’
Gil Reyes: ‘Whether or not Jennifer Chiba knew it would harm or even kill Elliott to remove the knife from his chest, she still did not do anything wrong.’ (private conversation)
Chris Stadler: ‘Reyes has veered away from Smith’s death in his documentary, saying he “didn’t want to deal with that part of his life”. He has gathered accounts from Smith’s life in Portland to his last years when he resided in Los Angeles.
Smith’s struggles with depression, drug addiction, and alcoholism prior to his death allowed for parallels to be drawn between his problems and his reported suicide. Yet since the LA County coroner’s report of his death was released that December, controversy has arisen as to whether he could have been murdered.
No accusations have been made, but investigations are still in progress. Reyes feels the authorities “jumped the gun in calling his death a suicide,” which led the press to “come down on the fact that he was depressed.” Reyes’ documentary looks upon Smith in a different light, encompassing the entirety of his career in music, not simply his death.’
Aaron Sperske : ‘Yeah he was gonna bail and they fought on a regular basis ’.
Mark Flanagan: ‘I don’t believe he killed himself so that’s all I have to say about that, but I really don’t. But, having said that, I wasn’t surprised because he had been through really rough time, you know, and I would see him from time to time and it was not getting any better, and rather than surprised it is really gut wrenching sad, you know.’ (NPR interview)
Steve Drozd: ‘In my mind, I could totally see it being like, ‘Hey I’m outta here, I’m gonna do a shot and OD – game over, see ya’. But it’s another thing to actually pierce yourself in the heart with a fucking knife. And that’s what we’ve all been talking about. It’s really weird that he would do it that way – or could do it that way.’
Larry Crane : ‘His girlfriend Jennifer called me last week and asked if I’d like to come to L.A. and help mix and finish [Smith’s album]. I said yes, or course, and chatted with Elliott for the first time in ages… It seems surreal that he would call me to finish an album and then a week later kill himself. I talked to Jennifer this morning, who was obviously shattered and in tears, and she said, ‘I don’t understand, he was so healthy.’
Larry Crane: ‘your facts on Elliott’s passing are incorrect’ (comment left after an article mentioning Elliott’s suicide).
Sean Organ: ‘Smith wasn’t the easiest persona to work with because of his problems. The worst thing ever to happen to Happy Ending was Elliott getting involved. The production of the single became the focus of all of Smith and Chiba’s relationship problems: people began to speak of their relationship as furiously difficult, similar to the infamous and ultimately disastrous liaison between Sid Vicious and Nancy Spungen.’
Sean Organ: ‘That was said beforehand, people described them as a Sid and Nancy couple, constantly arguing, splitting up and getting back together again. I can’t really comment on it because I’m in London, they were over there in LA and I’ve never met them. The stories that were coming back were yes, that it was a crazed, druggy Sid and Nancy situation.’
Robin Peringer: ‘He had three really tremendous knife wounds on his left arm. They were deep, like he had to go across a couple of times or have the sharpest, biggest knife to do it.’
Jennifer Chiba:’I came home from seeing “Lost in Translation” and he was lying in the bed with his arm bleeding. He had seven old cigarette burns on his arm. It was evidence of his pain from that period that was just a little too real, so he’d taken a knife to it.’
Dr. Lisa Scheinin: ‘A small slight laceration is noted to the palm of the left and right hand and another slight laceration is noted under the upper right arm as well. No additional external trauma is noted during the preliminary visual examination.’
‘No track marks or surgical scars are identified. There are multiple ovoid, linear and angular nonspecific old scars on the dorsal and dorsal-radial left forearm. Ovoid scars have maximal diameters no greater then 3/8 inch. On the dorsal left hand in the web between the thumb and index finger, there is a slightly irregular old scar surrounded by suture marks. Small nonspecific old scars are noted at the left knee and on the right side of the lower jaw. No scars are noted on the volar wrists.’
Robin Peringer : ‘I get really upset when people say dumb, ignorant shit about him being murdered. It’s just ignorant!’ (telling the harrowing story of cleaning up the blood throughout Elliott’s house after the suicide) (Filter Magazine 02-01-2008)
Robin Peringer: ‘Smith was a “cutter”, it could explain the possible defensive wounds.’Robin Peringer: ‘Elliott was very happy, always laughing, very upbeat, cracking jokes all the time. There was no sign whatsoever of anything like this happening.’
Dr. Scheinin: ‘In the Smith case, there were certain things — both anatomic findings and circumstances — that were suggestive of suicidal death and pointed down that road, while there were other things that were less consistently associated with suicide and suggested the possibility of homicide. There was nothing that tipped the scales one way or other. The mode of Suicide has great psychological impact for those left behind, and carries with it a negative social stigma reflecting on the decedent, so it is not a mode I assign lightly. If there are elements that cast some doubt on this mode (outside of someone saying “he just wouldn’t have done that”), then I prefer to give the decedent the benefit of that doubt. I also would not want to assign the mode of Homicide without reasonable cause to do so.
In this case, there was truly no clear cut way to assign the mode of death. For the above reasons, after due consultation with Dr. Lakshmanan Sathyavagiswaran, the Chief Medical Examiner, we felt it was most prudent to be cautious and leave the mode Undetermined. This mode can be changed should convincing evidence for either Homicide or Suicide turn up at a later time. Unfortunately no significant additional information has come to light to date, which is why the mode remains Undetermined.’ (private email)
Aorn.org: It is much easier to stab someone else than oneself; therefore, suicide by stabbing is uncommon. Most deaths due to stab wounds are considered homicides. Stab wounds showing minimal penetration or wounds that barely break the skin usually identify self-inflicted stab wounds and are known as hesitation wounds. Stab wounds seen in people who have committed suicide vary in size and depth with usually only one or two “final” ones entering the chest wall or an internal organ. It is a rare individual who can self-inflict stab wounds without any evidence of hesitancy.’ (www.aorn.org/journal)
Caroline Cooley-Shams: ‘The story said he was dead by suicide. I just couldn’t believe it, it can’t be true, it’s a lie. […]
I don’t know why but the first thing I did was call Elliott’s lawyer and ask him if this was true, I just didn’t believe it. His lawyer said it was true. I was shocked but the first thing I thought was about the force and I wanted to protect Elliotts things, I wanted to make sure the force didn’t come back and take all of his things. […]
Apparently, Elliott had a meeting with the landlord one week before this happened and informed him that he was no longer doing business with his lawyer and that the force was now his manager. […]
I didn’t believe Elliott killed himself, gentle men don’t stab themselves in the stomach or heart or wherever, they don’t do that, he said he wasn’t depressed, he was finishing the album, it was obvious those last two weeks.”
Conrad Rippy: ‘The family has every confidence that the ongoing investigation will determine the actual circumstances of Elliott’s death. Until such time as their investigation has concluded, however, and especially in light of the recently published coroner’s report, neither Elliott’s family nor anyone else can claim to know ‘the truth’ about Elliott’s death, and any statement to the contrary mischaracterizes the family’s position.’
Dr. Ken Conner, University of Rochester’s School of Medicine: ‘Suicide by stabbing is exceedingly rare; only about 1 to 2 percent of victims die this way. The death of popular singer-songwriter Elliott Smith, from two stab wounds to the chest, two months before Luna’s death, was originally believed by the Los Angeles police to have been a suicide. (Now that case too is being investigated.) “There is this notion that people who use violent methods for suicide may have more anger or hostility behind their actions, either at themselves or others, the manner of death is more typically a matter of convenience and efficiency.’
Nelson Gary: ‘Ten days before Elliott died (with Val, who was a major force in helping him in his healing process, no longer by his side), many of my friends, including Jerry, saw Elliott. By all accounts, he was doing well. He had come out of the darkness to twilight, then his life tragically ended.’ (Lummox article)
Nelson Gary: ‘Elliott was doing so well before he died. It is true that people who opt for suicide are often said to be doing well. The suicides in waiting are happy because they have found the resolve to do what they have wanted to do for a considerable period of time. Even as a counselor, knowing this and knowing that Elliott could be grievously depressed, I do not think he killed himself. I do not rule out that there could have been a fight between the two of them, him and Jennifer. In the end, as I wrote in the article, I do not think it was suicide, but that does not necessarily mean that, without a reasonable question of a doubt, that Jennifer did it. I do think there should be an investigation into the matter, and there is no reason why there has not been.’
Patrick (a neighbor) :‘The wife got it first hand last night. she’s known his girlfriend for sometime. first, she’s a fucking manic netball. second, she and elliott have had this emotional, dramatic table turning, door slamming, screaming “i hate you” type of relationship. typical for a manic and a depressed individual right? the wife has witnessed it herself in a bar one night.’
Ashley Welch: ‘Throwing blame and suing people and saying in magazines that they know what’s best isn’t doing any good. We’ve all got the right to do those things, but I hope that you do understand that we’re trying. I’m trying. Harder than I’ve ever tried. […] try to keep in mind that things aren’t always as they seem in an article or in one person’s mind. There are so many perspectives, many of which haven’t been heard,…’ (Sweet Addy forum)
Ellen Carpenter: ‘For almost a month, I poured over transcripts of interviews with Smith’s friends and loved ones; I read books and newspaper articles; I tried to interpret lyrics of songs like “Suicide Machine” and “Abused,” which would never be released; I spoke with former band mates, medical professionals, music executives, girlfriends — even Jennifer Chiba, who was so willing to talk that I found it unnerving. Some people hung up on me. Others choked up, sharing particularly troubling memories. People told me things they shouldn’t have, things I couldn’t repeat. I cried a lot that month. Sometimes it was because of stress, but mostly I was crying for Elliott Smith.’ (Spin magazine)
Russell Simins: ‘He seemed to be doing really well lately. That’s why it’s really sad. We all had a hope that he was in a good way, or at least heading towards that.’
Alix Strauss: ‘I was shocked at some of the mishaps in terms of forensics, autopsies, police reporting — so many mistakes. Mark Rothko’s and Elliott Smith’s names were misspelled on police reports. And there were no hesitation marks on Elliott Smith’s chest when he stabbed himself. He didn’t pull his clothing away, as the norm would be if you were going to stab yourself. The Post-It his girlfriend found seemed like an afterthought. I didn’t read anything that said that they had the handwriting analyzed, as they did with Kurt Cobain. Look at DJ AM, which could be a clear accidental overdose, but you never really know. I think sometimes we’re very quick, because we’re such a celebrity-culture, whoreish nation. We’re very quick to make these assumptions.’
Serena Williams: ‘I’m sorry that this investigation was not properly handled, and after so many years, it’s unlikely that it will ever be solved. I knew Elliot pretty well, and met the girl in question only once. When I met her, she made up a false story concerning an old girlfriend of his, that happened to be at one of his Brooklyn shows a few months before he died. I attended the show with the old girlfriend, and afterward Miss Chiba refused to allow her backstage, accusing her of violently hitting her for no reason. This blatantly false story spurned an insane scene, and I felt terrible for Elliot for being caught in the middle of such nonsense. If she could lie about something so seemingly insignificant, there is good cause to believe that she lied regarding the circumstances of his death. There are just too many holes in her story. Her brazen attempt to sue his family for a portion of his estate only supports her questionable motives. It’s pretty difficult to stab yourself in the heart. It’s not a normal way to kill oneself. He wasn’t on any illegal drugs at the time, and I knew him to be pretty sane and rational when he wasn’t using. I only met Jennifer the one time, and she proved to be untrustworthy immediately. I will assert that I am certain that she was capable of lying, and I wish that she had been questioned more thoroughly. It seems to me that she got away with murder. Elliot was not always stable, he certainly did not seem suicidal the last time I saw him, only months before his untimely demise. If she didn’t do it, she knows what did happen (the shower story just doesn’t add up), and she is hiding something significant. I would attest to this at any time, as would the people who were present during her false allegations toward the girl that seemingly threatened her alpha position.’
Serena Williams: ‘When I say I knew Elliot, I am not tossing the word “knew” around lightly. I knew him before he became famous, but only saw him about once every year or two after 1998. He was an intensely private person, and I think that most of his friends have guarded and respected his privacy to the extant that it’s no longer helpful to him in wake of this dysfunctional investigation. If more people had come forward after his death with public statements negating claims of suicide, perhaps the police would have had a little more to work with than the seemingly scant information they seem to have gathered from the few people in his inner circle. Elliot had burned a few bridges with some of his best friends, others didn’t know what to think, or what to do, and nobody was really prepared to go out on a limb to fight the reports. I think we were primarily too hurt and confused. He wasn’t close to his family, who ironically became his main beneficiaries, and they certainly didn’t have a clue as to what was really going on in his life.
When I spoke to him shortly before his death, he was doing really well, and was happier than I’d seen him in years, and exhibited absolutely no signs that he was on the verge of killing himself. His history may have been rife with depression and drug use, yet we talked about the prescription drugs he was taking, comparing notes as I am no stranger to anti-depressants myself, and he proudly related to me that he was doing better than ever. He claimed to have found prescriptions that were working well for him, and he was happy with his decision to sober up. Aside from illegal drugs, he also shunned alcohol, and was staying away from spirits and beer. From all appearances, he was striving to maintain a substance free lifestyle, in order to work diligently on new music. It is my opinion that he would not have offed himself in the middle of an upcoming project unless he’d magically morphed into an entirely different person from the one I had ever known.
I think anybody that was in touch with him around this time would say the same thing. His fame had naturally distanced a lot of people from him; at times he may have seemed inaccurately unapproachable, but in reality, he was always obliging to people from his past, while being quite shy and even uncomfortable with his elevated status. His friends were scattered around the country, and he didn’t have a large support network in LA, so there weren’t enough people to speak out against the claims of suicide when it happened so unexpectedly that October. Everyone was too stunned to act. I hope it’s not too late, should the investigation ever be opened up and pursued in the future.
He was an amazing artist. There is no question about that, but I remember him mostly as an amazing friend, full of compassion, love, and as gentle as a any of his ballads. He is greatly missed.’
A fan: ‘Los Angeles Memorial… i went at around 11-ish. on the way i decided to stop at the roost and pick up a shot glass and bring it over. unfortunately i put candles in it and it broke but it’s still there. i ran into jennifer and robin and a couple of their friends. robin wanted me to let you know that they had been practicing every day for 7 (?) i think he said 7 hours a day, preparing for the iggy and the stooges, ATP show here in l.a. which was supposed to happen on
november 8th. he also wanted me to let you know that elliott was very happy. always laughing, very upbeat, cracking
jokes all of the time. there was no sign, what-so-ever of anything like this happening. he said, two days before it happened they were sitting on elliott’s portch talking about growing a garden, making plans for the records. turns out they were going to release one and then another one instead of a double record and then they were going to continue releasing two records a year like the beatles did. i was sort of shocked to hear his (robin’s) voice come up from behind me and ask me how i was doing considering he was very good friends with elliott and i had only spoken to him a couple of times.’ (Sweet Addy message board)
Jennifer Chiba: ‘I had seen ”Will Hunting” and loved the music. I’ll never forget his performance at the Oscars that i watched with my friend Ileen. After the song, i asked ‘”WHO is that guy?”. I was thrilled and real happy that someone so nice and beautiful had been nominated for an Oscar.We briefly met at the Rockfest festival, but it’s only later, after he moved to L.A., that i asked my friend Steve to introduce me.’ )Vox Pop (mars-avril 2010)
Jennifer Chiba: ‘We were both shy and staring at our feet. He bought me a drink and we talked about russian literature. We were both fans, especially Dostoevski. This led us to a discussion about compassion, depression and hospitalisation. A rather deep conversation to have with someone you’ve just met! But it was natural!’
W.T. Schultz: ‘At Spaceland he first met Jennifer Chiba. He had wandered in just as she’d finished a gig – Chiba played bass in a band called The Warlocks. Mutual friend Steve Hanft was there too, and Elliott asked for an introduction.’ (Torment Saint, October 2013)
W.T. Schultz: ‘Jennifer Chiba, Smith’s girlfriend at the time of his death, says Elliott romanticized and envied Cobain’s suicide.’ (Torment Saint October 2013)…. Alyson Camus: ‘What do you think of someone saying that he romanticized Kurt Cobain’s death? I think it’s fucked up! because I believe it’s a lie. Isn’t it?’… Mary Lou Lord: Yes. I think it’s ridiculous. Elliott cared about music. I doubt the way anyone “lived” or what they “did” affected him. But the music did, and that’s what is important.’ (personal conversation January 2014)
Aaron Espinoza: ‘He would talk about dying. But it was never about suicide – it was about drugs. He always said he could never kill himself. For a lot of people, it wasn’t a surprise. But for me, it didn’t make sense at all. I saw him the night before he died; he seemed fine.’
David McConnell: ‘I don’t think Elliott really wanted to die. There are people who I think are truly in so much pain that they want to end their lives. I don’t think that was his situation. I don’t think he was going to call Dr. Kevorkian to end his life because he was suffering so much. I think he was in a lot of pain, and I think he was trying to reach out to the universe somehow. And I think that he talked about ending his life a lot, and that was a byproduct of his drug use and the fact that he felt like shit. But he was such a sweetheart, and I don’t think he wanted to die. I don’t think that he wanted to do that to anybody. I think Elliott knew enough good times in his life and knew enough good people that he knew that there was something there to live for. I just think he was in a really dark place, and he was searching for something. He was searching for a way out. And he did talk a lot about [suicide], and he romanticized it, I think, a little bit. But it just didn’t seem like he wanted to die. I think he had too much curiosity and passion for life…. It just seems more like an existential exercise than an actual desire to die.’
Autumn de Wilde: ‘The circumstances surrounding his death don’t sit well with me at all, but there was only other person there, so nobody will ever know. He wasn’t around the type of people where I could know for sure what would happen any more. He was surrounded by sycophants, so who knows what could have happened? He had talked about suicide for many years, but he was always such a chicken about getting hurt! And there had been times in the past where suicide seemed more likely.’
Rob Schnapf: ‘There was a lot of crassness and a lot of disappointing behavior from people who were supposedly his friends. But the interesting thing is: This is how history is written. The ones who were there aren’t always the ones who speak. But if people are going to go back and use this as a reference, then it should be truthful.’
Jerry Schoenkopf: ‘Having been his counselor for years, people get to know one another. He was a heroin addict and if he had decided to kill himself, he would have done it with an overdose, that’s what heroin addicts do, they don’t take a knife to puncture their heart. The way he died is absolutely unbelievable and incredible. It’s really incredible that a very peaceful, quiet, serene human being would stab himself in the chest twice. Oonce is already incredible enough, but twice?
Usually it is the women who move in with their drug dealers, but in his case he was a man moving in with his female heroin dealer. And when he moved in with his drug dealer, he continued using drugs which she was buying and supplying, and then you had the fight. This is totally psychotic. Elliott was unbalanced and depressed but he was not psychotic, that action would require a psychotic person to do that. Plus this is not Japan, this is the United States, this is not culturally known or accepted in any way, that would not have been in his consciousness.’
WT Schultz: ‘I mean, it always sort of startles me to what lengths people will go to kind of make a case that Elliott Smith was not really suicidal or something because it’s just so CLEAR that there was such a THEME, and it’s one that he acknowledged over and over again and all his friends talked about repeatedly, (…) and i mean it’s just an established FACT.’
Lanny Berman, the director of the American Association of Suicidology: ‘Self-inflicted stabbing deaths are rare. In 2005, the most recent year for which national statistics are available, 32,637 people committed suicide in the United States. Only 590 did so by cutting or piercing, and of those deaths, most were slashing or cutting to the wrists and, to a lesser degree, the throat. Suicide by stabbing is very rare, and it’s particularly rare for someone to stab themselves in the torso.’
Marta Greenwald: ‘He did struggle with those things. That’s all true. But other things that have been written are not true…. He was a really complicated guy, but he wasn’t just a sad sack. He had a great sense of humor, and some of his music is very light. People like to construct a personality, particularly after someone has died. They like to be simplistic and say, ‘This led to this, which led to this, which led to that.’ But that reduces the complexity of who they really were…. The coroner’s report ruled the death inconclusive. There’s an open police case; it was never ruled a suicide. They couldn’t determine if it was homicide or suicide. … That’s important to the family.’