Monday Mystery: The strange death of Bobby Fuller

That song will now be wedged in your head for the next week and a half. You're welcome. You can try replacing it with the Clash cover, but good luck.

You might be wondering why nobody really heard anything else out of the Bobby Fuller Four after this smash hit. Primarily it was because Bobby Fuller was gone. Their cover of Buddy Holly's "I Fought The Law" hit the charts on March 12, 1966, and on July 18th, Bobby Fuller was found dead in his car, sitting in his own driveway.

It's one of those constants in the entertainment business that, whenever a musician dies while their star is still rising, someone will inevitably claim it was murder. Witness the cottage industry that's grown up around the death of Kurt Cobain. Courtney Love may have been -- and possibly still be -- a great many unsavory things, but checking her track marks record, I'm going to guess that 'with it enough to plan a murder that she was not immediately arrested for' is not among them. For the most part, it stems from grief and the general inability to comprehend that success and fame are not always enough to keep someone from being terminally sad.

The death of Bobby Fuller is one of the exceptions. While the redditors have a point that the family will often claim someone would 'never commit suicide' even in cases where they quite clearly have, there is legitimate uncertainty about Bobby. Even the coroner checked both 'accident' and 'suicide' as cause of death, with big question marks beside them on the form. (The inability to do this is the bane of everyone who has to fill out computerized forms. Sometimes, you just don't know, and the next guy who handles the case kind of needs to know that.) Not that there was necessarily a lot to go on; by all accounts, the cops who handled the case thought Fuller was just another rock 'n' roll delinquent -- let that sink in: in 1966, Bobby Fuller was considered a bad influence -- and didn't bother doing much investigating.

They didn't interview anybody, for instance. If they had, they would have found out that the car in which Fuller's body sat -- his own blue Oldsmobile -- wasn't in the lot a mere thirty minutes before his own mother found him there. This was kind of a problem, as he was in full rigor mortis when found, which takes 4-6 hours to set in, and wears off again in about twelve. Also, the car keys were nowhere to be found, which makes you wonder how the car got there, exactly.

They also might have found out that it was not Fuller's habit to wander through life looking as though he'd been in a fight, which he did, nor had anyone seen him earlier with the scratch marks his corpse bore. Less disinterested witnesses thought he looked like he'd been dragged through gravel. He probably would have also mentioned breaking a finger, inasmuch as it was kind of his job to play guitar.

The police opined that Fuller had been drinking gasoline. This might have made more sense if there had been any gasoline in his stomach. Then they offered that he might have suicided by inhaling gas fumes, which seems a strange and unpleasant way to go. He could have just run a tube from the tailpipe of his car in through the window and dropped off via carbon monoxide poisoning instead, a well-known suicide method in 1966, when exhaust scrubbers and catalytic converters were not yet a thing. Either of these would have been easier to sell if they hadn't promptly thrown away the gas can as soon as they walked onto the scene.

Drugs, said the cops. He was clearly on drugs. Which he certainly could have been -- musicians are not known for being overly sober people. Their drug of choice was LSD, however, which is not really known for leaving people both inclined or able to commit suicide via a multi-step process like obtaining and insufflating gasoline. (While people have died on LSD, it's generally from what's officially called 'death by misadventure', i.e., an impulsive idea suddenly lodges itself in your head, and you're unable to realize how stupid it is before you follow throug. Same way a lot of drunk people die.) No drugs were found in Fuller's system, which doesn't mean much with acid, but does rule out other common substances like cannabis, amphetamines, cocaine, opioids, or MDMA.

In the half-century since, people have come up with rumors of Mafia involvement, financial troubles, family strife, fights with management, and the inevitable homosexual love triangle. Most of these fall prey to the argument that virtually anyone involved in Fuller's life in any way would get way more money out of him with a lawsuit or blackmail than by bumping him off. Revenge is pretty much all that's left, and nobody has turned up any proof that anyone on Earth was that mad at Bobby, pretty much ever.

Bobby Fuller has passed into Hollywood legend, supported by the twin pillars of a death that might be murder and a song that you couldn't dislodge from your brain with a gin-soaked jackhammer. It's been long enough, and the documentation is so terrible, that nobody will ever prove anything one way or another. But at least now you have something to talk about over dinner.

Check the category label for more Monday Mysteries!



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