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There was only one word for the house at the top of the hill, the one surrounded by all the trees and the electrified fence: spooky. What else could it be, with its dark shadows, its gothic turrets, its forbidding forest, its warning signs to “KEEP OUT”? The only things missing were the moans, the rattle of chains, and the sepulchral laughter of an Igor.
The cops drove up the hill and came to a stop in front of the heavy iron gate, the one with all the spikes on top. There they stopped, unsure of what to do next. The sign on the gate warned of a high voltage greeting to the uninvited. They decided to call for reinforcements. Six minutes later they were joined by paramedics, and ten minutes after that it was decided to storm the house. One team went up the long series of steps that led up the hill to the front door, while another forced the gate and drove farther up the ascending blacktop to the vehicular circle at the top, the place with the fountain that couldn’t be seen from the street down below. They parked their cruiser and prepared to go in. On a lawn nearby, hidden from the prying eyes of the world, were seven small shapes—statues, the cops realized in the pre-dawn darkness. It was only later that someone identified them—Dopey, Sneezy, Sleepy, Bashful, Happy, Doc and Grumpy—Walt Disney’s seven dwarfs, each of them frozen in rigidity, as if embarrassed at being caught at the scene of a crime. The reporting person, cell phone in hand, was waiting near the black luxury Mercedes parked not far from the back door of the gloomy mansion. It was in the house, he told the cops—the gunshots.
The cops approached the mansion’s rear doorway, a bit uncertain. They had their guns drawn. Who knew what was going down? Knock and announce? No way, the cops decided. The estate was huge—three acres, heavily treed, and the house itself had thirty-three rooms. Who could say for sure what might be inside—a multiple murderer maybe, some crazed Manson-style maniac? The cops had already decided to go through low and fast, ready to shoot first and ask questions only after the smoke had cleared.
Just after 5:20 A.M. on February 3, 2003, they crashed through the door, ready for the worst. There, sprawled in a chair near the stone entryway, the police saw the body of a woman who had obviously been shot in the face. Across the foyer they saw a short, disheveled man clad in what looked like a white nightshirt. His eyes beneath his long, thin gray hair looked wild. The cops told the man to put up his hands—right now!—but the man started to argue with them. That was when one of the cops zapped the man with 50,000 volts from a Taser gun. Down went the man in the nightshirt.
Phil Spector, the one-time legendary rock-and-roll music producer, had finally done it. The proof was right there in the chair, breathing her very last. After decades of bizarre behavior, he had finally, really killed someone.
Or so the cops believed. As the dawn arrived, and with it more and more cops, it seemed like an open-and-shut case: there in the chair was one dead woman, along with a handgun that seemed to belong to Spector, and Spector himself, in a highly agitated state. There was no one else in the entire mansion. Who else could the killer be?
Spector refused to say what had happened. The cops put their cuffs on him and tried to sort things out. The paramedics came and went. One thing was for sure, and if they hadn’t known it when they went through the door, the cops knew it now: Phil Spector was a big wheel, and a squeaky one at that. Whatever had happened inside the hidden mansion atop the small hill in suburban Alhambra, California, it was about to become big news: another celebrity murder case for the Los Angeles area, which seems to have them with some regularity.
The Alhambra police had a reputation for being a competent, professional department. But this thing had all the earmarks of something that promised to mushroom out of control. For one thing, there was Spector himself, still handcuffed, with a reputation for suing when he thought he was being wronged, and who now had been Tasered and arrested. After a few minutes’ discussion among the Alhambra department’s higher-ups, it was decided to toss the case over to the far-larger Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. If this thing grew, no one wanted it said that the Alhambra police had decided Spector was the culprit simply because he might otherwise have grounds to accuse them of incompetence. Besides, it looked like this might take more resources than the Alhambra department had at its disposal.
At 6:25 A.M., the woman was officially pronounced dead, just as the first of three teams of investigators from the Sheriff’s Department arrived at the scene to spread through the sprawling house on a search for evidence. One half-hour later, Phil Spector, the producer behind some of rock-and-roll’s biggest hits of the early 1960s, was placed under formal arrest on suspicion of having committed homicide. Within an hour after that, Spector was on his way to the Alhambra City Jail.
In a way, despite Spector’s reputation for bizarre behavior in the past, the entire scene was incongruous, not least the house itself. Nestled amidst a tract of middle-class homes just east of the Long Beach Freeway, the Spector house stuck out like the oddity it was—a huge mansion, almost a castle, surrounded by and towering over the ordinary dwellings of middle-class wage earners that lapped all around the edges of the wooded hill. It was not for nothing that one of the nearby residents, when later asked about their reclusive celebrity neighbor, said she rarely saw him—except when he was driven by, “waving, like the feudal lord to the serfs.”
But even more disconcerting was the question of why? Why was a woman dead in Spector’s sprawling castle-like house, and in Alhambra, of all places? Why was a man who, by all accounts, had everything but peace of mind, now in jail on suspicion of murder, and in a place so far removed from the tony locales of Hollywood and Beverly Hills, where he had once been famous? What had happened in that house, with its gates and turrets and statues of cartoon dwarfs, that seemed so far removed from ordinary reality? It was, some thought, a case of fame, or rather notoriety, relentlessly pursuing a man who had tried with all his might for years to get it, and at the same time, to leave it far behind.