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SHOCKING CASES FROM DR. HENRY LEE'S FORENSIC FILES
By HENRY C. LEE JERRY LABRIOLA
Prometheus BooksCopyright © 2010 Henry C. Lee and Jerry Labriola
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe Phil Spector Case
We begin with a criminal case that rocked the suburbs of Los Angeles and beyond.
Phil Spector has been variously described as temperamental, brilliant, quirky—and sometimes violent. He has nonetheless made a mark as one of the giants in the music industry, more so as a record producer and songwriter than a performer. As we shall see, his life has been both glamorous and sordid, with stretches of enormous success and unexpected failure—or all of the above in the same month. Once called a "little man with lifts in his shoes, [with a] wig on top of his head and four guns,"1 he's had tales of flaunting of firearms—including confronting performers with a gun or laughing while pointing a loaded pistol at a fellow producer's head—haunt him. Such gunplay took a different turn, however, in 2003, when he was arrested on suspicion of the murder of an attractive forty-year-old actress named Lana Clarkson.
The Early Years
Harvey Philip Spector was born December 26, 1939, in the Bronx, where he learned to play guitar and piano at an early age. Even then he had visions of becoming a songwriter, session musician, and record producer. Following his father's death by suicide in 1949, he moved with his family to Los Angeles, and it was there that he immersed himself in all aspects of the music business. He and three high school friends formed a band called the Teddy Bears. They (and especially Spector as both songwriter and performer) burst onto the musical scene with songs that impressed several record companies. One ballad—"To Know Him Is to Love Him"—went to number one on Billboard's Hot 100 singles chart in 1958, selling more than a million copies in a matter of months. He was a seventeen-year-old high school student at the time and had taken the title from the inscription on his father's gravestone. At such a young age, Spector was well on his way to becoming a millionaire. Although the group dissolved soon thereafter, nearly thirty years later the song became a hit again when Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris, and Linda Ronstadt, working as a trio, reprised it in 1987.
From 1958 to 1966, Spector concentrated mainly on production, forming a new record company, cooperating with others, and working freelance with established artists. But he didn't abandon songwriting entirely; during this time he penned such hits as "On Broadway" for the Drifters, "Spanish Harlem" for Ben E. King, and "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'" for the Righteous Brothers. The latter is cited by Broadcast Music Incorporated (BMI) as the song with the most US airtime in the twentieth century. There were flops during this period, to be sure, but he seemed to take them in stride, immediately bouncing back with a vengeance—and another smash hit.
As a producer, he turned out blockbusters such as "Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah," "My Sweet Lord," "River Deep—Mountain High," "Just Once in My Life," "Unchained Melody," "Ebb Tide," and "Every Breath I Take." Also among his productions was the Beatles' colossal album Let It Be, and between 1960 and 1965, he produced more than twenty-five top 40 hits.
Spector's innovative trademark during the sixties was the dramatic Wall of Sound, a production technique that utilized large numbers of musicians to create a dense and thunderous effect. The process combined scores of instruments, sound effects, and vocals—overdubbing in duplicate or triplicate to create the layered, textured quality that he wanted. Spector himself called his technique "a Wagnerian approach to rock and roll: little symphonies for the kids." Sometimes enormous groups of musicians took part: two bassists, three guitarists, three pianists, two or three drummers, and other percussionists.
During this era he usually worked at the Los Angeles Gold Star Studios because of its echo chambers that were so essential to his Wall of Sound. This technique is what made him such an important figure in the music world. Microphones in the recording studio would capture the sound, which was then transmitted to an echo chamber outfitted with speakers and microphones. The signal from the studio, playing through the speakers, would reverberate around the room before being picked up by the microphones. The echo-laden sound was then channeled back to the control room, where it was transferred to tape. The natural reverberation and echo from the hard walls of the room gave his productions their distinctive sound, and when played on AM radio it resulted in a rich and complex quality with an impressive depth rarely heard in mono recordings. Songwriter Jeff Barry described the Wall of Sound as "basically a formula. You're going to have four or five guitars line up, gut-string guitars, and they're going to follow the chords ... two basses in fifths, with the same type of line and strings ... six or seven horns, adding the little punches ... formula percussion instruments—the little bells, the shakers, the tambourines. Phil used his own formula for echo, and some overtone arrangements with strings. But by and large there was a formula arrangement."
Spector's signature design changed the way pop records were created and brought fame to singing groups such as the Crystals and the Ronettes (whose lead singer, Ronnie Bennett, he married in 1968), among others.
It was almost inevitable that Spector would devise such a revolutionary new sound, because he had many unconventional ideas about musical and recording techniques. For example, he openly detested stereo releases, claiming they took control of the record's sound away from the producer and gave it to the listener. He was just as vocal in his opposition to albums, once characterizing them as "two hits and ten pieces of junk."
He used an uncharacteristically hands-off approach, however, in working with his favorite musicians, a core collection of session players he affectionately labeled the "Wrecking Crew." Its members included guitarist Glen Campbell, pianist Leon Russell, and drummer Hal Blaine.
In 1971 Spector coproduced John Lennon's chart-topping Imagine album, utilizing forty-four microphones simultaneously. Its title track—which hit number one after Lennon's murder in 1980—is widely considered among the greatest pop songs of all time. But his relationship with Lennon soon soured. Some unnamed sources claimed Spector suffered a nervous breakdown in a recording studio and even brandished a gun in front of the famous Beatle. Also in 1971, Spector recorded the music for the number one triple album The Concert for Bangladesh, which captured the "Album of the Year" award at the 1972 Grammys.
The Later Years
Having created the unique Wall of Sound, producing hit after hit, and working successfully with artists such as the Beatles, Tina Turner, Connie Francis, Celine Dion, Cher, and the Ramones—all just a part of his legendary musical output—Spector was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a nonperformer in 1989. And in 2004 Rolling Stone magazine ranked him sixty-third on its list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time.
But in earlier decades—especially during the seventies—Spector began to exhibit erratic behavior and grew increasingly reclusive. His personality became more prickly. Friends labeled him controlling; those not so friendly stamped him as an outright paranoid. Even his appearance changed: Some called his attire "off the wall," while his signature mounds of curly hair seemed to turn wilder and more variegated. And he was noted for suddenly whipping out a handgun from his waistband and waving it menacingly before people.
"It had to stop," Spector said of his behavior in a 1977 Los Angeles Times interview. "Being the rich millionaire in the mansion and then dressing up as Batman. I have to admit I did enjoy it to a certain extent. But I began to realize it was very unhealthy."
In the mid-1990s he allegedly ranted on about a singer's handlers and their lack of respect for his own legendary status. "You don't tell Shakespeare what plays to write," he groused, "or how to write them." He later told a British writer that he was taking medication for schizophrenia. "But I wouldn't say I'm schizophrenic," he commented. "I [just] have devils inside that fight me."
FACTS OF THE CASE
On the morning of February 3, 2003, forty-year-old Lana Clarkson, a beautiful six-foot-tall actress, was found shot to death in the marble foyer of Spector's hilltop mansion in Alhambra, a suburb of Los Angeles. Police were summoned to the gated estate on Grandview Drive at around 5:00 a.m. by Spector's limousine driver. The driver, Adriano DeSouza, had called 911 on his cell phone to report hearing a gunshot.
Clarkson was born in Southern California and raised in Cloverdale. Friends said she'd been inspired by Marilyn Monroe, but she never quite fulfilled her early A-list dreams. She had to settle as a cult figure in B-movies and eventually sold her pinups on the Internet as her career faded.
Among her films were The Haunting of Morella, AmazonWomen on the Moon, and Barbarian Queen, which she called the template for the hit TV series Xena: Warrior Princess. She also had small roles in Scarface and Fast Times at Ridgemont High, and made many appearances in commercials for companies like Kmart and television shows from Silk Stalkings and Black Scorpion on cable to NBC's Knight Rider.
At age forty, stuck in a rut of low-budget, occasionally topless roles, she was struggling to make a living—yet she was said to be cheerful and smiling through it all. A month before her death, she began working at the House of Blues nightclub in West Hollywood's Sunset Strip, where she was a ticket collector and hostess. She rationalized to anyone who would listen that the move was an excellent opportunity to meet the "right" people, to work her way up in the film industry. That was her secret ambition, she would whisper in her best Monroe imitation.
"She wasn't thrilled to have people from the industry see her doing that, but she thought it was a good step to get back into the mainstream," said neighbor Paul Pietrewicz.
Clarkson was also trying to jump-start her career by taking on theater parts. She did stand-up at the Comedy Club. She put together a Tracey Ullman–like tape of herself doing various comedic characters, among them Little Richard. And she networked relentlessly. "Everybody always knew Lana was in the room," ex-boyfriend Robert Hall said. "She was amazingly spunky, fun, energetic. By Hollywood standards, she was past her prime, but she worked it 100%—gave it more than you see most people giving it.... For as hard as she worked, I think she deserved recognition."
Her small cult following continued to greet her at conventions and at events to publicize the TV shows she worked on. "She'd put in more hours, she'd stay more days," said actress Athena Massey, who met Clarkson when they worked together in Black Scorpion. "She was always trying to see how she could ... find the next job or turn the job into something bigger."
Most of those who mourned her passing referred to Clarkson as an indomitable woman, yet one who was increasingly aware of the challenges older actresses face. "Anyone over 40 is fighting uphill in this town," said friend and veteran actress Sally Kirkland. "But she was such a pro. She would come earlier than anybody, she would work harder than anybody."
POLICE RESPONSE AND CRIMINAL INVESTIGATION
The following official report provides an indication of early police activity and investigative procedures in this case. In the interest of clarity, we have edited and/or slightly modified selected portions of the material, but in so doing, the accuracy of the information has not been compromised. The names of police officers and other investigators have been deleted.
ALHAMBRA POLICE DEPARTMENT CRIME REPORT NARRATIVE Date: 02/03/2003
S-Spector (Code: "S" refers to "Suspect") was placed under arrest ... and transported to APD Jail for booking.... After S-Spector was transported, I [i.e., the police officer] went back up to the front doors of the house and was told by [a police corporal] that I was going to be the [evidence-]handling officer. I then advised [an officer] to start a major incident log.
I then interviewed R-Souza (Code: "R" refers to "Reporting Party") [actually, the correct spelling of the name is "DeSouza"] in front of the residence on Grandview. R-Souza stated that he is S-Spector's chauffeur and started work on 02/02/03 at 1900 hours. R-Souza stated that he drove S-Spector to several different locations over the night. At approx. 0200 hours on 02/03/03, R-Souza picked up S-Spector and a female who identified herself as "Lana" (Victim) at the House of Blues night club in Hollywood. R-Souza stated that he had never seen the female before.
At approx. 0300 hours, R-Souza pulled into the front of 1700 S. Grandview and S-Spector asked to be let out of the car at the bottom of the front stairway. S-Spector and the unidentified victim got out of the vehicle and proceeded up the stairway to the residence. R-Souza drove the vehicle around the back and parked it near the fountain. R-Souza then stated that it is routine for him to give S-Spector his luggage approx. 20 minutes after they arrive at his house. At approx. 0320 hours, R-Souza gave S-Spector his leather bag that contains his DVD player, cell phone, and other misc. personal items at the back door of the residence. R-Souza then returned to the car and sat in the vehicle for approx. two hours. At approx. 0455 hours, R-Souza heard a loud "Boom," and got out of the car. R-Souza stood by the vehicle for approx. five minutes and then closed the door to the car.
At this time, S-Spector opened the rear door to the residence. S-Spector was holding a black handgun in his right hand and stated, "I think I killed somebody." R-Souza stated that he saw blood on S-Spector's hands, but was not completely sure. R-Souza then saw the legs of the victim behind S-Spector, but could not see the rest of the body. R-Souza then moved a little to the side to get a better view of the victim and he saw the upper half of her body sitting in a chair just inside the door. R-Souza saw that there was blood on the left side of the victim's face and ran back to the vehicle. R-Souza got on his cell phone and telephoned S-Spector's secretary. R-Souza left a message on her machine stating that he thought that S-Spector shot someone. R-Souza drove down the driveway and out the front gates and dialed "911" on his cell phone. R-Souza waited out front for the police to arrive.
I spoke to [a police officer] who told me the following: [Several officers] received a [radio call] to respond to 1700 S. Grandview for a possible gun shot heard. Dispatch further advised that the caller's boss had a gun in his hand and a woman was shot inside the residence. [Two officers] responded to the backside of the residence off of Alta Vista and watched the back. The other officers set up a command post at the front of the residence off of Grandview. R-Souza gave them further information, including a suspect description.
[Several other officers] entered the property to investigate the call. While they were searching the garage to the rear of the residence, [one officer] observed a subject matching the description of the suspect on the stairway inside the residence. The subject (S-Spector) then walked out the open rear door and stood on the rear stairs with his hands in his front pants pockets. An [officer] repeatedly ordered S-Spector to raise his hands. S-Spector finally raised his hands quickly and then placed them back in his front pants pockets. S-Spector turned around and walked back into his house. The officers quickly approached the door, so that they would not lose sight of the suspect, at which time S-Spector turned around. They ordered him again to take his hands out of his front pants pockets, but he refused to remove them.
Excerpted from SHOCKING CASES FROM DR. HENRY LEE'S FORENSIC FILES by HENRY C. LEE JERRY LABRIOLA Copyright © 2010 by Henry C. Lee and Jerry Labriola. Excerpted by permission of Prometheus Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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