On 12th October 1978, police were called to Room 100 at the Chelsea Hotel in New York City where they found 20-year-old Nancy Spungen dead on the bathroom floor, her body slumped under the sink with a single stab wound to the abdomen.
Investigators instantly pinned the blame on her boyfriend, Sex Pistols rocker Sid Vicious, who was believed to have owned the “007” hunting knife, that made the wound which killed Nancy. They said, “We have no doubt about the murderer. We have the figurative smoking gun.”
Vicious pleaded not guilty, was released on bail and died of a heroin overdose aged 21-years-old, just four months after the murder and before he could stand trial. The case was then closed by the NYPD leaving many unanswered questions almost 40 years on…
A Destructive & Dangerous Love
Nancy Spungen left home in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, aged 17-years-old and moved to New York where she supported herself by stripping in late-night clubs and turning to prostitution. The move out of her home state came not long after she was diagnosed with schizophrenia following a suicide attempt through slitting her wrists with scissors. Nancy was also well-known for her violent temper tantrums – she’d previously threatened to kill her babysitter and attempted to batter a psychiatrist.
Sucked into the New York lifestyle, she had begun to follow bands such as Aerosmith and Ramones until she finally caught the eye of Sex Pistols’ bassist, Sid Vicious. They moved in quickly together and during the 19-month long relationship, the union became known as the ‘Romeo and Juliet of Punk Rock’ as they both towards a morbid end.
Sid and Nancy were heroin addicts who would attack each other violently in public. DJ Don Letts recalled, “The last time I saw them Sid has got this (long) knife and he sort of sticks Nancy with it, just gently, but you know she’s like, ‘Ow, Sid that hurt.’ So I was like, ‘Sid be careful, someone’s going to get hurt.'”
Sturgis Nikidis, who was a resident at the Chelsea Hotel the same time as Sid and Nancy, explained, “If you have ever been a heroin addict and you have a girlfriend who is also a heroin addict, it’s hard for most people to understand the dynamic, it doesn’t matter how much you love somebody, that all goes out the window when there are drugs involved.”
There were the occasional moments when Vicious would show his softer side and his admiration for his girlfriend. In a notepad, he wrote ‘What Makes Nancy So Great, by Sidney’ which included her “fab taste in clothes” and “sexy feet,” the punk rocker also highlighted her “great sense of humor” and the that she’s “a great hustler.”
Was Sid Vicious Innocent?
Alan G. Parker – author, filmmaker, and close friend of Vicious – released the documentary ‘Who Killed Nancy?’ in which the New York police case files were re-examined. Parker said, “I just wanted to clear his name. Of course, I wasn’t there, I can’t swear on the bible he didn’t do it, but people involved have always told me to keep digging, keep digging and when you do dig it just does not add up.”
In his documentary, new evidence clearly points towards the innocence of Vicious. Including:
- Vicious could not have been conscious at the time of the death as he had taken around 30 Tuinal – a powerful sedative.
- Sums of money belonging to the couple were missing ($25,000 in cash – royalty payments from Richard Branson’s Virgin Records).
- Witnesses recall seeing a drug addict called Michael, who lived on the sixth floor of the hotel, visiting the couple and leaving with a wad of cash tied with Nancy’s hair tie.
- Police found fingerprints in the hotel room of six people who were known to them, but they interviewed none.
John Holmstrom, the editor of Punk magazine (1976 – 1979), said, “This is like a nightmare. This is like right out of a Twilight Zone episode; you wake up, there’s a knife, a pool of blood and your girlfriend is in the bathroom – stabbed to death. Anybody is going to think, ‘What did I do last night?'”
Photographer Peter “Kodick” Gravelle added, “It was too easy just to blame Sid and not follow the case. I mean it’s amazing when we think back now that the case wasn’t followed up more so. Everybody just assumed that he was guilty.”
Many close to the couple also speculated that there was also the possibility that Nancy had stabbed herself. Suicide attempts were a regular occurrence in her life, alongside suffering from schizophrenia and dealing with a heroin addiction – she clearly would not have been in a healthy mental state. If this theory is true, it means the stolen money might have been taken by an opportunist who entered the hotel room only to find Nancy in a pool of her own blood and Sid unconscious in the corner.
So who did kill Nancy? This is a question that remains unanswered leaving only speculation and confusion. Punk rock’s most talked about murder mystery continues.