Nancy Spungen and Sid Vicious are two of the most well known and controversial punk icons of their time. Coined the anti Romeo and Juliet of the 1970s punk scene, their candles quickly burned out, leaving behind a mystery that has yet to be solved almost 44 years later.
Both Sid and Nancy’s untimely deaths leave many questions to be answered and can be regarded as a high point of interest for many punk lovers like myself. Sid Vicious, who’s real name was John Simon Ritchie, was the smoking gun in the murder case of Nancy Spungen- he was the person who reported the “accident,” he had contradicting accounts of what happened that night, ultimately confessed, but then also claimed he wasn’t the murderer. He was a punk rocker who was part of a terrifying new take on music in London targeting the royal political aspects of the United Kingdom, his name was Sid Vicious, he was a “junkie” and well known for acts of harming himself and others, especially Nancy- it was the perfect scenario for the NYPD to look at this case as open and shut, Sid ultimately being the murderer.
However, there are many varying theories pointing to different scenarios that could have played out in the early morning hours of October 12, 1978, the day Nancy was murdered, found clad in only her black panties and bra wedged between the sink and toilet in room 100 of the Hotel Chelsea.
Although most of the facts are public knowledge and easily available on the internet, I decided, for myself to take a deep dive into the life of Nancy Spungen and the inevitable murder of Nancy Spungen in a way I never had before, so I could develop a timeline of her early life, adolescence, her emergence onto the punk scene, her relationship with Sid and ultimately her murder.
Trust me when I tell you that this piece has been very taxing, especially on my mental health, being immersed in a murder, the accounts of Nancy’s troublesome life, and trying to make sense of a case shrouded in mystery and contradictions.
I have watched many documentaries, Youtube videos, read Nancy’s mother’s book And I Don’t Want To Live This Life, scoured the internet for documents, police reports, read many Reddit threads regarding the murder and have pretty much completely immersed myself in research for the last two weeks.
I’m not writing this to clear Sid’s name, defend Nancy’s behaviors or condone the abuse of drugs and violence, no. I want to present the facts, the contradictions, and all the information I can, so you, as the reader, can determine what you think may have transpired on October 12, 1978 and possibly give someone who doesn’t even know the names Sid and Nancy information on this highly complex, yet open and quickly closed case.
Buckle in folks, we are heading out on a fast track to a downward spiral very quickly…
Nancy Laura Spungen The Early Years
Nancy Laura Spungen was born five weeks prematurely on February 27, 1958 at the University of Pennsylvania Hospital in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to Jewish parents Deborah and Frank Spungen. Nancy’s birth was very traumatic, and her life nearly ended before it even started. The problematic birth was due to a prolapsed umbilical cord causing her to be born with severe cyanosis due to low blood oxygen levels, often referred to as “blue baby syndrome” due to the blueish hue of the infant’s skin as a result of decreased amounts of hemoglobin in the baby’s blood. When umbilical prolapse occurs, the baby must be delivered immediately to avoid any risks related to oxygen reduction. Although uncommon (1 in 1,000 births) umbilical cord prolapse is very dangerous for a baby, a study conducted out of 307 cases 7% of babies died due to the anomaly (What You Should Know About Umbilical Cord Prolapse, WebMD). Nancy also had severe jaundice due to an ABO incompatibility, which occurs when the mother’s blood type is O and the infant’s blood type is either A or B, and received a series of exchange transfusions starting when she was only days old. She was four days old when her mother finally got to hold her infant daughter for the first time. After spending eight days in the hospital Deborah and Nancy were discharged home. Doctors assured Deborah and Frank that they had a perfectly healthy baby girl and to take her home and treat her like one.
Nancy was a very difficult infant who cried and screamed constantly in agony from the moment her parents brought her home from the hospital. As described by her mother Nancy was acutely nervous, angry and would never sleep for more than an hour at a time only to awake screaming once again. Worried, Deborah took her infant daughter to a pediatrician who prescribed Nancy liquid Phenobarbital classified as a barbiturate, at only three months old in hopes it would calm her down but mostly to pacify her mother’s concerns the only thing the Phenobarbital accomplished was masking whatever the actual problem with Nancy may have been.
In her memoir And I Don’t Want To Live This Life, Deborah states that she strongly believes that neurological damage set in within the first 24 hours of her life, which was left undetected.
Although Nancy had a rough start from early on she was an extremely intelligent and active child, described as “tremendously bright and verbal at a very early age” by her mother. She had incredible amounts of energy, was very curious and aware of her surroundings, she even started crawling at six months old, however, she never wanted to stop crawling and refused to be contained, she would completely stiffen her whole body up and screaming with fury.
As she grew Nancy became increasingly more difficult and harder to control, she struggled with giving and receiving affection and had terrible fits over the smallest things. She would cry, scream, roll on the floor, and repeatedly hit herself in the face, she would be so upset that she would begin to hyperventilate and then pass out. Pediatricians claimed it was just a case of the “terrible twos” but Deborah knew better. These fits would go on morning, afternoon, and night, over any and every little thing from coloring outside the lines in her coloring book or having to put her pajamas on while getting ready for bed. These fits and tantrums became increasingly more violent as Nancy got older.
Around the age of ten or so, Nancy’s mental state began to significantly deteriorate in front of her parents eyes. There are several incidences that occurred, proving that Nancy was in fact a disturbed child. In her mother’s memoir And I Don’t Want To Live This Life, Deborah states that at one point Nancy put her beloved cat in a bag and attempted to throw it off the stairs, then went into a confused haze not knowing where she was or what she was doing, Deborah recalls her daughter getting a glazed look in her eyes like she was looking through you, blankly. Other incidences that occurred due to Nancy’s mental state were, trying to stab a babysitter with a pair of scissors, going after her mother with a hammer, ripping the screen out of her bedroom window, ready to jump screaming “I wanna die! I wanna die! I’m going to kill myself! I wanna die!” Running away from school with no recollection of why, the school calling her mother telling her she ran out with a “blank” look on her face, extreme paranoia that everyone was “against” her, continuous self harm, hallucinations, gathering all the kitchen knives to stab her siblings… it is truly disturbing, the above-mentioned incidences don’t even scratch the surface of how disturbed Nancy’s behavior was.
It came to the point where the public school system could no longer handle Nancy’s disruptive and violent behavior, and her parents were told ultimately not to bring her back. With nowhere to turn, every door slamming in their face, Frank and Deborah had no choice but to commit Nancy to the adolescent unit of a mental institution at eleven years old. However, the stint didn’t last long and Nancy was soon right back to square one in her parent’s care after seeing the conditions and learning that Nancy was not in fact in the adolescent ward but in the general population with adults. Nancy pleaded with her parents to remove her and without hesitation they did, she made promises to them, she would go to school, see her psychiatrist, whatever they wanted… once discharged and entering the car Nancy began to giggle when Deborah asked her what was so funny Nancy responded: “I’m not gonna do any of those things I promised. I only said them, so you’d get me out of there. Tricked ya (And I Don’t Want to Live This Life: A Mother’s Story of Her Daughter’s Murder, Deborah Spungen, 1983).”
Records dating back to fall of 1969, that I believe Deborah obtained after Nancy’s death, stated that it was strongly felt as though Nancy was suffering from schizophrenia, however, at the time of Nancy’s psychiatric evaluation her parents asked the doctor what he believed Nancy’s diagnosis was, and he stated he did not have one. When asked what their next step should be with Nancy, the doctor literally replied, and I quote, “Damned if I know.”
It is very clear that Nancy was a product of a flawed mental health system. No doctor could understand what was actually wrong with Nancy, her parents were pushed off by multiple physicians and told she was a very bright child and would outgrow her erratic behaviors. No doctor was ever able to get to the root of the problem, as she was a child who fit no typical mold.
Luckily, salvation came to the Spungen’s in the form of a school for disturbed children in Connecticut called Barton, apart of The Darlington Institute, which immediately enrolled her after interviewing her. Nancy excelled in her new environment, making friends, something in which she highly had struggled with all of her life and she became very fond of the couple who ran the school, and was finally becoming stable, enough so that her whole family noticed the drastic improvement in her behavior. The following year, after summer break, Nancy returned to Barton, however, the school had changed hands, and it was a completely different atmosphere, upon arrival Nancy was immediately off put and started to once again, deteriorate mentally and act out. It was then she was sent to another school called Avon, it was at this school Nancy became involved with drugs.
The Avon school was a major turning point in Nancy’s life, she had found herself a boyfriend named Jeff who was in a band at the school, started experiementing with marijuana and LSD, became sexually active and tried to attempt suicide on multiple occasions. It was also during this time that Nancy was reevaluated by a doctor who informed Deborah and Frank that Nancy was a prime candidate for serious drug problems in the future do to her vaulnerability and being overly medicated from such a young age, it was also noted by the doctor that his diagnosis for her was schizophrenia.
With yet another school system unable to handle Nancy the campus was ready to graduate her at age fifteen, however her parents insisted that she was far too young, unstable and unadjusted, and insisted that she be kept for another year. After finding this out Nancy responded by slashing her wrists by the time she went to the hospital and was treated she was five minutes away from bleeding to death.
Nancy graduated high school at sixteen years old and was accepted to the University of Colorado. Nancy found trouble while in Colorado, receiving stolen property as well as purchasing drugs from an undercover agent. She was forced to leave the school and was sent home with her father back to Philidelphia. Depressed and constantly suicidal, Nancy again found herself in trouble in the form of reckless driving after driving off of the side of a freeway ramp, rolling the car three times down a twenty foot embankment on her way home from a rock club. The only recourse Deborah and Frank had for their daughter was to either leave her in a detention center for several days or have her committed. They chose the latter.
While Nancy was committed Deborah decided to unpack her things from her dorm room at the University of Colorado, she unfolded a shirt and found syringes, a rubber catheter and spoons, it was at this time she knew Nancy had started using herion.
The institution decided that it was best to release Nancy after a week or so due to the fact that the insurance would only cover a thirty day stay and Nancy was far too sick to be cured in thirty days. Their response to Deborah and Frank was “you’ve waited much too long to get her help.”
Say what you want about Nancy, but I have to interject here, her tale, especially the accounts of her early life are absolutely heartbreaking, not only for her but her family as well. I cannot imagine how terrified her parents were for their child, or how terrified Nancy was of herself. She clearly had no control over her emotions and during this period in time mental health was not talked about, it didn’t receive recognition and truly Nancy suffered because of it. Had there been better resources for her parents, there probably would have been a better outcome for Nancy, and she could have received the help she truly and desperately needed.
Nancy Moves To New York
Desperate and running out of options, Frank and Deborah Spungen decided that the only way to find peace within their household and a better life for their family was to let Nancy go. They devised a plan in which they would move Nancy to New York and financially support her for six months until she got on her feet in the Big Apple. Nancy had no hesitation and thought of it as a great opportunity to be on her own and hopefully get into the music business. The day after Thanksgiving in 1974, after finding a small apartment in Chelsea, Nancy was on her way.
Nancy was doing well for herself, at first. In her mother’s memoir And I Don’t Want To Live This Life, Deborah recalls visiting Nancy two weeks after she had moved into her Chelsea apartment. She had groceries, her bed was made, all of her things unboxed and put in their proper place. Nancy started going to the local hangouts, Max’s Kansas City and CBGB’s and started meeting musicians and mingling on the scene. Life at home for Deborah and Frank, as well as Nancy’s siblings, had gotten much calmer and more peaceful with Nancy out of the house.
Unfortunately for Nancy and Deborah, Nancy’s success in the big city wouldn’t last more than two weeks. In December, a mere one month after her arrival, Deborah received a call from Nancy, slurring her words and sounding spaced out, stating that she had no food, couldn’t find a job, needed money and that she wasn’t feeling good. With a mother’s intuition and Nancy’s past drug use, Deborah knew Nancy had once again found drugs. Refusing to send money directly to Nancy, Deborah went to take food and supplies to Nancy herself. Upon arrival Debora stated Nancy looked awful, skin pale, with dark circles under her eyes, a terrible cough, unkempt and dirty. Her once tidy apartment was a total wreck and Nancy was terribly out of it. It was after this visit Nancy incessantly started calling her mother at all hours of the night, at work, at friends houses, she always needed to talk to her mother, whether for money or to sob on the phone because she had no friends and nobody liked her.
By January 1975 Nancy started to finally settle into her life in New York, and the constant calls home started to subside-Nancy had found her people in the punk rock scene. Nancy became friendly with people such as The Ramones, Blondie, Richard Hell, and The New York Dolls. As described by Deborah, Nancy’s life in New York was sleeping all day, partying and getting high all night.
At the time of her death, she was carrying a photo album portfolio which included a photo of her and Debbie Harry of Blondie. None of the above-mentioned came forward after Nancy’s death or offered condolences.
In 1975 Nancy started “go-go” dancing in Times Square and became a hard core heroin addict. Deborah explains: “Nancy had been escaping life’s pain with drugs from the age of three months, as society had offered her no other way to cope with her pain. She had grown up drug dependent; now she was easing her pain through self prescription.”
It’s important to not that Times Square in 1975 was definitely not the Times Square as we know it today, it was a much seedier and dangerous place, the streets riddled with drug peddlers, sex workers, peep shows, strip clubs, massage parlors, along with pornographic and live sex act theaters.
In the quintessential all things punk book Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History Of Punk, by Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain, Philippe Marcade, lead singer of the Senders, author and punk scene icon he was the one who put the bug in Nancy’s ear to go to England. As recalled in the book, Philippe recalls the night when Nancy called him up crying stating that she just slashed her wrist and that she wanted to “say goodbye.” Rushing over to her apartment Philippe found Nancy with a bandage over her massive gash- that luckily didn’t hit any arteries and was in shock that she had done this to herself. Nancy had called him on multiple occasions crying because no guy wanted to go out with her, in a way which I found brash and humorous at the same time Philippe states:
“I told her, listen, no fucking guy will go out with you because you’re a junkie and it’s kinda gross, you know especially on a girl. What you should do is clean up your act, like maybe go on vacation. Don’t stay here, its too easy to cop. Go to England. They have all this great shit happening over there. I mean, you speak English so you’ll be fine (Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History Of Punk, by Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain, 2016).”
Nancy Arrives In London
With the New York punk scene making its way over to London to see what was happening, and of course Jerry Nolan going to the UK to tour as the drummer of The Heartbreakers alongside the Sex Pistols for the infamous Anarchy In The UK tour, Nancy found it the perfect time to make her move. She was allegedly weaned off the methadone program and completely clean. Her parents, supportive yet skeptical of her decision to leave the country, gave her $500 from a savings bond she inherited by her great-grandfather and Nancy bought herself a one way ticket and was on her way.
Nancy arrived in London, sometime in February 1977 with a mission, find Jerry Nolan and The Heartbreakers. I’ve come across multiple stories, but the most likely is that Nancy had gotten a hold of Jerry while she was still in New York to find out where The Heartbreakers were staying and wanted to see if they could put her up for a few nights. Jerry had a guitar he had pawned (for drug money), I believe he may have told her only if you get the guitar out of hock and bring it with you, and you better believe that is exactly what she did.
The Heartbreakers manager Leee Childers was among the first to discover Nancy had turned up in the UK and was absolutely determined to keep her away from Jerry. Although Lee liked Nancy, he knew that her arrival had potential to be detrimental to an already deteriorating band. Jerry Nolan and Johnny Thunders were hard core heroin addicts, and it was always a struggle to get them on task. In Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History Of Punk, Lee recalls: “I actually liked Nancy, but she was a junkie, a drug supplier, and an all around lowlife. And I was doing all I could to keep my band, The Heartbreakers, alive. The last thing I needed was Nancy Spungen to complicate things further. She was a very, very, very, very, very, bad influence on people who were already a mess. She was a troublemaker and a stirrer-upper (Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk, Legs McNeil & Gillian McCain, August 9, 2016.).”
Jerry Nolan confirms that he did hang out with Nancy frequently in New York, but only used her for drugs and money. Nancy had fallen for Jerry pretty hard, but the feeling was definitely not reciprocated. She would lie and tell everyone that Jerry was her boyfriend and that they had intimate relations, in which Jerry completely denied.
Nancy couldn’t snag herself a Heartbreaker, but she did manage to snag herself a Pistol, or two… Apparently, before getting to Sid, she had sexual relations with Steve Jones, the Pistol’s guitarist and even tried to get to John Lydon (aka Johnny Rotten), before finding her way to Sid. It was February 1977 when Sid joined the Sex Pistols, replacing bassist Glen Matlock. Sid had already taken over the bass (even though he could hardly play a note) in the notorious band that was wreaking havoc over the UK once Nancy arrived. When she met Sid, all bets were off-he was her guy. As Leee Childers put it: “She wanted a rock star that she could fuck and give drugs to and take drugs with. That’s all she wanted. So when she got Sid, her goal was complete. She didn’t need to continue her search (Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk, Legs McNeil & Gillian McCain, August 9, 2016.).”
It has been claimed by those associated with the London punk scene that although drugs like heroin were around, they didn’t really hit the scene until The Heartbreakers showed up. The Heartbreakers were the ultimate punk band, from New York, and a bit older and more experienced with their musical talents among other things, were idolized by the London punks. Until The Heartbreakers came across the pond, the drug of choice among the London punk scene was mostly speed. The Heartbreakers, held in high regard as a band, are not held in high regard for bringing heroin on to the scene, it has been claimed by many that the introduction of heroin had a major effect on the new and exciting movement happening in the UK.
Sid was dabbling in drugs way before The Heartbreakers and Nancy turned up in London, frequently using speed and drinking himself into oblivion, he was also known to be offered pills, take a handful of them and then inquire about what he had ingested. Jerry Nolan confirms in Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History Of Punk, that Nancy, whom he had introduced to Sid, was the first person to shoot him up with heroin. Despite the fact that his mother, Anne Beverley, was a heroin addict, it was only until Sid met Nancy that he became addicted to heroin as well.
All the members of the Sex Pistols despised Nancy and started seeing Sid deteriorate in front of their eyes. His behavior became more erratic, and he started trying to live the persona of Sid “Vicious” which was actually a nickname he was coined by his best friend John Lydon aka Johnny Rotten, derived from an inside joke between the two of them. Although the band despised Nancy and didn’t want her around, it was the bands “manager” or “mismanager” as he later called himself, Malcolm McLaren, that truly knew Nancy was a terrible influence on Sid and decided to try and get rid of her himself. Allegedly, he purchased a one way plane ticket to New York in Nancy’s name and devised a plan to kidnap her and take her to Heathrow Airport to get rid of her once and for all, whether botched or never coming to fruition the plan was a failure and Nancy remained in London.
Sid and Nancy became inseparable, the two having a very dysfunctional relationship fueled by drugs and codependency. Nancy very much liked taking care of Sid in a motherly way, something that he craved due to the absence of love and affection from his own mother, due to her heavy drug use as he was growing up. It has been speculated by many people that knew him, Sid was quite possibly a virgin prior to meeting Nancy and was very shy around women.
When the Sex Pistols left the UK to terrorize the US with their ill-fated tour in January 1978 it was an absolute adamant rule made by Malcolm McLaren that NO GIRLFRIENDS were allowed on the tour to ensure that Nancy would not be in tow terrorizing the group and supplying Sid with drugs. On tour, Sid became even more erratic as McLaren tried to keep him clean and sober. While withdrawing from heroin, Sid carved the words “GIMME A FIX” into a chest prior to a show in Texas and even attempted to bloody up a concert goer, who was taunting the band, by attempting to hit him with his bass. The tour ended after seven shows in the US, imploding in San Francisco. The band in utter despair, had absolutely had it, the mismanagement, the tension from within the band and Sid’s antics, they were just done. John Lydon notoriously walked off-stage in San Francisco and quit, and everyone decided to go their separate ways.
Sid had lived out the ultimate dream of becoming a star in the band that he had loved so much during their rise to fame, after joining the band when bassist Glen Matlock, but due to his over the top antics and drug abuse ultimately destroyed the band. All that Sid was left with was his addiction and his Nancy.
After the breakup of the Sex Pistols, Sid and Nancy faced legal charges in London, drug possession, among other things, and traveled to Paris for about a month to film The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle. It was during this time that Sid recorded the cover of My Way by Frank Sinatra for the film (you can listen to Sid’s version here), which failed to be a success. With Malcolm McLaren losing interest in his creation of Sid Vicious, Nancy decided that the best move for the couple would be to come back to the US for Sid to pursue a career as a solo artist, and Nancy becoming his new manager.
Back To New York With A Pistol- Life At The Chelsea
Sid & Nancy arrived in New York City and moved into The Hotel Chelsea, on August 24, 1978. The couple were very available whilst living in the Chelsea-there was no screening process such as checking in at the front desk when coming into the hotel, and people were coming in and going out constantly-drug dealers, sex workers, drug addicts, and all around shady characters.
It is said that it was always widely known by other residents, guests, and those coming and going when the couple had money and drugs. Multiple accounts from people that knew Sid and Nancy recall Nancy dropping hundred dollar bills, unknowingly, throughout the hotel lobby when she would enter or exit, Neon Leon, a fellow musician and friend of the couple stated he felt as though Nancy was starting to “lose her street smarts” at this point in time as she was always very protective of managing Sid’s earnings.
Sid and Nancy both came to the states with nasty heroin addictions, Sid’s seemingly more crippling than Nancy’s, and he got on a methadone program right away. Nancy got started on her new managerial duties, negotiating deals for Sid to play gigs at Max’s Kansas City, and a band of misfit musicians was quickly put together.
Sid was hardly a star in the US, however, was very popular among a small scene of Punks who lined up around the block to come and see Sid play. Although the shows generated a lot of money for those involved (around $3-$4k per night) they were nothing short of a disaster on Sid’s behalf. Instead of the celebratory drugs after the shows, Sid decided to get loaded prior to going on stage and notoriously was nodding out looking and sounding like utter sh*t.
Depressed, unable to find work, and nursing a nasty heroin habits, the tension in an already dysfunctional relationship between Sid and Nancy began to come to a head. The last phone call Nancy made to her mother on Sunday, October 8, 1978, she admitted that Sid had been beating her. Previously when her mother had seen stitches from where Nancy’s ear had been nearly torn off as well as a broken nose and bruises all over her body, Nancy had lied and said it was the “Teddy’s (a British youth subculture and rivals of Punks)” in London who were responsible. She also confessed that he had started abusing her once again, telling her mother that “I am at the bottom, Mum. This is it.” During her last phone call Nancy made sure to tell her mother to relay a message to her father telling him that she loved him, as she hung up the phone Nancy kept yelling “I love you, Mommy! I love you!” in her heart, Deborah knew Nancy was saying goodbye. It was the last time she would ever speak to her daughter (And I Don’t Want to Live This Life: A Mother’s Story of Her Daughter’s Murder, Deborah Spungen, 1983.).
A Pieced Together Timeline Of Events October 12, 1978
Between the hours of 9 pm and 12 am Sid and Nancy visit another residence in the Chelsea that of Honi O’Rourke and Neon Leon bringing along with them a portfolio of press clippings and photos, according to Neon Leon they were visiting they seemed very down and spoke of their “glory days” in a worried manner as if they knew their run had finally come to its end. They left the room around 12 am and returned to their respective room, 100. As the “legend” goes Sid ingested up to 30 Tuinal, a sedative and hypnotic “sleeping pill,” however, it is also likely that Sid may have shot up the Tuinal as opposed to swallowing them.
The night of the murder, the couple was desperately looking for drugs (heroin) as they were coming down cold turkey and expressed that they needed something to help them “relax.” During this particular time it has been said it was becoming increasingly difficult to find heroin in Manhattan, and things started to become increasingly dangerous. Many people “on the scene” were starting to arm themselves with knives for protection.
It is reported that once there was a delivery of pills made to the couple, as that was all there was available that night, there was a “party” in Sid and Nancy’s room that with a revolving door of other hotel residents, fellow drug users, and drug dealers. Legend has it that Sid took up to thirty Tuinal pills, supplied by drug dealer and “bodyguard” Rockets Redglare, and was passed out for the rest of the evening. As a matter of fact, Alan Parker states in Who Killed Nancy? that many people who attended the “party” in room 100 that night were shocked to wake up in the morning to the news that it was Nancy who was dead and not Sid due to his comatose like state.
Around 4 am, Nancy phones Neon Leon looking for a joint and informs him that Sid had taken Tuinal and was completely passed out. It is at this time Neon Leon hears another voice in the background, that of a male and definitely not Sid, the identity of this other entity in the room is still unknown to this day.
Before the grand jury and under oath Kenneth West, a Hotel Chelsea bellboy, states that around 5 am, while responding to a complaint by the resident in room 228 he encountered a loud and unruly Sid Vicious who confronted him physically following the altercation, Sid was left bleeding from the nose or mouth.
At 5:30 am, a bloody Sid staggered into another room of a resident of the Hotel Chelsea, who refused to be identified.
Allegedly, Sid confessed to journalist and photographer, Joe Stevens that after his fight with bellboy Kenneth West, he returned to his room where he had an argument with Nancy. According to Sid, she smacked him on the nose where Kenneth had punched him, so Sid pulled out his knife to threaten her, but Nancy leaned forward and was stabbed accidentally. Without realizing the seriousness of the wound, they both fell asleep, causing the hemorrhage to be fatal.
According to the Chief Medical Examiner’s office, Nancy was most likely stabbed between the hours of 6 am – 7 am
Vera Mendelssohn, Sid and Nancy’s next door neighbor who resided in room 102 of the Hotel Chelsea, reported hearing moaning and a woman’s voice emanating from room 100 at around 7:30 am, and it sounded as though the woman was alone in the room. Vera told the press the woman didn’t call anyone’s name- “She was just moaning.”
Sid wakes up at around 10 am and felt that the bed was wet, he confesses to arresting officer Gerald Thomas of the NYPD 3rd Homicide Zone, that he thought he had “pee’d the bed” and then looked and saw that the bed was covered with blood. He then proceeded to the bathroom, in which he found Nancy on the bathroom floor. When asked what her condition was at that time, Sid said “she was breathing alright but wasn’t bleeding.” Sid then tells the detective that he then went to the methadone clinic. Sid claimed after he was finished at the methadone clinic, he returned to room 100 of the Hotel Chelsea, went back into the bathroom and Nancy was covered with blood. He then took the bloody knife off the bed, went into the bathroom and washed it, he put the knife down and then proceeded to wash the blood off of Nancy’s body “but there was too much blood and I couldn’t do it, so I left the towel on the floor, took the knife, put it back on the bed, and then I called the desk and told them that my girlfriend is hurt. That she needed an ambulance right away.”
According to the Chief Medical Examiner’s office, Nancy most likely died between the hours of 8 am – 10 am and was dead on the scene when police officers arrived.
“Trouble In Room 100“
At 9:30 am, Herman Ramos, deskman at the Hotel Chelsea received a call from outside the hotel, a male voice stated “there is trouble in room 100.” It was at this time Ramos sent Charles the bellhop upstairs to investigate. At 10 am Sid called down to the hotel front desk and spoke to Ramos saying “Someone is sick-need help.” Between 10 am and 10:30 am Ramos calls for an ambulance.
If we follow the timeline Sid claims to have woken up at 10 am, the bed was soaked in blood, he finds Nancy in the bathroom- still breathing and not bleeding, then proceeded to go to the methadone clinic. How could she have not been bleeding at this time? The bed was soaked in blood to the point Sid thought he had “pee’d the bed- there’s no way she wasn’t bleeding when he found her. Furthermore, if we follow the timeline none of this adds up…
Sid would have had to wake up much earlier than 10 am to find Nancy still breathing, seeing that the Medical Examiner surmised that she died between 8 am and 10 am. Also, who made the outside call to the Chelsea at 9:30 am? Could it have been Sid or someone else? Someone else being either the methadone clinic asking where Nancy was and Sid slipping and saying she was unwell and or stabbed? Or could it have been another suspect in the murder trying to set Sid up? Or perhaps Sid himself after getting his methadone dose, gathering his thoughts, and realizing what he had seen?
The Crime Scene
At 10:45 am an ambulance along with police from the 10th precinct arrived- Nancy was dead upon their arrival and the 3rd Homicide Zone was notified.
By 1 pm the Forensic Crime Scene Unit arrived on the scene to collect evidence, take photographs of the crime scene to later be analyzed. Upon their arrival items they found in the room are as follows:
Nancy’s deceased body in the bathroom
A blood soaked bed
Multiple knives including the suspected murder weapon- A Jaguar K11 hunting knife with a 5 inch blade (apparently a gift to Sid from Nancy on October 11, 1978)
A bottle of Tuinal Pills
A substance identified as “brown flaky powder”
Three large trunks used to store the couples personal belongings
Personal photos and memorabilia
A very small amount of cash, described as Sid’s “pocket money” which was in Sid’s possession
The murder weapon, a Jaguar K11 hunting knife, was found left open at the crime scene on top of a suitcase, next to the door, with no traces of fingerprints or blood on it, the murder weapon had been wiped clean by Sid.
According to the Voluntary Disclosure Sheet presented in the indictment (you can view it here) Sid’s account of the events according to the police report are full of contradictions:
- He didn’t know what happened- he wasn’t there
- He discovered the body about 10:30 AM
- He and the deceased had taken Tuinal that night and he went to sleep about 1 AM. Nancy was sitting on the edge of the bed flicking a knife, they had an argument
- He claimed when he woke up in the morning the bed was wet with blood. He thought he had “pee’d” himself. He found the deceased in the bathroom sitting on the floor (same position as found by police). She was breathing. She had a stab wound in her stomach.
- He left her. He went out to get her methadone- at Lafayette Street. When He returned she was full of blood. He washed off the knife and he attempted to wash her off. When he could not wash the blood off her he called for help.
- He did not know what happened to her. He had slept the entire night through. He denied stabbing her (various times).
- He said he did not remember what their argument was about and that she hit him and he hit her on top of the head and knocked her onto the bed- but he did not knock her unconscious.
- He said “I stabbed her but I didn’t mean to kill her, I loved her but she treated me like shit.”
- The deceased must have fallen on the knife and that she must have dragged herself into the bathroom.
- When asked why he left the deceased in the bathroom, wounded, and went out to get his methadone he said “oh! I am a dog” or similar words.
Sid was arrested by Sgt. Thomas Kilroy, of the Third Homicide Zone, on October 12, 1978, and charged with the murder of Nancy Spungen at approximately 5:30 pm.
When it comes to the murder of Nancy Spungen, multiple theories and many suspects come into play, and it is highly doubtful that after 43 years we will ever know the exact events that took place in the early morning hours of Thursday, October 12, 1978. Sid was the easiest target and the smoking gun, he found the body, made multiple contradictory stories to the NYPD, openly physically abused Nancy in public and was a known heroin addict, he had a complete sh*t reputation. The case was closed after he died of a heroin overdose on February 2, 1979, less than four months after Nancy’s murder.
With the popularity and interest of this case, it highly surprises me that it has never been reexamined in the past or to this day. I suppose it’s a classic case of the “less dead” for the NYPD- two notorious junkies, one ends up murdered, the other overdoses while out on bail, who really cares, right? Why waste police money and resources looking into a case such as this? Alan Parker maintains in Who Killed Nancy? that had there been more evidence and more time to look into the case there most likely would have been a different outcome in court as the six people who remain unknown in the police report would have been questioned, providing more possibility of suspects in Nancy’s murder.
There are some very valid and probable scenarios that very well could have occurred on October 12, 1978:
Sid Was The Murderer
Although so many people have come forward in Sid’s defense stating that there is no possibility that after doing as many Tuinal as he did that Sid would have been able to wake up, stab Nancy, and clean off the murder weapon.
However, in the timeline of events that happened on October 12, 1978, we know that Sid did in fact wake up and around 5 am and got into a physical altercation with Kenneth West the Chelsea Hotel bellboy- he clearly had full capability of being strong enough to physically assault someone and did even if he was stoned from the Tuinal.
His statement to the police was full of contradictions- he did it, he didn’t do it, he didn’t know what happened, and I would believe that it would be a valid assumption that if he did stab Nancy, on purpose or accident, he probably would have not remembered doing it, therefore causing him to continuously change his account of the events.
One of the strangest things to me about this case is, why did Sid both wash the blood off of the knife and Nancy’s body? Why did he tamper with the crime scene? Also, why did he not call for help upon finding Nancy still alive instead he went to the methadone clinic and waited to call until he got back?
Sid was known to have violent outbursts for no reason- many people who knew Sid have come forward and told stories of being around him and trouble always starting due to his temper. Sid and Nancy were also notorious for having violent physical fights, often leaving Nancy battered, bloody and bruised. Could October 12, 1978 be a culmination of the tension brewing between the couple along with their codependency on each other and heavy drug abuse be the catalyst that caused Sid to ultimately stab Nancy? It seems pretty likely.
Another thing that also stands out to me is the fact that there was no money found in the room upon investigation by the NYPD, as a matter of fact the NYPD didn’t even know that Sid and Nancy had any money in the room until witnesses came forward and mentioned the large amounts of cash Nancy had been flaunting. When Sid woke up, prior to finding Nancy, one of the things he noticed was that the drawer they kept their money in was completely cleaned out. The only cash on the scene was what Sid had on him and it was described as pocket money.
Although the case was never investigated further, Sid was the smoking gun, he had guilty written all over his face when the police arrived on the scene. It has been said that had there been more time and more digging done into the case there could have been a different outcome once the case got to court. Due to the fact that the murder weapon had been wiped clean and there were no fingerprints on it, Sid could have been convicted by proof beyond a reasonable doubt, however, Sid died while out on bail for an unrelated charge on February 2, 1979 less than four month’s after Nancy’s murder and the case was closed and never brought to trial- Sid, ultimately being the only person responsible for the murder of Nancy Spungen.
Michael Morra aka “Rockets Redglare” Was The Murderer
Michael Morra, stage name “Rockets Redglare,” an actor and stand-up comedian, was a New York City native and hanger on to Sid. In the documentary Who Killed Nancy? Interviewees state that Rockets liked the notoriety of hanging around Sid, and even maintain that Sid was Rockets meal ticket.
In the early morning hours of October 12, 1978, around 2:30 am, Rockets stated he received a frantic phone call at his residence in Queens, from Nancy begging him to come to the Hotel Chelsea and to bring with him Dilaudids as well as new hypodermic needles. Around 3:15 am, Rockets arrived at the Chelsea empty-handed, unable to obtain the pills or the needles. Rockets hung around Sid and Nancy’s room until around 5 am, it was during that time he and Nancy discussed Rockets becoming Sid’s bodyguard and scoring Dilaudid. According to Rockets, Nancy was very agitated she had been unable to score, Nancy also proceeded to tell Rockets she had $1,400 to spend on drugs and would pay him twice the price should he be able to come up with what she was looking for, large bills of cash falling from her purse spilling onto the floor.
According to Rockets Sid kept getting up and going to the door any time he heard a noise while he was there, however, this contradicts the multiple accounts that Sid was nearly comatose-there is also no account of the “party” going on in the room from 12 am to 4 am. Rockets mentions that between 3:30 am and 4:45 am the phone rang multiple times, however, Nancy only picked up the phone once in which Nancy had a “brief conversation” with the caller (no mention as to what it pertained to) and that no outgoing calls were made by either Sid or Nancy during the duration of his visit. It is important to note that this statement contradicts Neon Leon’s timeline of events, in which he stated that Nancy had called his room at 4 am looking for a joint and informing him that Sid was completely blacked out from the Tuinals he ingested. It was during this time according to Neon Leon’s timeline in which he heard another voice in the room, not that of Sid but an unidentified male, which would have been Rockets if indeed the timelines do add up.
Rockets maintained that he left room 100 shortly before 5 am, Other accounts from unnamed persons state they’d seen Rockets leaving the Chelsea around 4 am, stopped at the front desk in the hotel lobby to make a phone call and sighted a person named “Steven C,” Sid and Nancy’s regular “Quaalude and Tuinal dealer” turning the corner and entering the elevator. It is said in Sad Vacation Steve Cincotti, also known as Steve C, that “we’ve been unable to find anybody who ever met or knew this character.”
Bearing in mind Rockets was seen leaving between 4 and 5 am, per the Chief Medical Examiner’s office Nancy was most likely stabbed between the hours of 6 and 7 am and died between the hours of 8 am and 10 am. Based on this information, if true, Rockets would in fact not be the killer. However, the time of the stabbing and death were merely speculated due to the body’s deteriorated condition, in which track marks, contusions and bruises were found on the body, as well as the drugs within Nancy’s system.
Something that I found rather interesting while watching a YouTube video researching the murder of Nancy Spungen, the commentator speaks of a Reddit thread, posted four years ago, in which a Redditor states:
“It was definitely Rockets Redglare. I used to live in the East Village and knew people who had known him. He evidently bragged about it and wore it like a badge of honor, he was responsible for killing the icons of punk.”
“Rockets Redglare and some shady character who had been hanging around decided to steal Sid and Nancy’s cash when they nodded off. Sid was passed out on a massive dose of barbiturates, Nancy nodded off on dope. Rockets Redglare and his accomplice broke into the room (some accounts say Nancy frequently left the door unlocked due to people coming and going constantly), tried to take the money, but were caught in the act by Nancy who attacked them, and was stabbed as a result.”
Within the thread, another Redditor states:
“I have heard that it’s an open secret in New York that Redglare and an accomplice went to their room to steal drugs and whenever Nancy woke up in a drugged out haze and saw them trying to steal their stash, she freaked out and the two of them stabbed her to death and got out of dodge.”
Whether the accounts of the above-mentioned Reddits are true or not, many people who had known rockets throughout the years openly admitted to killing Nancy (never to authorities or the press) until his death in 2001. It has been said that Rockets was heard admitting that he killed Nancy to fellow drinkers at CBGBs shortly after the murder. However, it is also widely known that Rockets loved attention and would make even the smallest tale larger than life, embellishing many of the details and one could say, he was, most likely, a pretty big bullsh*tter.
The “Michael” Theory
In the very last few minutes of the documentary, Who Killed Nancy? There are several reports of a known drug dealer named “Michael” who lived on the sixth floor of the Hotel Chelsea, who is highly suspected of being the one who stabbed Nancy.
Apparently, as the story goes, a group of actors who all lived on the sixth floor would sometimes party with Sid and Nancy, “Michael” being a part of this group.
Steve Dior recalls having a conversation with Sid while having a meal before a gig after seeing Nancy sitting with some “young blonde haired kid” who seemingly appeared to be another guy that appeared on the scene all of a sudden.
Steve Dior: “I said, “Sid, who is that?” Sid said, “oh, that’s Michael, Nancy really likes him.””
So, this is where it starts getting weird…
In the documentary, Who Killed Nancy? Actor Ned Van Zandt is interviewed and refers to “Michael” as “M” his reasoning being that he wasn’t sure if he was still out there or what had happened to him and I suppose was trying to keep some kind of anonymity in regard to this “Michael” character.
He goes on to state: “One particular evening I was hanging out with M, and he said I have to go down to Sid and Nancy’s room. I went in the room with M, and he did his business with them and I remember that Nancy had a lot of money and I do remember Sid was very f*cked up, and I was told it was Tuinal, you know which is like a heavy barbiturate, and so we left and M split.”
The documentary starts meshing Ned Van Zandt and Kathleen Wirt’s interviews together as if one is finishing the other’s sentences, and it gets a little choppy.
Kathleen Wirt: “Michael had come upstairs after this had happened (the murder) sometime early in the morning and when he reported that Sid had killed Nancy no one believed him and he had shown up with a wad of cash tied up with Nancy’s purple hair tie.”
Ned Van Zandt: “Big smile on his face and I had never seen him smiling before, and he said guess what, “Nancy’s in a body bag, Sid killed her.””
After watching the documentary “Sad Vacation” I believe that yes, “Michael” was a drug dealer at the Hotel Chelsea, but was misnamed and is actually a man known only as “Skip Wayne,” Neon Leon’s “manager.”
Steve Dior showed his sketch of “Michael” in Who Killed Nancy? And stated that he always had a strong inclination that this was the man responsible for Nancy’s murder.
The “Michael” theory also comes up in the documentary Sad Vacation, and it gets very interesting…
Actor Ned Van Zandt is interviewed for Sad Vacation and states that “M” or “Michael” is actually Michael Morra aka Rockets Redglare.
Ned’s Interview-Sad Vacation:
“I met this guy named Michael Morra who was kind of the in-house dealer up at the Chelsea. I was with Michael, and we went to Sid and Nancy’s room, and I guess it must’ve been around 3:00 or 4:00 am, and Sid was passed out on his bed on Tuinals, dead to the world, and Michael did a transaction with Nancy. They owed Michael money. Nancy and Michael were arguing, and I was uncomfortable, and the two of us left. Michael left with me, and I’d asked him where’d they get that money, and he said that they had gotten a record deal.”
Ned’s Interview-Sad Vacation account of October 12, 1978:
“Someone knocked on the door and said, “come to the lobby, Nancy’s dead, Sid killed her.” And we raced down to the lobby and Nancy was in a body bag. Sid came out in handcuffs, and we’re saying, “Sid, Sid, what happened?” And he said, “I don’t know, I don’t know.””
“I went back to my room alone and shortly after Michael, aka Rockets Redglare, at the time, he wasn’t called Rockets as far as, I didn’t know him as Rockets he was Michael. He knocked on my door, and he had a lot of money tied with a purple rubber hairband, which I’d seen when Nancy had the money. It was a wad of money with a purple, rubber hairband.”
“After that happened, Michael had disappeared. I think the police were looking for him to question him. My big fear was that we were all gonna get in trouble ’cause we’re all doing drugs, we’re all partying, but this was 1978, New York, you know. Cops didn’t care, they had their man.”
“You know, I have my suspicions, and maybe I have formulated them. I mean, the money was a big deal, but I just kinda denied, you know, okay. That’s Nancy’s money, it was getting creepy, you know. I was wrestling with my conscience and all that, but it wasn’t until Michael came after me, you know for whatever reason, unrequited love, I mean he had this thing for me, and which I now admit I was using because he was the guy with the party favors, but when he came after me and tried to kill me, then I knew he was capable of it.”
In Who Killed Nancy? It seems pretty clear that everyone knew who Rockets Redglare was, I highly doubt that Steve Dior would have made this sketch from memory if he thought this “Michael” character was Rockets. For the record, Who Killed Nancy? Was released in 2009 and Sad Vacation was released in 2016- Steve Dior was not even interviewed in Sad Vacation. I truly believe that the sketch is actually Skip Wayne and was misnamed as “Michael.”
I was unable to find any photos of Skip Wayne, and the ones that were showcased of Skip and Neon Leon in Sad Vacation were either very blurry or only showed the bare minimum of a side profile, and the person was essentially unidentifiable.
Victor Colicchio, resident of the Hotel Chelsea, states in Who Killed Nancy? That around midnight, he and another hotel resident named Kelly Garrett go down to room 100 to deliver Sid and Nancy Tuinal and Dilaudid pills. Nancy called again around 4 am and 5 am, in which Victor and Kelly go back down to the room and an unknown man is present. Victor was unsure of what the man’s name was, he said it was something along the lines of “Spidy,” “Skippy,” “Stevie,” some kind of name with starting with an S and ending in E-E. Victor also accounts that during his visit to the room, Sid was passed out completely.
Victor’s Interview Sad Vacation-account of October 12, 1978:
“There was a pandemonium. Somebody in the hotel asked me if I’d heard what happened, and I said, “No,” and they said that Sid killed Nancy. I go, “Really, well he was passed out when I saw him” and then a detective asked me to stand over. He wanted to talk to me and I just beat it out of there. As a matter of fact, the thing I remember most about the next day is that I left Manhattan and went up to The Bronx to stay with my old, tough, Italian Guido friends because I was worried that the guy I saw in that room knew I saw him.”
Neon Leon-Sad Vacation account of “Skip Wayne”
“Skip Wayne, is that his real name, I don’t know. He claimed to be my manager. Skip Wayne wanted to be my manager. Skip Wayne was like a roadie hanger-out guy so that he could sell his drugs. Well, Skip is short for Skippy. I mean, it doesn’t prove that it’s the same person. You know, and I’m not saying it, but Skip, Skippy, you know. It’s like hmmmm, could be.”
In Sad Vacation, Victor is shown a photo of Skip Wayne and confirms that yes, that “looks like the guy” that he saw in the room with Sid and Nancy the night Nancy was murdered.
The names of six individuals NYPD wanted to question were written in the initial police report, however have been since blacked out. No one knows the names of the individuals nor were any individuals besides Sid taken into custody for questioning.
Whilst researching this case I listened to the Sid & Nancy episode of the No Dogs In Space Podcast by Marcus Parks and Carolina Hidalgo of the Last Podcast Network, and Marcus Parks raised some very valid points about the state of New York City and the NYPD in 1978.
In the 1970’s New York City was near bankrupt and cut budgets from many areas including the NYPD which was working way below the capacity needed to properly investigate every murder. Marcus states that in the 1970’s New York averaged about 2,000 murders every year, in perspective he compared New York’s murder cases from the 1970’s to 2019 in which 318 murders took place for the whole year. The murder of Nancy Spungen was round murder 1,400 of 1978 (Sid & Nancy, No Dogs In Space 2020).
Nancy Killed Herself
“I’ll never make it to 21. I’ll go out in a blaze of glory.” -Nancy Spungen
There is a very strong possibility that Nancy could have either committed suicide or orchestrated her own death. As we know, Nancy had a lot of mental and emotional problems stemming back from as early as infancy due to her traumatic birth as well as various hospital stays and multiple suicide attempts under her belt by the time she was killed.
Considering the fact that there were no hesitation wounds and only a single stab wound to the abdomen it took her hours to bleed out and die, she could have easily gotten help… but she made her way towards the bathroom where she ultimately bled out and died.
Deborah recalls a rather disturbing statement Nancy made while visiting her family after her and Sid arrived in the US, out of nowhere on a car ride back to the hotel Sid and Nancy were staying at in Philadelphia Nancy states: “I’m going to die very soon. Before my twenty-first birthday. I won’t live to be twenty-one. I’m never gonna be old. I don’t ever wanna be ugly and old. I’m an old lay now anyhow. I’m eighty. There’s nothing left. I’ve already lived a whole lifetime. I’m going out. In a blaze of glory And I Don’t Want to Live This Life: A Mother’s Story of Her Daughter’s Murder, Deborah Spungen, 1983).”
In Deborah Spungen’s Memoir And I Don’t Want To Live This Life, she states: “It is my belief that she engineered her death. She wanted to die, had for years. She was ready to die. So she made Sid the instrument. She egged him into stabbing her by convincing him it was the only possible way he could prove his love for her. Certainly, she was capable of manipulating him. Certainly, he was capable of being manipulated. Sid was the patsy, perhaps unwittingly, perhaps not(And I Don’t Want to Live This Life: A Mother’s Story of Her Daughter’s Murder, Deborah Spungen, 1983.).”
A Blaze Of Glory
To be completely honest with you, after researching into this case, I can see why the NYPD was so quick to close it. There are so many contradictory statements made, timelines that don’t quite add up as well as the fact that Sid and Nancy were living a dangerous lifestyle- this type of scenario was very common to the NYPD. The only thing that sets it aside from other cases is that it was two very, semi high profile people that it happened to.
Truthfully, in researching this case more questions come up than actual answers. It is extremely messy and convoluted, timelines do not add up, and you really can’t put together anything even close to a cohesive account of events. This October will mark the 44th anniversary of the murder and I am positive at this point the case will never be reexamined. Its unfortunate that we will never know exactly what happened in the early morning hours of October 12, 1978, all we will ever really have are different witnesses and accounts of the events that took place other than the small amounts of information found on the internet from the police report.
Personally, after doing this deep dive, I feel as though, most likely Nancy orchestrated her own death or Sid stabbed her in a haze on accident or perhaps with intent.
Many people idolize Sid and Nancy as the anti Romeo and Juliet and think of their relationship as romantic- which is anything but the truth. However, the two have lived on as a symbol of punk rock decades after their deaths. In the end Nancy got what she craved, a “Rockstar” boyfriend, a small taste of fame and notoriety, lived the fast life, and went out in a blaze of glory like she had always told people she would. Her legacy, whether good or bad has lived on, I don’t think she would want for much more than to be remembered.
And I Don’t Want to Live This Life: A Mother’s Story of Her Daughter’s Murder, Deborah Spungen, 1983.
Cop Treated Sid Vicious Like A Regular Punk, thesmokinggun.com, August 7, 2014
Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk, Legs McNeil & Gillian McCain August 9, 2016.
Sad Vacation Documentary, Danny Garcia, 2016.
Sid & Nancy, No Dogs In Space Podcast, Marcus Parks and Carolina Hidalgo, Last Podcast Network, April 4, 2020.
Sid Vicious’s Biggest Hit, thesmokinggun.com, October 12, 1998
Who Killed Nancy? Documentary, Alan G. Parker, 2009.