Was James Brown murdered? Thirteen people have claimed the Godfather of Soul’s 2006 death appeared suspicious and would like an autopsy, including the doctor who signed his death certificate, according to an explosive new CNN investigation.
The three-part investigation—that took nearly two years to complete and included interviews with nearly 140 people—has raised new questions about the circumstances surrounding the iconic singer’s death, as well as the 1996 death of his third wife, Adrienne Brown.
James Brown died in an Atlanta hospital on Christmas Day in 2006. The official cause of death was declared a heart attack and fluid in his lungs, but his doctor, Marvin Crawford, said just before dying, Brown had improved enough that he ikely would have been released from the hospital.
The investigation exposes a series of disturbing allegations about the singer’s life, elaborate cover-ups and a secret vial of blood preserved for more than a decade.
Here are seven of the most explosive allegations in the investigation:
1. The investigation began after a singer at a circus, who claims she had once been raped at gunpoint by Brown, revealed a series of theories about Brown’s death and presented evidence she had been saving about the suspicious deaths of Brown and his wife.
In the 1980s Jacque Hollander was a collaborator with Brown. The pair recorded the song “Atlanta Will Be Rockin’” a song celebrating the Atlanta Falcons that Hollander had written. Hollander, who now works as a singer in a circus, became friends with Brown and his wife at the time, Adrienne Brown.
But the pair’s relationship allegedly took a dark turn in 1988 when Hollander claims that after a business meeting to discuss some charity work, Brown invited her to drive to a car dealership to see a Volkswagen he was having customized for his daughter.
After the trip to the dealership, Brown asked for a cigarette that Hollander now believes was laced with PCP, or phencyclidine. His behavior became erratic before he eventually pulled off the interstate and drove into the woods, she claims.
Holding a shotgun, she says he asked her to get into the back of the van and then proceeded to brutally rape her for hours, tearing an earring out of her ear, slamming her head into the side of van and threatening her family if she talked.
After he brought her back to the office to retrieve her car, she claims Brown began to follow her and tried to run her off the road before telling her, once she pulled her car over, that she had forgotten to tell him she loved him.
Brown’s attorney Debra Opri would later call the rape allegations that were the center of a 2005 civil lawsuit filed by Hollander a “shakedown in its most stupid form.”
Despite the accusations, Hollander maintained her business relationship with Brown for several years out of fear, she claims, and continued to be friends with his wife Adrienne until they drifted apart.
Brown was never prosecuted for the alleged attack, in part because prosecutors were never able to determine which woods it had allegedly happened in, creating a jurisdiction problem, but after the incident Hollander began collecting evidence related to Brown and his associates. Much of that evidence would help direct CNN's years-long investigation.
2. Brown’s third wife Adrienne Brown died in 1996 while recovering from plastic surgery, but one police informant claims a doctor later admitted to murdering her.
The relationship between James Brown and his third wife Adrienne, a former makeup artist, had allegedly been volatile. According to a 1988 incident report from the Aiken County Sheriff’s Office, Adrienne claimed that while Brown was under the influence of drugs, he laid her mink coat on the driveway and shot at it, then fired three shots into the vehicle she was in, and later beat her with a metal pipe.
“The victim had bruises all over her body,” the police report states.
Brown was charged with assault with intent to murder, but he was never prosecuted and the pair remained married. He’d be arrested several more times for domestic violence incidents, but each time Adrienne would opt to drop the charges against her famous husband.
In 1996, 45-year-old Adrienne underwent plastic surgery, receiving a tummy tuck, cheek implants and other procedures, according to CNN.
The Godfather of Soul and Adrienne were in the process of a divorce, although her attorney Robert Harte never believed she’d go through with it. In her final message to Harte, she talked about men who wanted to control her husband and said she wanted him to break free of their supposed influence. She also claimed to be in fear of her life.
Shortly after the surgery, Adrienne was dead and police would find no signs of foul play. The official cause of death was PCP intake and atherosclerotic heart disease and it appeared to be an accidental drug overdose.
But a notebook from confidential police informant Linda Bennett would later claim that a doctor had told her he had murdered Adrienne Brown.
“I know he murdered James Brown’s wife (as he referred to her) I know he knew he did + he was trying desperately to cover. I know because he told me — HE TOLD ME SO HIMSELF, then he tried to kill me,” she wrote in the notebook, according to CNN.
The notebook was given to now-retired Beverly Hills Police Det. Steve Miller shortly before Bennett died of a heart condition in 2001, but Miller never saw the messages until he re-examined the notebooks in 2017 after being contacted by CNN. CNN reportedly contacted the doctor, who wasn’t publicly identified in the story, who denied the allegations.
Even James Brown believed his third wife may have been killed. Tomirae Hynie, Brown’s fourth wife, claims the singer told her he believed his wife’s death was suspicious because he believed she had come through surgery just fine.
“And then somebody paid her a visit,” Hynie said, allegedly referring to a dealer, “and that’s how the PCP was introduced to her system, and that killed her.”
3. At least 13 people have questioned how Brown died and have requested an autopsy be performed.
When James Brown died Christmas Day in 2006 he was reportedly in the hospital room with his personal manager, Charles Bobbit. Bobbit described Brown in his final moments as declaring his “chest was on fire” before he laid down and died.
But the doctor who was caring for Brown and later signed his death certificate never believed he had died of natural causes.
“He changed too fast,” Marvin Crawford told CNN. “He was a patient I would never have predicted would have coded … But he died that night, and I did raise that question: What went wrong in that room?”
Brown was admitted to the hospital on Dec. 23, 2006 after showing symptoms of early congestive heart failure and having signs of a mild heart attack. Crawford believed these were treatable problems and said Brown began to improve quickly after receiving oxygen and medications.
“By 5 o’clock on the 24th, I mean, he probably could have walked out of the hospital if he had wanted. But we wouldn’t let him go. We wouldn’t tell him to go yet,” he said.
Crawford went home that night around 7 p.m. to have dinner with his family but by 1 a.m. Brown would be dead.
Brown’s friend, Andre White, had been with Brown for much of his hospital stay but had also left that night. After hearing Brown had died, he returned to the hospital and claims one of the nurses on duty told him shortly before Brown died, a man she didn’t recognize had visited as part of Brown’s entourage. Shortly after he left, Brown’s health took a sudden turn.
He claims she pointed to residue in Brown’s endotracheal tube and took a vial of his blood, which she gave to White. White has still kept that vial all these years later hoping law enforcement will one day test its contents.
“I would like to know who basically killed him,” he told CNN.
4. Brown’s fourth wife claims they had been trying to escape South Carolina shortly before his death.
Several people would later report that in the weeks leading up to Brown’s death, he had been quietly planning to move from South Carolina to distance himself from his longtime lawyer Buddy Dallas and accountant David Cannon.
He had reportedly been planning to move to New York, a change that could have impacted his business relationships.
“He didn’t want a lot of people to know, because he was afraid Dallas and Cannon would try to stop him,” Frank Copsidas, Brown’s manager told CNN.
According to the news organization, investigators would later determine Cannon had illegally diverted more than $8 million from Brown during the time he served as the singer’s accountant and used some of the money to build a seaside mansion off the coast of Honduras. Cannon was later charged in 2010 and entered an Alford plea, receiving a 10-year suspended sentence for the violation. He died in October and had declined CNN’s request for an interview before his death.
A will and estate plan signed by Brown in 2000 also gave Cannon, Dallas and a third individual control of the singer’s finances as designated trustees. Under the agreement, the trustees would have the ability to use up to 50 percent of Brown’s income for “management purposes,” CNN reports.
Tomirae, Brown's wife, also confirmed the couple’s plans to move to New York and said she had talked to Brown again about the plans on Christmas Eve, the last phone call the two would have together.
5. His daughter refused to have an autopsy performed after his death.
Dr. Crawford had been suspicious about the sudden turn in Brown’s health, but when he suggested there be an autopsy to investigate the death, Brown’s daughter Yamma refused.
Yamma told CNN in a 2009 interview that she had her “own personal reasons for not doing an autopsy,” and refused to answer additional questions about her decision during the recent CNN investigation.
Sources present that night reported Yamma’s husband, Darren Lumar, had also been at the hospital after Brown had died. Crawford told CNN Lumar made a scene and recalled him shouting “They killed him!”
In the years since Brown’s death, questions have also begun to swirl about where Brown’s body is now. It was believed Brown was buried in crypt in his daughter Deanna Brown Thomas’ yard, but a second daughter would later claim years later that the crypt was empty.
LaRhonda “Peaches” Pettit, who has since died, told the tabloid newspaper The Globe in 2010 that the body had “disappeared.” She also claimed the death had been “suspicious” and said she wanted an autopsy to be performed.
When CNN questioned Thomas about the allegations, she said, “It’s amazing the things that people come up with,” but also refused to confirm or deny whether Brown’s body did still remain in the crypt.
6. James Brown’s son-in-law spoke out about his suspicions about his father-in-law’s death and then was then shot five times in an unsolved murder some believe looked like a contract killing.
Brown’s son-in-law Darren Lumar had reportedly been suspicious of the music icon’s death from the start, but some have wondered whether his persistent suspicions ultimately got him killed.
Lumar would continue to voice his concerns, particularly as his marriage with Yamma began to crumble. Just three months after Brown’s death, Yamma stabbed Lumar’s forearm, requiring him to get 12 stitches, and resulting in a charge of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon against her. She claimed the stabbing had been in self defense and the charges would later be dropped after Lumar failed to show up in court.
But court fillings in the case would document some disturbing text messages between the pair.
“I know your father was murdered and I’m not totally convinced you and her were in on it. I will find out,” Lumar said in a message to Yamma.
He’d later voice his suspicions to WGCL, a CBS affiliate in Atlanta, and asked for an investigation.
“I’m gonna bet you everything that I own that they will find everything they’re looking for,” he said in 2007. “Nobody wants an autopsy done, a toxicology report to see what’s actually in his system … what foreign to him was in his system when he died.”
Lumar was killed just over a year later, in November 2008, when he was shot five times after leaving his townhouse. Police believed the death appeared to be a contract killing, according to CNN.
7. Brown’s one-time collaborator, Jacque Hollander, claims his hairdresser tearfully recounted a strange vision she had of Brown dying and later panicked about a “James Brown duffle bag” she had placed in storage that contained items that would “look really bad” if found.
It had been years since Jacque Hollander had collaborated with Brown on both music and charity efforts, but after the singer’s death, Hollander said she reconnected with his lawyer Buddy Dallas.
It was through that connection that she met Candice Hurst, Brown’s former hairdresser who claimed to have been having an affair with Brown at the time of his death.
Hollander claims the hairdresser told her about a strange vision she had in which she was standing with Brown’s personal manager, Charles Bobbit, in the singer’s hospital room and that she was giving Brown drugs. Hollander claims Hurst told her in the vision that Brown wasn’t dying fast enough and was then given a glass of water with herbs in it before he died.
Hollander interpreted the vision as a confession of sorts, but Hurst told CNN the circus singer had misunderstood and said the vision had just been a dream. She denied killing the singer.
The odd interactions between the two women wouldn’t end there. Hollander claims she later helped Hurst, at the request of Dallas, retrieve several items from a storage unit including a black duffle bag Hurst had earlier referred to in a text as the “James Brown Duffle bag.”
In the message allegedly sent to Dallas and obtained by CNN, Hurst pleaded for help getting the items out of storage after falling behind on rent, writing: “the first thing is a James Brown duffle bag with a lot of stuff including the dope he was doing the last week of his life in there!!! … it will look really bad!!!!”
Hollander said she helped retrieve the items and then was allegedly instructed by Dallas to throw them in the lake, but she never did.
The bag contained lingerie, hair supplies, a pair of black stilettos with a leafy substance and white powder on the soles of the shoes, and a note written by Hurst with a list of “questions for Mr. Bobbit,” including one that said “How did Mr. Brown know I was gonna be with him when he died?”
Hurst would later confirm to CNN that the bag belonged to her and said she was saving it because she believed its contents would prove her innocence and claimed she had nothing to do with Brown’s death. She said although she had been with Brown in the week leading up to his death, she didn’t see him again after Dec. 20.
[Photo: David Corio/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images]
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