Initially, Loraine Fuller was flooded with relief when she looked out the window of the luxury apartment she shared with her sons. Her car was there. In her parking space.
She had been looking for it for hours.
Well, actually, it wasn’t so much the car, that she was looking for. It was her son, Bobby. He had left, in her car, early that morning, July 18, 1966, around 2:30 a.m.
Of course at twenty-three years old Bobby was a grown man, so there was nothing she could do about him getting up and leaving abruptly at all hours of the night, or morning, as it were. So she did all she could do. She stayed at the apartment by the phone. And she worried.
She had reason to.
Bobby was having problems. He was unhappy. Even though he had a big hit record and was making good money, he wasn’t making the kind of money that he should be making and he knew it. She knew it.
Still, it wasn’t just the money situation that was bothering Bobby. In fact, money wasn’t the main priority with her son. For Bobby, it was all about music. Music was his life. He was gifted, that way. All of her children were. They came by it naturally, she was a very good pianist and her husband was a decent singer and could play the violin.
But Bobby was special. He was a prodigy. He needed a lot of freedom to do what suited him musically. He was a perfectionist. And that put him on a collision course with his record label. Lately he had been butting heads with his producer and his producer’s partner.
As a matter of fact, he had just gotten back from San Francisco. They had some club gigs booked, but when Bobby found out that the record label hadn’t put any money into promoting the gigs, he told the band to pack up their stuff and they came back to Los Angeles.
Lorraine didn’t blame him. But now there were more people upset with Bobby and she knew, better than most–yes, thank God, better than most–that there are some very bad people out there. God help you if you had something they wanted and they didn’t like you…If they were jealous of you…
None of that mattered now. Bobby was back. He was safe and she had been needlessly worried. She was so relieved that right then and there, while in the swell of euphoria, she felt the sting of anger. She was going to let him have it for making her worry…After she hugged him. Yes–thank God!–first she would hug him so hard…To show him she meant business.
She rushed down the steps toward her car.
Rick Stone could have used another thirty minutes of sleep that morning before he was awakened by Mrs. Fuller. She said that she was worried about Bobby, that he had left early and hadn’t come back.
Stone wasn’t the least bit worried, but he got up and looked out the window anyway. Yep. The parking space was empty.
He checked the garage, too, as a show of concern for Mrs. Fuller’s sake.
Nope. No blue Oldsmobile.
He shrugged it off, Bobby was probably sleeping it off somewhere. They had all been partying a lot lately. Stone knew of a meeting at Del-Fi Records, that Bobby was supposed to attend at 9:30 a.m. Bobby had asked him to be there too, so he showered and got ready.
He tried to assure Mrs. Fuller that every thing was fine.
At 9:30 Rick Stone was in the lobby of Del-Fi with Randy Fuller. Bobby never showed. They rescheduled for three o’clock and Stone went off on his own errands. He made note of the situation, but he still wasn’t worried.
That changed when Bobby didn’t show up for the three o’clock appointment. Stone decided to drive over to Bobby’s apartment to see what was up. He turned the corner hoping to see Mrs. Fuller’s car in her parking spot. Instead he had to slam on his breaks. Cop cars were everywhere, blocking the entryway to the complex.
Stone threw his car into park and got out, making a beeline toward the throng of police. Mrs. Fuller’s car was there, in its parking space with lots of police milling around it.
“Where do you think you’re going?” a cop bellowed at him, blocking his way. Stone told him he was a member of the family and the cop let him through.
He approached the car tentatively, bracing himself for what he was about to see.
The driver’s door of the Oldsmobile was open and Bobby was in the front seat slumped over, reeking of gasoline, with chemical burns, scrapes and bruising on his exposed skin. There was blood on his shirt and gas soaked rag in his mouth. A gas can was in the floor board. He was in full rigor mortis.
Rick Stone’s head began to swim. He bent over and began to breath deeply to keep from passing out.
There are a myriad of theories about Bobby Fuller’s death, though most people believe he was murdered. I’m not going into a great deal of detail here, but just to give you an idea, one theory features Frank Sinatra. Another one, Charles Manson.
To be fair, these names weren’t pulled out of thin air. Frank Sinatra’s mob connections are well known. The FBI ran a forty year dossier on him and those connections. Bobby Fuller associated briefly with Sinatra’s daughter Nancy. That’s the extent of the connection.
The Charles Manson connection, excuse me, connections are decidedly creepier. Take, for instance, Jay Sebring. He was the ex-boyfriend and hairstylist of Sharon Tate. Sebring was murdered along with her by some Manson acolytes. Jay Sebring, the hair stylist of the stars, cut and styled Bobby Fuller’s hair.
And speaking of Sharon Tate, she went to high school in El Paso. Bobby Fuller was from El Paso, attending high school there also, though not the same school as Sharon Tate. Not only that, Charles Manson, who knew Bobby from the club PJ’s, asked Bobby to give him guitar lessons. Bobby refused.
See what I mean? Creepy.
But ask any seasoned investigator and he or she will tell you that these odd coincidences come up in any case. They will tell you that you can go down a labyrinth rabbit’s hole with coincidences that morph into conspiracy theories, that you can be overwhelmed by them.
One such theory is particularly cruel. It names Randy Fuller as the killer of his brother.
The motive? Envy.
And to that I say, “So?”
About the motive, that is.
Randy Fuller was envious of his brother. And while envy is never good, it’s perfectly understandable within the perimeters of the sibling dynamic. Particularly this sibling dynamic. It’s hard to be in a band with your brother; especially hard if your brother is a musical prodigy.
Then there’s the name thing. Back in El Paso, the band was called The Fanatics, but record label management decided on The Bobby Fuller Four instead. Randy, admittedly hated being regulated to the “Four.”
They were a band. And it was his idea to do I Fought the Law…
So, yes, fratricide is within the realm of possibility. Stranger things have happened. They do happen. But trust me, there is not one iota of evidence that implicates Randy Fuller in his brother’s death.
That being so, let’s examine the suicide theory.
Though there is some discrepancy, it is generally accepted that Bobby had been irritable and moody over the last few months of his life. What nobody disputes, however, is that Bobby was upset with the direction of his career and on the verge of walking out on his contract.
And then there were the drugs.
Yes, Bobby indulged. Nothing hugely concerning, a little pot and some LSD…Okay. LSD raises eyebrows. No doubt. But you have to remember the era–LSD was actually legal at the time–and the circle in which Bobby ran. He partied. He wasn’t a drug fiend. Good grief, the guy was living with his mother at the time of his death.
Well then, Did Bobby Fuller commit suicide by huffing gasoline?
Extremely unlikely. None of the family believes it. Nobody who was close to Bobby believes it. Apparently the medical examiner was skeptical too, because he checked both the suicide and accidental death box and then put a question mark by each.
And that leads to the next question: If not suicide, was it an accidental death?
Now this is where we get into the weeds. According to the corner’s report, when the medical examiner opened the body, the organs smelled of gasoline. That’s consistent with death by asphyxiation from inhaling gasoline, which is congruent with accidental death.
Paradoxically, though, Randy huffed gas when he was a teenager and Bobby caught him in the act. “Don’t ever do that again,” he warned his brother. “That stuff’s got lead in it. It’ll kill you.”
Randy’s indiscretion is consistent with the data regarding the abuse of inhalants. Most people who use inhalants are teenage boys. Adults rarely abuse them, especially adults of means with access to “cleaner” drugs. Bobby was twenty-three at the time of his death. He was about to pay cash for a new Corvette.
However, it is the eye witness accounts of the events on July 18, 1966 that cast the most doubt on the accidental death theory.
Lorraine Fuller had worried about her son since she heard him leave in her car around 2:30 a.m. Roughly, from that time on, she checked the designated parking spot for the car every thirty minutes before it suddenly appeared around 5 p.m.
If that seems excessive, consider what had happened to Lorraine Fuller’s oldest son Jack.
Five years before, Mrs. Fuller sat straight up in her bed crying hysterically. She had awoke from a nightmare in which Jack’s spirit had appeared at the foot of her bed. “Mom, I’ve been hit in the head. It killed me,” Jack’s spirit said.
Mrs. Fuller had spent the previous afternoon and evening frantically worrying about her son. He hadn’t shown up for Sunday dinner and he hadn’t called to explain why. Though Jack had always been a bit wild it wasn’t like him to make his mother worry so.
Even so, Bobby and Randy weren’t worried. “He’s probably just gone over to Juarez and got drunk or something,” was their consensus. But Mr. Fuller was more circumspect. “I’ve had a strange feeling all day that something bad was going to happen,” he confided to his sons.
Days passed with no word from or about Jack. The family contacted the police.
Three weeks later the cops arrested a young man driving Jacks prized ’57 Chevy in Lubbock Texas. He confessed to murdering Jack–shooting him in his head– for the car and a wad of money stuck in the visor that turned out to be play money.
So when Mrs. Fuller said she was worried and that she checked the parking every thirty minutes, I believe she did just that. She earned her paranoia and her credibility at terrible cost.
Therefore, if Mrs. Fuller was telling the truth, it is impossible that Bobby Fuller’s death was an accident. Even in intense tropical heat, it takes at least an hour for rigor mortis to set in. And while it should be noted that Los Angeles was in the midst of a heatwave, Bobby’s body was in an advanced stage of rigor when he was found. For the death to be an accident, the car, with Bobby’s body in it, would have had to have been in the parking space longer than an hour.
Although Rick Stone, Mrs. Fuller and two other witnesses, friends from El Paso, all insisted that Bobby had been beaten, that there was scrapes and bruising on his skin and blood on his lip, his shirt and the front seat of the car, the medical examiner disputed that, claiming the bruises and scrapes where really chaffing and maceration from exposure to gasoline and heat.
But perhaps most ominous clue to what really happened to Bobby was the condition of the house shoes he was wearing. According to Stone they were dirty and scuffed as if Bobby had been dragged. This also suggest that Bobby left the apartment in a hurry.
The house shoes he wore were his mother’s.
To be continued…