It’s fifty years since the death of one of rock music’s true icons; yet what really happened to him remains one of the greatest mysteries of the twentieth century.

For crime authors like me, it remains a lesson in itself; what happens in real life can never happen in fiction. Fiction, unlike real life, has to make sense.

So who killed the Rolling Stone? 

Brian Jones was the founding member of supergroup, the Rolling Stones. Bass player Bill Wyman summed up his importance: ‘No Jones, no Stones. He formed the band. He chose the members. He named the band. He chose the music we played. He got us gigs.’

His long, floppy hair, fur coats and jewellery defined the sixties counter culture. But his charisma hid a darker side. ‘I always felt sorry for Brian,’ drummer Charlie Watts said. ‘He was two things: he was not very nice, and he upset people very easily. He wasn’t very pleasant.’

A lot of women didn’t agree. Jones fathered six children with six different women, though he became increasingly violent and unstable as time went on.

He died forty years ago this week at just 27 years old, drowning in his own swimming pool after a cocktail of alcohol and drugs.

Or did he?

photo: Steve Denenberg

By 1969 Jones had been eclipsed by the swagger of Mick Jagger and the song-writing of Keith Richards and his performances in the studio were dulled by the prodigious quantities of drugs and alcohol he was taking.

His relationship with Stones manager Andrew Loog Oldham also deteriorated as the band was steered away from its blues roots. In June, he was fired from the band he founded.

Three weeks later, Jones was found at the bottom of his swimming pool at his 11-acre estate at Cotchford farm in East Sussex.

The official version says there were just three guests that night; one was Jones’s girlfriend Anna Wohlin; the second was Janet Lawson, the girlfriend of Jones’s minder, an ex-paratrooper called Tom Keylock who had spent years clearing up Jones’s various drug-induced messes.

The third person was his builder, Frank Thorogood.

Thorogood, and mates Mo Tucker and Johnny Betsworth, had been hired to renovate Jones’s new home, which had once belonged to A.A. Milne, author of Winne the Pooh. Over the previous eight months Jones had paid Thorogood £18,000 (equivalent to almost £300,000 today) – an astonishing amount, when £60 a month was the going rate for a builder.

Thorogood abused his hospitality — ordering steaks from his butcher and charging them to Jones, even making hash brownies in his kitchen.

A carpet fitter called David Gibson, who visited the house just before Jones’s death said the musician wandered about the house drinking vodka, complaining that he was ‘a prisoner in his own home’ and expressing fears he would be killed.

The day he died, Jones had just sacked Thorogood, who still believed he was owed £6,000.   Wohlin said that Thorogood was ‘furious’.

That night, around 11pm, a socialite friend of Jones, Nicholas Fitzgerald, arrived at the house ‘for a party’ and saw ‘at least three men and a woman’ looking at a body floating in the pool.

He said another man, he thought it was Jones’s minder, Keylock, told him to leave – or he’d be next.

Keylock, however, maintained he wasn’t there.

Wohlin, Lawson and Thorogood later said that Jones was alone in the pool when he died. Lawson claimed she had gone off to play guitar, Thorogood said he was smoking a cigarette and Wohlin was answering the phone.

By the time medical help arrived, Jones was dead.

Oddly, Thorogood was, the first person taken away in an ambulance — to be treated for an injured wrist. It was never explained how he had come by the injury and it seemed not to raise any suspicions.

The senior investigating officer, DCI Bob Marshall, later stated there were ‘six or so’ friends of Jones with him that night. But police never established who the other three were.

They wouldn’t miss that on Law and Order.

An inquest recorded a verdict of death by misadventure, ‘drowning while under the influence of drink and drugs’ at some point over the night of July 2.

But was it an accident?

Lawson said she saw Thorogood come into the kitchen that night, just before she found Jones in the pool, shaking and ‘in a terrible state.’ 

Anna Wohlin moved back to Sweden directly after Jones’s death and later told a Swedish newspaper: ‘I don’t know if Frank meant to kill Brian. Maybe it was horseplay in the pool that went wrong. But I knew all along he did not die a natural death. I’m still sure of it.’

Was there a cover-up? It later transpired that Thorogood’s builder mate Tucker was a police informant and Keylock’s brother was a senior policeman – which gave credence to theories of a conspiracy.

There are also claims that on his deathbed in November 1993, Thorogood told Keylock he had murdered Jones. Keylock later denied this.

He also denied he was present that night at Cotchford, yet before his death in 2009 he changed his mind, telling film-maker Terry Rawlings: ‘Of course I was there. Where else would I have been? I had a job to do, and I did it.’

What is the truth?

We’ll probably never know. It’s impossible to get all the suspects in the room for a final denouement – all the main players  are now dead including Thorogood, Lawson, Tucker, Betsworth – and Keylock – who died forty years to the day after Jones.

So let’s show some sympathy for the devil – he’s the one who has to sort it out now.

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Lucifer Falls effortlessly merges a shocking serial murderer novel with a police procedural dripping with authenticity.

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  1. I knew about Brian Jones, but never knew of the circumstances surrounding his death. It sure seems very suspicious to me. Murder seems very plausible.

  2. I was stunned when I read about it and thought it might mean the end of the Stones as the fantastic group that they were, but being young and with the attention span of a gnat, I went on with my life. Periodically his death would be mentioned in the media and I remember thinking (as I finally began to mature) that for such a famous and outstanding musician to die with so very little coverage that it was extremely odd if not suspicious. Perhaps further research could be done today with our technology that was not available in 1969. Light years ago…. ahhh, memories.

  3. This was interesting and leaves a lot of unanswered questions which sadly will not be answered in this lifetime. I thought it sounded suspicious when I heard of his death on the news. I have suspicions on Jim Morrison’s death as well.

  4. Whoa! I did not know any of this. Those were the days when murder could be easily covered up. I predict more “historical thrillers” in our future!

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