When James Brown died on Christmas Day 2006 at age 73, officials at Atlanta's Emory University Hospital Midtown listed his cause of death as congestive heart failure related to pneumonia. More than a decade later, however, at least a dozen people — including Dr. Marvin Crawford, the physician who signed Brown's death certificate — have come forward to express their doubts in that pronouncement.
"He changed too fast," Crawford, who didn't believe the three-time Grammy winner died of natural causes, revealed in an interview with CNN, also noting that he'd recommended an autopsy but Brown's daughter Yamma declined. "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?"
Many people believe Brown was murdered
That query was at the center of Lake's two-year-long deep dive into the complex web of suspicious circumstances surrounding the death of both Brown as well as the reported 1996 accidental overdose of his ex-wife, Adrienne. First approached by Jacquelyn Hollander, a 61-year-old songwriter, circus singer and one-time Brown collaborator, the journalist claims to have interviewed nearly 140 people — several whom firmly believe Brown was murdered and want a criminal investigation — and also mined thousands of pages of police and court records, as well as 1,300 pages of text messages. He even sent one of Hollander's possessions to a laboratory for forensic testing.
Hollander, who also gave a detailed account of Brown violently raping her in the back of his conversion van in 1988 and described his mafia-like “organization,” believes that the singer was murdered. And she isn't alone. Lake found 11 other Brown associates who share Hollander's theory, one of them being Andre Moses White, who helped Brown check into the hospital in December 2006. White was so sure that foul play was involved that he even took a vial of Brown's blood from an IV tube following his death and, according to Lake, still hopes it will help prove whether or not his friend was murdered.
Not included in that number are Brown’s daughter LaRhonda Pettit or his son-in-law Darren Lumar. Both also contended that the "It's a Man's Man's Man's World" singer was murdered, but both died prior to Lake's investigation. In fact, Lumar went public with those allegations on a local TV news broadcast in 2007 and was killed in Atlanta a year later in what remains an unsolved murder.
Brown received a visit from a 'male stranger' prior to his sudden death
For his part, Dr. Crawford recalls Brown being admitted to the hospital on December 23 with “symptoms of early congestive heart failure and signs of a mild heart attack.” Brown's urine also allegedly tested positive for cocaine, and after giving him oxygen, IV diuretics and ACE inhibitors, Crawford said the funk singer "improved fast" and "probably could have walked out of the hospital if he wanted." The physician says when he left the hospital on December 24 to spend Christmas Eve with his family, all seemed well — but late that night, he received a phone call from the hospital that Brown's heart had stopped. By the time he had returned to work, Brown was dead.
White, the aforementioned friend who took the vial of blood, says he, too, left Brown that night in good spirits with the singer's personal manager, Charles Bobbit, and an assistant named David Washington. According to White, Bobbit and Washington claimed to have left the Godfather of Soul alone for a period of time, during which a nurse said Brown "had been visited by a male stranger," and after that visit, his vital signs rapidly declined. (Several people quoted in the CNN piece called Bobbit's story vague and suspicious.)
He further claimed that the same nurse pointed out apparent drug residue present in Brown's endotracheal tube and drew a vial of Brown's blood from an IV and gave it to him to have tested. After White spoke with Dr. Crawford, the latter came to believe that Brown had willingly taken illegal drugs at the hospital and died of an accidental overdose. At the insistence of Brown’s accountant, David Cannon, however, he kept that information private.
Even so, Crawford revealed that he contacted retired homicide detective Vincent Velazquez, who said Atlanta police declined to investigate. “It’s not murder if someone gave somebody cocaine,” said Velazquez.
Brown's death is similar to his wife's passing, 10 years earlier
The circumstances of Brown's death were eerily similar to that of his ex-wife, Adrienne, who had accused the singer of domestic abuse and had reportedly contacted her divorce attorney Robert Harte saying she feared for her life days before her death. Officially, the Brown family said Adrienne died of complications following a cosmetic surgical procedure, but a retired police detective who had investigated her death, later found a notebook from an informant alleging that a doctor confessed to murdering Brown's ex via a drug overdose made to look like an accident. (The doctor, unnamed in the article, denied the allegations to CNN and no charges were ever filed.)
While many are now calling for a further investigation into Brown's suspected homicide, one major hiccup remains: His final resting place isn't even totally certain. While the singer's body is believed to be located in a crypt in his daughter Deanna Brown Thomas' yard, his daughter LaRhonda claimed that wasn't the case, prior to her death. When asked by CNN about the location of her father's body and allegations that the crypt was empty, Deanna refused to comment.