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Essay: Soaked In Bleach, The Courtney-Killed-Kurt Theory

Updated: Jun 1, 2023

TRIGGER WARNING: Many mentions of suicide, guns, drugs, and overall death.

There was a hush over Seattle on April 8th, 1994. Kurt Cobain, grunge leader and rockstar frontman of the revolutionary band Nirvana had been found dead in his own home, gunshot wound through the head and several sites of injection on his body. Seattle police were quick to write it up as a suicide, which seemed to be the most obvious answer when looking at the evidence from a surface level perspective, but I believe the case needed a little more work. His wife, Courtney Love, was right there beside Kurt’s die-hard fans to mourn the loss, but was also quick to receive all of the inheritance that he left behind. His fans were the first to accuse Courtney of having a hand in his death, but her close friends and family defended her honor. That being said, was the death of Kurt Cobain really a suicide as it's claimed to be, or did his wife Courtney Love murder him? Though it’s been 29 years since his passing, the case is just as curious as it was at the time of his death.

The hard facts are this: Kurt Cobain was found in the greenhouse attached to his home by an electrician who had been hired to install security lighting, but the body was later determined to have died on April 5th, three days before it was discovered. He was found with a 20 gauge shotgun that he had bought lying across his chest, 1.52 mg of heroin per liter in his blood, a box with needles and drugs in it next to him, and a suicide note staked into a pile of potting soil near his body. There were also other belongings lying around such as his license, wallet, shotgun shells, cigarettes, sunglasses, a hat, and a few other items. The Seattle police department ruled it a suicide immediately after assessing the scene without any further investigation.

Courtney Love was lead singer of the grunge band Hole, whose music was also greatly influential in the 1990s. Their biggest album ‘Live Through This’ dropped just four days after the discovery of Kurt’s body. Unfortunately, she was just as drug-addicted as Kurt was, and allegedly much crazier, her own father even stating, “She's a psychopath, she has a sociopathic personality like I do” (Nye). By the time of Kurt’s death, the pair had been married for two years and had a child named Frances Bean Cobain.

There was plenty of reason for the Seattle PD to jump to the suicide conclusion so quickly. Kurt was a very public drug addict. Danny Goldberg, Nirvana’s former manager, even said “I was involved in trying to get Kurt professional help on numerous occasions” (Strauss). Everyone wanted to help him, although it seemed to do no good. This appeared to be something Kurt and Courtney bonded over. Courtney has stated on multiple occasions that he was suicidal, and there’s much reason to believe her (Grant 2). Even Mike Ciesynski, who was the detective that briefly reopened the case in 2014, said, “Did I find any earth-shattering evidence that would change the medical examiner's conclusion that Kurt committed suicide? No” (Spangenthal-Lee).

Kurt has a family history with suicidal behavior. Burle Cobain, Kurt’s uncle, died of suicide in 1979, and another uncle took his own life just five years later (Moss). Many also speculate this misery didn’t just begin with that, but with his home life during his parents’ messy divorce. This may have been what first introduced violence and drug use into his life. A situation reported by Chris Mundy of The Rolling Stone says “After finding out that her husband had cheated on her, Wendy (Kurt’s mother) pointed a gun at his head and threatened to kill him. Both children watched as she attempted, unsuccessfully, to load the weapon. Finally, in frustration, she marched into the night and threw all the firearms from the house into the Wishkah River. The next day, after paying the kids to fish them out, Kurt sold the guns for money to buy his first amplifier” (Moss). Just the fact that his own mother paid her children to search for guns in a river shows that he had an intense childhood, and it sounds like his siblings did too.

By marrying Love, the drug use was exemplified, and at one point he had even accused her of using heroin while pregnant with their child. Kurt also used heroin to combat stomach issues that he’d suffered with for several years, saying in a journal entry “I decided to use heroin on a daily basis because of an ongoing stomach ailment that I had been suffering from for the past five years and had literally taken me to the point of wanting to kill myself” (CBS). So not only did he address his drug addiction, but his suicidal thoughts. On top of that, he was the one who purchased the shotgun, so he may have had a plan all along. It seems that through these things as well as the lyrics he was writing, suicide was always the path Kurt would take. One of the biggest examples of this in his songwriting is a song titled “I Hate Myself and I Want To Die”, but of course almost all of his writing had depressing and concerning themes, but pain makes the best art. Another quote from Danny Goldberg regarding Kurt’s suicide says, “It’s ridiculous. He killed himself. I saw him the week beforehand, he was depressed. He tried to kill himself six weeks earlier, he’d talked and written about suicide a lot, he was on drugs, he got a gun” (Beaumont). Needless to say, Kurt wasn’t happy with his life, which makes suicide a believable option.

On the other hand, there’s been plenty of suspicion around his death, and solid proof to back some of the claims. As I mentioned, Courtney has been accused for twenty-nine years of killing her own husband, and there was lots of motive for her to do so. Right before Kurt’s death, he was in the process of trying to divorce Courtney and write her out of his will. If he happened to die before these things were official, she would inherit all of his estate, and that she did. Once he died, she got an estimated $150 million dollars (Weisman). For that much money, it seems a person would do just about anything, including killing the biggest rockstar in 1994.

There is concern in both Courtney and Kurt’s whereabouts the week before his death. This is important because the people that believe Kurt committed suicide defend that claim by saying Courtney wasn’t even in Seattle at the time of his death, instead in Los Angeles. On March 25th, Courtney and a few others had staged an intervention on Kurt, which is how he ended up at the Exodus Recovery Center in Los Angeles on March 30th. He barely lasted 24 hours before scaling the six foot fence, then quickly catching the next flight to Seattle. Around April 2nd, Kurt was seen around Seattle, both in a park and in the gun shop that he purchased the weapon of his death at. The next day, Courtney hires Tom Grant, a private investigator, to figure out where Kurt had gone after leaving the rehab center. Kurt was spotted again that day, but on April 4th, no one had seen him. Then of course, April 5th is the presumed day of death, and then on the 8th, the world was informed of what had happened (Golsen).

Beyond speculated motives and the reality of their relationship, the evidence should be enough for anyone to see the truth. The suicide note that Kurt left was later analyzed by handwriting specialist Reginald Alton, who believed the last part, which you can see in the picture below, may not have been written by him. But, he couldn’t be sure because the only copy of the note he could analyze was a faxed version, which was not in the original color of the note (Grant 2). It’s plausible that maybe Kurt was sober then he wrote the first two quarters and intoxicated during the last, or too grief stricken to properly write. The thing about this note is that it sounds like a retirement letter, or something he wrote to state his reasoning behind quitting the music industry. If you can’t read the handwriting in the original note attached below, you can find a transcript here. I’ve found that if you read it from the perspective of him simply ending his career and not his life, it makes a lot of sense, up until the part that begins with “Please keep going Courtney.” He even signed his name at the end of it, which usually signifies that a letter is complete, and directly after that is when the inconsistencies begin. In fact, only those last four lines mention his family, the rest seeming to address his music. My suspicion is that Courtney had found this somewhere, or maybe Kurt had even already given it to her, and she used it to solidify her plan. If this was part of her plan, it ended up being a fatal flaw.

Handwriting samples were later found in Courtney’s possession, and some of those letter forms can be found in the last four lines of the note. Heidi Harralson was another person who analyzed the handwriting, saying to investigator Tom Grant, “'It is possible that someone else with some skill could indeed imitate his writing, especially those last few lines” (Crawley). Forensic linguist Carole Chaski also adds that the top portion of the note not only appears to be in a different handwriting, but also a different style linguistically, meaning the way he wrote and put his sentences differed between those two sections (Crawley). Both these people were interviewed for Tom’s documentary titled ‘Soaked In Bleach’, which leads me to my next point of evidence.

As mentioned, Tom Grant was a private investigator hired by Courtney Love to find Kurt after he disappeared for a bit, which was only a few days before his death. After Kurt’s death, he began to suspect Courtney of having a hand in it. In “Soaked in Bleach”, Grant uses real audio recordings of him and Courtney talking, some of which she didn’t know were being taped. She admits to several things in these, such as filing Kurt’s missing persons report under his mother’s name and not her own, burning notes from Kurt that talked about divorce, changing her story, possession of rohypnol (which is a drug Kurt almost overdosed on in Rome just a month before he died when mixed in his champagne, whether by him or someone else we don’t know), and several other things. She also discusses her anger over Kurt turning down a $9 million dollar contract to headline Lollapalooza, an offer her band turned down because they would’ve only received $100,000. I believe she wanted Nirvana to have that spot because as Kurt’s wife, she would’ve had access to the millions earned from that gig (Grant). Thanks to Grant, a lot of conversations have been recorded and used against Courtney, specifically the ones in which she’s lying.

One of the biggest points of interest is on the logistical side of Kurt’s death: He was found with a 20 gauge shotgun laying across him upside down, with the barrel in his left hand. He had a grip on it known as a cadaveric spasm, which happens when a group of muscles that were used profusely just before death become stiff and rigid immediately after death (Shedge). This could all make sense towards the claim of suicide until you take into account a few other details: The shotgun shell was found to the left of his body, but the exit chamber was clearly pointed to the right. This means the shell should’ve been found on the right side of his body if the gun had been fired upside down like it had been found. Seattle PD concluded that the gun had been fired right side up, but flipped once it was fired, explaining the shotgun shell to his left instead of the right. This is anatomically impossible, the cadaveric spasm reflects the exact positioning of Kurt’s hand at the distinct moment of death, and for it to have flipped, his wrist would’ve had to endure an impossible angle (Grant 2).


Shotgun found with Kurt’s body held by Seattle Police Detective Mike Ciesynski

All of this happened after Kurt injected himself with heroin and proceeded to put all of his supplies back in their box where they were found by the police. As mentioned earlier, a toxicology report stated that he had 1.52 mg of heroin per liter of blood in his body, and that would’ve killed him instantly. Because heroin is injected directly into the vein, it’s immediately available to the brain and body circulation. Most serious heroin users only take about 60 mg, which would equate to 0.420 mg of heroin per liter of blood in the body. To reach the amount that Kurt’s blood level was at, it would’ve exceeded 200 mg injected in total. He would’ve been incapacitated far before he had the time to put his supplies back in their rightful place. Statistically, this amount of heroin would’ve been seventy times the lethal dose for the average person, and three times the lethal dose for even the most addicted heroin user (Grant 2). How could he have drugged himself up that much and proceeded to pull the trigger effectively?


Kurt Cobain was a depressed drug addict, sure-- But I don’t believe he ended his own life. Courtney Love had all the power and motive a person could need to commit a crime like this. Maybe she did murder him, or maybe he really did lose his life to one of the most tragic forms of death to exist. There’s plenty of evidence to prove her guilty, but unfortunately, she has never been put on trial. The case was only ever reopened for a short period in 2014, but nothing came of it. Courtney has remained free through all of this, and while we’ll never know what really happened that day, we use this evidence to come to conclusions on our own, whether that be suicide or murder. His case is still fought by the public and investigated informally, but none of that has done anything to convince the people in power to truly reopen it. Kurt will always be a respected and adored musician regardless of how his life was taken.


Works Cited

Beaumont, Mark. “Nirvana’s Former Manager: ‘Claims That Kurt Cobain Was Murdered Are Ridiculous. He Killed Himself.’” The Independent, 5 Apr. 2019, www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/music/features/kurt-cobain-death-suicide-anniversary-nirvana- courtney-love-theories-manager-interview-a8854766.html.

Crawley, Joanna. “Kurt Cobain’s Suicide Note Suggests He Could Have Been Murdered.” Daily Mail Online, 14 Oct. 2015, www.dailymail.co.uk/tvshowbiz/article-3271385/VIDEO-EXCLUSIVE-Experts-examining-Kurt-Cobain- s-suicide-note-suggest-murdered-dramatic-teaser-new-documentary-Soaked-Bleach.html.

Golsen, Tyler. “Timeline: Tracing the Final Days of Kurt Cobain.” Far Out Magazine, 5 Apr. 2022, faroutmagazine.co.uk/timeline-the-final-days-of-kurt-cobain/.

Grant, Tom.

  1. “Cobain Case Audio Files.” Audio Files, cobaincase.com/audio.html. Accessed 22 May 2023.

  2. Director. Soaked in Bleach. 2015.

Moss, Corey. “Kurt Cobain: Destined for Suicide?Cobain.” Iowa State Daily, 5 Apr. 1996, iowastatedaily.com/227269/uncategorized/kurt-cobain-destined-for-suicidecobain/.

No author found. “Cobain Journal Reveals Tortured Addict.” CBS News, 23 Oct. 2002, www.cbsnews.com/news/cobain-journal-reveals-tortured-addict

Nye, James. “Courtney Love’s Father Claims He Can Prove She Was Responsible for Kurt Cobain’s Death.” Daily Mail Online, 1 May 2014, www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2617948/Courtney-Loves-father-claims-prove-SHE-responsible-Kurt- Cobains-death.html.


Shedge, Rutwik. “Anatomy, Autonomic Nervous System - Statpearls - NCBI Bookshelf.” National Library of Medicine, 25 July 2022, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK539845/.

Spangenthal-Lee, Jonah. “Detective Who Reviewed Kurt Cobain’s Death File Details Evidence.” CBS News, 7 Apr. 2019, www.cbsnews.com/news/kurt-cobain-death-detective-who-reviewed-kurt-cobains-case-file-details-eviden ce/.

Strauss, Neil. “Kurt Cobain’s Downward Spiral and Last Days.” Rolling Stone, 19 Apr. 2023, www.rollingstone.com/music/music-news/kurt-cobains-downward-spiral-the-last-days-of-nirvanas-leader -99797/.

Weisman, Aly. “Courtney Love Already ‘lost about $27 Million’ of Her ‘Nirvana Money.’” Business Insider, 11 Aug. 2014, www.businessinsider.com/courtney-love-lost-27-million-of-nirvana-money-2014-8

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