“Death by misadventure”: The Stones discuss their former guitarist in “Crossfire Hurricane”

By on July 3, 2015

July 3, 1969, is usually recognized as the day Brian Jones was found dead in his swimming pool at his Cotchford Farm, Sussex, England home, but the sad events actually happened on July 2nd, during a late-night swim; as you can see from this excerpted clip from Brett Morgen’s Crossfire Hurricane documentary, which we discussed briefly here, the mysterious details of his death, almost half a century later, still don’t seem to make any sense, no matter how you parse it, and remain shrouded in mystery.

BRIAN JONES 7

Jones’s death came a month after he’d been dismissed from the Rolling Stones when, on June 9th, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and Charlie Watts came to Cotchford Farm — the former home of author A.A. Milne, on the outskirts of the Ashdown Forest, where he was living with his Swedish girlfriend Anna Wohlin — to deliver the news to him personally that he was out.

Jones was isolating himself more and more, and had become essentially unable to function as a Rolling Stone any longer. The rest of the band had stopped expecting him to show up at the recording studio, and they were surprised when he did, offering him suggestions as to how he could contribute to the albums they were making — and would continue to make — without him.

They reportedly gave him an upfront severance as well as an annual stipend for as long as the Stones remained together, and he was allowed to make his own annoucement that he was leaving the group, which would allow for him to pass it off as though he were leaving the group he’d founded, and named, back in 1962.

BRIAN JONES 1.png

In framing his statement for release to the press, Jones was assisted by the Stones’ publicist, Lee Perrin, who helmed him create the following message:

“I no longer see eye-to-eye with the others over the discs we are cutting. We no longer communicate musically. The Stones’ music is not to my taste any more. I have a desire to play my own brand of music rather than that of othrs, no matter how much I appreciate their musical concepts. The only solution is to go our separate ways, but we shall still remain friends. I love those fellows.”

“Nowadays, you could say, ‘Brian, you have to go to this center in Arizona for a couple of months to clean up,’” Mick Jagger has subsequently said, many times, in interviews, “but in those days that wasn’t as obvious an option.”

BRIAN JONES 3

During the rest of June 1969, Jones began plotting musical moves, talking with John Lennon about collaborating on a project, and he even dropped by Olympic Studios, where the Stones were already cutting tracks with new guitarist Mick Taylor for their Let It Bleed album, but mostly he spent time at Cotchford Farm, which he was renovating. He’d hired a worker named Frank Thorogood, who was seventeen years older than he was, to oversee the home improvements he’d wanted. Thorogood had previously worked for Richards, and he was allowed to move on to the premises, taking an apartment over the estate’s garage.

Since Thorogood was around all the time, with his crew of workers during the day, and after the day’s work shift had ended, at night, he witnessed a lot of things about Jones that turned him off. He and his crew disliked Jones’s effete attitude, and by later accounts even taunted Jones openly.

BRIAN JONES 6

On the evening of July 1, Jones was having dinner when a support beam fell, and he was so upset about it and the perceived poor workmanship that he threatened to withhold future payments and review some of the previous bills he’d paid to Thorogood, which upset Thorogood quite a bit.

Jones, however, subsquently apologized for his reaction and even invited Thorogood to join him for a swim on July 2nd. It was apparently a tense night. Jones was apparently being playful in the pool with Thorogood — who, even though he was married, was actually accompanied by a nurse named Janet Lawson, his girlfriend — and pulling the contractor under the water by his ankles, rough-housing. Thorogood is said to have retaliated by dunking Jones, an avid swimmer, under the water, but it was all in good fun.

BRIAN JONES 5

Then, the mystery about what actually happened that night deepens, darkens. It’s been reported that Jones’s girlfriend Anna was called into the house for the phone call, and during the conversation she was having inside she says she heard screams coming from the nurse, Ms. Lawson, outside, yelling for her to return — which she did, finding Brian Jones “lying spread-eagled on the bottom” of the pool, unconscious.

She called for Thorogood — whom she’d passed in the kitchen, lighting a cigarette, on her way out of the house — to come back and help, and he apparently took his time returning to the scene, acting impassively, or as she described it, “cold as ice.” Thorogood dove into the pool, retrieving Brian’s body from the bottom of the pool, and she and Lawson administered CPR until an ambulance arrived, but by then Jones was declared dead.

BRIAN JONES 9

Two days after the Stones’s concert at Hyde Park — where the band’s show became a kind of tribute to Brian’s memory, with Mick Jagger asking the audience for silence as he read two verses from Shelley’s Adonais, before hundreds of butterflies were released — the Coroner at Brian’s inquest ruled that it was “death by misadenture,” although no one seems to accept that his drowning — even though its acknowledged he was under the influence of drink and drugs at the time — was accidental.

BRIAN JONES 4

Jones — who was often seen taking copius amounts of drugs and drinking excessively during the month of June and into early July — had no drugs in his system, and he’d had only a small quantity of beer. Jones was asthmatic too, but he’d not been using his inhaler and had not expressed any difficullties breathing. Postmordem findings revealed that Jones actually had “liver dysfunction due to extensive fatty degeneration,” as well as “an enlarged heart, incipient pleurisy and asthma.”

Wohlin has subsequently said that she believed Thorogood drowned Jones while she was away, on the phone, and that Thorogood had warned her against implicating him in Jones’s death, telling her that the only thing she needed to tell the police was that it had been an accident and he’d been drinking, and that she didn’t have to say anything else.

Apparently that’s exactly what happened, for decades, although there were almost immediately people — friends of Brian Jones’s — who came forward saying that they actually come to Cotchford Farm around 11pm and seen Thorogood holding Jones’s head underwater, and they claimed that the nurse had seen the whole thing. They claimed that what they saw was clearly not an accident, or playful roughhousing. It was murder.

BRIAN JONES 2

Brian Jones was buried on July 10, at Priory Road Cemetery in Cheltenham, only yards from the church where he’d sung in the choir as a choirboy.

Wohlin would later say that the Stones’ press agent, Les Perrin, became involved in the postmortem, offering her money if she would remain mute about Brian’s death and not give any interviews, which made her wonder openly whether the Stones’ organization was trying to protect Thorogood.

Thorogood was on his deathbed in 1993, and signed a confession for the Stones’ driver/minder, Tom Keylock — which Keylock then denied, until his own death in July 2009 — although, in his 1994 book, Paint It Black: The Murder of Brian Jones, author Geoffrey Giuliano says that Thorogood told Keylock: “It was me that did Brian. I just finally snapped. It just happened.”

Here’s a wonderful shot of Brian Jones — taken by photographer Ethan Russell in 1969 — kicking the statue of Christopher Robin, at his home on Cotchford Farm. Russell explains, in his book Ethan Russell: An American Story:

BRIAN JONES 8

“I found myself driving through the green hills of Sussex to visit Brian Jones in his new house. With some fanfare, Brian had just bought the country home of A. A. Milne, the creator of Christopher Robin and Winnie-the-Pooh. To me it seemed somehow perfect that this blond-haired rock and roller should have inherited the house of Pooh. For Brian, with his blond pageboy haircut, looked like a fully-grown Christopher Robin…..This was sacrilegious of course but that’s what he was — we were — doing, wasn’t it? He was a Rolling Stone doing Rolling Stone things!”

About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.