Murder or Suicide? Phil Spector awaits trial for the death of Lana Clarkson.

Murder or Suicide? Phil Spector awaits trial for the death of Lana Clarkson.

by Reiko Joseph, December 2009

This much is clear. Shortly after 5 a.m. on February 3, Alhambra police officers responded to a 911 call at the residence of legendary music producer Phil Spector. It wasn't until after forcibly subduing Spector in the foyer of his home that one of the officers finally noticed the dead woman slumped in a nearby chair. The woman was Lana Clarkson, a B-movie actress best known for her starring role in the cult classic, Barbarian Queen. She had been shot in the mouth.

A Typical Night Out on the Town

In contrast to the night's grisly ending, the events leading up to Clarkson's death are fairly unremarkable. Spector's driver, Adriano De Souza, delivered the 64-year-old music legend to a number of Los Angeles nightspots where he dined and drank with a few different women. Toward the end of the evening, Spector arrived at the House of Blues where he met Clarkson who worked as a hostess in one of the VIP rooms. Sometime around 3a.m., the two left the House of Blues and headed for Spector's hilltop mansion. According to De Souza, the pair seemed very friendly, chatting and laughing in the backseat as they watched a DVD on Spector's portable player.

"I think I killed somebody."

Little is known about the events that took place after Clarkson and Spector entered the producer's mansion. Around 5a.m., De Souza—who sat waiting out in the car—heard a low "popping" sound. Stepping out of the car, he saw nothing out of the ordinary. A few minutes later, Spector emerged carrying a gun, the back of his hand smeared with blood. Spector told his driver, "I think I killed someone." De Souza immediately called 911. Later while in police custody, Spector once again admitted to killing Clarkson, allegedly telling authorities that the shooting was an accident.

Since his arrest, Spector has changed his story, claiming that Lana Clarkson committed suicide. A coroner's report filed shortly after the shooting revealed that gunshot residue was found on both Clarkson's hands, indicating that she may have fired the weapon herself. A skilled markswoman, Clarkson knew her way around guns and was a member of the Beverly Hills Gun Club. Yet friends of Clarkson testifying before the grand jury portrayed the actress as someone who was optimistic about her future—in other words, someone unlikely to have taken her own life.

The Barbarian Queen

As an actress in her 40s Lana Clarkson had been trying to restart her career, taking a new interest in comedy. She had worked steadily through her 20s, appearing in hit TV shows such as "The A-Team," and "Three's Company." But her most notable career accomplishment was her starring role in Roger Corman's Barbarian Queen and its sequel, Barbarian Queen II. At the time she met Spector, Clarkson was working at the House of Blues to make ends meet and hoping to connect with industry VIPs.

The Howard Hughes of Rock

Best known for his "Wall of Sound" production style, Phil Spector created numerous pop hits in the 1960s and 1970s, including the Ronnett's "Be My Baby" and the Righteous Brothers' "You've Lost that Loving Feeling." He also produced the last Beatles album, "Let It Be," and later worked with John Lennon on "Imagine."

In his later years, Spector became increasingly reclusive, earning the dubious nickname "The Howard Hughes of Rock." Unfortunately for Spector, this latest incident is not the first time he has run into trouble with women and firearms. In 1993, 1995 and again in 1999, Spector allegedly threatened 3 different women with guns, although none of them filed charges.

A Bizarre End to a Hollywood Evening

In the case of Lana Clarkson, Spector has pleaded not guilty to murder charges and is free on one million dollar bail. A trial date has not yet been set. Until then, some of the most interesting questions—in particular who the gun belonged to and how it wound up in Spector's foyer at 5a.m.—remain unanswered. According to the police, the gun was registered to neither Spector nor Clarkson, and by the time authorities recovered it, the Colt Cobra .38-caliber revolver was wiped clean of fingerprints.

But perhaps the most puzzling question of all concerns the motive—or lack thereof.

Phil Spector had no prior relationship with Lana Clarkson. And according to crime scene records, Clarkson was wearing her purse when police found her slumped in the foyer. With Spector's driver waiting outside to ferry Clarkson home, it's hard to imagine a stranger ending to what began as an amicable evening.