Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Brian Jones: Death of a Rolling Stone

"Cold As Ice"

When Brian Jones had finally made his way back to London, he was an emotional wreck, and it didn't help to find his apartment half empty. Anita Pallenberg had moved all her belongings out and taken up residence with Keith Richards. Jones begged her to come back, but she refused.

Brian Jones & Anita Pallenberg
(Courtesy Anita Pallenberg

The other Rolling Stones were fed up with Jones and wouldn't speak to him. They seriously considered firing him, but Mick Jagger objected. Always the pragmatist, Jagger felt that they still needed Jones, at least for the time being. They needed money badly, especially Jagger and Richards, who were facing tremendous legal bills with their upcoming drug trial. The Stones were scheduled to do a European tour, and Jagger felt that their popularity might be jeopardized if Jones, who was still a favorite with the teenage girls, was missing.

Jones didn't want to go on tour with them. He was fed up with them as well. He also claimed to have forgotten how to play the guitar as a result of the psychic damage he'd suffered. But Pallenberg lured him back, holding out the slight possibility that they could get back together if he took care of himself and got back into shape. Jones agreed to do the tour and started taking guitar lessons.

He managed to survive the tour, even though none of his bandmates would speak to him. All along he had hoped for a reconciliation with Pallenberg, but she stayed with Richards. Caught in a swirl of drugs, alcohol and paranoia, Jones went into a tailspin. His mood swings became more pronounced, and the band could not count on him to show up for rehearsals or recording sessions. And when he did show up, he was useless to them, frequently falling asleep on the floor, seldom contributing anything substantial to the music.

By the spring of 1969, the band had to make a decision. If they were going to survive as a band, they needed to tour, and to tour they needed a reliable lead guitarist. Mick Jagger took the initiative and offered the position to a young blues virtuoso named Mick Taylor, who would end up staying with the Stones for the next five and a half years. There was just one little matter to take care of — firing Brian Jones.

On June 9, Jagger and Richards drove to Cotchford Farm, Jones' home in Sussex, to hand him his pink slip. Mick and Keith weren't happy being the hatchet men, but they knew it had to be done. Jones, for his part, had expected something like this, and he took the news placidly, agreeing to let them handle questions from the press whichever way they thought best. In recognition of his past contributions to the band, Jagger offered Jones 100,000 pounds upon his departure and 20,000 a year for as long as the band stayed together. After Jagger and Richards left Cotchford Farm, Jones went out into the garden and stood before the statue of Christopher Robin, weeping.


Jones had a new live-in girlfriend, Anna Wohlin, a dark-haired beauty from Sweden who had belonged to a dance troupe called the Ravens. In her 1999 book, The Murder of Brian Jones, she describes Jones as being in a good place mentally in the summer of 1969, despite his recent dismissal from the band. Out of fear for his health, he had cut back drastically on his drug consumption and was mainly confining himself to his favorite white wine, Blue Nun. He was working on his music again, even talking to Beatle John Lennon about making some recordings together.

The Murder of Brian Jones

Jones was also having some major renovations done at Cotchford Farm, and he had allowed the crew foreman, Frank Thorogood, to live in the apartment over the garage. Although Thoroughgood had previously done some work for Keith Richards and was on the Stones' payroll, he and his crew resented Jones, seeing him as the model of a dandy rock star, too rich for his own good. They harassed Jones in his own home, and Jones, who was desperate to be liked, never complained or retaliated. But an incident on July 1 finally roused Jones' anger.

After dinner that night, a newly restored support beam in the kitchen collapsed, nearly striking Anna Wohlin in the head. Jones was livid. Though he'd been unhappy with the quality of Thoroughgood's work all along, he'd kept quiet about it, but this was inexcusable. The next morning he told Thoroughgood in no uncertain terms that he was withholding all further payments until the beam was fixed to his satisfaction. He was also going to review all of Thoroughgood's bills, including his grocery bills, which Jones was also paying. When Thoroughgood refused to take Jones seriously, Jones threatened to fire him and make sure that he never worked again. The 44-year-old Thoroughgood suddenly became very sullen. He did not take kindly to being dressed down by a 27-year-old fop.

While Thoroughgood's crew went to work on the fallen beam, Jones sequestered himself upstairs. He heard the busy hammering downstairs and started to feel bad about how he had talked to Thoroughgood. His guilt festered through the day, and Jones couldn't stand the thought that Thoroughgood might be upset with him. He discussed the situation repeatedly with his girlfriend Wohlin. Finally at 10 p.m, he decided to ask Thoroughgood over for "a drink and a swim" to make things right with him. Jones went to Thoroughgood's apartment to fetch him.

Frank Thorogood

They returned 15 minutes later with Thoroughgood's companion that evening, a nurse named Janet Lawson. (Thoroughgood was married to someone else.) Jones served drinks in the dining room. Thoroughgood, who was still sulking, asked for vodka. Jones drank brandy.

Jones tried to patch things up with Thoroughgood but with limited success. After a while Jones suggested that they take a moonlight swim. Thoroughgood and Wohlin took him up on the offer while Lawson declined. The air outside was still warm and humid despite the late hour as they crossed the lawn to the pool. As always Jones placed his inhaler by the side of the pool where he could get to it in case of an asthma attack, then went straight to the diving board and dove in. Jones was an excellent swimmer who loved the water. When the Stones had toured Australia, he'd given his bandmates a good scare when he swam out into the ocean in rough waters, going out more than a mile. He couldn't be seen from the shore, and the others were sure that he had drowned. He swam back without trouble and laughed at their concern as he toweled himself off.

Pool at Cotchford Farm

In the pool Wohlin noticed that Thoroughgood's mood hadn't improved, but Jones was feeling mischievous. He swam underwater, grabbed Thoroughgood by the ankles, and pulled him under. Thoroughgood didn't find Jones' antics funny, but Jones continued to tease him, calling him "old man," which hit a nerve with Thoroughgood. As Jones swam by, Thoroughgood lunged and dunked Jones' head under the water. Jones came up coughing and laughing. He thought they were having fun.

Janet Lawson called to Anna Wohlin from the house; she was wanted on the phone. The women went inside, leaving the men alone in the pool.

Some time later while Wohlin was on the phone with a friend, she heard Lawson screaming from outside, "'Anna! Anna! Something's happened to Brian!'"

Wohlin rushed downstairs and found Frank Thoroughgood dripping wet in the kitchen, trying to light a cigarette. His hands were shaking, and he wouldn't make eye contact with her. She ran outside, passing Lawson, and looked into the still pool. Jones was "lying spread-eagled on the bottom."

She dove in and tried to pull him to the surface, but he kept slipping out of her grip. She yelled to Thoroughgood for help. He came, but took his time getting there, she said. He sat on the edge and slipped into the water, then helped Wohlin get Jones out of the pool. As they turned Jones onto his chest, Wohlin noticed that Thoroughgood wasn't shaking anymore. His manner was "cold as ice."

Lawson ran over to help. After getting the water out of his lungs, they turned Jones onto his back. Lawson massaged his heart as Wohlin administered CPR, or the "kiss of life" as she called it. They worked on him without stop. Wohlin thought she felt him faintly squeezing her hand at one point, but by the time an ambulance arrived, Jones was dead.

At 2 a.m. word of Jones' death reached the Rolling Stones at Olympic Studios in London where they were recording a Stevie Wonder song, "I Don't Know Why." The band fell into stunned silence, sitting on the floor, some of them lighting up joints. Drummer Charlie Watts quietly cried.

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