Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Death of Sam Cooke

A Star Is Dead

Evelyn Carr, the motel owner, was an earwitness to the shooting. She listened in as Franklin put down the phone and went to the door to deal with the drunken man.

After hearing the shots, Carr hung up and phoned police at about 3:15 a.m. "I think she shot him," Carr said.

Sam Cooke, as officers found him
Sam Cooke, as officers found him

Seven minutes earlier, police had received a call from Elisa Boyer from a phone booth a block from the motel. Boyer reported she had been kidnapped.

She said she escaped in her underwear and stopped in a stairwell to dress.

Police cars, with sirens wailing, raced to the scene, and officers found Sam Cooke dead. His Ferrari was still sitting outside the office, the driver's door open and the engine running.

A few minutes after police arrived, Elisa Boyer walked up and presented herself as the victim of the dead celebrity.

Police found a bottle of Scotch in the Ferrari. They also inventoried Cooke's property: a wristwatch, a money clip with $108, and some loose change.

A thin wallet in which Cooke carried credit cards and his driver's license was never found. Witnesses at Martoni's said he had a wad of perhaps $1,000. Police found no wad — just the bills neatly folded in the money clip.

They searched Boyer's purse but found only a single $20 bill. 

Barbara Cooke
Barbara Cooke

Barbara Cooke was shamed by the circumstances of her husband's demise, which made news from coast to coast. But she mounted a first-class farewell for him, including three full days of viewing in L.A. so his legion of fans could bid goodbye.

Thousands passed his casket, fitted with a plastic top to allow a final look at Sam Cooke. Many mourners pointed out the facial bruises from the broomstick whipping he took from Bertha Franklin.

The body was then flown to Chicago for a funeral in his adopted hometown. The Staple Singers sang "Old Rugged Cross," Billy Preston played an organ hymn, and Lou Rawls said goodbye to his friend with a tear-filled rendition of "Just a Closer Walk With Thee."

Cooke's remains were returned to Los Angeles for a second funeral at Mount Sinai Baptist Church that featured a musical tribute by Ray Charles.

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