Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Death of Sam Cooke

The Inquest

Elisa Boyer testifies at the hearing
Elisa Boyer testifies at the hearing

Both Bertha Franklin and Elisa Boyer were scrutinized in the death. But as one newspaper account put it, "The police said the stories told by the women were substantiated by lie-detector tests." The coroner held a hearing five days after the slaying, presenting evidence to seven jurors as Cooke's father and widow sat in the audience.

Boyer retold her story: She met Cooke in a bar and left with him, expecting to be taken home. Instead, he drove to the motel and "dragged me into that room."

Likewise, Franklin reprised her account of the confrontation with Cooke. Motel owner Carr and two guests at the Hacienda added insignificant details.

In just two hours, the testimony was complete.

When an attorney hired by the Cooke family tried to inquire about what Boyer did for a living, a prosecutor snapped, "We are not concerned with the occupation of the girl."

The jurors took 15 minutes to rule the shooting justifiable to "protect life, limb and property."

Elisa Boyer
Elisa Boyer

Yet the issue of Boyer's occupation soon became pertinent.

During publicity about the slaying, the press had referred to Boyer as a "Eurasian vocalist."

But on January 11, 1965, exactly a month after Cooke was shot, Boyer was arrested for prostitution at a Hollywood motel after agreeing by phone to have sex with an undercover cop for $40.

The prostitution charge against Boyer was eventually thrown out of court as entrapment, and the woman slipped into anonymity. Boyer claimed she had inadvertently taken Cooke's clothing in her rush to get out of the room. If her motive was robbery, why would she have stopped to call police?

Perhaps she was terrified.

We'll never know Sam Cooke's side of the story. It was lost forever as he was lowered into a grave in the "Garden of Honor" at Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery, just a few miles from the singer's home.