Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Death of Sam Cooke

Grab-and-Dash

Elisa Boyer, Sam Cooke's motel date on that night in 1964, said he drove fast and recklessly. She said she demanded to be taken home, but he ignored her.

That may be true, but she indicated no distress to clerk Bertha Franklin when she walked into the motel office while Cooke was paying.

Their room was at the rear, and Cooke drove around the building to park in front of their door. Once inside the motel room, the date went bad.

Cooke apparently got aggressive as he stripped Boyer to her underwear.

"I started talking very loudly: 'Please, take me home,'" Boyer later told police. "He pinned me on the bed. He kept saying, 'We're just going to talk.' ... He pulled my sweater off and ripped my dress... I knew he was going to rape me."

Boyer went into the bathroom. She said she planned to climb out the window, but it was locked.

Cooke barged in on her, she said, and, after another round of groping, she left the bathroom while the singer relieved himself.

When Cooke emerged moments later, Boyer was gone — along with his wallet and most of his clothing.

Cooke, dressed only in a sports jacket and shoes, jumped in his car and sped around to the front of the motel to try to find her. In his drunken rage, he assumed she had gone back to the office.

Cooke pounded on the locked glass door, bellowing, "Where's the girl?"

Franklin, who happened to be on the phone with the motel owner, went to the door and said she didn't know.

Bertha Franklin
Bertha Franklin

"He just kept saying, 'Where's the girl,'" Franklin later recounted. "I told him to get the police if he wanted to search my place. He said, 'Damn the police.'"

Cooke kicked his way through the door, seizing Franklin by the arms. He was a fit 33-year-old, and she was heavyset and 55.

"We got in a tussle," the woman told police. "We fell to the floor. I tried to bite him through that jacket."

Franklin broke free and fetched the .22 pistol she kept on hand. She pointed it at the intruder and squeezed the trigger three times. One of the shots pierced Sam Cooke's heart.

"Lady, you shot me!" he cried out — seemingly more out of surprise than pain.

When Cooke didn't succumb immediately, Franklin proceeded to beat him with a broom handle.

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