Was James Brown murdered?

AS THOUSANDS of fans fi led past his open gold coffi n on the stage of New York’s famed Apollo Theatre, in his diamond-studded sky-blue suit, white gloves and silver shoes, music legend James Brown fi nally looked at peace.

The Godfather of Soul, who invented funk, befriended presidents but endured a deeply troubled personal life marred by drink, drugs, divorce and numerous arrests, had died at 73 on Christmas Day, 2006, of congestive heart failure – his family claimed. But almost fi ve years after his death a bitter battle still rages over his £70million fortune and the singer’s war-torn family was this week hit with the shocking claim that the music icon may have been murdered.

“James Brown did not die of a heart attack,” insists his former publicist Jacque Hollander, 56. “It was an ordered hit.”

Hollander hired leading private investigator Tina Church to probe the singer’s demise and the detective concluded: “There’s something fi shy here. I’m not going to point fi ngers at anyone but the evidence speaks for itself.”

Brown was active and in vigorous health until hospitalised a few days before his death complaining of abdominal pains, say friends. Always whirling and dancing across the stage he radiated energy and was working until his fi nal illness. But investigators now wonder if he had been poisoned.

The singer, who believed he had many enemies, was watched over by an aide in hospital who left the room for 25 minutes to run an errand – the perfect opportunity for an assassin to administer a lethal drug, Hollander believes. The aide returned to fi nd Brown had collapsed, dying minutes later. He was buried before an autopsy could be carried out and friends are calling for his body to be exhumed for toxicology tests to determine if he was murdered.

Hollander claims she has been in hiding after receiving death threats as her investigation threatened to expose a possible killer. “I am living in fear of my life because I’m the one who can bring forth the truth.”

Overshadowing her fears, Brown’s former son-in-law Darren Lumar was murdered in 2008 by a gunman who had lain in wait. He was slain days after telling a reporter: “There’s not a bone in my body that believes my father-in-law died from congestive heart failure.”

Lumar, 38, was shot fi ve times as he drove to his plush townhouse in a gated Atlanta suburb and the assassin was never found.

“I think it happened because he was going to tell the truth about what was done to James Brown,” says Hollander, who with Brown founded the I Feel Good Trust for needy children.

The trust is at the centre of the dispute that has torn Brown’s family apart. The singer left almost his entire estate, including his lucrative music rights and his 60-acre riverfront estate in Beech Island, South Carolina, to benefi t deprived children.

Royalties from future record sales and music licensing could add millions annually to the fortune. In his will Brown left his children only his personal possessions: clothes, jewellery, boats and cars. The will was written before his fourth marriage and Brown’s widow Tomi Rae Hynie was not included in the bequests, though she is fi ghting for her share.

Brown was inspired to help underprivileged infants after enduring a brutal childhood. Born in a one-room shack in backwoods South Carolina he was abandoned by his mother and entrusted to an aunt who ran a brothel in Augusta, Georgia. He recalled it was a den of “gambling, moonshine liquor and prostitution”.

As a boy he worked the streets for pennies, shining shoes and tap dancing and dropped out of school aged 12. He later blamed his troubled childhood for leading him to drug abuse, failed relationships and numerous arrests.

After visiting hospitals and raising money for sick children in the late- Eighties he was determined to use his fortune to help the less fortunate. “He spent a lot of time with one girl with spina bifi da,” says Hollander, who joined him on many trips. “After, he said, ‘I’m going to give them everything I have and touch their lives.’”

Known as The Hardest-Working Man In Showbusiness, Brown was never close to his children and in later years they had to make an appointment to see him. When he set up his trust he made it clear that his offspring were being left to fend for themselves.

“What about your children?” asked his long-time lawyer Buddy Dallas at a business meeting to discuss the trust in 1988.

“Don’t you ever tell me what to do with my money!” screamed Brown. “They will not ride on my back when I’m gone.”

However almost fi ve years after his death needy kids have not seen a penny. Brown’s seven children and Tomi Rae contested the will in a South Carolina court less than a month after he died.

The legal battle has spiralled into an all-out war with more than two dozen lawyers representing different factions fi ghting over the spoils. The litigation became so unwieldy that then state attorney general Henry McMaster forged a deal in 2009 splitting the estate between the trust and Brown’s family.

HOWEVER two years later no money has been paid out as legal appeals rage and the trust is losing millions in lawyers’ fees.

The settlement was condemned by Brown’s friends, including his lawyer Dallas who asks: “How do you argue against an irrevocable will that provides for needy children? Is that even an argument?”

An attorney for Brown’s children, however, claims that the singer received bad legal advice and did not understand what he was signing.

The fi ght over the fortune has sparked another ugly dispute over where the singer will spend eternity. Brown wanted to be buried at his home in South Carolina, hoping that it would become a museum and shrine like Elvis Presley’s Graceland mansion in Memphis, Tennessee. But his children have buried him in a temporary crypt on daughter Deanna’s property. Dallas laments: “Mr Brown’s not deserving of anyone’s back yard.”

Also buried might be millions more of his fortune. After losing his Augusta mansion, savings and several cars to the Internal Revenue Service in 1984 for failure to pay back taxes, he began hiding a small fortune under ground, claim insiders. The buried treasure could be yet another reason why Brown was murdered, says Hollander.

FOR his last appearance, lying in state at the Apollo Theatre where he made his 1956 debut, James Brown was the centre of a raucous celebration as his music blasted inside the auditorium and on the streets outside. He arrived in a carriage pulled by white horses, parading through 20 blocks of Harlem. For seven hours fans streamed past the casket. But it may have been his last moment of peace as the battle over his estate – and his possible murder – continues with no end in sight.

“As long as there’s a lawyer who can earn a fee,” warns Dallas, “this will go on.”

But if Brown’s body can be exhumed an autopsy might fi nally put to rest the mystery surrounding his death.


ONE of the 20th century’s most iconic musical fi gures, James Brown had hits that include Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag, Get Up and Please, Please, Please.

He transformed gospel music into rhythm and blues and from soul music created funk. But his personal life was shaken by numerous arrests and scandals over his boozing as well as weapons charges, drug abuse and ugly divorces.

Brown was fi rst jailed at the age of 16 for breaking and entering. He served three years imprisonment and was released on condition that he never return to Augusta, Georgia.

He spent more than two years in prison after a drug-fuelled car chase in 1987 (his fi fth drug arrest in 10 months). The singer was convicted of carrying an unlicensed gun, assaulting a police offi cer and in prison he was found with $40,000 in his cell.

He was arrested numerous times in the Nineties and Noughties for domestic violence and in 2000 was accused of attacking a repairman with a steak knife.

Brown abused drugs ranging from cocaine to PCP and attended drug rehab clinics more than a dozen times. He had owned radio stations, a private jet and a chain of restaurants but lost much of it through his self-destructive drives. Yet he rebuilt his fortune with relentless hard work and a lucrative catalogue of hits.

He was married four times, though his last marriage to Tomi Rae Hynie in 2002 is disputed because she was married at the time. He had seven legitimate children and may have had up to three illegitimate ones.


Was James Brown Murdered?
Peter Sheridan
September 16, 2011