Sam Cooke’s 1964 Murder Case Needs Further Exploration

UNSPECIFIED – CIRCA 1970: Photo of Sam Cooke Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Sam Cooke died tragically on December 11, 1964, at the age of 33.

Cooke rescued himself from what he considered to be financial insolvency by leaving the Gospel industry, an industry that even in 2018 is still reputed to be outrageously frugal, for the more generous and profitable secular music industry. He admitted to Dick Clark when posed with the question, “Why did you leave Gospel?” responding “For financial reasons” Cooke also had greater plans and wanted to be a music industry executive.

At the time of his death, Sam Cooke was living in the Los Feliz section of Los Angeles. He entered the music industry at a time when it was completely ruled by corruption, broken legs, extremely shady deals, and beatings. It was a dangerous world that many in the gospel industry thought the former gospel singer was selling his soul for … some even prophesying his early demise.

The gospel industry didn’t see the bigger picture Cooke had in mind as his friend Lou Rawls stated, “Sam would have been the first Berry Gordy.” Cooke said to be an astute businessman, wanted to create a vehicle for other black singers to get out of being pigeonholed on the Billboard R&B charts and chitlin’ circuits and to make the money for the work they deserved. He himself crossed over in the days when very few Black artists had the opportunity. In addition, Cooke owned his work and masters and that didn’t sit well with some people according to elders in the industry.

Sam Cooke is Murdered

On the night that Sam Cooke was murdered, he had stopped by Lou Rawls’s house to visit and Lou’s newborn baby would not stop crying. Rawls stated Cooke picked the baby up and said “What’s wrong man?” but the baby continued to cry and Rawls stated his German Sheppard, who was always under the baby’s crib, got up and left when Cooke came by as if he knew something was wrong. Rawls’ mother later revealed to him that babies and animals have a keen sense of when someone is about to die or tragedy is about to occur.

Sam Cooke Portrait Session
Sam Cooke his wife Barbara Cooke on November 30, 1960 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Jess Rand/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

Rawls stated even after Sam Cooke left, his son would not stop crying and he told Sam he couldn’t go to PJs because he thought his son was sick. Sam stopped by Martoni’s Italian restaurant in the San Fernando Valley outside of Los Angeles first to meet friends for dinner and that’s where he spotted an attractive Asian woman sitting with three men by the name of Elisa Boyer who was 22 at the time.

Within no time Sam was cuddled up with Boyer in the booth, not much was said about the three men but Sam was with her and hanging out with some music industry people who were also there at the time.

It’s not clear if this or PJs is where he met up with the KDAY DJs. but he and Boyer eventually left and went to PJs. The bar was a hangout for entertainers in LA and Sam allegedly got into a heated argument with a few men in the club who were hitting on Boyer and Boyer stated she asked Sam to take her home around 2 am, knowing Sam was inebriated and agitated, instead of calling a cab, she willingly got in Cooke’s new Ferrari and she said he was speeding on the 101 Freeway.


She stated Sam got on the freeway against her repeated requests to take her home and was driving towards the hood to go to the well-known sleazy motel Hacienda Heights, notorious for one-night stands and one-hour rentals.

Sam Cooke and his wife were living separate lives because of the death of their youngest son who drowned in the family pool. Cooke blamed his wife Barbara but also felt guilty for not being there. The marriage was in shambles and there were reports of extramarital activity on both ends but the story continues to take more strange turns.

Once Sam Cooke and Boyer arrived at the hotel, Cooke got out of the car leaving Boyer alone, in the passenger seat, while he went to register for the hotel room. The clerk Bertha Franklin peered to the side of Cooke and saw Boyer in Cooke’s car and informed him that he would have to register as Mr and Mrs.

This was a pristine opportunity for Boyer to escape or to signal Franklin that she was in trouble unless they were working together. After all, Sam Cooke was registering for a sleazy hotel room? If she thought she was in danger as she later stated in the short trial wearing dark glasses on the stand during her testimony (something that would never be allowed today) why didn’t she use this opportunity to get away?

It appeared she was not telling the whole story. Cooke’s attorney barely had a chance to question her or anyone else as the trial was very brief and one-sided according to witnesses.

Boyer stated that Cooke dragged her into the room, while drunk, and took off his clothes and then he proceeded to take off her sweater and skirt leaving her on the bed with her bra and panties on. She stated she was sure he was about to rape her but then he stopped and went to the bathroom. Even women close to the situation on Sam’s behalf stated that’s not how situations like this go.

These were the days before rape kits and DNA so this part of the investigation was never completed and it was never determined if Cooke and Boyer had actually had sex. Cooke was always said to carry at least $2000 in cash in his wallet, which, in 1964, was like $20,000.

We’re talking about a time when the average rent for an apartment was $75.00 to $100.00 a month. Since he had been buying drinks and dinner and was inebriated there is no question Boyer saw the wad of cash he was carrying. However, after the murder took place and she left the pants on the street they found a money clip with a mere $108.00 and all of his credit cards were missing.

This makes no sense, if someone found a wallet full of cash on the street why would they leave $108.00 moreover still in the clip unless they wanted it to look like robbery was not a motive?  Boyer stated she grabbed her clothes and his when she ran out of the room when he went to the bathroom. If he disrobed first, wouldn’t her clothes have been easily accessible by being on top of his?

Cooke’s actions when he discovered his wallet and clothes were missing, upon returning from the bathroom, according to the desk clerk, a portly 55-year-old former madam by the name of Bertha Frankin, didn’t add up either. 

She stated he banged on the office door looking for the woman completely naked except for one shoe and a suit jacket?  Today the first thing that would be done is a toxicology report on Cooke’s blood and there is a very good chance it would have been discovered he was probably slipped a mickey or some other drug by his alleged bizarre actions. Wouldn’t even a drunk person wrap themselves in a sheet instead of walking to the office naked?

She stated he got physical with her and they fell to the floor, she was 30 pounds heavier than him and managed to wrestle herself away from the drunk Cooke and ran to grab the gun off of the top of the fridge and she shot at him three times. She missed twice but pierced his heart with the third bullet killing him. She stated her lunged at her one last time and she hit him with a broomstick?

Why not just shoot him again? His last words according to her “Lady, you shot me.” Franklin later smiled when asked to take a picture for the press after the murder (see photo)

Singer Etta James went to view Cooke’s corpse and immediately knew the whole story was not being told. She stated Sam was so badly beaten he was almost decapitated and both of his hands were bruised and completely crushed as if he had been in the fight for his life.

In addition, she said his nose was mangled. Some have speculated Sam was set up an robbed by Boyer and Franklin. In addition, Cooke was placed in a coffin with a glass top preventing people from touching him or examining why he had on heavy makeup.

Boyer was arrested just a few months after Cooke’s death for prostitution and she ended up getting arrested again for murdering her husband in 1979. No word on what happened to Bertha Franklin except that she moved because of numerous death threats. She turned around and sued Sam Cooke’s estate after killing him for $200,000 (like a million dollars in the 60s) for anguish and physical injuries that it took for her to kill him.

She was awarded $30,000 as a settlement. It is beyond evident there is a lot more to this story. Cooke would be 86 if he was still alive today.

Some speculate that Cooke’s former manager Allen Klien may have had some involvement in the situation. Klien had Cooke sign an agreement for a company he created called Tracey, LTD, named after Sam Cooke’s daughter that would allow Cooke to be spared of IRS scrutiny but that greatly benefited Klien as the owner of Sam’s work if he died. Sam’s wife Barbara ended up selling the remainder of Sam’s work to Klien.

Cook’s life and everybody involved with him were in shambles. His wife and he were living separate lives in their home in LA and were on the verge of divorce.

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His first wife died in a car accident. His mentee before he died, 21-year-old Bobby Womack, ended up marrying his wife, Barbara, just three months after his Cooke’s death in 1965, getting him blackballed in the industry.

Barbara allegedly found out Bobby and her then 18-year-old daughter by Cooke was having an affair in 1970 and she divorced him, then her daughter ended up marrying Womack’s younger brother Cecile and they formed the singing group Womack and Woman and had the hit single “Baby I’m Scared of You” in the 80s. Finally, Bobby lost several of his kids tragically as well and ended up with a severe cocaine habit in the 80s.

Sams former manager the late Allen Klien was a suspect in Sam’s Death by many of Sam’s friends. Sam had just found out that Klien had been allegedly stealing from him and the contract for Tracey Limited written by Klien for Sam’s publishing company was written to give all of Sam’s musical assets to Klien allegedly.

Sam was about to break off their partnership when he was killed. To this day, Allen Klien’s company ABCKO records is still releasing Sam’s music. Sam’s second wife Barbara was said to have gotten pennies at the time of his death while Allen Klien and his wife Betty got the bulk of Sam’s estate and masters.

ABCKO appears to be quite the interesting company. One such case would include ABKCO Music, Inc. v. Harrisongs Music, Ltd. Former Beatle George Harrison (under Harrison Interests) was sued by Bright Tunes Music Corporation over the similarities between Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord” and “He’s So Fine” (by The Chiffons), the rights of which were owned by Bright Tunes.

At the time, ABKCO was managing work released by Harrison, as well as other material by the Beatles, which meant that they were defendants in the case; that is, until ABKCO made a successful motion to acquire Bright Tunes and all of their copyrights, after years of negotiation.

Another lawsuit was then initiated by ABKCO against Harrison Interests over the similarities between “My Sweet Lord” and “He’s So Fine”. Eventually, the case was ruled as a copyright infringement on the part of Harrison, which resulted in him paying damages for the infringement; however, ABKCO was also found guilty of breaching their fiduciary duty by purchasing Bright Tunes with intimate knowledge of the defendant’s defense in the case, indicating that ABKCO was withholding the earnings from their acquisition, which was to be paid to Harrison Interests with interest. The decision was appealed by both parties, but the district court’s decision was upheld by the appellate court. source

Back to Sam Cooke…

Points to consider:

  • Was Sam set up by the two women and LED to the Hacienda for a trap where the 3 men who were at the bar were waiting in the room and beat Cooke to death?
  • Was Elisa Boyer one of Bertha Franklin’s whores
  • Who were the 3 men at the bar with Elisa
  • Why was money left in the clip?
  • What happened to the credit cards
  • Did Boyer take a lie detector test?
  • Are any of Boyer’s clothes still in evidence
  • Did Cooke’s manager Allen Klien have anything to do with the situation?


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