On September 19th, 1973, Gram Parsons was found dead from an apparent drug overdose in his room at the Joshua Tree Inn at Joshua Tree National Park. The location was a favorite spot of his and would frequent there often to just relax and escape LA life while also seeking out UFOs under the influence of drugs. Parsons had been staying at Joshua Tree with his girlfriend Margaret Fischer, his assistant Michael Martin, and Martin’s girlfriend Dale McElroy in preparation for his upcoming tour in October.
At the Hotel
After arriving at the hotel, Gram began consuming alcohol and especially drugs, which he was clean from during his previous tour. Two days after arriving, Parsons had overdosed after injecting himself with liquid Morphine, but Fischer was able to revive him by giving him an “ice cube suppository” to jolt his body back. When he seemed to be recovering, Parsons went back to his room in Room 8 and went to sleep, only to have difficulty breathing. His friends called an ambulance to take Parsons to Hi-Dessert Memorial Hospital where he would, unfortunately, be pronounced dead. His autopsy results listed his cause of death as “Drug toxicity” as a combination of drugs was found in his system such as heroin, cocaine, and alcohol.
Parson’s stepfather Bob, had made arrangements for his stepson to be buried in New Orleans so that in accordance with Louisiana law, Gram would officially be a resident of Louisiana, thus making Bob Parsons eligible to be in charge of Gram’s estate.
Parson’s Manager Phil Kaufman knew Gram would’ve hated the whole ordeal and remembered a promise he had made to him just a few months earlier at the funeral of Parson’s former band mate, Clarence White. While attending the funeral, the two men commented that White wouldn’t have wanted his funeral to be “that kind of high-mass Catholic funeral with all that mumbo jumbo.” Parson’s allegedly told Kaufman “This is bullshit. If I die I want somebody to have a few beers, take me out to the desert and burn my body.”
Fast forward to September of 1973…
Kaufman and Michael Martin found out that Parson’s body was at LAX Airport and made their way to the airport while driving a borrowed hearse, heavily intoxicated. The two men were able to convince a few Western airline employees that the Parsons family changed their mind and instead wanted the body to be shipped privately from Van Nuys Airport. Under the faux name “Jeremy Nobody”, Kaufman signed release papers and loaded the coffin into the hearse before driving over 200 miles from LAX to Joshua Tree. Once they had arrived at Joshua Tree, they opened Parsons’ coffin, poured 5 gallons of gasoline on his body, tossed a match, and lit his body on fire. After this DIY “cremation”, Kaufman and Martin went back to LA to sleep off their drunken state.
Back at Joshua Tree
Meanwhile back at Joshua Tree at 9 AM, campers reported to park authorities about seeing something being burned and a body bag belonging to Western Airlines being found. Visitors also told the police they had seen a hearse being driven by two men. Upon investigation of these claims, the partially cremated body of Gram Parsons and his smoldered coffin were found with only 35 pounds of Parsons’s body remaining. Mugshots were drawn of the suspects and were shown to witnesses at LAX where Kaufman and Martin were identified and arrested.
There was no law about the theft of a corpse, so the charges Kaufman and Martin were charged with were “Misdemeanor theft” and thus were fined $300 dollars and charged $708 dollars for funeral home expenses. The whole body heist was coined as “Kaufman’s Koffin Kaper Koncert” and what was left of Parsons was eventually sent to Louisiana and buried outside of New Orleans. Bob Parsons did not inherit his stepson’s estate and was given to Parsons’ wife, daughter, and sisters. Although Parsons was eventually buried in Louisiana, a fan-made memorial site can currently be seen at the Joshua Tree Inn right outside of Room 8 at the inn’s courtyard.
A fictionalized account of “Kaufman’s Koffin Kaper Koncert” was the subject of the film “Grand Theft Parsons” which starred Johnny Knoxville, of Jackass fame, as Phil Kaufman. The casting is fitting as the whole scenario sounded like something the Jackass crew would’ve come up with as an elaborate prank. Although it is not recommended to steal and attempt to cremate a body using a match and gasoline, I strongly believe this whole scenario was done just so Gram Parsons can have the final goodbye he was promised by his close friend. There were good intentions, but the execution was horribly botched and because of that, Gram Parsons is remembered for his life but maybe not as much as he was remembered for his death.
Featured Image courtesy of Reprise Records, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons