No foul play in Chris Cornell death, police insist

George Hunter
The Detroit News

The Detroit homicide detective who investigated the death of Soundgarden frontman Chris Cornell insisted Friday that there were no signs of foul play, despite questions from those who continue to doubt that the rock star killed himself.

The late Chris Cornell, former frontman for Soundgarden, was nominated for best rock performance for "The Promise."

The Wayne County Medical Examiner’s Office ruled the death a suicide. City officials earlier this month released police and medical reports providing details about the investigation into Cornell’s May 18 hanging in Room 1136 of the MGM Grand Hotel.

That only prompted more questions — but Detroit Police investigator Charles Weaver told The Detroit News there are simple explanations for the perceived anomalies in the case.

FAQ in death of Soundgarden singer Chris Cornell

For instance, Weaver checked a box in his report stating Cornell’s cellphone wasn’t recovered, sparking widespread questions about what happened to it. Weaver said that only means the phone wasn’t taken into evidence.

“The phone wasn’t recovered; it was returned to Mrs. Cornell,” Weaver said.

Speculation that Cornell was slain has been rampant — and Thursday’s hanging death of Linkin Park lead singer Chester Bennington has fueled online claims that something sinister is afoot.

Chester Bennington

Bennington died on what would have been Cornell’s 53rd birthday. He was a close friend of Cornell’s and the godfather of his son. Bennington sang at Cornell’s funeral.

Fans, many of whom were already convinced Cornell’s death wasn’t self-inflicted, insist the timing of Bennington’s death is no coincidence.

“There is some kind of connection,” said fan Brenda Gill. “Something is for sure going on ... (there’s) some connection with Chester killing himself and being a close friend of Chris.”

After Cornell wrapped up a show at the Fox Theatre on May 17, his bodyguard, Martin Kirsten, reportedly called hotel security to report the rock star’s wife, Vicky, had asked him to check on her husband. She was concerned after talking to Cornell on the phone, and because he had not responded when she called back, Kirsten told investigators.

The bodyguard told Weaver he had given Cornell two sleeping pills in the singer’s room and gone back to his own room.

A short time later, Cornell called Kirsten and said his Apple TV wasn’t working. The bodyguard told the detective he arranged for a hotel employee to bring the remote needed to access the hotel’s network at “around 11:34 p.m.”

According to a police report, Kirsten went back to Cornell’s room at 12:15 a.m. According to the report, an MGM medic arrived at 12:56 a.m. and began CPR.

It’s unclear how long it took Kirsten to gain entry to Cornell’s room, although Weaver said he watched surveillance video of the bodyguard kicking the door open.

“Everything happened like he said it did,” Weaver said.

Kirsten told police when he tried to get into the room with his key card, he found the door locked from the inside. He said he called security, who denied him access to the room, so Kirsten said he kicked the door open.

When Kirsten found a door to the suite was also locked, he told police he alerted security again, and again kicked open the door when security refused to let him inside.

That prompted many to ask why hotel security wouldn’t let Kirsten into the room after he said Cornell’s wife was concerned for her husband’s well-being.

But hotel security staff rarely grant access to a guest’s room unless there’s convincing evidence of a medical emergency, said Daniel Kennedy, who teaches criminal justice and security administration at Oakland University.

“Having someone’s wife say she’s concerned isn’t enough,” he said. “If you go barging into someone’s room because his wife called and find him in bed with another woman, you’re setting yourself up for a lawsuit.

“There has to be convincing evidence there’s an emergency, and someone saying they’re concerned doesn’t meet that criteria.”

Law enforcement and medical experts say many of the questions about Cornell’s death stem from a misunderstanding of how investigations are conducted.

For instance, fans have pointed to alleged police scanner audio posted online in which an emergency technician is heard reporting Cornell had a wound on the back of his head. The News could not verify the authenticity of the audio.

But even if the audio is authentic, law enforcement and medical experts say information gleaned from police scanner traffic is often unreliable, since it’s the initial impressions of first responders.

Cornell’s autopsy, performed by the Wayne County Medical Examiner’s Office, did not mention a head wound.

“Maybe somebody spoke too soon; it happens,” said longtime pathologist Cyril Wecht, former medical examiner of Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, and chairman of the American Board of Legal Medicine board of trustees.

“If the head wound is not written up in the report or the autopsy, there’s your answer,” Wecht said. “It was most likely a simple mistake by the EMT.”

Wecht has been consulted in a number of high-profile deaths, most famously as the first civilian allowed to examine evidence at the National Archives on the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

The pathologist testified in 1978 before the House Select Committee on Assassinations that he disagreed with the Warren Commission’s finding that a single bullet killed Kennedy.

“With my work on JFK, I’m not one to dismiss conspiracies just because they don’t match the official story,” said Wecht, a former president of the American Academy of Forensic Science.

“But for someone to have paid off both the investigator and pathologist to omit a head wound from their reports … I don’t think even the CIA could do that.”

Weaver also stressed: “There was no head wound.”

Questions persist by some about the quick sequence of events between the end of the show and Kirsten’s attempt to enter Cornell’s room about an hour later.

Soundgarden fan Tony Bassett, who attended the show, estimated it ended between 11:15 and 11:20 p.m. Although some fans have posted on social media that Cornell acted strangely during the concert, Bassett said he seemed normal.

“I thought it was a great show; I can’t tell you he was acting any stranger than he always does,” said Bassett, who described himself as a “Soundgarden fan since the late ’80s, before anyone knew who they were.”

Bassett said his son is also a fan of the band. “I was going to take him to the show as an early 18th birthday present, but his high school baseball team had a makeup game, and he had to play,” he said.

“I told him, ‘Don’t worry; I’ll get you to another show.’ But there won’t be any more shows. He’s so upset.”