At 4:10 pm on Sunday 17th April, 1960 Edward Ray Cochran of 5339, Priory Street, Bell Gardens, California, USA passed away at St Martin's Hospital, Bath. The later autopsy at the hospital carried out by Dr C. D. Cross found that the injuries found were consistent with having been involved in a traffic accident.
The casualty officer Dr D.W. Pilton was on duty in the casualty department of the hospital at about 1am on that Sunday, when four injured people who were involved in a traffic accident were brought in. He examined the most seriously injured male and concluded that his condition was extremely dangerous.
Although externally there were a few injuries, abrasions and bruises on the left side of the face, the patient was deeply unconscious and careful examination and tests indicated possibly severe brain damage.
His condition rapidly worsened in the early hours and Dr Cash, a consultant, was immediately sent for.
Later, discussions took place with Mr. Phillips, a Neuro Surgeon at Frenchay Hospital in Bristol, but due to the very poor condition of the patient it was not advisable to transfer him.
Despite all the valiant efforts of the doctors and nurses, Eddie Cochran slipped away. Instead of being 3 hours into a much longed for plane flight back home across the Atlantic to a happy family reunion with his beloved mother and a recording session with Snuffy Garret, Eddie's all too brief life ebbed away in a hospital on a foreign shore.
The casket finally arrived in LA on Saturday April 23rd. Eddie was laid to rest at Forest Lawn Memorial Park near Buena Park on Monday 25th April at 10am. His parents Alice and Frank Cochran, his brothers and sisters were joined by some 250 mourners for the service lead by the Rev C Sumner Reynolds of the Maywood Methodist Church. Eddie's devastated brothers Bob and Bill sent a wreath of red and white carnations shaped like a guitar. Amongst the mourners was Mrs Conception Valens, mother of Eddie's pal Ritchie.
The family words inscribed on Eddie's tomb read, "If mere words can console us for the loss of our beloved Eddie then our love for him was a false love." Cherished memories indeed.
After the final encore (possibly the song My Babe) at the end of a first UK tour, Gene and Eddie grinned broadly at each other and with arms around each other's shoulders thought of the long awaited break ahead. For Gene, a week playing in Paris where he was revered even more than Elvis, and for Eddie, the comforts of family and home, new songs to be recorded, according to CashBox in March there was talk of an appearance on the Ed Sullivan show too and then a reunion for another ten week conquest of the UK theatres.
Back in March, Fosters Agency in Piccadilly London had added several week-long runs at several UK theatres ending with a week at the Bristol Hippodrome. Eddie was being paid a then princely $1000 dollars a week although he spent a fortune on trans-Atlantic phone calls home to Alice and family.
The tour had originally had been triggered by Gene Vincent's triumphal arrival in December 1959 and some mesmeric TV appearances inspired by the genius of rock tv producer Jack Good. Good had asked Fosters agency to get some hot rocking US stars for his new ITV tv show. Good's show Boy Meets Girl were thrilled when US agent Norm Riley told Fosters that he could supply Gene, Eddie and Ronnie Hawkins. Eddie duly arrived in the UK on Sunday January 10th 1960, to join the Larry Parnes promoted Gene Vincent Show.
January 16th, 23rd, February 20th and 27th saw the transmission of Eddie's UK tv performances, captured for us on the epoch making On The Air UA lp in the mid 70s. The Vincent/Cochran tour commenced at the Gaumont Ipswich, East Anglia on January 24th. A vibrant appearance at the NME Poll Winners concert at the Empire Pool Wembley on February 20th was forever captured in time by photographer Harry Hammond's evocative shots of our heroes on stage (just check out the cover of Rockstar's fantastic R n R Heroes lp of BBC radio's Saturday Club recordings from February 16th and 23rd). Rockstar also have a radio version of C'Mon Everybody from the Parade of The Pops Show on Ep2013.
The tour played in Scotland, Wales and several English cities. The booklets to the various box sets and several fanzines have some great descriptions of various tour shows by fans like Pete Jamieson and Jim Newcombe lucky enough to have been there. Fosters had applied to the Home Office in mid February for special permission for the American stars to extend their original tour dates. Week long bookings in Leeds, Birmingham, Liverpool, Newcastle, Manchester, Finsbury Park London and finally Bristol. Sharon Sheeley flew into London in early April to be with Eddie for her 20th birthday on April 4th.
For the Bristol Hippodrome shows commencing on April 11th, the stars settled in at the local Royal Hotel. It had been a lengthy gruelling tour but Eddie perked up when Patrick Thompkins (deputizing for tour manager Hal Carter) knocked at his door on the morning of Saturday April 16th with his fight tickets for the following day. Eddie was to leave Heathrow airport for the promised land at 1pm Sunday 17th April. The travel arrangements made for getting him to London were now in place.
The stars wanted to leave immediately after the show to rest in London before going on to the airport in the afternoon. There were probably no late night trains to London over the Easter holiday so a local cab company was booked apparently well in advance.
Several myths have sprung up over the years about the fateful final journey and what supposedly happened on that Saturday night in the west country. Reports in old pop/movie magazines here and in the US paint a heavily romanticized picture, local rumors darken the waters further, thick fog, Eddie singing California Here I Come, marriage proposals, denials, final words, burst tyres, lifts offered, drunk driver etc etc etc.
We shouldn't be amazed at all this, look at the widely ranging versions of Diana's death crash in recent years. Recently there have been minutely detailed investigative books reporting on the tragic deaths of Elvis, Buddy and James Dean to help us separate fact from conjecture. Whilst I don't have sufficient skills or background knowledge to attempt a definitive account of Eddie's death I will base the following on the concise official findings that Bill Beard has unearthed (as did he the information in the opening section of this account).
George William Thomas Martin of Blackthorn Road, Bristol was the eager young cab driver hired for the late night journey. Sharon Sheeley recalls confetti in the car and the driver saying it had been used for a wedding that afternoon.
Patrick Thompkins sat in the front passenger seat with the 3 Americans in the back. Gene may have nodded off probably due to his recent show closing xertions in the hot black leather suit. Sharon recalls being frightened by the reckless speed of the car as it roared out of the lights of Bristol to join the main road to London. On through Bath (where Eddie's final journey would end) to the outskirts of the small Wiltshire market town of Chippenham.
Keeping his wits about him Patrick noticed the driver had taken a wrong turning and was heading back towards Bath, he told the driver this and the fateful chain of events unfolded.
Trying to turn or stop too quickly the young driver may have lost control of the car and a deadly skid began. Here are some of the words in the official Wiltshire Constabulary report written at Chippenham police station, for the Official Coroner on the 18th of April, by PC 476 R. S. McIntyre.
"Fatal Accident at Bath Road, Chippenham at 11.50 pm 16th April 1960"At 12 midnight Saturday 16th April 1960 I was called to the scene of the accident. At 12:07 am Sunday 17th April I arrived at the scene. I found that a cream coloured Ford Consul Saloon Motor Car reg no. RBO 869 travelling from Bath along the A4 towards the direction of Chippenham was the only involved vehicle and that it had not been moved prior to my arrival.
I took its position the vehicle being on the driver's near side facing obliquely towards the crown of the road and in the direction of Chippenham. The rear near side of the vehicle was tight into the driver's near side kerb. The rear near side of the vehicle was extensively damaged - the near side doors being smashed and the rear window torn out - the rear of the car being completely twisted.
I examined the road and found skid marks commencing on the Bath side of the location and extending for 50 yards. These marks veering over to the driver's offside of the road and then back to the driver's near side. I found traces of paint on a lamp standard located on the driver's near side kerb - this paint being cream in colour.
The width of the road was 30 ft, there being a pavement on either side. The location is a gentle rising left hand bend when travelling towards Chippenham and is well inside the built up area. The weather was fine and the road dry.
The occupants of the car were all taken to the Chippenham Cottage hospital and later transferred to St Martin's Hospital Bath, where the deceased die during the afternoon of the 17th April 1960.
Driver George Martin was uninjured. The other passengers in the car being Sharon Sheeley (aged 20), Gene Vincent Craddock (aged 25) both US citizens under the care of Fosters Agency and Patrick Thomkins (aged 29), these persons being detained at St Martin's.
The deceased is a US Citizen and was by profession a well known "Rock and Roll" Singer. His personal manager is a Mr Riley of Room 212 Stafford Court Hotel, Mayfair, London. Mr Riley may be called to give evidence of identification."
A full covering report together with a plan, photos, and statements was forwarded to the coroner. This has not yet been made public (if it still exists) but don't bet on Bill unearthing it one day.
As a former bobby's son the precise language of the PC's report tell us what it was like on that dark lonely street. Local resident and eye witness Mrs recalls the street lights staying on (they should have gone out at midnight) until the ambulance was loaded and then extinguishing as if in final tribute to the dying young man.
Eddie went home one last time, the scars both physical and mental remained with Gene until his own untimely and wasteful demise and Sharon's sense of loss is obvious to anyone who meets her or sees her interviewed as on last year's HTV Cherished Memories tv programme where she bravely revisited both the Chippenham crash site and St Martin's hospital where she lay in unbearable mental and physical pain in 1960.
One final sad official note to close this tragic tale, on June 29th 1960,the Clerk of Assize in Bristol wrote to the Official Coroner saying that "On the 24th of June, George William Thomas Martin was convicted of causing the death of Edward Ray Cochran by the driving of a motor vehicle at a dangerous speed and was fined fifty pounds. He was disqualified from driving for a period of 15 years. In default of payment of the above fine it was ordered that he undergo imprisonment for a period of 6 months".
I've been a fan of Eddie's since 1961 and this account is easily the hardest thing I've ever written about. Hopefully it will add to our understanding of the circumstances surrounding the events of that last ride.
Time to play an Eddie album me thinks, " Eddie Cochran, I'll always remember you with a tear in my eye."
Special thanks to Bill Beard for his commitment to Eddie, Darrel Higham for keeping the flame alive, Tony Barrett, Derek Glenister, Rob Finnis, Stu Colman, Pete Morgan, Mick Miriams and Alan Clark for their inspiration over the years.
This piece is taken from issue 4 (March 2000) of The Cochran Connection magazine published by kind permission of editor Bill Beard. Information about the magazine can be found at http://cochranconnection.cjb.net - Bill Beard is always on the look out for contributions on Eddie, contact him o n: firstname.lastname@example.org