Iberia Airways flight number IB504 en route from Palma, Mallorca to London Heathrow on 5th March 1973 never reached its destination. It collided with another plane over France and exploded in midair killing all the crew and passengers. One of the 68 victims was Mike Jeffery who once owned Newcastle’s legendary Club a’Gogo and later managed Jimi Hendrix. Mike Jeffery’s recorded death occurred 29 months and 16 days after the death of Hendrix.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of Jimi Hendrix’s death in September 1970. As the September date approaches there’s likely to be a fresh batch of books published, films released and TV programs aired about the life and, in particular, the death of Jimi Hendrix. Author Mick Wall was ahead of the game by publishing a new Hendrix biography called “Two Riders Were Approaching” in October last year. The opening chapter of the book recounts the last hours and seconds of Hendrix’s life. The true cause of Jimi Hendrix’s death has been the subject of speculation for decades. Was it suicide, an accident or even murder? Mick Wall’s account is quite specific. “Mike” and a couple of his heavies follow Hendrix and his girlfriend, Monika Dannemann back from a party to her flat. They gain access to the flat and rough up Hendrix a little before ejecting Dannemann. After more physical violence, red wine is forced into Hendrix’s lungs until he drowns.
Mick Wall’s account of Jimi Hendrix’s death may be a flight of fantasy but it’s not new. The murder of Jimi Hendrix by his manager, Mike Jeffery first made the national news in 2009 when James “Tappy” Wright, a former employee of Jeffery, revealed in his autobiography that Jeffery had confessed to the murder some 36 years earlier. However, until the appearance of Mick Wall’s book, I hadn’t seen this murder scenario told in any other Jimi Hendrix biography.
Because of conflicting accounts by so-called witnesses the true facts about Hendrix’s death have never been clear. As time goes by, with key players dying off, it’s becoming less likely that we’ll ever know what really happened in the flat of Hendrix’s girlfriend, Monika Dannemann at the Samarkand Hotel, London on 18th September 1970.
What we do know about Hendrix is that he died in the presence of at least one other person who knew who he was. The death is undisputed – only the cause. The same can’t be said about Mike Jeffery whose death, because of the extraordinary circumstances, was unwitnessed. Furthermore, his body was so disfigured that a proper identification was not possible.
Perhaps you may have come across an 87 year-old man like the man in the photograph (below left) whilst holidaying in the Bahamas, the Balearic Islands or maybe another Mediterranean destination. He would have all the trappings of a wealthy man – the gold jewelry, Rolex watch and expensive clothes. He’d probably have a female companion at least twenty years younger than himself at his side. The most recognisable feature would be a strong aroma of expensive after-shave, Acqua Di Parma, his preferred fragrance since the 1960’s. This is what Mike Jeffery may look like today had he not been aboard flight IB504.
Is there any doubt that Mike Jeffery did actually die on the fated Iberian Airways Douglas DC9, which collided with another Spanish plane over the Vendee area in western France? Everything points to a catastrophic accident with Jeffery being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Furthermore, it would be beyond comprehension to think that the downing of the Douglas DC9 was anything but an accidental collision between two aeroplanes, even though unexplained military coloured paint traces were found on the surviving plane parts.
But if Mike Jeffery was not on board flight IB504 it’s not implausible that he would use the disastrous events to his advantage. After all, he’d learned a trick or two as a member of the British Secret Service in the shadowy world of ‘cold war’ Trieste. His training and his dealings with communist agents would have left him well versed in the art of deception. More recently he’d been ducking and diving with the Mafia over huge debts, problems that would go away if everyone thought he was dead. This could have been Jeffery’s big chance to relax anonymously and live off the millions he’d secretly creamed off Hendrix and The Animals – money he’d stashed away in hidden Bahamian bank accounts and other locations. In short, a tragic set of circumstances and a stroke of luck may have presented Mike Jeffery with a ‘Reginald Perrin’ opportunity.
Let’s go back to the weekend of 3rd and 4th March 1973 and why Mike Jeffery was travelling to and from the island of Mallorca. In the previous week he‘d been arrested and remanded on a warrant because he’d earlier failed to appear in Court on charges relating to a drugs case. His lawyer applied for bail, which was granted. On 2nd March the lawyer asked for an extension to the bail. Jeffery, as the former manager of Jimi Hendrix, was a fairly high profile showbiz person who may well have been in line for a custodial sentence in order to set an example to others. The extension was granted on condition that his passport was surrendered. Jeffery’s legal representative argued that the passport was needed for a short weekend business trip to Mallorca where his client owned several night clubs. Against all odds the judge agreed to the request. He was no doubt unaware that Jeffery was making arrangements to start a new life on the Spanish island and was in the final stages of buying a castle at the costal resort of Banyalbufar. There were no extradition arrangements with Spain at the time so the risk of Jeffery not returning to Court to face trial and possible imprisonment was quite substantial. In other words there was a strong chance that Jeffery would skip bail and not return to the UK at all.
On arrival in Mallorca Mike Jeffery visited his proposed new home at Banyalbufar. He also met up with his assistant, Trixi Sullivan and conducted some business with her in connection with the Jimi Hendrix estate.
Michael Jeffery was due to return to the UK on Iberia Airways flight IB504 from Son Sant Joan airport, Palma, Mallorca on the morning of 5th March 1973. It’s well documented that Jeffery had a morbid fear of flying. According to some sources he would book seats on several flights ahead of his proposed journeys and in an attempt to cheat fate, he would gamble on which flight to take before departure time. However, there is no evidence to suggest that he had more than one flight booked on 5th March. But did he have a sixth sense about the fate of flight IB504 and decide at the airport not to fly that day?
If he did miss the flight, the most likely scenario is that he had no intention of returning to the UK to face trial and a potential prison sentence. So the trip to Mallorca a few days earlier could have been a planned start to his new life on the island known only to him and a few associates. We know that a passport for Michael Jeffery was found on the crash site in France but could Jeffery have given the passport, one of many he possessed, to someone to travel back to the UK using his identity in order to lay a false trail and stall for time? According to Kathy Etchingham, a long-term girlfriend of Jimi Hendrix, another man was due to fly back to the UK with Mike Jeffery on 5th March 1973. That person didn’t appear on the list of passengers issued by Iberia Airways after the crash.
Flight IB504, a Douglas DC-9 took off from Son Sant Joan airport, Palma at 11.24 heading for Heathrow. The planned flight path would take the plane over France to the English Channel and then on to the south coast of England. In March 1973 French air traffic controllers were on strike. Military personnel had been drafted in to cover their role. A lot of airlines were avoiding French air space and were taking longer routes as a precaution. However, Iberia Airways chose to put their trust in the military air traffic controllers and were sticking to their scheduled routes.
Whilst the DC-9 was in flight, a chartered Convair Coronado passenger plane owned by the Spanish airline company Spantax took off from Madrid at 12.01 headed for London. This plane was also routed through French air space.
Just before 12.30pm both the pilot of the DC-9 and the pilot of the Coronado reported to air traffic control that they estimated their respective flights would reach Nantes in western France at 12.52. Military air traffic control attempted to put time and space between the DC-9 and Coronado by issuing instructions regarding height and speed. Poor communications led to misunderstandings and these misunderstanding led to errors by one or both pilots. Unable to communicate with the controllers, the pilot of the Coronado decided to make an unauthorized manoeuver in order to delay his arrival over Nantes.
At 12.52 the pilot of the Coronado felt a significant jolt and struggled to control his plane, which was starting to dive. What he didn’t know was that the wing of his plane had collided with the Douglas DC-9 causing an explosion that had torn the other plane apart over La Planche, 25 kilometers south of Nantes.
Residents of the small village of La Planche reported hearing an explosion and seeing a red streak of light before bodies and aeroplane parts came raining down in thousands of pieces. One woman reported; “We heard a frightful noise. I looked up and saw the sky streaked with dozens of torches while the flaming fuselage crashed less than a kilometer from my house.”
The explosion took place at around 29,000 feet (5 miles). Bodies turned into blocks of ice as they fell and then shattered on impact with the ground. Some were decapitated while others lost limbs. Loose clothing was stripped away during the descent. Initially, the mayor of La Planche was landed with the grisly job of organising the collection of what was left of the passengers and crew. This was done using a tractor and trailer. The corpses and body parts were taken to the corner of a field where they were covered over. They were later placed in makeshift coffins. After some time, the villagers and the gendarmerie from the larger, nearby village of Aigrefeuille came to the aid of the mayor. One villager later commented that dead bodies with fractured bones weren’t easy to carry.
When the human remains had been recovered from the crash site, which included fields, gardens and ponds, the mayor had the task of trying to identify the casualties from a list of passengers and aircrew supplied by Iberia Airways. During his investigation, the mayor concluded that a faceless torso stripped of most of its clothing was probably that of a Michael Jeffery from London. Not long after, Gerry Stickells, who worked for Mike Jeffery as a road manager for Hendrix was contacted. He confirmed that the remains were that of his employer. Stickells neither saw the actual body nor a photograph. He made his judgment from some jewelry he was shown.
Did Gerry Stickells have any reason to lie about the identity of the body? Only if he knew Mike Jeffery was still alive and that this lie would help to cover up shocking events that had happened two and a half years earlier.
You’ll recall from the opening paragraphs above that the latest Jimi Hendrix biography opens by describing Jimi’s murder by Michael Jeffery and some associates. But let’s forget about that for now. Monika Dannemann gave evidence at Jimi Hendrix’s inquest about the circumstances leading to the death. She said that in September 1970 that on the night before Hendrix died they had drunk some wine. Dannemann said when she woke up on the morning of his death it was not immediately obvious that anything was wrong with the guitarist. “He was still sleeping, and so I got my breakfast and had a wash, and went to get some cigarettes because we had run out. When I came back he was still sleeping. I looked at him closely and then I could see something was wrong.” She said she then tried to contact Hendrix’s doctor before telephoning for an ambulance. The call for an ambulance took place at 11.18 am. The coroner closed the case with an open verdict saying there was insufficient evidence to prove that Hendrix had committed suicide.
In the 1970s most people accepted the coroner’s conclusion that Jimi Hendrix died choking on his own vomit after taking an overdose of barbiturates. The World Wide Web was still years away so the main sources of information about Hendrix’s life and death were in newspapers, music magazines and books.
As for Michael Jeffery, his death too, was reported as a tragic accident. He was mourned by his family and friends and buried. In 1973 not too many people outside the music industry knew who he was so he was more or less forgotten – at least for half a decade.
Then in 1978 black author/poet David Henderson published a Jimi Hendrix biography in the States entitled “Jimi Hendrix: Voodoo Child Of The Aquarian Age”. For most of the book Mike Jeffery is only mentioned in passing. However, Henderson’s book does mention several theories and suggestions about Hendrix’s death including murder. David Henderson also questioned Monica Danneman’s account about the morning Hendrix died, which after the event she had revised many times.
Would David Henderson’s book be enough to start alarm bells ringing in certain quarters? It certainly upset Hendrix’s former long-term girlfriend Kathy Etchingham when she found out the book was going to be published in the UK in 1981 under the title of “’Scuse Me While I Kiss The Sky”. She took exception to the way in which Henderson had portrayed her relationship with Jimi. This prompted her to track down and contact Monica Dannemann who she thought had also been given a bad deal by Henderson.
Kathy Etchingham’s liaison with Monika Dannemann didn’t turn out as she’d expected. The more she got to know Dannemann, the more she realised that Dannemann had been less than truthful about the morning that Hendrix had died. Her main concern was that Monika Dannemann did not ring for an ambulance until 11.18 whereas Eric Burdon and his partner Alvenia Bridges reported that they had gone to the flat much earlier, possibly at first light, following a frantic call from Dannemann about Hendrix’s condition. Kathy Etchingham strongly suspected that Monika Dannemann had for many years lied in order to cover up her actions or the actions of others on that fateful morning. Over time it emerged that apart from Dannemann, Eric Burdon and his partner, a lot of other people had been in the flat in order to take away or hide anything that would cast Hendrix and his management in bad light. These people included Hendrix’s roadies, Gerry Stickells and Eric Barrett plus Burdon’s roadie, Terry Slater – all employees of Mike Jeffery.
Kathy Etchingham’s relationship with Dannemann turned hostile. Various court cases took place over the years so their hostilities became very public. Etchingham conducted her own investigation into Jimi Hendrix’s death and eventually handed her findings to the police who reopened the enquiry. In the long run the police failed to find enough evidence to overturn the original 1970 open verdict by the coroner.
Apart from Etchingham, David Henderson’s book was likely to prompt others to question the circumstances of Hendrix’s death in more detail. If any foul play took place in Dannemann’s flat the morning that Hendrix died, then some people would really be worried. And would the book arouse interest about the part that Mike Jeffery played in Jimi Hendrix’s life and more importantly his demise?
Up until 1981, the same year that Henderson’s book was due to be published in the UK, the remains of Mike Jeffery had lain in plot GZ885 at Hither Green Cemetery, South East London. They’d been there since their burial on 19th March 1973. For reasons unknown, the remains were exhumed on 18th April 1981 and cremated. The exhumation was most likely instigated by Jeffery’s father. Other than for investigative purposes, bodies can be exhumed for various reasons; for instance, exhumation sometimes takes place so a body can be reburied near to a recently deceased relative or nearer to the homes of living ones. However, in the case of Mike Jeffery, the remains were cremated without ceremony and strewn in the grounds of the cemetery on the same day they were exhumed. Whatever the reason for the exhumation, the subsequent cremation would ensure that the body parts buried under the name of Michael Frank Jeffery could never be forensically examined.
Although Jimi Hendrix has been dead for nearly 50 years he still has an enthusiastic ever-expanding fan base. His fans range from people who were around in his heyday between 1967 and 1970 and perhaps saw some of his ‘live’ performances through to younger people who have more recently discovered Hendrix and have become captivated by his guitar skills. Some fans are only interested in the music whilst others want to know all about the life and times of Jimi Hendrix and will devour any new books or material that appears on the Internet.
There is likely to be a lot of new Hendrix material published this year, but it’s unlikely that any new evidence about his death will emerge. A lot of the people involved back in September 1970 have now passed on. These include Monika Dannemann, James “Tappy” Wright and Gerry Stickells. It has always been thought that Eric Burdon knows a lot more about the circumstances of Hendrix’s death than he has already disclosed. But to date he has declined to be pressed on the matter, even to the FBI who attempted to interview him on behalf of the British police when they were reinvestigating the death in the 1990s.
Perhaps at some stage someone will make a deathbed confession about a murder that took place at the Samarkand Hotel back in 1970 – a Geordie thug or an ex-associate of Mike Jeffery.
Maybe an ex-pat octogenarian will come forward and surprise everyone or is that just another flight of fantasy?