Seattle police re-examine Cobain suicide, develop scene photos

Nearly 20 years after Nirvana lead singer Kurt Cobain was found dead in his home near Lake Washington, Seattle police have re-examined the case – including dozens of photos not seen before.

KIRO 7 first reported that police developed four rolls of film that had been sitting in a Seattle police evidence vault for years. The 35 mm film was processed last month at the King County Sheriff’s Office photo lab. Seattle police requested the help because they no longer develop 35 mm film.

Though the pictures have a slight green tint because of deterioration, police say they show the scene more clearly than the earlier Polaroid photos taken by investigators.

“I was requested to look at the case because I’m a cold case detective because it is 20 years later and it’s a high media case,” said Detective Mike Ciesynski, who had the four rolls of film developed and conducted interviews. “And there were always these conspiracy theorists out there, and so I was asked to look at the case and review it.”

Police said in 1994 that the case was clearly a suicide. Ciesynski said that is still the case after reviewing evidence.

After KIRO 7 first reported the re-investigation Thursday morning, the Seattle police public affairs unit took issue with semantics, saying the case was not technically “reopened” -- despite the new interviews and processing of film that had not previously been developed.

The final investigation report has not yet been completed, Ciesynski said.

He also said images of Cobain dead at the scene will not be released.

“What are people going to gain from seeing pictures of Kurt Cobain laying on the ground with his hair blown back, with blood coming out of his nose and trauma to his eyes from a penetrating shotgun wound. How’s that going to benefit anybody?

“It wasn’t going to change my decision that this was a suicide, and actually I’m the one that makes the decision finally: do we go forward or not? Morally I would not be able to justify that. Legally I can’t justify doing that.”

The morning of April 8, 1994, Veca Electric employee Gary Smith went to Cobain’s home at 171 Lake Washington Blvd. East to do electrical work.

“I noticed something on the floor and I thought it was a mannequin,” Smith told KIRO 7 at the time. “So I looked a little closer and geez, that’s a person. I looked a little closer and I could see blood, and an ear and a weapon laying on his chest.”

The medical examiner determined Cobain had killed himself three days earlier – only days after he had left a rehab facility.

Police said before he shot himself, Cobain had a lethal dose of heroin. The syringes and the heroin kit Cobain used were kept in the Seattle police evidence unit and were part of the re-investigation, along with the previously undeveloped film.

Smith, the electrician, found a suspected suicide note on some planting soil in the greenhouse.

“I only read the bottom lines,” Smith told KIRO 7 in 1994. "(The) bottom two lines said, ‘I love you, I love you’ to someone.”

On March 18, 1994 – less than a month before Cobain was found dead – Seattle police were called to the Lake Washington home after Kurt “locked himself in a room,” and said he was going to kill himself, according to a police report. Police were also told he “had a gun in the room.”

But Cobain told police he was not suicidal and didn’t want to kill himself. However, police said after the 1994 investigation that his death was clearly a suicide.

Someone at Smith’s electrician company tipped then-KXRX radio deejay Marty Riemer, who was the first to announce the musician's death, which the medical examiner determined was a suicide.

More than 7,000 mourners packed Seattle Center two days later for a public memorial, where a recording was played of Courtney Love reading Cobain's suicide note. She also attended the memorial  and gave some of his clothes to fans.

Last year, a Seattle Police Department spokeswoman said the department gets at least one request per week, mostly through Twitter, to reopen the investigation.

The public affairs unit keeps the basic incident report on file because of the number of requests, and police have said no other Seattle police case has received similar attention in two decades.

Ciesynski said having the film developed last month will hopefully benefit everyone. KIRO 7 asked if the case was closed.

“Hopefully,” Ciesynski said. “I’m sure until the 25th anniversary comes up.”

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