David Carradine’s Death, and Bizarre Memories from a Reporter’s Early Years

Graphic by Larry Ray / The Rag Blog.

I had never seen anything as ghastly. His upper body was pasty white. From about his pelvis down, the flesh was a dark port color.

By Larry Ray / The Rag Blog / June 6, 2009

Shocking details in news reports today about motion picture actor David Carradine’s death in a Bangkok hotel room literally jolted my memory back to my days as a rookie police beat reporter in South Texas almost 45 years ago.

The police radio in the radio station’s rattletrap old news wagon broadcast one brief call, “All cars bay front area, possible suicide, Shoreside Motel.” I was just a couple of blocks away, and headed over to the motel. No sophisticated news crews and fancy live broadcasts in the mid 1960’s. And you had to be on a beat for a while and make good contacts or the cops wouldn’t even let you near a crime scene. But there were ways.

About the time I pulled into a side parking space, two sheriff’s cars and a city patrol car rolled into the back parking lot. They made a beeline toward an open first floor hallway end door. I just walked in with them. All focus was on a hysterical, weeping housekeeper, pushing the door open into a room.

We started to enter the room, then those in front halted abruptly. Magazines and trash were scattered around the small single room. A bottle of cheap Bourbon was on a table. The ones at the front could see the closet to the left of the door. “Damn, look at that, ” an old deputy grunted. The rest of us worked our way inside and then I saw the closet.

Its cloth curtain had been pulled to one side. A paunchy completely naked man, with a pillowcase pulled over his head, was leaning forward, hanging motionless from a rope tied to a closet clothes rod and then around the pillowcase and his neck. A vanity stool from the room was toppled over in front of his folded knees. “He’s been there quite a while,” one of the city cops observed, “All the blood’s drained down into his lower torso and legs.”

I had never seen anything as ghastly. His upper body was pasty white. From about his pelvis down, the flesh was a dark port color. The maid had found him and was in a state of shock mumbling that the victim was a merchant seaman. I was working hard to be professional, casual, but one of the deputies finally turned and spotted me. “What are you doing in here!” I told him I was with KEYS Radio and was there on the suicide call. “Well you back your butt out of here,” he ordered. I persisted, asking him if he had ever seen a strange suicide like this before. “This ain’t no suicide, and this ain’t no story. Now beat it. I ain’t telling you again.”

I had not been on the police beat very long, and with no more to go on than what I had seen, and having been stiffed by the deputy, I backed out of the parking lot feeling I didn’t have enough for a story. But I wondered that if what I saw wasn’t a suicide, then what kind of murder could it have been? A couple of months later, I learned it was neither.

The Carradine death is initially puzzling to everyone. He reportedly was shooting a new film, “Stretch” in Bangkok, and friends said the 72 year old actor was, “Working hard on the set, and we were liking what we were seeing.” News reports say Carradine hung around the hotel lobby Wednesday night, even playing the grand piano to the delight of those at the lobby bar. He reportedly had a shot of vodka, a cola, then told those at the bar he was going up to his room and have a “special whiskey.”

Police say he entered his room Wednesday night and was discovered around 11 A.M. the next morning by the maid who had come to clean the room. He was reportedly found nude in a closet of his hotel suite with a yellow nylon rope tied around his neck and a black rope around his genitals. The two ropes, according to the Associated Press, were tied together, and he died of asphyxiation. Suggestions that it was a suicide were strongly denied by his wife and his manager. The bartender told reporters that Carradine had made a reservation for a table for a party with friends for Thursday, the day he was found dead. Bizarre, puzzling. Police said there were no signs of forced entry into his room, which was neat and undisturbed. No immediate evidence of foul play.

The details David Carradine’s death jarred loose all the forgotten details of my once seeing a nude hooded dead man hanging from a rope in a motel closet. A man discovered by the maid who came to clean his room. Then other memories came racing back. I remembered being on the scene of a murder one evening months after the mystery motel hanging. The deputy who had run me off from the crime scene in the motel was there, and had warmed up to me after hearing my newscasts saying I, “just might be a fair to middling decent reporter.” It was a misty evening and after he gave me what information he had on the murder, I decided to ask him about the strange hanging in the motel, and if they ever solved that murder. As if he were talking to a police academy class he dispassionately explained what had happened to the man in the motel.

“Look, we see this regularly enough year after year. There are just some people who get sexually excited by letting themselves down slowly on a rope around their neck and as they are almost about to pass out they have an orgasm. Then they ease themselves back up and release the pressure on the neck.” He screwed his mouth to one side, then took a deep breath and continued as if he were teaching me his trade.

“The first thing we do is to check the underwear or hands to see if there is evidence of an ejaculation. The old guy in the motel had used the vanity stool to kneel on as he lowered himself down on the rope. Who knows why he had the pillowcase over his head, but what happened is that the stool fell forward and he was unable to get the pressure off the rope in time. Probably had been hitting the bottle pretty heavy.”

I asked if he knew why people do this and he shrugged, “These people aren’t trying to commit suicide, they sometimes just don’t release the pressure on their neck in time and die. No one would ever know about what they do otherwise. They accidentally strangle and then leave everyone all confused because nobody dreamed that their husband or son or father would be into anything like that. They want to insist it was murder or something, anything, else. We see all kinds of weird sex stuff out there.”

I was astounded, and felt unsteady on my feet. I really didn’t want to hear any more at that point. I now remember those thoughts racing and crisscrossing as I imagined the world this police officer lived in. The things he had seen, the sorry and secret underbelly of people that had become his world. I couldn’t even imagine what the longshoreman’s life had been like, and why his scary, strange sexual need led him to his eventual death. Several months later I got an offer from a local ABC TV affiliate and chasing ambulances and police calls was less intense.

Now comes today’s instant reporting on the Internet about David Carradine’s death with shocking details of his nude body, color of the ropes, where they were tied, and that he asphyxiated, all things that would not have been reported 45 years ago in South Texas. Details similar to the grisly ones I had long ago buried and forgotten.

The Associated Press is already reporting that Thailand’s Central Institute of Forensic Science, said the circumstances under which Carradine died suggest the 72-year-old actor may have been performing auto-erotic asphyxiation.

Carradine’s family wants to fight a finding of suicide as the cause of death and has asked the FBI to assist in the investigation. Gossip columnists are even suggesting Carradine’s connections to Scientology, though he was not a member, could be connected with his death.

Who knows for certain how or why David Carradine died? I certainly do not. Only being able to know and understand his deepest, darkest secrets could one perhaps know the hows and whys of his death.

The awakening of that memory from so long ago did make this old reporter finally do a little research on what the detective deputy told me all those years ago about the reason the longshoreman died.

It took a little time on Google to narrow the detective’s explanation down to a clinical term, asphyxiophilia. The research even notes that auto-erotic asphyxiation has been known since the 1600’s.

Once again, more information there than I ever wanted to know. Now I can only hope that the awakened grisly memories from all those years ago will again fade away deep back into my old gray cells.

[Retired journalist Larry Ray is a Texas native and former Austin television news anchor. He also posts at The iHandbill.]

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4 Responses to David Carradine’s Death, and Bizarre Memories from a Reporter’s Early Years

  1. David Carradine was always a rebel; he abused drugs and alcohol – he tested his limits in every way; even his film always had this eerie tone of ‘death just around the corner’.

    This time, it appears he turned it; possibly he’d tried this a number of times with success and just over-estimated himself because he was high and happy about his life; his career – his success, and in his own way ‘testing’ himself (as he’s always done), failed him.

    I remember back in the 1960’s when he interviewed with Merv Griffith and came onto the stage bare-foot; looking ragged and challenged Merv and the audience with his manner of dress and talk.

    It reached a point of such contention, he walked off the stage using foul words that were ‘bleeped’, but visible on the camera.

    I don’t think he wanted to die an ordinary death; of old age, or something that wouldn’t make the news.

    He knew if one day he failed as he did, it would be talked about in the media; “Kung Fu has ***cked himself”………

  2. Paul says:

    I am a blogger on the scene in Bangkok at the hotel where Carradine died and am blogging about this on http://magickpapers.com/blog

    ICON OF AN AMERICAN FILM DYNASTY
    BY ANTONIO PINEDA

    The announcer for the BBC breaks the story on TV. David Carradine was found dead in the Swiss Hotel on Soi Nailert. The film star was found in the closet of his room bound by curtain rope around his neck, and the inference is that his genitals were bound as well. The news ran through the Bangkok film colony like a forest fire.

    I consult investigative journalist David Walker. He is also a screenwriter and author of the cult classic book, Hello My Big Big Honey. Walker is at the hotel. He has already led a CBS crew to legendary film producer-director David Winters penthouse office. Winters is a dear friend of Carradine from their glory days in Hollywood. Walker wants to see the surveilance tapes. No chance Bagger Vance. Dr. Pornthip, a colorful Thai forensic scientist is on the scene at the hotel. Walker says Pornthip, who is famous for sporting many hued punk hair styles and is a bit of a celebrity,delares the case to be death by auto sexual strangulation.

    I roll up to Winters penthouse office. He is devastated by the tragic loss of a dear friend. He has not slept. CBS and People Magazine have already come by to solicit intelligence. David is shocked by the tawdry inferrences. He has spoken to 3 of Carradines agents. The agents declare that Carradine was on the roll of a lifetime. Quentin Tarantino redefined the 72 year old actor in Kill Bill. Carradine recieved a Golden Globe nomination for his work with Tarantino. The actor of the classic cult TV series Kung Fu had starred in 13 motion pictures since Kill Bill. His salary was in the stratosphere.

    The strange circumstances of the verdict by auto- sexual strangulation trouble Winters. It takes two to tango. Why indeed would a man of his talent take his own life alone. Bangkok is known as a city with love for sale. Film people come here to shoot and avail themselves of the pleasures to be found in the gilded city of sin. Kinky sex is no big deal. Could this be a coverup for a sex robbery murder. The Royal Thai Police have shut the door on this case all too quickly. The tourist industry has been severely damaged by the recession and political instability. The murder of a famous film star would be a final nail in the coffin of the tourism industry. Winters says that Carradine, son of John , iconic members of an American cinema dynasty were above the fray. David Carradine was according to Winters a consumate gentleman, a brilliant actor, and a man for all seasons.

    I run into local film producer Tom Waller at a reception hosted by the Italian Embassy. Tom does not believe in the verdict of death by auto-sexual strangulation. He concludes that it was a sex robbery gone wrong, and that to cover the motives the body had been arranged to fit the profile of death by auto- sexual strangulation, a theory once confined to the genre of novels classified as psychological thrillers. The denizens of the film colony in Bangkok are incredulous at the grisly circumstances of the sad demise of this brilliant talent.

    The reception is attended by beaucoup des artistes and cineastes. Film critic Nick Palevski and I schmooze at the bar. Between glasses of vino rosso and spumante Nick expresses his distaste for the tawdy belching of the media and press. He is the critic for Auteur, a web site devoted to film criticism. He can not believe the shabby and sensational manner in which this case is being exploited.

    more to follow on http://magickpapers.com/blog

  3. ROOSTER says:

    how about the fact that carradine was investigating segret organizations around the world and that he was intending to oust them? Or what of his father being a member of Ordo Templi Orientis an ancient secret organization which is the oriental Masonic parallel group fronted by the notorious ALLIESTER CROWLEY? Let's not all buy into everything they tell us. David was a good friend of my

  4. Lisa says:

    David Carradine’s ex has written a book about his death “David Carradine: The Eye of My Tornado”. I think that book could be interesting.

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