February 1995: The Mysterious Disappearances of Taylor Kramer and Richey James
Vanished. That’s what newspaper articles in Great Britain and the United States claimed during the month of February 1995. Except that the reports were about two very different men. Both men had simply disappeared. One slipped away on February 1st. The other was gone on February 12th. One was a rising rock star, the other had moved on in life, shedding his rock stature. With hardly a trace of evidence, the existence of these two men were wiped clean from the everyday lives they led with their loved ones. For one, the warnings of distress and despondency had been quite evident over the years. For the other, life seemed promising and potentially groundbreaking. Neither man had ever met the other. Their worlds and their goals were completely divergent. The only link they had to one another was that they were two musicians, and they had simply vanished during a winter month in 1995. Eventually one’s disappearance would be solved. As for the other…
One of these men was Phillip Taylor Kramer. As a curious 12-year old, Kramer enjoyed listening to rock records, and like a lot of kids in the ‘60s, he was fascinated with the burgeoning modern music scene of the day. At 12, he also won a science fair at his school in Youngstown, Ohio by building a laser whose beam could pop a balloon. Young Kramer would soon become a very bright rocker.
When Kramer turned 14, a group of musicians formed a band in the Los Angeles area and played the rock clubs along the Sunset Strip. The group was named Iron Butterfly, and within two years, they had signed with Atco Records and released a debut album called “Heavy.” They shared the bill in concerts with high-profile acts like The Doors and Jefferson Airplane. In 1968, keyboardist Doug Ingle would write the band’s signature song “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida.” The song hit number 4 on the U.S. charts and solidified the band’s reputation as a genuine founding father of the heavy metal movement. By May 1971 though, the band had split apart and the future of the Butterfly seemed extinguished.
But after the release of a “Best Of…” album in 1975, guitarist Erik Braunn and drummer Ronald Bushy decided to reform the group. Taylor Kramer, now living in the LA area, trying to find a playing gig, was hired by the band to be their new bassist. The band signed with MCA Records and immediately recorded a new album called “Scorching Beauty.” Soon after, Iron Butterfly hit the tour circuit with Robin Trower and Humble Pie.
While on the road, Kramer became fast friends with drummer Bushy. They would spend long hours writing songs together. Kramer would also try to enlighten his bandmate with scientific ideas and equations he had been formulating. On a piece of stationary from a motel in Aberdeen, Washington, he wrote, “There is only so much a human being can achieve within his physical boundaries, but I wish to reach beyond my physical being.” He took great pains to define God as the total energy unit made up of all levels of energy. He tried to explain to Bushy his theories of the very definition of the universe as being mathematically configured.
The band released another album called “Sun and Steel,” but then, without any true chart-topping hit, the group dissolved once again. Kramer went on to study at Western States College of Engineering and graduated in 1980. He subsequently worked for the Northrop Electronics Corporation and helped develop the guidance system for the MX nuclear missile.
Having been laid off from Northrop in the mid-‘80s, Kramer set out to start a company of his own. Through his music connections, he hooked up initially with singer Michael Jackson’s brother Randy and together, with a few other founders, they formed a video compression firm called Total Multimedia (TMM) in Thousand Oaks, California, a suburb on the outskirts of Los Angeles. Taylor brought his father, Ray Kramer, a retired professor of electrical engineering, into the fold, and they started the business of storing visual images, through the company’s practice known as fractal compression, onto CD-ROM discs. Ray and Taylor also had another agenda as well.
Ray had passed along his notions of understanding the universe through mathematical equations to his son Taylor. With the help of TMM’s high-end computers, they set about to put some of Ray’s theories to the test. But by 1994, the company had encountered serious financial troubles, and the investors demanded reorganization to stave off imminent bankruptcy filings. This led to internal fighting, and Taylor felt that the original vision he had had for the company was now being tainted by greed.
Ray’s passion for a scientific breakthrough became Taylor’s as well. Taylor spent insomnia-draining weeks running mathematical equations on his laptop in the middle of the night. The essence of their quest centered around the ability to transmit waves faster than the speed of light. This breakthrough would mean that communication would occur through gravity waves anywhere within the universe in one second. Electromagnetism and gravitation would effectively be harnessed and become malleable. In January 1995, Taylor felt elated, for he concluded, after months of sleepless nights, that he had come up with all the answers. He dubbed the discovery, in honor of his father, as “Ray’s Moment.”
One of TMM’s main investors was a man named Greg Martini who lived in the Cincinnati area. On Sunday, February 12, 1995, Greg was slated to fly into Los Angeles International Airport with his wife on a business trip to check up on TMM. Taylor was going to meet them at the gate, drive them the hour and half ride out to Thousand Oaks, where they would pick up Taylor’s wife, Jennifer. Then the foursome had plans to head north to Santa Barbara for a quiet dinner and conversation. On this weekend morning, along roads that were not traffic-clogged with the usual Los Angeles weekday bustle, Taylor Kramer…simply vanished.
In the days leading up to his disappearance, Kramer appeared exhausted yet in an euphoric state. His sister told the Los Angeles Times, “He was so excited, that he was calling the math ‘sacred.’ I worried that he was having visions. My brother takes the weight of the world upon himself. He loves Jennifer, he loves his kids dearly. But he banked everything on this discovery with my dad, and his mind just ran away with it. He talked of supernovas, earthquakes, all events having no coincidences. I fear he had some kind of breakdown.”
Jennifer had tried to find out more about Taylor’s discovery a week before the 12th, and he had described its benefits as follows: “Imagine being able to flash up a picture of a missing child on this computer screen, or even a part of a picture, and with this new equation, being able to find that child in a fraction of a second.” She didn’t seem to register just how someone could accomplish such a feat. Ray Kramer surmised that his son might have vanished so that they would put his equation to use in finding him.
As a strategy point in dealing with Martini on the morning of the 12th, Kramer had told Jennifer, “At some point, I’ll need an hour alone with Greg.” She said that he shouldn’t exclude her from the conversations with Martini. Taylor left his Thousand Oaks home that Sunday morning around 9:00am. He stopped at the Los Robles Medical Center to visit Jennifer’s father, who was interned for cancer treatment. Climbing back into his green 1993 Ford Aerostar van, he headed to the airport. According to parking records, he spent 45 minutes either within the parking structure or in the Delta terminal at LAX. When he left, he did not have enough money to pay the parking attendant the three dollars owed. He also did not have Greg Martini and his wife in the van.
Coincidentally, Taylor’s old drummer friend, Ronald Bushy, was departing at the Delta terminal that morning, yet he never spotted his Iron Butterfly bandmate. Greg Martini never saw Kramer that morning either. Around this time, Kramer made some calls on his cellular phone. He reached Jennifer and said that, should Martini phone the house, to tell him to take a cab to a Hyatt Hotel in Westlake Village, a community next to Thousand Oaks. Kramer told her he’d meet everyone there at 2:00pm “with the biggest surprise for you.” He called his friend Bushy, who was at the airport, and said that he loved him more than life itself. Kramer then rang his wife back and said, “Whatever happens, I’ll always be with you.”
At 11:59am, Taylor Kramer dialed 911 on his cellular phone, as later pinpointed as originating from somewhere along the Ventura Freeway in the San Fernando Valley, and said, “This is Phillip Taylor Kramer, and I am going to kill myself.”
The police, alerted by the 911 call, got in touch with Jennifer. Family members and friends immediately contacted one another. A sheriff’s helicopter was dispatched to search the mountains around Santa Monica and the Pacific Coast Highway, as well as along the San Fernando Valley. At age 42, the amiable, extremely upbeat Kramer was nowhere to be found.
When the initial search for Kramer came up blank by the authorities, Jennifer and the members of TMM began to pool their resources for an independent investigation of their own. Hundreds of flyers were distributed throughout Ventura and Los Angeles Counties. Citizens began phoning her with alleged sightings. Kramer had supposedly been sighted at a school bus stop on Mulholland Drive. He was described as being seen at a market in the Valley’s Canoga Park. A pawn shop owner talked about computers with a man fitting Kramer’s description. He was allegedly seen outside a Burger King, at a soup kitchen, and at the Santa Monica Pier.
Jennifer received a phone call shortly thereafter from someone who sounded befuddled, whom she thought was her husband on the line. A few private investigators were hired to track leads and solve the case. One investigator told the LA Times, “Something happened during that time, either in his head or at the terminal, that made him turn away. And I’ll tell you, I haven’t a clue. The guy didn’t have an enemy. The guy was a dedicated family man. I checked him out. Whatever happened in his head while at the airport, or whatever happened right in the airport, I’ve got a feeling we’ll learn from Kramer himself.” Family members and police officials believed Kramer was still alive somewhere, perhaps in trouble.
One Ohio congressman felt that since Kramer had reportedly made an important discovery, as well as having worked on the MX missile, the FBI should be compelled to investigate the matter. Family members long argued that his disappearance may have been linked to his work. Months went by, without any trace of clues, no notes, no contact. In November 1995, NBC aired a segment about Kramer on its “Unsolved Mysteries” television program. Jennifer appeared on “The Phil Donahue Show” to appeal to a broad audience, and the family set up a web page detailing the events surrounding Kramer’s disappearance. Taylor’s mother held the strong belief that Kramer had been kidnapped.
For months and eventually years, the family did not give up hope. No physical clues, no money transactions, no notes were ever left behind to suggest Taylor had been contemplating suicide. Jennifer said to the LA Times in 1996, “I went to a psychologist for the first time in my life. She told me to assume Taylor’s gone and get on with my life. Well, that’s not to be. Taylor’s one in a million. We have to keep searching. But I do have a mortgage and kids and insurance, and so I’ve got to get working.”
Walter Lockwood liked to take photographs. As a Hollywood resident, he would venture into the nearby mountains to click shots of unusual artifacts set amongst natural settings. Walter and a friend hiked down a steep cliff embankment one afternoon to snap some shots. The date was May 29, 1999. The location was off a winding two-lane street called Decker Canyon Road that traced its way from the beach community of Malibu to the upscale Valley environs of Westlake Village. The duo took pictures of abandoned cars that had settled 450 feet down the canyon wall from the road above. Sitting amongst the handful of cars was a green Ford Aerostar van. The front end and windshield were smashed. When they peered inside, they saw skeletal human bones by the front seat. Walking away from the site to call authorities, Lockwood stepped on a human skull near the van. He and his friend dashed out of the canyon.
On Sunday morning, May 30th, a sheriff’s department helicopter hoisted a green body bag with the remains into the sky. Dental records matched the teeth found in the skull. After four long years of hope, curiosity, and confusion, the disappearance of the Iron Butterfly bassist was solved. Phillip Taylor Kramer had driven off a cliff.
His beloved company had shut down by the end of the ‘90s. He had left his family with tens of thousands of dollars in debt from money he had borrowed from friends. And yet, no one can truly explain what went wrong. Why did Kramer so suddenly feel compelled to end his life?
The mystery surrounding his disappearance spawned many rumors of conspiracies and foul play. What ultimately led to his final resting place in that canyon? Was it an act of despondency, one in which he snapped and felt that he could never wrestle his way out of the debt he owed? Or is there a clue in his remark to Jennifer in which he was supposedly going to meet her at 2:00pm on February 12, 1995 with the “biggest surprise?” Did he, in the end, feel that he could transcend death itself and flash through time? Did he think he could cheat his demise by appearing at the hotel for a surprise confirmation of his theories? Of course, no one will know for sure. In the end, his friend, Iron Butterfly’s Ronald Bushy may have summed up the ultimate tribute to his colleague, when he told the LA Times in 1995, “To Kramer, there was no problem that could not be met.” Perhaps, somewhere in the veiled world of an afterlife, Kramer is working on that problem at this very moment.
By the time Phillip Taylor Kramer drove off to the unknown on February 12, 1995, another man, also a musician, had been missing since the beginning of that month. His name was Richard James Edwards, known as Richey James, and he was the lead singer for the band Manic Street Preachers.
Hailing from the working class town of Blackwood in Wales, Richey was also a bright rocker, perhaps not scientifically, but certainly philosophically. The mining community from which he hailed molded him into an independent-thinking, anti-authoritarian, punker, one who looked upon his life and the world around him with bleak, nihilistic eyes. As with the majority of Welsh towns, existence consisted of hard work and few opportunities. Those individuals that broke from that lifestyle, people like Welsh natives Richard Burton and Catherine Zeta-Jones, did so by cracking the odds. As Richey himself once said, “Where we come from, there is a natural melancholy in the air. Everybody, ever since you could comprehend it, felt pretty much defeated.”
Richey wound up going to the University of Wales, Swansea College, where he hooked up with childhood chums who were interested in music. The Sex Pistols had made their beachhead a decade earlier in 1976, and James Bradfield, along with his cousin Sean Moore, decided to form a group in honor of that once radical punk spirit. Calling themselves Blue Generation, the band played hardcore songs that evoked a raw, garage sound. Nicky Wire, a bass player who was studying political history along with Richey at the university, soon joined the group and contributed rebellious lyrics to the band’s increasing song catalog. Meanwhile, Richey, who drove the van for the group, which segued into the name Betty Blue, had begun a liter-of-vodka-a-day habit which would carry him through, well into the ‘90s. He also started to practice a form of physio-psychological deviance to stave off his recurrent depressive states, namely that of self-mutilation. Just a few small cuts on his arms and legs at first.
The band recorded their first single, “Suicide Alley,” in 1989, and Richey designed its sleeve jacket. When a group member named Flicker left shortly thereafter, Richey came on board as a songwriter/guitarist to round out the quartet. Influenced by the music of Public Enemy, Guns ‘n Roses, The Smiths, and Joy Division, the band stirred these ingredients into their own musical cauldron to produce guitar-driven, soaring melancholia and despair. When Phillip Hall heard their EP follow-up “New Art Riot,” he signed on as their manager and let the group sleep on his London apartment floor, while they played gigs in the city to land a major record label contract.
The band’s songs were blunt and angry, yet also incisive in their criticism of social ills, political corruption, and music business toadies. Wearing T-shirts with slogans like “Eat The Rich” and “I Am A Slut” spray-painted on their front, along with women’s scarves, eyeliner and makeup, the band’s androgynous leanings only helped establish a unique look to the ballistic, blazing songs screeching off the stage. The group was created to celebrate and trash the emptiness of modern life, and Richey and Nicky’s creative lyrics lashed at all comers.
On May 15, 1991, after finishing a gig at the Norwich Arts Centre, the group sat down with a journalist for New Musical Express magazine, Steve Lamacq, backstage. During the course of the interview, the band’s philosophy of kill your idols, release a smash album, and then just burn out, led to Lamacq questioning the authenticity of their revolutionary posturing. Perhaps they were just a Welsh rehash of The Clash? Richey took out a razor and cut the words “4 Real” into his arm, right in front of the shocked journalist. News of this incident spread worldwide. After receiving 17 stitches to close the wound, Richey’s self-mutilating predilection was now formally out of the closet, and the band became a buzz in the music industry. Six days later, Sony signed the Manic Street Preachers, and the group finally had landed a major label record deal.
The band released the confrontational “Generation Terrorists” album in February 1992. As they played more widespread concerts, their fan base followed in a cult-like devotion. Like the Eminem of their day, the band spewed vitriol against their musical peers, sometimes with extreme lack of taste. While performing a Christmas 1992 concert at the Kilburn National Ballroom, Nicky stopped for a moment and made a statement about alt-rock group R.E.M.’s sensitive frontman. “In this season of goodwill, let’s hope Michael Stipe goes the same way as Freddie Mercury,” he remarked to the cheering audience. Comments like this put the band in English music magazine headlines, but also served to distance them from a wider audience base. (Incidentally, Nicky later regretted making the dispersion, and Stipe would subsequently quip, “Nicky Wire? Is that the guy who’s still alive?”)
The Manics went on to score a top ten hit with their 1992 single “Suicide Is Painless,” and released the album “Gold Against the Soul,” a more mainstream rock effort, in 1993. But tragedy struck in December of that year, when Phillip Hall, the group’s manager, died of cancer. Richey was devastated and turned to the bottle with more abandon. He stubbed cigarettes out on his arms, one of which had the tattoo “Useless Generation” printed on it. He was fascinated by the IRA hunger strikers in Northern Ireland’s Maze prison and admired the notorious protester, Bobby Sands, who had died by self-starvation in May 1981. By this period of mid-1994, Richey became more and more anorexic. He had an obsession with the words of famous people who committed suicide, like Sylvia Plath and Primo Levi, and derived the song “La Tristesse Durera” (“The sadness goes on”), off their ‘Gold’ album, from the last words of self-mutilation artist Vincent Van Gogh. He found honor in Yukio Mishima’s suicide after the renowned fascist, masochistic Japanese author performed seppuku on himself during a failed coup attempt on the imperial government. Clearly, Richey James was a bit disturbed.
By the end of July 1994, Richey was hospitalized in the psychiatric ward of a National Health Services clinic for “nervous exhaustion.” He weighed a mere 90 pounds and was heavily addicted to alcohol. After a week, he was checked into a 12-step, detox clinic called The Priory in Roehampton. Band member James Bradfield visited him as much as possible while Richey was interned. Once he was released, Richey had sworn off drink, but took to smoking cigarettes at a ferocious pace. His overall demeanor had mellowed somewhat. The band’s latest album, “The Holy Bible,” a return to their punk roots, was released on August 30, 1994. A track on the record titled “4st 7lbs” was about the curse of anorexia and is in reference to the weight at which those suffering from the disease cross the line to death. Richey was still thin, but he seemed to be improving.
The Manics began a 16-date United Kingdom tour on October 5, 1994. The band was watchful of Richey’s condition. Bradfield told journalist Caitlin Moran, “I was so on edge about Richey, in case he started cutting himself up again. I kept thinking, ‘If you cut yourself up now, son, everything will be wasted.” The group’s new manager, Martin Hall, brother of Phillip, told Select magazine in late 1994, “The thing is, he doesn’t see anything wrong in cutting himself. It makes him feel better…But I don’t think we saw or wanted to admit how bad the situation was getting. Looking back, you can see that he’d planned the “4 Real” incident. But he hadn’t told the rest of us.”
In December 1994, the band played for two nights at the Astoria venue in London. These would be the last performances Richey would play with the Manic Street Preachers.
Shortly thereafter, Richey’s dog died and, in perhaps a state of depression, he then shaved his head. In late January 1995, he welcomed a Japanese journalist, Midori Tsukagoshi, who wrote for the magazine Music Life, into his Cardiff apartment. Wearing striped pajamas, Richey appeared content and healthy in spirit. He said, “Regrets are meaningless. You can’t change yesterday or tomorrow. You can change only this present moment. I try thinking, like, ‘There’s only today, I’ll do what I can do today.” He went on to say, “I used to start drinking as soon as I woke up, so the day was shorter. Some people maintain that all the best writing is done by alcoholics or junkies; that’s crap. Now I wake up in the morning, and I know what I want to do. I want to write, it makes me feel better in myself.” Things were looking up for the band. They were going to begin a 30-date tour of America in support of their “Holy Bible” album beginning February 22nd, and Richey and Bradfield were scheduled to go to the States on the 1st of February to do advance publicity.
On January 31, 1995, the group rehearsed for the upcoming tour, and then, Bradfield and Richey checked into the Embassy Hotel on Bayswater Road in London to spend the night, before they headed to the airport the next morning. Bradfield knocked on Richey’s door, adjoined to his own hotel room, to see if he wanted to hit a nightclub or two, but Richey begged off. Bradfield went out anyway and returned to the hotel shortly after 11:00pm. The next morning, when he knocked on Richey’s door, there was no answer. Bradfield flagged a porter to open up the now-empty Room 516. Downstairs, a receptionist said Richey had driven off at 7:00 that morning. The date was February 1, 1995. 27-year old Richey James had disappeared.
On February 17th, one of Britain’s leading newspapers, The Independent, reported that detectives “think that he is still in Britain.” Later that afternoon, Richey’s silver Vauxhall Cavalier automobile, the one he’d driven away from the Embassy hotel in, was recognized by Avon and Somerset officers at the Aust service station/rest stop on the M4 motorway near Bristol. The car was abandoned. The rest area overlooked a huge suspension bridge that connected the English and Welsh sides over the Severn River. The Severn Bridge was chiefly infamous as the final location for those individuals wanting to be carried away forever in the strong currents of the river below. It seemed he must have jumped. It is only natural that this is where the despondent Richey James, with a life’s history of self-mutilation, alcohol, anorexia, and misery, must have disappeared to. The mystery was solved. Or was it?
Since that wintry month of February 1995, fans and curiosity seekers traded stories about having spotted Richey in a variety of locales. He’s living in Japan, he’s with friends in upstate New York, he was abducted by aliens, he was seen at a gay pub in Brighton, he did a tour of death camps in Germany, he’s in Australia, Africa, Switzerland, in a monastery, in a mental hospital, begging on the streets of Liverpool, or simply living at home with his mom and dad. All of these notions have been offered. Most Manic fanatics don’t want to give up hope. The remaining band members still leave a space on the stage where Richey used to play.
Exactly what did happen on the day of the disappearance? When Bradfield entered Richey’s hotel room, he found Richey’s suitcase filled with his clothes, a picture of a house, and a wrapped parcel on the bed with a note attached to it reading “I Love You.” Bradfield got on the phone and called Nicky back in Wales and asked him to check out Richey’s apartment. Nicky found Richey’s passport, credit cards, and Prozac in a jar, all neatly laid out. It was apparent that Richey had returned to his apartment sometime that morning. That was it. All final traces he left behind that day.
In his interview with the Japanese journalist in late January, Richey mentioned something about someone close to him. He said, “Since the band started, I have only really been involved with one girl. I can speak to her more naturally than to anyone else. It means something. But I’ve never told her I love her.” The police suspected that the parcel and the note left at the hotel were meant for that girl. The box contained some books and poems along with videos of the movies “Equus,” about the psychological problems of a stable boy, and “Naked,” a bleak, witty portrait of a Manchester drifter. In an interview with New Musical Express in May 1996, Nicky said of the mystery woman, “He (Richey) had a relationship with a girl over a few years. That’s the only girl he had any feelings for, and he did really like her but…” Bradfield interjected, “He never talked about it so there’s no point in us talking about it.” Many people have come to believe the girl is Lori Fidler, an American fan from New York who started a Manics magazine. Richey apparently wrote many letters to her. She said in an interview, “We were close, and I know everything about him. But I think he was talking about someone else in that last interview.”
Nonetheless, on February 2nd, the day after Richey’s disappearance, Fidler’s girlfriend in New York answered the phone and heard the familiar overseas tone, a ‘beep-beep’ sound, and a voice said “Hi Lori.” The caller then hung up. Fidler was sure it was Richey.
On February 5th, a friend of Fidler’s stepped off a bus in the town of Newport, South Wales and walked over to a newsstand. He later told police, “As I approached, I saw, outside the shops, Richey James Edwards…he stood near a silver-gray-colored car. I said to him, ‘Hello, Richey, I’m a friend of Lori’s.’ He said to me, ‘How is she doing?’ I said, ‘She’s okay.’ He looked at me and said, ‘Okay, I’ll see you later.’ I was about to go into the newsagent when I saw him get into the car and drive towards the bus station…I am positive it was Richey from photographs I have seen.”
The band’s management got in touch with Richey’s bank and found that he had not used his account after January 31, 1995, the night before his disappearance. What was intriguingly notable, though, was the fact that he had been withdrawing 200 pounds a day, consecutively, over the previous 14 days. This bit of news seemingly did not suggest the actions of a man contemplating suicide but instead someone stockpiling some money for use to vanish without a trace.
Richey’s car was actually spotted at the service area in Aust on February 14th, when it received a ticket. This was three days before it was officially identified, on the 17th, and about to be towed. The 14th was a Tuesday. Reasoning that the traffic officers on duty in the area might’ve spotted it on the prior day Monday, but not making a note of it on that first day of the week, it is then conceivable the car could’ve been left there even on Sunday the 12th, when the parking violations officers would not be making their rounds. Nicky said to New Musical Express, “For me, it would mean that he’d been driving around for 12 days – so why then decide to jump in the River Severn? The battery was flat, because he’d been playing tapes and everything. He’d been sleeping in there, obviously.” Bradfield continued, “The conclusion you come to from that is that he couldn’t have used the car much more. So if he left it until the 12th and the battery was flat…perhaps, he just walked off and hitchhiked. There’s a myriad of options.”
Once the car was found, Scotland Yard assisted the South Wales police with the investigation. On February 21st, Richey’s dad, Graham, released a statement to the press, “My family are all very worried. If anybody has any information, I would urge them to contact the police.” Richey’s parents and sister, Rachel, placed a message in the local paper over 3 consecutive mornings that read, “Richard, please make contact. Love Mum, Dad, and Rachel.” The band called off their tour of the United States. The police kept up the search for a long time. But the investigating authorities seemed skeptical of the chance Richey may still be walking the earth as the months dragged on. Detective Sergeant Stephen Morey, who headed the case from London’s Harrow Road police station said, “I would say it would be relatively difficult to have remained this anonymous for this period of time in this country. Possible, but difficult. For me, personally, he is no longer with us.”
But what if he was no longer in Britain? His sister Rachel intimated that before he vanished, Richey had become obsessed with the perfect disappearance. A few days before he went missing, Richey was photographed wearing a shirt with verses written by the 19th century poet, Rimbaud, whom Richey admired. Rimbaud, at age 19, destroyed all his books, disappeared and was assumed dead. He was later found to be quite alive in Africa, having taken up gunrunning. Richey also seemed enamored of the hidden life J.D. Salinger, author of “The Catcher In The Rye,” had managed to foster, having disappeared from the public eye in the ‘60s. It wasn’t until 3 decades later, when his lover published a book about him, that the media became aware of his whereabouts in rural New Hampshire.
Nicky said to New Musical Express, “He could be in a sewage work in Barry for all we know.” Bradfield continued this line of thinking, “That’s more plausible to me. Something that’s very mundane. Rather than some kind of pilgrimage. To do something in isolation.” Nicky chimed in, “Having watched all these ‘missing’ programs recently and having spoke to Richey’s sister about it all, it’s not hard to go missing and completely change your life. There’s so many people that do. One bloke moved from Middlesbrough to Newcastle, and he wasn’t seen for 18 years. They all thought he was dead – and there’s only 5 miles between the two places.” In fact, Joe Strummer of the Clash once walked out on his band on April 26, 1982, on the eve of a tour, and disappeared for some time. He was finally tracked down in Paris by a private detective. He said he had simply wanted a break.
On March 2, 1997, a program called “Wales on Sunday” broke the story that Richey might have been spotted in India. A musician and a lecturer at Neath College by the name of Vyvyan Morris was on holiday in Goa, India during early November 1996. He says he spotted Richey, whom he had met before on a previous occasion, at the Anjuna outdoor market. Morris said, “He was with some hippies getting on a bus and his name was Rick.” The news spread throughout the music world, and fans felt renewed hope that their rock idol was still amongst the living.
On November 13, 1998, the British newspaper, The Telegraph, reported that Richey had apparently been recognized by patrons at the Underground Bar in Corralejo, a small town on the island of Fuerteventura in the Canary Islands. The barmaid at the pub told a reporter that she and another customer noticed a thin man resembling Richey James, and someone had shouted out, “You’re Richey from the Manic Street Preachers!” She said, “He just started to run towards the door and within seconds, he was gone.”
After spending months trying to cope with the strange departure of their friend, the other members of the Manic Street Preachers decided to go into the studio and start recording. They remained a trio, instead of filling Richey’s opening, and on April 15, 1996, they released the song “A Design For Life,” their biggest-selling single, which went straight to Number 2 on the U.K. charts. Their album “Everything Must Go” was released on May 20, 1996 and went double platinum. In February 1997, they were voted the best band and given the best album award at the Brit Awards, the English equivalent of the Grammys. A trust fund was set up for the missing Richey, in which a quarter of the millions the group subsequently earned since his disappearance would be his, should he ever step forward again.
After four years since her brother went missing, Rachel said, “My family is still as tormented today as we were the day Richard walked out…I cannot rest until I find out what has happened to my brother.” Although suicide is a viable explanation, the family still continues to believe he fled the pressures of fame and started a new life abroad under a false name. Rachel, in her continued investigations, related that no British coroner has, to date, ever dealt with an unidentified body that matches Richey’s description.
The Manic Street Preachers continue to play into the new century, drawing critical praise and a broader-based fan awareness than ever before. Their single, “The Masses Against The Classes,” released on January 10, 2000, met with enthusiasm in British music and critical circles. As for Richey, the band members have given countless, exhaustive interviews pertaining to his state of mind and the rumors surrounding his vanishing act. Nicky tried to sum it all up in one of those interviews years ago. “It’s so hard to speak about it, because for all we know, he could have gone insane. The morning he left, for all we know, he could have gone mad.” Whether it was a madness that drove him to embrace the icy waters of the Severn or a blossoming, idealistic spirit that resulted in a rebirth through a new identity, the world may never know.
© 2000 Ned Truslow