In 1964, the US became more involved in the Vietnam conflict, the Beatles caused women all over the world to scream wildly, and Congress passed the Civil Rights Act, which banned discrimination in the workplace and ended segregation in public spaces. It was also the year a 33-year-old rising soul singer and civil rights activist named Sam Cooke died in the manager's office of the Hacienda Motel. The circumstances surrounding Sam Cooke's death were extremely questionable and, like some other suspicious celebrity ends, have never been fully explained. As a popular African American musician who managed to impress audiences of all races, what happened to Sam Cooke was of great importance not only to music but to the civil rights movement, as well.
Although Cooke's voice helped make him a star, his determination to be in charge of his career made him a pioneer of the era. Some of the best Sam Cooke records include pop-friendly hits like "You Send Me" and "Twistin' The Night Away," and he sought out a way to form a more meaningful relationship with his audience. He championed desegregation and was friends with important civil rights supporters like Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali. It's possible this activism and his desire to do things his own way contributed to Sam Cooke's murder. He was shot by motel manager Bertha Franklin on December 11, 1964, after checking into a room with a young woman named Elisa Boyer. Although a jury deemed Sam Cooke's cause of death to be justifiable, the lack of witnesses and credibility of those involved left many to wonder about the true circumstances of his early demise. The world may never know the truth, but Cooke's legacy as a singer, songwriter, and contributor to civil rights lives on.
On December 10, 1964, Cooke met producer Al Schmitt and his wife for dinner at Martoni's Italian restaurant in Los Angeles. Cooke's popularity led to many gawkers and people interrupting their dinner to talk to the singer. Other acquaintances eventually brought Cooke to the bar, leaving the Schmitts to finish their dinner alone.
While at the bar, Cooke saw 22-year-old Elisa Boyer sitting in a nearby booth, and although she was with three guys, she and Cooke ended up in a booth alone together. Cooke and Boyer decided to leave Martoni's together around 1 am. Driving a recently purchased red Ferrari, Cooke drove Boyer to a club called PJ's to extend the evening.
After leaving Martoni's Italian restaurant, Cooke and Boyer traveled to PJ's club on Santa Monica Boulevard. Cooke had already reportedly consumed at least three martinis at Martoni's and continued to drink at PJ's. He also bought drinks for Boyer and others.
According to one version of the story, Cooke was supposed to be meeting the Schmitts, whom he abandoned at dinner, but they had left the club by the time he and Boyer arrived. He then reportedly became protective of Boyer and began arguing with a guy he accused of flirting with her.
Cooke stuck around PJ's long enough to greet the many people he knew at the club before he and Boyer took off. According to Boyer, she asked Cooke to take her home. They left PJ's around 2 am.
After Boyer allegedly asked Cooke to take her home, they got into his red Ferrari, drove down Santa Monica Boulevard, and got onto Highway 101, where Boyer claimed Cooke was speeding and driving recklessly. Boyer reportedly asked again to be taken home, but Cooke allegedly told her she was pretty, stroked her hair, and said, "Don't worry now. I just want to go for a little ride."
After driving about 17 miles, Cooke exited the highway at Figueroa Street and stopped at the Hacienda Motel, a seedy establishment known for room rentals by the hour.
Located in South Central, LA, the motel saw its share of rough customers, and since it was an affordable place that only charged $3 a night, Cooke's expensive car and snazzy suit most likely stood out. When Cooke parked and got out to pay for the room, he reportedly left Boyer to sit in the car by herself.
Although she claimed to have repeatedly asked Cooke to take her home and allegedly did not want to go to a motel with him, Boyer remained in the car and made no attempt to leave. Bertha Franklin, who was working at the hotel front desk, noted that Boyer did not seem distressed.
According to Boyer, things turned ugly when she and Cooke entered the room. "I started talking very loudly: 'Please, take me home,'" Boyer claimed. "He pinned me on the bed. He kept saying, 'We're just going to talk...' He pulled my sweater off and ripped my dress... I knew he was going to [hurt] me."
One version of Boyer's story suggests she tried to escape the room after Cooke allegedly pinned her to the bed, but she couldn't open the window since it had been painted shut. She was allegedly unable to hide in the bathroom since the lock didn't work. Boyer told police that Cooke went into the bathroom at some point, and she took the opportunity to run away.
Grabbing clothing as quickly as she could, Boyer picked up a few pieces of Cooke's clothing, as well. She then claimed she ran to the motel manager's office in an attempt to get help, but no one answered when she knocked on the door. Afraid Cooke might come after her, Boyer said she ran away from the motel in her slip and then called the police from a payphone at 3:08 am. She told them, "Will you please come down to this number. I don't know where I am. I'm kidnapped."