‘Dead and Gone’ exposes grisly dark side of Grateful Dead fandom
Call yourself a Deadhead? You might get more than you bargained for.
That seems to be the subtext of “Dead and Gone,” a podcast premiering Wednesday, October 15. It’s inspired by the findings of amateur detective Todd Matthews, who discovered that an outsized number of Grateful Dead fans fall victim to foul play. Considering himself the world’s first cyber-sleuth, Matthews uses the Internet to solve cold murders and identify missing persons through crowdsourcing. The podcast centers on a particular case in which two Deadheads were killed and the wrong man seems to have been convicted.
The double-murder dates back to 1985 and took place in a homeless enclave known as Rainbow Village, near San Francisco. Post-concert, Mary Gioia and Greg Kniffin, 22 and 18, respectively, from Schenectady, NY, and Wilton, Conn., planned to crash there for a night or two. Both wound up beaten and shot dead.
“They met at a Grateful Dead show,” podcast co-creator Payne Lindsey told The Post, maintaining that the man convicted of the homicide (who later died in jail) was actually innocent. “It was easy to pin it on him, and the police wrapped up their investigation in one day.”
“Dead and Gone” investigates the crime as well as the conviction while aiming to find out who really offed the young music fans. Not wanting to tip his hand, Lindsey allowed that he and his podcast partner Jake Brennan found the person who they believe committed the crime. Lindsey credits their breakthrough to “a mysterious tip from a fellow Deadhead.”
As Lindsey puts it in the podcast, “Todd has established a set of unsolved cases, all with one thing in common: the Grateful Dead.” Then Lindsey reels off some dozen examples of Deadheads who died under mysterious or suspicious circumstances, before, after or while seeing the band. “Grateful Dead fans sometimes had anything-goes lifestyles that made them vulnerable and put them in harm’s way,” said Lindsey. “People expected peace and love but came across wolves in sheep’s clothing.”
Before a typical concert, followers of the band routinely circulated through chill scenes where pot smoke permeated the air, Hacky Sacks got kicked back and forth, ticketless fans roamed around hoping for “a miracle” that would get them into the show for free and illegal drugs — ranging from psychedelic mushrooms to balloons full of nitrous oxide (dubbed “hippie crack”) — were for sale. In that environment, classic Deadheads were friendly, stoned and open to making new buds who shared their musical affinities.
All of that, according to Brennan, opened the door for grim endings: “There were people who’d take you into a Volkswagen bus, and you’re never seen again” — as was the possible outcome for two Brooklyn teenagers who hitchhiked to a 1973 show in Watkins Glen, NY. “People who attended shows in the ’80s told us about seeing bad people. There were opportunistic drug dealers.”
Brennan and Lindsey uncovered enough weird deaths to sour the hallucinatory buzz of a marathon Dead show — and, considering that sets have been known to last four hours, that’s a lot of spilled blood and corpses.
One of the more mysterious cases was that of the murdered girl found on the side of a New Jersey road in 1991. Her ID was unknown, but her thigh bore a recognizable image: the tattoo of the tiger illustration that adorned Jerry Garcia’s guitar.
Then there was the hitchhiker whose face was dismembered beyond recognition from a 1995 car accident. His pocket contained only a Dead ticket stub and a note signed by two girls with a drawing of Jerry Garcia at the bottom. Online, the crash victim would be dubbed Grateful Doe. In 2015, his identity as Jason Callahan got sussed out through a combination of Dead fans responding to a graphic reconstruction of his face and DNA research.
Lindsey and Brennan said that they spent a lot of time researching superfan Jeremy Alex. An ardent follower of the Dead who trailed the group from concert to concert, he vanished in 2004, “after freaking out in a lady’s yard in Maine,” said Lindsey. “He claimed that people were chasing him.” Possibly suspecting that the intruder was high on drugs, the woman stepped inside to call police and told the kid to stay put. When she returned, Alex was gone. “Several years later, his ID washed up on [a nearby] shore. There’s speculation that somebody dumped his body in the ocean or that he swam out and committed suicide.”
Another tragedy transpired at Brendan Byrne Arena — now known as New Jersey’s Meadowlands Arena — during a concert in 1989. Less than an hour after the final encore, the unconscious body of 19-year-old Adam Katz, who grew up in South Orange, NJ, was found alongside Route 120, near the venue. Next day, he died. While one medical review hypothesized that Katz was high on LSD and committed suicide, Lindsey said, “He had blunt force trauma to the head … Witnesses saw sketchy things with security guards that night.” Katz’s parents reportedly reached a settlement with multiple parties.
Considering it all, Brennan told The Post, “The Grateful Dead were well intentioned. They did not spread this mayhem on purpose. It’s just what happens when your fans live outside of society.”
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