The Man Who Killed Paul McCartney 
The incredible, never-before-revealed true-life event that sparked the greatest rock 'n' roll rumor of all time
By Jim Yoakum

From Gadfly May/June 2000


The setup...
In the February 1967 (#43) issue of The Beatles Monthly Book, the Beatles' official fan club magazine, the following blurb appeared in the "Beatle News" section, entitled "FALSE RUMOUR":

"Stories about the Beatles are always flying around Fleet Street. The 7th of January was very icy, with dangerous conditions on the M1 motorway, linking London with the Midlands, and towards the end of the day, a rumor swept London that Paul McCartney had been killed in a car crash on the M1. But, of course, there was absolutely no truth in it at all. As the Beatles' Press Officer found out, when he telephoned Paul's St. John's Wood home and was answered by Paul himself, that he had been at home all day with his black Mini Cooper safely locked up in the garage."

The story goes...
On October 12, 1969, Detroit disc jockey Russ Gibb of WKNR-FM received a bizarre late-night phone call from a listener. This Deep Throat told him that, if he played several tracks off of the Beatles' The White Album backwards, he'd hear some rather interesting things. Curious, Gibb decided "to hell" with his stylus and turntable, and spent the next several hours shredding his copy of The White Album. What Gibb heard was amazing. When played backwards, he discovered a formerly indecipherable mumbling from John Lennon at the end of "I'm So Tired" could now clearly be made out as the literary Beatle moaning "Paul is a dead man, miss him, miss him, miss him." Also, the oft-intoned words "number nine, number nine" from Lennon's music concrete opus, "Revolution #9," miraculously transformed into the eerie phrase "turn me on dead man" when spun counterclockwise.

Clearly, Gibb thought, something was up. So certain he was on to something big, Gibb started digging deeper. He soon discovered various other "clues" relating to the supposed demise of the cute Beatle sprinkled on various other Beatle songs and album covers, going as far back as their Yesterday....And Today LP, released a full three years earlier! Soon after Gibb began enlightening his Motor City listeners to "The Great Cover-up," disc jockey's from competing stations in New York City and beyond picked up this shaggy dog tale, and it wasn't too long before the news "Paul McCartney was dead" began to spread around the world. Within weeks, the sale of new and old Beatles albums soared as both the distraught fan and the merely curious bought clean copies just to play them backwards. (The rumors helped the sales of the just-released Abbey Road, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, Magical Mystery Tour, and The White Album. Both Sgt. Pepper's and Magical Mystery Tour, which were released in 1967, re-entered Billboard's Top 200 charts in November 1969. Both LP's stayed in the Top 200 until the spring of 1970).

Faced with this preponderance of "evidence," and coupled with the Beatles' own real lack of comment, the public decided the story must be true. "Okay then," the public said, "we've come not to bury Paul (besides, Lennon had already admitted to doing just that at the end of "Strawberry Fields Forever"), but to ask if Paul is dead, then how did it happen?"

Although many more tales developed than tellers in this story, by 1970 a fairly conclusive and mutually agreed-upon scenario began to develop regarding exactly how Paul had come to meet his maker. As the story goes, on an evening in November 1966 (probably the eighth, a "stupid bloody Tuesday"), an argument took place between McCartney and the other Beatles at Abbey Road Studios. A livid McCartney stormed out of the building, hopped into his Aston Martin and sped off into the night. In his anger, he failed to notice the traffic light change and he spun out of control, smashing into a light pole at full speed, thus decapitating him (in other words, he "blew his mind out in a car"). He was later "Officially Pronounced Dead" on the scene, in the early hours of Wednesday the ninth ("number nine, number nine...). McCartney was then carried in secret to the morgue (note the "O.P.D" patch on McCartney's left sleeve on the inside gatefold of Sgt. Pepper's). Faced with the prospect of losing revenue due to the untimely death of the most popular member of the band, (the story goes) the three "surviving Beatles" hired one William Campbell, a man who supposedly once won a McCartney look-alike contest, to fill in for the dead Beatle. The "clues" then became the Fabs way of subtly and gently breaking the tragic news to the fans. (The entire crash scenario is supposed to be played out in full if you play "Revolution #9" backwards).

Anyway, that's the story of the Paul Is Dead rumor. But there's another story that's never been told—until now. The story of an incredible true-life event that accidentally sparked the greatest rock 'n' roll rumor of all time.

First some background...
If an era can be said to have a father, then London's Swinging Sixties was the bastard child of Robert Hugh Fraser. Fraser was the son of a wealthy Scots banker, and a man who appeared to have everything going for him: looks, class, youth and money. Yet for all of his privileges, Fraser was a frustrated artist at heart who sublimated his creative longings into running one of the best art galleries in London. By 1964, the Robert Fraser Gallery at 69 Duke Street was recognized around the world as being the sharpest, hippest gallery, exhibiting the latest and most important artists of the period. Fraser was also accumulating friends more accustomed to the pop charts than Pop Art. Musicians like Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, Paul McCartney, John Lennon, Brian Jones and others were regular fixtures at both Fraser's gallery, and at his Mount Street apartment. To the still scruffy rockers, Fraser represented all that swung about the Swinging Sixties: the money, the sex and (especially) the drugs. Fraser was where all of the razz-ma-tazz of the era sprang. Without him, smoking dope was just getting high.

Mohammed Chtaibi first met Robert Hugh Fraser in the early 1960s. He was a young Moroccan student, the ward of Mark Gilbey, the multimillionaire heir to the Gilbey liquor fortune, and it wasn't long before Mohammed Chtaibi (then known as Mohammed Hadjij) and Robert Fraser became fast friends. Soon after he opened his gallery, Fraser asked Chtaibi to be his personal assistant and move into the adjoining penthouse on Mount Street, which Fraser watched for an aging movie star, who no longer bothered to drop by. Officially, Chtaibi's job was to pick up and deliver painters and paintings to the gallery, but he soon realized his real job was to baby-sit the gallery while Fraser ran off with his famous friends. Sometimes Fraser would invite Chtaibi along with him (usually to cook, drive or carry the dope), and this is what he did on the first Saturday of January in the winter of 1967. They were going to Paul McCartney's house to have a party.

Fraser and Chtaibi's taxi pulls up to the gate at 7 Cavendish Avenue, McCartney's London home located in the swank St. John's Wood area, late in the afternoon. Twenty or so fans, mostly girls, were already camped outside hoping to get a glimpse of the elusive Beatle. When the slight, dark-haired Chtaibi gets out of the cab the girls all scream, thinking at first glance that he's McCartney, but McCartney is already shuttered inside the three-story detached house, playing rock 'n' roll records. Fraser goes to the gate and presses the intercom button several times. It's many full minutes before McCartney (thinking it's the girls playing pranks again) answers with a laconic "Yeah?" After a brief exchange, the gate swings open just enough for Fraser and Chtaibi to squeeze through, and then clicks closed again.

Once safely ensconced inside the house, the trio retires to McCartney's cluttered back-room lounge to relax. After a few minutes of chat, McCartney exits, but quickly returns with a large book, which he places on a table. Chtaibi watches as McCartney opens up the book. He's surprised to learn it's actually hollowed out in the middle, making the book a secret box, and the box is filled with all manner of hard and soft drugs, from hashish to cocaine, heroin and acid. This is the stash, the heart of the party. McCartney takes out a bag of hash and assigns Mohammed the task of rolling the "Benson & Hashish B-52 Bombers," joints made from a mixture of dope and tobacco, while he and Fraser chat. A few Bombers later, the intercom buzzes again. Within moments, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Brian Jones and mutual hipster friend Christopher Gibbs (the nephew of a former British Governor of Rhodesia) are standing in the middle of the room. Now the party starts to get serious, and the Bombers are augmented by some of the harder drugs.

After a few hours of fun, and with darkness falling, the group decides to "make a weekender out of it." Plans are made to drive to Redlands, Richards' secluded thatched-roofed country mansion in West Wittering, Sussex, after a brief stop first at Jagger's place in Hertfordshire. Laughing and joking, they spill out of McCartney's door and shamble toward the cars. Even though three vehicles are parked in McCartney's drive (McCartney's Aston Martin and black Mini Cooper, and Jagger's Mini Cooper), they all decide for some reason to try and cram into Jagger's small car.

Crushed underneath the weight of Richards and Gibbs, Chtaibi suggests they take a second car. McCartney agrees, and tells Chtaibi to get out and follow them in his Mini. (Unlike Jagger's Mini Cooper, McCartney's was especially designed for him as an almost toy version of a Rolls-Royce complete with arm chairs, a wet bar, smoke-tinted glass, a racing-style steering wheel about 12-inches wide and oversized tires. The car was the only one of its kind in Great Britain and was easily recognized as being McCartney's). As a special precaution against possible nosy cops, McCartney hands Chtaibi the book—the heart of the party—and says "meet you there." Moments later, the front gates fly open and the crowd of girls let out a collective shriek of "Paul!!" as the two cars speed past them, bound for the privacy of their home counties.

Although Chtaibi has driven McCartney's Mini many times, it's mainly been short distances, usually local hash runs, and he's a little uneasy with the car's tight steering. He curses to himself as he realizes his suggestion has put him in the dangerous position of driving the car at night, down unfamiliar roads, with no clear idea of his ultimate destination. He's also quite stoned and is having to concentrate hard just to keep the little car between the lines. Within minutes, the two Mini Coopers are well past the bright city lights of London, heading up the M1 into the country dark of Britain's outer regions. Before long they're traveling at speeds upward to 70 mph, dangerous indeed on such narrow black roads better suited for bicycles than automobiles. Chtaibi is having to push the Mini faster than he's comfortable with in order to keep Jagger's taillights in sight.

At about the halfway point in the journey, something crucial happens: Chtaibi runs out of cigarettes. Giving the car more gas, he succeeds in pulling McCartney's Mini up beside Jagger's car and motions to Fraser to toss him some ciggies. Amazingly, considering their speed, Fraser manages to land a few butts inside the car. Jagger and company then pull ahead and out of sight.

At this point, it should be mentioned that in his hurry to get into the Mini outside McCartney's house, Chtaibi accidentally left about a 12-inch section of the car's seat belt dragging on the ground. As he slows down to light his fag, another car comes up from behind him and begins to pass. As it does, the car's tires run over the dangling seat belt. Unaware of the passing car, Chtaibi immediately feels the Mini being tugged to the right. He compensates by instinctively pulling the steering wheel in the opposite direction. At this exact moment, the passing car drives off of the belt. The next thing Chtaibi knows, the Mini is leaving the asphalt and is flying through the air at incredible speed toward a large metal streetlight sitting atop a massive concrete pylon. As the Mini smashes headlong into the pole, the jagged metal of the light shaves the car straight up the middle like a tin can, breaking the engine in two, and leaving Chtaibi unconscious and bleeding and hugging the monstrous lamp between his legs.

He doesn't know how long he's been unconscious. Perhaps just a few minutes, maybe longer or maybe less. But not too long after the crash, Chtaibi starts to awaken. The first thought that occurs to him is not the state of the car, or of his bloodied head and body—it's of the box. The heart of the party. Realizing the dire implications should the police find a box full of drugs in Paul McCartney's car, Mohammed manages to pull himself out of the wreckage, locate the box, hobble across the dark highway (scaling a high barrier fence and a traffic island in the process), throw the box as far down a ravine as he can, and still make it back to the accident site before the police arrive.

Hot on the heels of the police come the spectators. They immediately recognize the Mini Cooper as belonging to McCartney, and an audible buzz goes up after they see a slight, dark-haired man being pulled from the car and placed into an ambulance. Putting two and two together and coming up with three, the word quickly spreads that Paul McCartney's been in a car accident.

Chtaibi is taken to a nearby hospital where he is treated for multiple cuts, bruises and other injuries. After the doctors remove all of the glass from his face and body, Mohammed (still bolstered from the drugs at McCartney's) decides he's okay, checks himself out and goes home. Once back at Mount Street he spends a few anxious hours waiting for the phone to ring. "Surely they're going to call," he thinks. "If only to know what happened to the drugs." But, surprisingly, the phone never rings. He decides to go to a party instead. The next morning, hurting and hung-over, he gets a call from Robert Fraser demanding to know what happened. Fraser tells Chtaibi that McCartney and the others were plenty pissed off he never bothered to show up with the drugs, accusing him of giving them the slip and making his own party. Chtaibi tells Fraser the story of what happened and asks Fraser to ask McCartney if his insurance can cover his injuries. Fraser says he'll relay the tale to McCartney.

On Monday, Chtaibi is somewhat surprised by an unusual visit from McCartney. But far from being pleased by—or even acknowledging—Chtaibi's super-human efforts to get rid of the stash, McCartney lashes into the Moroccan for wrecking his prized car. Chtaibi pleads with McCartney for help, saying he doesn't have enough money to go to the hospital and he'd like to collect on the insurance. McCartney is adamant. "That car's only insured for me, my chauffeur, Jane [Asher, his fiancé at the time] and Jane's mum," he says. Chtaibi later complains to Fraser about McCartney's lack of sympathy. Fraser tells Chtaibi to not worry about it, that things would be fixed. They never were.

So, the question is: was Mohammed Chtaibi's unfortunate encounter with Paul McCartney's Mini Cooper the inspiration behind the ensuing Paul Is Dead rumors? While there is no definitive proof that it was, there are an awful lot of coincidences between what did happen and what was rumored.

To start, although it didn't take place in late fall of 1966 (as went the rumor), there really was a car crash involving Paul McCartney's Mini Cooper on Saturday, January 7, 1967 on the M1. While it did not involve McCartney, the car was driven by a man who resembled him enough to start tongues wagging and stories flying.

After Chtaibi's accident, the Beatles suddenly incorporated an inordinate number of references to car crashes and accidents into their lyrics. Rather odd topics for rock songs, and ones previously neglected by the Fab Four. To wit: "He blew his mind out in a car" ("A Day In The Life," recorded February 1967). "You were in a car crash and you lost your hair" ("Don't Pass Me By," recorded June 1968). And these rather bizarre excerpts from "Revolution #9," a song which acts almost as a recreation of a car accident, encompassing screams, crashes, flames and comments from spectators, including: "People ride, people ride. Ride, ride, ride, ride, ride... He hit a pole... He'd better go to see a surgeon... In my broken chair, my wings are broken and so is my hair... It's a fine chemical imbalance... Must've got it between his shoulder blades...", (recorded June 1968).

And for no apparent reason, there's a toy car sitting in a doll's lap on the cover of Sgt. Pepper's. The doll wears a sweater reading "Welcome, The Rolling Stones." The group that evening included McCartney and three of the Stones, and they were headed to Richards' home. Also, for no apparent reason, there's a picture of two cars meeting on a darkened road on page 14 of the Magical Mystery Tour booklet. If these aren't references to Chtaibi's accident, or to "Paul's death" (as denied by the Beatles), then what do they mean and why are they there?

So, did the Beatles use Chtaibi's accident as the inspiration for the hoax and, if so, why? Again, there's no definitive proof that the Beatles had a direct hand in the Paul Is Dead rumor. They have always denied culpability, but the sheer overwhelming abundance of "coincidences" and "clues" sprinkled across four or five albums does cast some shadow on their story. Clearly something was up. As to why they would even entertain doing such a bizarre thing, it's important to remember the times in which this all took place. Less than a year earlier the band had become fed-up with screaming Beatlemania and decided to stop touring in order to concentrate on their music. This was a risky move. No pop band had ever attempted to go from teen idol to serious artist. Would the kids relate to their new mature style? Would the sophisticos they were hoping to reach embrace the former Mop Tops?

Before Sgt. Pepper's was released, neither scenario looked very likely. In fact, the British press had taken to calling the Beatles "washed-up" and "out of ideas." A lot was riding on their next move and it was a tense time. Is it really such a stretch to think four clever men like the Beatles might want to take out a little insurance against the possible failure of Sgt. Pepper's by cooking up a fantastical scheme as bizarre as the Paul Is Dead Rumor? After all, aren't these the same guys who had previously played with our brains by putting backwards singing on "Rain," who sang "tit, tit, tit" on the choruses of "Girl" and who managed to slip the phrase "Paul's a queer" into the ultimate kiddies' song, "Yellow Submarine?" The thinking could have been, should Sgt. Pepper's go belly-up, the band could slowly reveal the "clues as to Paul's demise" some months, or even years, later in order to spur sagging album sales. Embarrassment at the premature discovery of the scheme could easily account for their later adamant denials. It's a brilliant idea. In fact, the whole thing has John Lennon written all over it. Assuming, of course, they had been involved.

When Mohammed Chtaibi first told me his tale nearly 12 years ago, I asked whether or not he believed McCartney and the other Beatles had been involved in the subsequent Paul Is Dead rumor. Chtaibi smiled and, placing tongue-firmly-in-cheek, sarcastically replied: "I hear if you play 'Silly Love Songs' (McCartney's mid-'70s hit) backwards, you can hear him say 'I wish I was dead!'"

Touché, Mohammed. And happy motoring.