Detective Mike Ciesynski of Seattle, now retired, was sent to the homicide squad for 22 years, 12 of whom were in the refrigeration unit. Ciesynski was asked to review the case of Kurt Cobain in 2014. On the 25th anniversary of Cobain's death Ciesynski shares what he found.
When the public information sergeant called me into his office in 2014, I thought he would ask if I would be willing to talk to a writer who wanted to talk about a serial murder case I was working on.
Instead, the sergeant greeted me with a funny smile, "Hey Mike, the chief wants you to watch the killing of Kurt Cobain
I told him that I did not have any thoughts since it happened just before I got to murder. But that was the job.
I was not involved in the original investigation except that I made a tape recording two years after Cobain's death. I also knew that a few rolls of 35mm film, still photos from the death scene, were never edited.
So I ordered the case file from our vault, closed my private office door, and read the entire file for the first time.
It was unusual – but not uncommon – for detectives to take a look at resolved cases when cold.
One of the original case detectives, Steve Kirkland, had died along with Sergeant Don Cameron. Steve and his partner Jim Yoshida were the best homicide detectives in the unit. Jim was retired, so I called him and told him what I was doing. Jim told me that Courtney Love was very cooperative throughout the investigation and that they had spent a lot of time with the case.
I asked Jim who made the decision not to develop the whole movie. He said it was Cameron's call not to develop the film and bring it along with the file to the file room, so no one would take anything. Obviously, media attention made some people paranoid.
Dr. Nikolas Hartshome was the assistant doctor who did the autopsy. Nick was a great man who passed away in 2002. When I received the autopsy report, I remembered leaning back in my chair and giving a "Whoa" after seeing the morphine level Kurt had in his system. It also had track marks, and its equipment contained a few grams of black tar heroin. Black tar heroin is found on the west coast west of the Mississippi compared to brown or white heroin found in the eastern part of the USA.
I knew that I had to develop the film. The chief of the crime lab made a face when I explained that he was 20 years old. The movie gets worse every year and gets very fragile – something I know from old, cold cases – and I did not want the movie on my watch getting any more dirty. We'd have to bring the film to the sheriff's photo department since the Seattle police stopped the development of the 35mm film since the transition to digital film. After the film evolved, it was obvious that the film had deteriorated and all the photos left a green hue
The note recovered from the scene was examined by a Washington State Patrol forensic document examiner who ended the note was written by Cobain. Detective Kirkland and Yoshida met with Kurt's mother Wendy O & Connor and showed her the note. She had said she thought the note had been written by Cobain.
I also decided to look at the shotgun. Some conspiracy theorists had hinted that the Seattle Police Department had handed over or destroyed the gun to Courtney Love. When the rusted gun was brought to me and after I inspected it, I was photographed by a warehouse worker
Did I find any shocking evidence that would change the court medical's conclusion that Kurt committed suicide? In fact, I have found evidence that has confirmed this finding.
I found the receipt of the purchased shotguns from a Seattle Gun shop that agreed with the time and place where a Seattle taxi driver said he had dropped off a man with the same description of Cobain after seeing him picked up from the Cobain residence. When I had questions about the positioning of Cobain's hand held gun and the location of the spent shell, I interviewed an experienced gunsmith to explain the dynamics of the likely event. Why should a millionaire musician with a bright future with unlimited potential take his life? I wish we could ask all the others who did this and said "okay" outwardly. "He or she would never commit suicide," is one of the most common things we hear when we deal with a case that turns out to be suicide.
As a homicide detective, I've learned that depression is the most common reason people commit suicide.
Mike Ciesynski retired from the Seattle Police Department in 2017 after 37 years. Mike was admitted to the homicide squad for 22 years, 12 of whom were in the refrigeration unit. Upon retirement, Mike wrote his first book about the first serial murder case he worked in, about a murderer named "Chilly Willy," who was the first serial killer to be charged in Seattle. The forthcoming book is about the murders of three women in an area known as "The Jungle".