MetalMonth – Toten Herzen, fact or fiction? Pt. 1

In 1977 four members of the rock band Toten Herzen were murdered in London by Lenny Harper. Harper was only charged with wasting police time and the bodies disappeared. The killing of Toten Herzen is now one of the forgotten events of the decade, which is why in 2012 UK music journalist Rob Wallet decided to find out what actually happened.

This is the first part of his two part article on how he solved the riddle and finally revealed the truth behind one of the great mysteries of rock music.

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I was twelve years old when the news broke about the murders of Toten Herzen. Rock stars had a habit of dying individually: Hendrix, Morrison, Joplin, Bolan to name a few, but to lose an entire band in one go was, like the band themselves, a bit clumsy. The mad rumours and urban myths that appeared were thrilling, hilarious and now and again a little disturbing, but in general they fell into three categories:

i – the deaths were a publicity stunt that didn’t go to plan

ii – the band’s subsequent disappearance was a break up due to musical differences

iii – they really were vampires!

With the resurgence of vampire themes in film and television I was prompted, in part by nostalgia and part morbid curiosity, to look again at the Toten Herzen murders in order to clarify in my own mind what may have really happened on that dark and stormy night in March 1977. (Actually it was an unseasonably warm evening, but that doesn’t seem right for a vampire story!)

i – the publicity stunt

There’s no one on record involved in the planning of it. The record company Crass has long gone. A photographer, Lance Beauly, who knew the band’s management, doesn’t recall any plans to do this. Speaking to me in August this year, Beauly, who followed the band on some of the dates on the UK and European tours in 1975 and 1976, told me that outside the circle only Izzy Starling spoke exclusively for them, but within the circle they couldn’t keep their mouths shut about anything.

lance-beauly
Regular band photographer in the 70s Lance Beauly. (photo Marc Milligan)

“Dee Vincent would come out with increasingly deranged ideas about kidnapping other singers and at one point suggested putting TNT in Harold Wilson’s pipe. If TH had a mad idea you can bet they’d be talking about it. But being staked in coffins in Highgate Cemetery was never discussed when I was around.”

Who would have come up with an idea like that? Redwall?

“Susan Bekker was the main vamp. She was the one who started the whole vampire image thing, so she would have suggested something like that. Micky was more interested in getting the most money out of an idea, but apart from the name he never really came up with publicity ideas. That was usually the band and he was very adept at maximising those ideas either in terms of money or column inches.”

Did any stunts ever go wrong?

“I remember Rene had some teeth made for a photo shoot, but they were too sharp and he sliced his gum open. He needed a couple of stitches for that one. Seems a bit ironic now the thought of a vampire biting himself and bleeding to death, but that’s how things were in the inner circle. From the outside they were this seriously nasty band, but inside they could be a bit shambolic.”

Dee-magazine-2
Dee Vincent’s use of the word liberating brought her to the attention of proto-feminist publication Wishlist. Their 1975 interview attracted the magazine’s largest haul of complaints after Vincent described feminists as middle class crackpots.

So, lets assume for a moment then that the whole thing wasn’t a set up by the band and the management. The first copper on the scene, PC Barry Bush who was twenty at the time, didn’t think it was real. I managed to interview him at his home in London this summer and prize him away from his television and the Olympics just long enough to recall the events as he experienced them.

“We got the call about nine, half nine, that some silly buggers were messing about at Highgate. Again. We thought we were going to get sent down to the Fiddler where a major rumpus had kicked off and most of us were on stand-by in case that spread, but we were told to go down to the cemetery instead and see what was happening.”

How was the ‘messing about’ described to you?

“Some damage had been done to one of the mausoleums. Kids were always trying to get into them, they didn’t know they were death traps. You know, build up of gases and things like that. So, when we arrived the entrance gates were closed so we climbed over the fence and had a look around. It was probably ten minutes before we found the mausoleum that had been broken into. The door was ajar and you could see in the torchlight it had only recently been done over.”

When you say we, who was with you?

“A colleague of mine that night was Stan Bowles. Not the Stan Bowles who played for QPR, he was always getting mixed up with him. He passed away a few years ago. But he was checking out other mausoleums, so I was the first one inside. In the torchlight I saw the first coffin which looked a bit out of place. The inside was an empty mausoleum save for this big tomb in the middle. It was a family tomb so it was big enough to put coffins on top of it. I think there were three on top and another nearby on the floor. No lids on any of them. When I shone the torch on the first one I did get a bit of a shock when there was someone inside it! I thought it was someone messing about and to be fair it would have been a pretty good set up if it hadn’t been real.”

Can you remember who was in it, the first coffin?

“All I can remember now is it was a woman. Big stake of wood in her. And blood? God, you never saw so much in all your life. I didn’t think the human body had so much blood in it. After I checked all four of these coffins I remember thinking whoever did this either doesn’t know much about vampires or human anatomy because they’ve put the stakes through the wrong side of the chest. They weren’t staked through the heart.”

Our interview was interrupted by the cycling, but after another Olympic gold for Britain, Barry told me what happened next, which wasn’t much from his point of view.

PC-Barry-Bush
Ex-copper PC Barry Bush, retired and living at home in rainy London. Bush was the first on the scene in 1977 and probably the last person alive who was there on the night. (photo Eduardo Arcos)

“Well I radioed back to the station, had to step outside to do that, and Stan reappeared looking a bit pale himself it has to be said. I don’t know what he’d seen, but it couldn’t have been anything like what I’d seen. And the next thing the place is swarming with CID and forensics. We were told to go and stand at the entrance to make sure no one got in. I joked with Stan that we’ll be stopping any nutters getting out as well. Back in them days Highgate attracted that sort of person and at that time of night anyone coming out you wouldn’t be able to tell if they were alive or dead.”

And you never heard anything after that?

“No, strange really because you tend to hear talk about this case and that case coming up and you listen out for things like that, anything you’d been part of. All I know is that the lad who confessed, I think he got done with wasting police time. Doesn’t seem much for murdering four people.”

According to anecdotal evidence Lenny Harper died in 2004 of liver failure and he never spoke to anyone about the incident. No one I’ve spoken to remembers anything about him after 1977, which is bizarre if this was a stunt that went horribly wrong. Someone should have been charged and prosecuted. Lenny may have been one of many confessing to the killings: mad fan, Peter Miles, editors of various tabloid newspapers, possibly Harold Wilson upset at having his pipe threatened with dynamite.

The Metropolitan Police were quite mean with the information they had and after an initial burst of details, they went quiet. Embarrassed at being taken in by the stunt? They couldn’t charge Lenny if the victims weren’t dead, but they could charge him with wasting their time because officers were up there dealing with his expedition instead of being kicked up and down the street in the riot outside the Fiddler pub. There was no autopsy report, no police investigation and Lenny Harper vanished without prosecution or sectioning under the mental health act.

And besides, how could one man kill four people single handed without any signs of a struggle?

Nobody was killed, no one held to account, the band were obviously not going to come forward and confess, so putting it all together you have only one conclusion…

To be continued. . . .

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