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 second 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.
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…
ii – a disappearance due to unpublicised difficulties
If the band had come to the end of its natural life what might have prompted the four of them to split? ‘Musical differences’ is the usual culprit. If the five albums are examined they were becoming more complex and the shifting time signatures was a prelude of what would become an important ingredient of thrash metal in years to come.
Close up of Rene van Voors.
Bogdan Misic of the NME described the band as being musically ahead of their time. “The only ones doing that kind of complexity were the prog rockers such as Yes and ELP and, god forbid, Toten Herzen never wanted to be taken seriously musically.” They were a contradiction; hell bent on shocking people with their monstrous looks and bad behaviour, but at the same time very accomplished musicians with Dee Vincent’s hypnotic vocals out on top of it all.
I asked Lance Beauly if they ever talked about the music writing. “Bekker was serious about the music. Of the two bands that Toten Herzen came out of, After Sunset were the better band musically. Bekker and van Voors actually practised. I think they enjoyed the music. Vincent and Daley were more prototype punks.
Elaine Daley looking worse for wear in 1975. Daley was considered the most private (or reclusive) member of the band and never conducted interviews. As a result, very little is known about Daley’s life prior to Cat’s Cradle. (photo Adam Crijzek)
Vincent was quite wild at times which exasperated Bekker. I saw them arguing a few times, but it never looked like anything that would split the band. It wasn’t like Blackmore and Gillan or Don Dokken and George Lynch who could barely sit in the same room together.”
So as the music became more accomplished it would have been increasingly at odds with their ridiculous image. The logical conclusion would have seen Toten Herzen morphing into a heavy prog rock band. Sort of Genesis meets Metallica!
Dee Vincent and Elaine Daley, the prototype punks, as Beauly describes them, would have suited the punk explosion that was just around the corner, whilst Bekker and van Voors would have been two Dutch musicians equally at home with the New Wave of British Heavy Metal that was on the way. The band had options. Without the make up they could have continued knowing that there was a place for whatever musical style they wanted to play.
But life without the make up? “It was fucking convincing make up,” says Lemmy from Motorhead, on a crackly phone line from Bucharest. “I met them at Hammersmith and they looked like they needed a good meal inside them. I used to think if they drank as much blood as they claimed they’d be a bit more rosy cheeked than they were.”
Dee Vincent on tour to promote Black Rose in 1976.
They never drank from his jugular, he confirms. Did Izzy Starling think they could continue without the make up, a la Kiss? “I think it was part of them personally, not a musical act. When Micky exploited the image of the band it was more to do with their actions rather than the looks. They just thought they looked natural. It wasn’t an act.”
Starting in 1973 would have seen them pitched into the middle of the glam rock scene. If you looked normal you were a rock band, if you looked abnormal you were glam, and in the glam spectrum there was Abba at one end and Sweet at the other. Toten Herzen were never comfortable in the make up contests, going out of their way to be anything but glam. That’s why in 1974 they careered recklessly off the spectrum to make sure their name was never uttered in the same breath as Roxy Music or David Bowie.
The warning signs were there; as the decade wore on Sweet shed the eyeliner and watched their record sales nose dive. If only Bekker had owned a crystal ball she would have seen punk come and go, followed by goth and the new romantics; a myriad of looks that could have been adapted if they wanted to remain behind their masks.
And they probably had the money to hang on. According to John Whiggs at Backman Rogers Financial Consultants, totting up record sales and other 360 degree deals (although not a term that was in use at the time) the band probably had enough money to last ten years and that’s not counting money from any material reissued in that time.
Susan Bekker in a publicity shot from early 1977 just weeks before the assault by Lenny Harper. Bekker’s ambition to make Toten Herzen more than a freak show would strain her relationship with manager Micky Redwall.
The question wouldn’t have been ‘how’ but ‘where?’ Publicist Izzy Starling recalls the band moving all over the place. She now lives in a cul de sac in Great Yarmouth, but remembers the band living in hotels, other people’s flats and occasionally houses in Holland where Bekker and van Voors originally came from. “They always travelled at night so the press didn’t follow them.”
Was it true that they once kept awake an entire floor of guests at a hotel in Brussels?
“Yes. There was howling and screams all night, but when hotel staff checked the rooms everyone was asleep with the lights off. Then the noises would start again. I didn’t sleep all night, and the next morning the band didn’t remember anything. They obviously had a big laugh at everyone’s expense. I don’t believe they were charged. The hotel was glad to see the back of them.”
When was that?
“Late 76. Towards the end.”
Without anything directly from the band it’s hard to truly figure out what they were thinking. Anecdotal evidence isn’t given much weight in a court of law for obvious reasons and the best you can do is put the pieces together and hope a picture is formed. My theory is this: some or all of the members of the band were ill and faced with shifting styles in music that had no place for monster rockers, decided to take a break. Being the nutters that they were a quiet exit was never on the cards so they faked a murder and cleared off leaving Lenny Harper to face the wrath of the authorities and a charge of wasting police time. Now, they have been overtaken by changing times and musical tastes and decided they’re better off where they are. Wherever they are!
The only thing we can be sure about… they were not murdered by Lenny Harper in a tragic publicity stunt. Far from it. It all seems to have been rather effective!
And let’s not forget, there was the third rumour…
iii – they really were vampires!
It’s hard to pin down exactly when this rumour started, but it may have been a novel by London based occult writer Jonathan Knight. He was an author of several gothic horror books and in 1977, seven months after the band’s grisly demise, published ‘The Dead Heart Weeps’ in which a fictitious vampire rock band are hunted down and killed by a descendant of Van Helsing.
‘The din of the storm outside failed to raise the sleeping ghouls. Their faces red and healthy with the evening’s feast, their bodies bloated. Each gazed into infinity with all the calm and peace of satisfied devils. I feared they would catch my eye and reach for the stake, but they remained motionless and oblivious to my intentions. I looked upon the pretty face of evil one last time. The singer, for she would be the first to perish, would utter no more melodies. She had beguiled and enchanted her final audience. I placed the stake on her breast, gathered myself for the ear shattering scream and with a terrible blow of the hammer drove the stake deep into the wretched monster’s dead heart…’
The Dead Heart Weeps, Jonathan Knight (Stone Lion Books 1977)
Knight insists the band in the novel was based on Toten Herzen and that he wrote the book to alert people to the truth. He claims the band regularly visited the gothic scene in London and always claimed to be vampires. He could identify witnesses, people sworn to secrecy and members of the band’s ‘inner circle.’ He says this was a euphemism for other vampires.
Rob Wallet often suspected Jonathan Knight knew more than he let on. He would later play a key role in identifying the band’s ‘hiding place’. (photo Pedro Ribeiro Simoes)
In an interview in Fortean Times in 1983 he revealed that Lenny Harper was not a crazed fan, but the son of a Presbyterian minister called Arthur Harper. Lenny found out where the band stayed during the day and killed them by staking them while they slept.
I exchanged emails with Knight in November and he claimed to have some information, not known to him in 1983. Lenny didn’t act alone. He was helped by a friend called Eric Mortimer who is still alive and works as a librarian in Norwich.
Knight is absolutely convinced the band were real vampires, but the problem with his story is that he’s obviously never spoken to PC Barry Bush, the first officer to arrive at the crime scene. Knight would have been aware of Lenny’s vampire-hunting incompetence and the fact that the band were staked through the lungs. The worst thing Lenny could have inflicted on them was a seriously bad cough.
I think it’s time to find out once and for all where they really are.
You can read Rob Wallet’s blog and how he eventually solved the mystery at the official Toten Herzen website. >Discover the truth…
And the official Toten Herzen biographies are available from Smashwords by clicking on the covers: