Robert Gaston Fuller (Bobby Fuller) was born in Baytown, Texas
on Octorer 22, 1942. Fuller moved to Los Angeles in 1964 with his band
The Bobby Fuller Four, and was signed to Mustang Records by producer Bob
Keane, who was noted for discovering Ritchie Valens. On July 18, 1966,
he was found dead inside his car at the age of 23. The L.A. County Coroner’s
report said, “Deceased was found lying face down in front seat of car—a gas
can, 1/3 full, cover open—windows were all rolled up & doors shut, not locked
keys not in ignition.” He had multiple bruises on his arms and shoulders and
his body was soaked with gasoline. Other witnesses report that one of his
fingers was broken. Fuller’s death was first ruled a suicide, but three months
later, the medical examiner changed the cause of death to “accidental
asphyxiation” — meaning that, somehow, Fuller had accidentally drowned himself
The investigation was botched from the start — the crime scene left unsecured,
no fingerprints taken from the gasoline can found in the car. Many believed
Fuller had been murdered and the perpetrator/s had fled just as they were about
to torch his car to destroy the evidence. A partner of Bob Keane reputedly
had mob connections, and the record company was involved in payola scams
(to be fair, so was nearly everyone else in the business). There was also the
matter of a large life insurance policy allegedly taken out on Bobby Fuller
by this same record company investor. Another theory was that Fuller had gone
to an LSD party (he’d recently started experimenting with the drug) and an
accident had befallen him. Worried they’d be held responsible (and busted for
drugs to boot), party-goers drove him back to his apartment and left his body
in the car. There has even been speculation that Charles Manson was involved.
Jim Reese, guitarist for the Bobby Fuller Four, told an interviewer that four
days after Bobby died, three armed men came to his apartment looking for him.
The next day, Reese and drummer Dalton Powell fled to El Paso, taking along
a loaded pistol just in case.
With scant physical evidence, no clear leads, and so much time gone by, it’s
doubtful we’ll ever know what really happened. We’re left to wonder what other
great music Bobby Fuller might have brought into the world had he not been
taken from it that July night so many decades ago. Fuller is buried in
the Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Los Angeles.
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