The internet was abuzz Thursday when Seattle CBS affiliate KIRO reported that the Seattle Police Department was reopening their investigation into Kurt Cobain’s apparent suicide. You may recall my skepticism about the report, commenting “Something about this story seems sketchy to me (…)” in a Disinfo post linking to KIRO’s original announcement. It looks like that skepticism was well-founded. Well, maybe.
In a statement posted to their website the SPD confirmed reports that veteran cold case department detective Mike Ciesynski was reviewing the Cobain file, but the case remained closed. April 5th marks the 20th anniversary of the musician’s death, and the department stated that the review was conducted in anticipation of any questions that might arise from the public. The statement also mentioned that the detective had found four undeveloped rolls of film during his review.
KIRO didn’t issue a retraction. In a follow-up report to the initial story, the station argued that whether the case had been reopened or not was a matter of “semantics”:
“After KIRO 7 first reported the re-investigation Thursday morning, the Seattle police public affairs unit took issue with semantics, saying the case was not technically “reopened” — despite the new interviews and processing of film that had not previously been developed.”
Ciesynski’s own comments might have added to the confusion. According to KIRO, the detective told them that the final report on the case had not yet been completed. Ciesynski also referred to the many conspiracies surrounding the singer’s death, and also told KIRO that he “wasn’t going to change [his] decision that [Cobain's death] was a suicide” and that it was up to him whether the investigation went further. The detective said that he could not justify any further action.
So what happened here? I think that the Seattle Police Department had hoped to use the Cobain death anniversary to cash in on some easy publicity, and it got out of hand. Despite being suspicious of KIRO’s initial story, I can certainly see why their reporters would say that the police department’s argument is all just semantics:
The SPD public affairs office says that it is being “re-examined” by a cold case detective but “remains closed.” One would think that a cold case detective would normally examine “cold cases,” and as someone with no law enforcement background I would imagine that a cold case could only be cold if it remained open. Finally, the police department waited until the next day to issue their response to KIRO’s report, which certainly didn’t help things.
The detective says that the final report had not been completed. I’m assuming his final report on the review, not the final report on the case, but it’s still potentially confusing. Further blurring the difference between open and closed is his statement that it was up to him whether the investigation (or is it technically a review? Wait, does he mean whether the release of the death photos?) went forward. At the very least, his statements weren’t very clear, especially when the police department announced that they had found some undeveloped photographs during the review. This is assuming, of course, that the confusion can’t be attributed to the KIRO team’s reportage.
In any case, I don’t thing that any of this confusion is going to put conspiracy theories to bed.