In May of 1992, just weeks before a world tour to promote his eighth studio album Dangerous, Michael Jackson’s car broke down. The 34-year-old singer sent his car off for repairs, and paid a visit to a nearby Rent-a-Wreck, a rental business in West Los Angeles. When the popstar arrived at the lot, looking extremely Michael Jackson in a black turban and sheer veil, the shop’s owner called his wife, and told her to rush over with her son, a 13-year-old boy named Jordan Chandler.
The boy had something of a history with Jackson—eight years prior, he had approached the singer in a restaurant for an autograph, leaving with a pair of free concert tickets and an obsession with the single-gloved pop sensation that stretched into adolescence. When Jordan met Jackson again in the Rent-a-Wreck parking lot, his mother mentioned their backstory, asking the singer to stay in touch and offering up their family phone number. The following year, the boy would allege in court testimony that Jackson used that phone number to start a relationship of sexual abuse that lasted until July of 1993. The pop star denied the accusations, but eventually settled out of court for over $20 million.
This week, HBO released Leaving Neverland—a two-part, four-hour documentary on the allegations made against Jackson by two other men, Wade Robson and James Safechuck, who recount, in startlingly similar detail, stories of grooming and sexual assault at the hands of the singer while they were children. But largely absent from the documentary was the story of Jordan Chandler, the Rent-a-Wreck boy whose testimony was the first in a series of child sexual-abuse accusations that would shroud Jackson in mystery and haunt his legacy long after he died.
In a four-page sworn deposition filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court, Jordan alleged that he and Jackson began talking on the phone a few days after they met in the rental-car lot. The pop singer is said to have made regular calls to the 13-year-old from various international stops along his “Dangerous” tour. In his testimony, Jordan claimed the conversations, which could stretch up as long as three hours, covered subjects like “video games, the Neverland Ranch, water fights, and famous people that he knew.” It was on one of these calls that, in February 1993, nine months after they had last seen each other in person, Jackson invited Jordan, his mother, and his half-sister, to come stay with him at his sprawling, Disneyfied Santa Barbara estate.
According to court documents, the first weekend Jordan spent at Neverland Ranch was platonic. The three family members slept exclusively in the guest area. “We went on jet skits in a small lake he had, saw the animals that he kept at Neverland, played video games, and went on golf cart rides,” Jordan said in his sworn deposition. “One evening he took [Jordan’s half-sister] and me to Toys ‘R Us and we were allowed to get anything we wanted. Although the store was closed, it was opened just for our visit.” The relationship between Jackson and Jordan allegedly remained platonic until the family accompanied Jackson on a private jet to Las Vegas, where he put them up in a Mirage Hotel suite for the better part of a week. One of the nights in Vegas, Jackson and Jordan watched The Exorcist in the singer’s room, court documents allege. When the movie finished, and the 13-year-old was scared, Jackson invited him to spend the night in his bed. They shared a bed for the rest of the trip, and many times afterward.
In his deposition, Jordan characterized the sexual nature of his relationship with Jackson as something that “increased gradually.” The first step, he said, was hugging, followed by brief kisses on the cheek, and eventually kisses on the lips, which lasted longer and longer, and until they began taking place while the two were in bed together. “The next step was when Michael Jackson put his tongue in my mouth,” Jordan wrote. When the boy expressed discomfort, he said, “Michael Jackson started crying. He said there was nothing wrong with it. He said that just because most people believe something is wrong, doesn’t make it so.” The singer allegedly told the boy about other “young friends” who allowed him to kiss them with an open mouth and use tongue. “Michael Jackson said that I did not love him as much as this other friend,” Jordan wrote.
The testimony goes on to recount the later stages of their relationship, which included rubbing against one another in bed and lying “on top of each other with erections.” In May 1993, when Jordan, his mother, and his half-sister joined Jackson in Monaco, the boy and singer both fell ill with colds, and wound up spending the bulk of the trip in isolation together. It was during this period that, in his testimony, Jordan described taking a bath with Jackson and engaging in sexual activity. In a Los Angeles Superior Court civil lawsuit complaint, Jordan’s attorney Larry Feldman summarized the singer’s alleged violations as: “Michael Jackson orally copulating plaintiff, defendant Michael Jackson masturbating plaintiff, defendant Michael Jackson eating the semen of plaintiff, and defendant Michael Jackson having plaintiff fondle and manipulate the breasts and nipples of defendant Michael Jackson while defendant Michael Jackson would masturbate.”
The relationship between Jordan Chandler and Michael Jackson ended in July 1993, when the 13-year-old told his biological father, a dentist-turned-screenwriter named Evan Chandler, about what had allegedly transpired. Chandler was in the midst of a custody battle with Jordan’s mother, and hearing his son’s story prompted the father to schedule an appointment with a Los Angeles psychiatrist named Mathis Abrams. Over the course of a three-hour meeting on Aug. 17, 1993, according to an extensive report in Vanity Fair, Jordan recounted the full story of his alleged history with Jackson to Abrams. In accordance with state law, the shrink then reported it to the Department of Childrens Services. Three days later, and just one day before police would search the Neverland Ranch, Jackson got wind of the boy’s charges and cancelled his Dangerous tour. By Aug. 23, the story was on the news.
Jackson denied the charges of abuse, but admitted to sharing a bed with multiple boys. His lawyer, Bert Fields, later explained to Maureen Orth of Vanity Fair that, “Michael never had a childhood. He was on the stage from the time he was 5, and while he’s a highly intelligent person, he has a lot of childlike qualities. He really lives the life of a 12-year-old.... One of the things he has done—the things I did when I was 11 or 12, probably all of us did—was to have sleepovers. So he’ll have kids stay over at his ranch or wherever he is. And almost always he has their parents along on all these things.”
In September 1993, Evan Chandler filed a civil suit against Michael Jackson in the Los Angeles County Superior Court. Four months later, the singer signed a settlement agreement, which does not include an acknowledgment of guilt, but makes reference to “confessions of judgment” from Jackson. The settlement document, obtained and published by the public-records website The Smoking Gun, provided for $15,331,250 to be paid to the boy and his family, a sum that grew to well over $20 million after accounting for legal fees. After the settlement, which included a nondisclosure agreement, Chandler and his son refrained from speaking about the allegations in public. But the documents came to light in 1996, when Chandler sued the singer again, this time for violating their settlement agreement, after Jackson referenced the lawsuit during an interview with Diane Sawyer and accused Jordan of lying.
In the decades after the lawsuits, Jordan’s family was fraught by in-fighting and custody battles. According to news reports from the early 2000s, the boy fled his mother’s custody for several years. Then, in 2006, Jordan filed a restraining against his father for allegedly attacking him with a dumbbell. At the same time, Jordan and his father reportedly experienced significant harassment for taking action against Jackson. In an apparent coping mechanism, Chandler had extensive plastic surgery on his face. At the time, sources told the New York Post that the father sought the procedures to “disguise himself” and “avoid abuse from rabid Jacko fans.” In 2009, five months after Michael Jackson passed away from a drug overdose, Chandler shot himself in the face and died.