When Marvin Crawford signed soul legend James Brown’s death certificate on Christmas Day 2006, he said the official cause of death was a heart attack and fluid in his lungs.
Now, 12 years later, the Atlanta doctor and more than a dozen others tell CNN in an bombshell investigation that the Godfather of Soul may have been murdered.
“He changed too fast,” Crawford said in the report published Tuesday morning. “He was a patient I would never have predicted would have coded. But he died that night, and I did raise that question: What went wrong in that room?”
The CNN investigation began in 2017, after Jacque Hollander, now a circus singer, told reporter Thomas Lake she had information about the soul icon’s death. He had worked with her as a songwriter in the 1980s and later allegedly raped her at gunpoint.
This epic-length three-part series seeks to answer questions surrounding Brown’s suspicious death and examines the 1996 death of his third wife, Adrienne, who died while recovering from plastic surgery—though Hollander told CNN she always believed her friend was murdered.
Both of the Browns’ deaths, CNN revealed, have “a disturbing pattern of similarities.”
Here are the top 10 most insane parts of this possible murder investigation:
The Circus Singer Met Brown While Fighting Cancer
Jacque Hollander, now 61, says she first met the Godfather of Soul in the 1970s, when she was a teen with intestinal cancer. Her father had taken her to the Atlanta airport to watch planes land and when she turned around, she saw “a man wearing furs,” that resembled Santa Claus.
“That’s not Santa Claus,” her father said, according to the CNN report. “That’s James Brown, Godfather of Soul.”
When Hollander approached then-35-year-old Brown, he asked her what she wanted to be when she grew up—to which she said a songwriter, though her possibly terminal illness stood in the way.
“Brown told her she would get well, and she would write a song,” the report says. “He asked her father for a pen and a piece of paper, which her father handed over, and he wrote something like, Bring me the song.”
Less than two decades later, Hollander decided to take Brown up on his offer after she wrote a song for the Atlanta Falcons, and contacted his lawyer Buddy Dallas. She produced that paper he had signed.
They Became Friends, Until He Took Her to the Woods
In 1988, after the two finished a song and started a charity venture together, the singer invited Hollander to check out his car for a ride. Instead of going back to his office, Brown started driving them toward South Carolina. The singer told CNN she believes Brown was high was on PCP—his drug of choice—when took her into the woods and violently raped her for hours next to a shotgun in the back of his van.
"Something happened to me that night,” she said, according to CNN. “And the girl that went into those woods never came back out."
Hours later, Brown dropped her back off at the office as if nothing happened. When she tried to drive away, the Godfather of Soul followed her, and tried to run her off the road because she didn’t tell him “she loved him.”
The alleged rape occurred just four days before Brown made national headlines in an infamous two-state car chase for which he was eventually sentenced to prison for carrying an unlicensed pistol and assaulting a police officer, along with various drug-related and driving offenses.
Past Lawsuits Against Brown Reveal a Pattern of Violence
In addition to Adrienne Brown’s domestic-violence claim, CNN uncovered three lawsuits against the singer, all from women who claimed to have been verbally and sexually abused by Brown.
In 1998, a South Carolina civil lawsuit accused Brown of holding a woman captive for three days, demanding oral sex, and firing a gun in his office. The suit was later dropped. In another suit filed in Georgia, Brown allegedly demanded sexual favors from his backup singer, threatening to not pay her and keep her off the stage if she refused—but that lawsuit too was later dropped.
“In 1999 and 2000, according to yet another civil lawsuit, Brown allegedly told his employee Lisa Agbalaya he had “bull testicles,” handed her a pair of zebra-print underwear, told her to wear them while he massaged her with oil, and fired her after she refused,” the report reads. “A jury in Los Angeles cleared Brown of sexual harassment but found him liable for wrongful termination.”
Brown’s abuse also allegedly hit those closest to him, his wives. In 2004, South Carolina deputies found Brown’s fourth wife, Tomirae Hynie, covered in scratches after responding to a domestic-violence call. Hynie told police her husband “pushed her to the floor of the bedroom” before he held a iron chair over her and threatened to kill her. The singer pleaded guilty to his charge and was fined, though he was never sent to jail.
Adrienne Brown’s Allegations, However, May Have Killed Her
On April 3, 1988, Adrienne Brown called the police, reportedly while high on drugs, to say her husband had beaten her with a metal pipe and had fired his shotgun at her and her car. “Victim had bruises all over her body,” an investigator at the time wrote, according to CNN.
Unlike with the previous allegations against the Godfather of Soul, he was arrested and charged with assault with intent to murder—though was never prosecuted. According to Hollander, she and Adrienne had a secret meeting at a steakhouse where her friend revealed she “had been told to drop the charges or be killed.”
Brown’s third wife, a former hair stylist for TV shows including Days of Our Lives and Solid Gold, would eventually call the police against her former husband four times in their 10-year relationship—each time dropping the charges or recanting her statements.
Eight years after her first domestic-violence allegation, Adrienne was found dead in California while recovering from cosmetic surgery. There were no signs of foul play, retired Beverly Hills Det. Steve Miller told CNN, and by the time he got there, Adrienne’s body had been taken by the coroner’s office. The coroner’s office said the cause of death was PCP intake and atherosclerotic heart disease.
“When Adrienne died, so did her last domestic-violence case,” the CNN report says. “One day after the burial, a sheriff’s spokesman said the charge would be dropped. He said, ‘Mr. Brown has suffered terribly as the result of the death of his wife.’”
Miller believes Adrienne’s death may have been suspicious. A notebook he got from a confidential informant in 2001 says that a doctor confessed to murdering Adrienne Brown with a fatal drug overdose.
“I know he murdered James Brown’s wife (as he referred to her) I know he knew he did + he was trying desperately to cover,” the informant, Linda Bennett, wrote in her notebook. “I know because he told me—HE TOLD ME SO HIMSELF, then he tried to kill me.” CNN found the doctor, who denied all allegations of foul play.
Even James Brown Thought His Third Wife Was Murdered
Shortly after Adrienne’s death, the singer married Tomirae Hynie, his backup singer. In a call with CNN, Hynie said Brown told her he “believed there was more to the story of Adrienne’s death” because she had come out of her plastic surgery “just fine.”
“And then somebody paid her a visit,” Hynie told CNN, referring to a drug dealer, “and that’s how the PCP was introduced to her system, and that killed her.”
Hynie also believed in possible foul play and mentioned it in the 2005 documentary A Tale of James Brown, where she is interviewed at a hotel room, alone. Filmed a year before Brown's death, she believes that “something” will kill her like it did Adrienne.
“This is my last chance to get away from something that I’m convinced is going to kill me,” she says. “And I wouldn’t be the first, so.”
James Brown’s Death Investigation Was Closed Quickly, Too
Police never opened a criminal investigation when James Brown died in 2006, nor did they perform an autopsy—at the unusual request of his family.
According to his death certificate, Brown officially died of a heart attack and had fluid in his lungs in a Atlanta hospital on Christmas Day. His personal manager, Charles Bobbit, who said he was the only one with him, heard Brown complain that his “chest was on fire” before the singer lay down “and died.”
Like his ex-wife, Brown’s case was closed quickly. Despite the recommendation of Dr. Marvin Crawford, his daughter Yamma Brown declined an autopsy but would never gave an explanation as to why. A funeral came three months later and no questions were raised when an allegation was made that his crypt was empty.
Thirteen people told CNN they believed Brown’s death was suspicious, as was the quick dismissal of investigating the circumstances of the singer’s death.
His Doctor Believes His Health Declined Suspiciously Fast
Dr. Crawford not only signed Brown’s death certificate in 2006, but also treated him at the hospital prior to his death. Though he originally signed that Brown died of natural causes, he told CNN he now believes it was an overdose—accidental or not.
Brown’s condition “changed too fast,” Crawford told CNN. “He was a patient I would never have predicted would have coded,” referring to the icon’s heart health. "But he died that night, and I did raise that question: What went wrong in that room?”
After a visit to the dentist, Brown was brought to the hospital on Dec. 23, 2006 by his longtime friend Andre White, who was a patient of Crawford. Originally, Crawford thought Brown had pneumonia—which was widely reported after his death—but later found signs of a mild heart attack.
The doctor also found traces of cocaine in Brown’s urine, and was confident his patient would be just fine.
“He improved fast,” Crawford told CNN, explaining why he eventually left the hospital to spent Christmas Eve with his family. “Boom, boom, boom.… By 5 o’clock on the 24th, I mean, he probably could have walked out of the hospital if he had wanted. But we wouldn’t let him go. We wouldn’t tell him to go yet.”
But at 1 a.m., Crawford was awakened by a call from the hospital—Brown’s heart had stopped. By the time he got to the hospital room, the singer was dead.
A Friend Kept a Vial of Brown’s Blood for a Possible Murder Investigation
White, who had been friends with Brown for over four decades, questioned Bobbit, who had been left to care for the singer. Bobbit allegedly told him he left to get Maalox or Ensure for Brown—despite being inside a hospital.
During the time Brown was alone, a nurse allegedly told White “Brown had been visited by a male stranger she didn’t recognize.”
“After that visit, White says the nurse told him Brown’s vital signs rapidly declined,” the CNN report says, adding that the nurse pointed to “residue” left in his IV tube. CNN could not independently confirm any of these details.
When White and Crawford told Brown’s legal team about their suspicions, they asked them to “not let it get out.” Crawford, who at the time believed Brown had willingly taken drugs in his hospital room, never went to the authorities. White, however, took a vial of Brown’s blood from a hospital nurse in the hope of proving that his friend had been murdered.
His Legal Team May Have Been Manipulating Brown
Nick Ashton-Hart, managing director of Intrigue Music’s European territory, told CNN that weeks before his death, Brown revealed he wanted to separated from his two lawyers: Buddy Dallas and David Cannon.
The Godfather of Soul had previously threatened to leave South Carolina and his lawyers, and told only a handful of people he wanted to move to New York in the new year.
“He didn’t want a lot of people to know, because he was afraid Dallas and Cannon would try to stop him,” Brown’s manager, Frank Copsidas, told CNN.
The two had financial control over Brown’s finances, after he signed a will and estate plan in 2000 that gave three trustees control. Part of the agreement allowed the trustees to use up to 50 percent of Brown’s income for “management purposes.”
Cannon had already begun taking Brown’s millions, as investigators found he was “building a seaside mansion on an island off the coast of Honduras” with the more than $8 million he illegally diverted from his clients' accounts.
Cannon declined CNN’s request for an interview and died on Oct. 1 of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
Several people have alleged in court documents that Buddy Dallas conspired with Cannon to exploit Brown, though he was never criminally charged.
The two lawyers’ control over Brown infuriated the singer, according to CNN, prompting Brown to slap Cannon several times at one point.
Copsidas told CNN “Cannon and Dallas learned of Brown’s intentions weeks or months before his death, but Cannon did not believe he would actually move.”
That Christmas Eve afternoon, Hynie told CNN, she spoke with Brown while he was at the hospital, who confirmed they would be moving in the new year and start a new life. Twelve hours later, Tomirae got the call from Bobbit that her husband had died.
“When Tomirae got back to the mansion in South Carolina, she found that someone had changed the locks,” the CNN report says.
His Former Hairdresser ‘Confessed’ to the Circus Singer
Jacque Hollander, years after her alleged rape, continued to communicate with Buddy Dallas. In 2016, Dallas introduced her to Candice Hurst, a woman who used to sing with Brown, as well as do his hair.
During a meeting at the Red Roof Inn in Augusta, Georgia, Hollander told CNN, Hurst revealed she had been Brown’s lover and had slept at his South Carolina home the week before he died.
Then, Hurst told Hollander about “a vision” she had—one which the circus singer interpreted as a confession.
“Hurst was standing with Charles Bobbit in Brown’s hospital room. She was giving Brown some drugs, and the drugs were spilling on the floor and on her shoes, and Brown wasn’t dying quickly enough,” according to CNN. “And so Bobbit poured some herbs into a glass of water. He gave Brown the water. Brown drank the water, and then he died.” Hurst denied the tearful confession or to killing James Brown in a CNN interview.
However, Brown’s friend Tony Wilson told CNN he had spoken with Hurst just after the Godfather of Soul’s death.
“She said she was there. She was at the hospital,” Wilson told CNN, adding that the former hairdresser told him the two partied before Brown’s death, and that “maybe that killed him.”