Democrat and Chronical, Rochester, N.Y.
Dean Reed a mystery in death as in life
Things went wrong for communist singer after "60 minutes" segment
By David McQuay
In the eyes of the Soviets, handsome, honey-voiced Dean Reed was the most famous American singer. People tore his clothes in the streets. Women cried over him. The Kremlin applauded his nice words about Soviet politics, and he enjoyed a princely house in East Berlin, control over his music and films, marriage to a beautiful woman - in short, everything that Elvis had.
Well, not everything. He had travelled the world, but only half of it was his oyster. He never tasted American success. Even in Colorado, where he was born and raised, Dean Reed was as obscure as a Holiday Inn singer. Twentyfive years ago the young man reached for Hollywood stardom and felt into the lukewarm waters between the green hills of success and the stone cliffs of failure. He was another pretty face. Now, at 47, his hair graying and his voice tinged with German accent, Dean Reed wanted another shot at America. He missed his friends, his daughter in California and his mother in Hawaii, and he missed the Colorado mountains. He missed the English language. He always retained his U.S. citizenship.
When he returned almost anonymously to the United States last fall for the Denver International Film Festival's showing of American Rebel, an American-produced documentary of Reed's life, he realized how much he missed the United States, even though the press brushed him off as a Soviet lackey. It is possible that Dean Reed began to have doubts about the Soviet system; he privately told an old friend with whom he stayed, Johnny Rosenburg, of Loveland, Colo., that "the Berlin Wall is a disgrace." He never told that to reporters.
Reed has grand plane, or perhaps grand illusions: release a record and a film in the States, write an autobiography, do a concert tour, and live in the United States part or all the year. Maybe he would go to politics. In an interview with Mike Wallace on "60 minutes" last spring, he said that if Gary Hart could run for the presidency, he could run an Socialist candidate for Hart's senatorial seat.
And, he told to friends, he wanted to die in America.
After the "60 minutes" broadcast, strange things happened to Dean Reed. His American manager, Dixie Schnebly, said that Reed was about to make an East German-Soviet produced movie about the 1973 Wounded Knee, S.D., Indian uprising and two directors left the project. Letters between Reed and Schnably were opened. Film props she had send were stolen.
And Reed called Rosenburg to ask what he had thought of the "60 minutes" interview. Rosenburg joked that when Reed returned to the United States, he had better wear a bulletproof vest.
Reed chuckled and said, "What I better do first is get myself a plot up in the mountains."
On weekend of June 13-14, a London Sunday Times magazine correspondent named Russel Miller was scheduled to interview Reed in East German. He telephoned Reed's home Friday, and the East German actress Renate Blume-Reed, the singer's wife, told him that the interview would have to be cancelled because Reed had been taken to the hospital. Miller called again that evening, and Blume-Reed said that the doctors thought Reed had an infection. During that conversation, Miller later wrote, the telephone was taken from Blume-Reed while she was in midsentence. A man came on the line.
This is Mr. Wieczaukowski, he said, the co-director of the film that Dean's going to shoot in a few days. Yes, Dean is in the hospital, he said. He might have to stay several days in the hospital. We're worried about him.
Wieczaukowski gave Miller his home telephone number in Potsdam, a city about 20 miles from Berlin.
The next day, Blume-Reed told Miller that her husband would be kept in the hospital until Tuesday. Miller returned to London.
On June 17, Dean Reed's clothed body was found in a lake bear his home. His car was parked nearby. Miller dialled Wieczaukowski's number.
A woman answered. You have the wrong number, she said. There is nobody here by that name.
"Dean died the way he lived his live - like a mystery," Johnny Rosenburg says. "And why should he be any different in death than he was in life?"
No one is sure how Reed died, and every week there seems to be a new theory. East Berlin friends have been quoted as saying he was jealous of his wife's friends and hanged himself. The East German police have never gotten their story straight. First they alleged that Reed committed suicide by drowning. Then when two sceptical American women - Reed's first wife, Patricia Reed and his mother, Ruth Anna Brown - arrived for the funeral and asked questions, the cause of death was changed to accidental drowning.
The policy have suggested that Reed got sleepy while driving, pulled the car over by the lake, splashed water on his face to wake himself up and fell in and drowned. But Dean Reed was an excellent swimmer; as a teen-ager he had been a lifeguard, and at 47 he was in top shape.
His body was dressed in heavy, fur-lined, bluejean jacket that Rosenburg had given him and an overcoat, according to police investigators. But the temperatures in Berlin in humid mid-June ranged from the high 50s to the 70s. Even in the middle of the night, a sweater would have been sufficient.
The police report omits the puzzling fact that Reed was wearing an overcoat.
There were no bullet holes or knife wounds. The autopsy report mentions a quantity of nitrazepam, a tranquilizer akin to Valium, was founded in the body, but that is not surprising: Reed took pills every night to sleep. He told some friends he took one a night; Patricia Reed said he told her he was taking four. The coroner told his mother that Reed had taken only a small amount of sedative, not enough to be toxic.
But the autopsy report says the quantities of nitrazepam "are clearly within the toxic range ... such doses have greatly sedative, almost hypnotic, effects which may support and expedite drowning." When Dr. Michael Bennett, a clinical pharmacist at the Rocky Mountain Drug and Poison Center, was told of the quantities of nitrazepam in the blood, urine and stomach listed in the report, he said that it sounded as if Reed had taken more than four pills. "It's quite a bit in the body."
There was also quite a bit of alcohol in the body, which is strange. Anyone who knew Reed said he rarely drank; he had a stomach ulcer. Renate told friends that Reed had one glass of wine with dinner before he disappeared. But the blood-alcohol level in the body showed 0,2 milligrams. That is more than one glass of wine, Benett said.
Together with the pills, it "sounds like an overdosage situation."
The report says the body was underwater for four days. When Patricia Reed and Will Roberts, who directed "American Rebel", arrived in East Berlin and asked to see the body, the coroner's office resisted, saying that it had been partially devoured by fish. The Americans persisted and the coroner acquiesced - and then was shocked to find that the body had been moved to the crematorium by the film production company without his permission.
Finally, 11 days after Dean Reed has died, they viewed the body. As she was watched by authorities, Patricia Reed knelt before it, acting as if she were praying, in order to examine it closely. A sheet covered all but his face, chest and feet.
Those toes she recognized. "My daughter has his toes," she explained.
There was a bruise on the forehead and a cut on the throat. The cut might have been made during the autopsy. The face was blackened but not bloated. Odd, she thought. Four days in a lake and the body's not bloated?
Renate Blume-Reed did not want to have anything to do with the funeral arrangements. "She didn't want to see the body, which was strange to me," Patricia Reed said. "All funeral arrangements were taken care of by the film production company, which was strange to me. He wrote up his will three years ago. He excluded Ramona (his and Patricia's daughter) from the will. Very strange."
Dixie Schnebly thought things were so strange that she spent $37.000, she says, to send two private detectives to Berlin.
They came back and told her: Dean Reed was strangled.
How did the detectives find this out? Did they see strangulation marks? Who were the detectives? Schnebly would not say. She recently moved from Wheat Ridge, Colo., to Arizona, and has not returned phone calls.
The speculation over how he might have died start sounding like the thriller "Gorky Park." Perhaps no one except the East German police knows what really happened. "This is Agatha Christie on Mars," says Will Roberts. "The characters are very bizarre. I had quite a few of questions. The German police are used to being treated like gods ... I've received word of a boat accident, it's said he hung himself, one bizarre story said he had stomach cancer and tied himself into the car..."
"I don't think we'll ever find out," said Kurt Campbell, a Soviet expert at the Center for Science and International Affairs at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. He became curios about Dean Reed while living in Moscow, and wrote an op-ed article for The New York Times about him after his death. "Clearly he was watched, there's no doubt about that. Clearly he was subjected to some letter-openings. He never wavered from the line for a long time, and at the end he started to break away. My impression is at the end he started to waver. He became more and more dissatisfied. Most important, they were wondering whether this guy was dependable."
Campbell believes that Reed was serious when the singer mentioned on "60 minutes" that he wanted to run as a Socialist candidate in Colorado. "Absolutely. He thought there was a great groundswell for socialism" in America.
Socialism? In the Reagan years? Well, it's only a slightly greater delusion than his hope for a midlife career in the United States. Dean Reed had a nice voice with some emotional depth - Roberts says that hard-noised Mike Wallace cried when Reed sang My Yiddishe Mama to him - and he could wiggle his hips. And it would have been very difficult for Reed to have started a career in the United States.
Roberts is not sure how much Reed wanted to move back to the United States. "This is something Americans like to believe." When Reed revisited Chile, where he had lived in the '60s, he told Roberts, "Oh Chile, this is my certain homeland. I'd like to live in Chile and be productive." And when they travelled in Argentina, Reed said, "Oh, I love Argentina..."
Reed took out a life-insurance policy before he returned to the United States last year. Roberts asked him darkly: If you're assassinated in the United States, what should be done with the body? Where do you want to be buried?
Reed said: Send my body to East Germany. Send it back to Renate.
"He always felt that there was a bullet with his name on it," Rosenburg said. "He thought he'd get it here. He thought he was safe in East Germany. The irony is that the system he trusted did him in."
According to the police report, at 10 p.m. left his home "after a domestic dispute." He did not tell Renate where he was going. At about 10:40 p.m., he called his film production manager, Gerrit List, and said he'd be over immediately. He was never heard from again.
His body was found by the Water Guard at the lake, and pulled to shore by a bout rope. There is a nearly three-hour discrepancy in the police and autopsy reports as to the time Reed's body was found. The police report says it was found at 8:20 a.m. June 17. The autopsy report says the body was found at 11 a.m.
The questions multiply. His daughter Ramona, says that the inside of his wallet was dry. How could that be, if it were in the water for four days?
The bruise on the forehead: Was it made by someone who hit too hard? The cut on the throat: Was that made by an autopsy or a wire pulled around his neck?
And how do we explain the wrong height in the autopsy report? Is that a typographical error, or was an autopsy done on another body? And why would a light drinker have an alcoholic's liver?
Pick a scenario.