St. Paul Pioneer Press and Dispatch 26.11.1986


Singer's death still a mystery

By David McQuaye
Denver Post

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 Elvis Presley had.

Well, not everything. He had traveled the world, but only half of it was his oyster. He never tasted American success. Even in Colorado, where he was born and reared, Dean Reed was as obscure as a Holiday Inn singer.

Hollywood success eluded him

Twenty-five years ago, the young man reached for Hollywood stardom and fell into the lukewarm waters between the green hills of success and the stone cliffs of failure. He was another pretty face.

Then, at 47, his hair graying and his voice tinged with a 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 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.

Singer had grand plans

Reed had grand plans, or perhaps grand illusions: release a record and film in the States, write an autobiography, do a concert tour and live in the United States part or all of the year. Maybe he would go into politics. In an interview with Mike Wallace on "60 Minutes" last spring, he said if Gary Hart could run for the presidency, he could run as a Socialist candidate for Hart's senatorial seat.

And, he told friends, he wanted to die in America.

After the "60 Minutes" broadcast, strange things happened to Dean Reed. His American manager, Dixie Schnebly, said Reed was about to make an East German-Soviet-produced movie about the 1973 Wounded Knee, S.D., Indian uprising but two directors left the project. Letters between Reed and Schnebly were opened. Film props she had sent were stolen.

And Reed called Rosenburg to ask what he hat 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."

Reed/Stories of death conflict

On the weekend of June 13 and 14, a London Sunday Times magazine correspondent named Russel Miller was scheduled to interview Reed in East Germany. He telephoned Reed's home Friday, and East German actress Renate Blume-Reed, the singer's wife, told him the interview would have to be canceled because Reed had been taken to the hospital. Miller called again that evening, and Blume-Reed said 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. Wieczaukowki, 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.

Mr. Wieczaukowski gave Miller his home telephone number in Potsdam, a city about 20 miles from Berlin.

The next day, Blume-Reed told Miller 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 near his home. His car was parked nearby. Miller dialed Mr. Wieczaukowski's number.

A women answered. You have the wrong number, she said. There's nobody here by that name.

"Dean died the way he lived his life - 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 Reed committed suicide by drowning. Then when two skeptical American woman - 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 into accidental drowning.

The police have suggested 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 age 47 he was in top shape.

His body was dressed in a heavy, fur-lined, denim jacked 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. Evenin 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 bullets holes or knife wounds. The autopsy report mentions a qantity of nitrazepam, a tranquilizer akin to Vailum, was found 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 Reed had taken only a small amount of the 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, wich 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 is sounded as if Reed had taken more than four pills. "It's quite a bit in the body," he said.

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 Reed had a 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, Bennett 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 it had been partially devoured by fish.

Finally, 11 days after Dean Reed had 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?

Pick a scenario. His mother has already thought about it. "Heck, I have 2,006 scenarios," says Ruth Anna Brown. "And the last one seems better than the one before."

Here are six possibilities:

  • Reed was killed by someone connected with the East German government or KGB (Soviet secret police and intelligence agency) because he was losing faith in the Soviet system and wanted to move back to the United States, which would have embarressed the Kremlin. Reed told American friends he wanted to move back to the States for at least part of the year. The Soviets would have lost their American Marxist. The body was dressed with coats so it would sink. His passport was in his car. Why would a man in East Berlin be traveling with an American passport, unless he was en route to West Berlin?
  • Reed was killed by one or more Americans, possibly the CIA. Perhaps someone was worried about his desire to run for office. Perhaps a couple of right-wing extremists killed him. Neo-Nazis killed Denver radio personality Alan Berg; why not Dean Reed?
  • Reed killed himself, realizing that, nearing 50, he had very little chance at stardom in the United States, and that despite his Iron Courtain fame he was going to grow old in a foreign cokuntry. Perhaps it was not enough for him to be big in Bulgaria. The East Germans, embarrassed by the suicide, dumped the body in the lake.
    No one interviewed believes the suicide theory. "If he had killed himself, he would have done it in grand style," Patricia Reed said. "My speculation is that he was chased in the car and was pulled over."
  • A jealous woman or husband killed him. He was a very attractive man who was married three times and, according to Patricia Reed, had had other affairs. His car was found by the lake; did a husband discover him in the car with a passionate woman? Did a rejected lover kill him?
  • The Germans are right; Reed did die accidentally. But this is the hardest scenario to explain: He was driving his car, caught a chill in the June heat and put on two coats, then got sleepy from the pills he took and pulled over by the lake, put cold water on his face to wake up, and fell in. Or did he take a boat out on the lake and fall overboard? But there is no mention of a drifted boat in the police report.
  • Dean Reed isn't dead. That theory comes from a West German journalist who believes someone resembling Reed was killed so Reed could escape to the West. But he didn't have to escape; he had an American passport and could come and go as he pleased. Patricia Reed said she identified his body. Will Roberts also saw the body but said he is not convinced the body was Reed's.
    "I've seen too many movies," he said.

Activist Reed visited Cities for protest, performances

Dean Reed made several appearances in the Twin Cities, the last only a few months before his death.

Reed appeared at the University of Minnesota last November in connection with the showing of a documentary film, "American Rebel", which was based on his life.

Reed was also here in October 1978 to show a film he had written, directed and starred in. A few days later, he appeared at a University of Minnesota rally to protest installation of a high-voltage powerline built fromt North Dakota across Minnesota. On Oct. 28, 1978, Reed and 18 other powerline protesters were arrested near Delano during a demonstration. The following month they were tried on trespassing charges and found not guilty.

Reed performed at the University Club in St. Paul and at the University of Minnesota on June 17, 1975.

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