Big Bopper rumours put to rest by autopsy
J.P. (The Big Bopper) Richardson suffered massive fractures and likely died immediately in the 1959 plane crash that also killed early rock 'n' rollers Buddy Holly and Ritchie Valens, a forensic anthropologist said Tuesday after exhuming the body.
The performer's son, Jay Richardson, hired Dr. Bill Bass, a well-known forensic anthropologist at the University of Tennessee, to look at the remains in Beaumont, Texas.
There have been rumours a gun might have been fired on board the plane and the Big Bopper might have survived the crash and died trying to seek help.
Bass took X-rays of the body and found nothing Tuesday to support those theories.
"There was no indication of foul play," Bass said in a telephone interview from Beaumont.
"There are fractures from head to toe. Massive fractures…. [He] died immediately."
"He didn't crawl away. He didn't walk away from the plane."
The rock 'n' roll stars' plane crashed after taking off from Mason City, Iowa, on Feb. 3, 1959 — a tragedy memorialized as "the day the music died" in Don McLean's song American Pie.
Jay Richardson, who performs in tribute shows as The Big Bopper Jr., didn't know his father, who gained fame with the hit Chantilly Lace. His mother was pregnant with him when his father died.
The U.S. Civil Aeronautics Board determined pilot error was the cause of the crash. A gun that belonged to Holly was found at the crash site, fuelling rumours the pilot was shot, but no one has ever proven a gun was fired during the flight.
Richardson watched Bass open the coffin Tuesday and observed his examination.
He said he was pleased with the findings because it proved the investigators "knew what they were talking about 48 years ago."
Putting rumours to rest
"I was hoping to put the rumours to rest," he said.
Bass and Richardson were surprised to find the body preserved enough to be recognizable.
"Dad still amazes me 48 years after his death, that he was in remarkable shape," Richardson said.
"I surprised myself. I handled it better than I thought I would."
The body was reburied in the cemetery but in a different plot where there will be room for a graveside statue to be installed later.
Bass, 78, is a pioneer in his field and has worked on such famous cases as confirming the identity of the Lindbergh baby that was kidnapped in 1932 and murdered.