Teenager Dies in Keith Richards' New York Home

Allegedly killed himself playing Russian Roulette with stolen hangun.

Keith Richards, portrait, new york, blues, feature, Rolling Stones
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty
Photo of Keith Richards circa 1970.
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A seventeen-year-old boy was found dead July 20th in Keith Richards' bed in his palatial home in South Salem, New York. Scott Cantrell, of Norwalk, Connecticut, allegedly killed himself while playing Russian roulette with a stolen handgun in the presence of Richards' common-law wife, Anita Pallenberg.

Cantrell apparently has been living for several weeks in Richards' home in a wealthy enclave of Westchester County. The death was ruled a suicide, although Cantrell's family bitterly contested that.

Pallenberg, 37, was charged with one count of possession of stolen property – the .38-caliber Smith & Wesson that killed Cantrell – and two counts of criminal possession of weapons (an unregistered .45-pistol was also seized by police). She was released in $500 bail and was to appear in court August 15th. If convicted, she would face a maximum four-year sentence. Richards was in Paris recording with the Rolling Stones at the time of the shooting, but police said they intended to question him as part of a continuing investigation.

Detectives said they had not yet traced the .45 but said that the fatal .38 pistol had been reported stolen May 25th, 1978, from the home of an administrator of the Broward Country Sheriff's Department in Florida. Police said they were checking a report that a member of the Stones entourage had purchased a .38 from a "thug" when the Stones opened their 1978 tour June 10th in Lakeland, Florida.

The account of the events of the night of July 20th remains sketchy. Pallenberg and Richards' ten-year-old son Marlon was downstairs watching television with Jeffrey Sessler, 25, a family friend. Pallenberg and Cantrell were upstairs in the master bedroom watching a program on the tenth anniversary of the moonwalk. Pallenberg told police that Cantrell "was lying on top of the bed, over the covers" and that she "was tidying up" with her back toward him when she heard the shot. "He was lying on his back and I turned him over," she said. "I heard a gurgling sound. He was choking on his blood. I picked up the revolver and put it on the chest of drawers. I don't like guns."

Detective Douglas Lamanna, who responded to the 10:35 p.m. call about a shooting, said that when he arrived, Cantrell was breathing but unconscious. He died at 12:15 a.m. at a nearby hospital. Lamanna said Cantrell was lying atop the bed covers, barefoot, wearing a shirt and jeans. One corner of the massive oak bed was broken and propped up with a chair. Lamanna said a .38 Smith & Wesson was on a dresser at the foot of the bed. It had one empty and two live rounds in the chambers. The fatal bullet had entered Cantrell's right temple, blown off the back of his head, ricocheted off the ceiling and come to rest on the floor. Lamanna said "an investigation was conducted at the scene" and turned up the second pistol. He said no clear fingerprints were found on the gun. Although he refused to comment on whether the rest of the house was searched, he did say that no bill of sale was found for either gun.

Pallenberg, in bloodstained clothes, spent the next seven hours at police headquarters in Lewisboro, New York, where police questioned her and confiscated her Italian passport. Lamanna said she was "visibly upset, distraught and at times felt faint. She said he [Cantrell] was a heavy marijuana user. There were also indications that he'd been drinking, probably white wine. He had .06 blood alcohol, which is mild." Lamanna said there was "an alcohol odor" on Pallenberg's breath, although she was not tested.

Pallenberg told police she had known Cantrell for about a year, that they had met "through a mutual friend in the area," and that she took him in because "he said he had no place to stay." Although initial reports said the house was filthy, Lamanna said, "I wouldn't call it a pigsty, but it wasn't a model of good housekeeping."

Lamanna said he had no idea who Pallenberg was until "I saw an article in the room. It was from a London paper. December of '78. The headline said, 'What Anita did to Bianca.' I said, 'Is that you?' She said, 'Yes.' I said, 'What'd you do to Bianca?' She said, 'It was all publicity.'" Pallenberg also asked if news of the shooting would be "worldwide" and expressed concern that her mother in Italy would hear the news.

Pallenberg, who lived with the late Brian Jones before taking up with Richards (Marlon was born a month after Jones' funeral), appeared heavily overweight and unrecognizable from the days when she pursued an acting career.

A Stones confidant told Rolling Stone that Pallenberg had become a virtual "outcast" from the band, especially since some band members blamed her for Richards' 1977 heroin conviction in Canada, claiming her erratic behavior in airport customs and her drug arrest led to Richards' arrest. The Stones, said the confidant, are "worried" that a weapons investigation could affect Richards' Canadian legal situation – the government there is appealing his probated sentence and asking for a jail term – as well as endanger his already shaky visa status at a time when the Stones are making tour plans.

Oddly, said the confidant, it has been common knowledge for months that while Pallenberg stayed at home in South Salem, Richards has frequently been observed in the company of a woman named Lil. She was seen by reporters with him at the Four Seasons Hotel in Toronto and was said to be with him in Paris. The confidant said, "Anita just didn't seem to care anymore and let herself go."

This story is from the September 6th, 1979 issue of Rolling Stone.

From The Archives Issue 299: September 6, 1979
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