Sid Vicious was innocent - and, more than that, he was probably murdered by the man who really did kill his girlfriend.
Astonishing new claims about the Sex Pistol's final months before he died from a drug overdose in 1979 make the notorious punk rocker the victim of a double-killer, and clear him of murdering his lover Nancy Spungen.
The revelations about Vicious - real name John Ritchie - are contained in a new biography, published next month on the 25th anniversary of his death in New York, aged 21. The book, Vicious: Too Fast to Live, is the first to take into account new information supplied by former New York police officers who worked on the case. Author Alan Parker also drew on extensive interviews which he carried out with Vicious's mother, Anne Beverley, in the early 1990s.
Parker suggests that it was not Vicious who stabbed his American girlfriend, Nancy Spungen, to death in their room - Room 100 - at the Chelsea Hotel, New York, in 1978. At the time both Spungen and Vicious were drug addicts. But was Sid a killer? The real culprit - according to Parker - was most likely Rockets Redglare, a popular, well-known East Village actor, who in the late 1970s was a drug addict, dealer, and a minder of Vicious.
On 12 October 1978, Vicious had woken up in his room at about 9.30am, walked to the bathroom and found Spungen's body on the floor. He phoned for an ambulance, but the hotel called the police. Within hours, Vicious had been charged with second-degree murder. Police assumed that he had attacked Spungen while in a drug-induced stupor, then passed out.
But Parker now points to a different sequence of events. At 1.30am, he says, Spungen had phoned Redglare from Room 100 to order drugs and have him bring them to the hotel. Redglare, Parker reveals, probably stayed at Room 100 with Spungen and Vicious until between 4am and 5am. However, a police report stated that Vicious had taken a large quantity of drugs and was unconscious between 3am and 9am. An autopsy fixed the time of Spungen's death between 5am and 9am - when Vicious would have been insensible. That night, their room had been stripped of cash.
"Redglare was in the Chelsea Hotel," says Parker, of the night Spungen died. "He was spotted by two or three people. He was also seen leaving at about four in the morning."
At the time of his arrest, Vicious is said to have confessed to police "I did it because I'm a dirty dog" - but subsequently, and consistently, told police that he had been unconscious at the time Spungen was stabbed. Vicious was released on bail, on condition that he have treatment for his addiction. Soon after, he was re-arrested after a fight in a club. He served 55 days, during which he received detox treatment which lowered his tolerance to "normal" doses of heroin.
On 2 February 1979, Vicious celebrated his release with a party at the flat he shared with a new girlfriend. Among those present was his mother Anne Beverley. At around midnight Vicious took heroin and passed out, but 40 minutes later came round, and carried on partying. Next morning, his mother found her son dead in bed.
Parker argues that Redglare, who that night was Vicious's main drug supplier, could have deliberately provided an exceptionally powerful form of heroin to kill Vicious, thereby removing the only potential witness to Spungen's murder.
"One of Sid's mates went out to score heroin," says Parker. "Redglare was supplying the dealer he bought from. Redglare asked where the heroin was going to, and he said 'Sid Vicious'. It was only the next day when the heroin was tested that they found out that it was 85 to 90 per cent pure. At that time, street heroin in New York was cut to between 32 and 36 per cent pure."
Had the Spungen murder gone to trial, Parker suggests, analysis of what had happened at the Chelsea Hotel could well have exonerated Vicious and implicated Redglare.
Parker has spoken to two former NYPD officers, one of whom had worked on the case. "I asked them whether it was true that even when the trial was being set up, there were rumblings that Sid was innocent. They both went: 'Well, actually, yes, it is true.' There were grey areas already, they said."
However, Parker's theory about Redglare has been rubbished by the Sex Pistols roadie, John Tiberi. "It's bollocks," he told The Independent on Sunday. "The guy was by no means some sort of shady character."
The two key players who could have cleared up the mystery are no longer with us. Anne Beverley died in 1996, and Rockets Redglare died three years ago from liver failure and hepatitis C.