Since the first article was published in 2020 both Frankie Lymon fans and YouTubers have started to discuss the possibility of him being murdered. A lot of the fans have shared the links to the articles and some have even contacted me with questions… While most of the Youtubers have read the articles and changed a word or two then presented the research as their own. Seeing how interested people were I decided to do more research and publish all three articles revised and updated.
Frankie Lymon is best known for his lead vocals on the Teenagers’ 1956 hit “Why Do Fools Fall in Love”. There’s no question Frankie had one of the most unique voices ever but the answer to the question of what really happened to him really remains a mystery.
Of course every article concerning Lymon’s death says he died of a heroin overdose in February of 1968. This isn’t one of those articles, in this one we’ll look at the reasons why many believe he may have been a victim of foul play.
It’s well noted that Frankie Lymon struggled with drug addiction but by 1968 he’d been clean for years and had started a new chapter in his life. He’d recently gotten married and for the most part lived a normal life in Agusta, GA. That is until his manager, Sam Bray called him to come back to New York.
Addicts relapse every day but there are more than a few red flags in this case. Let’s take a look shall we?
Let’s start with a statement from one of Frankie’s ex-girlfriends, Antonia Figueroa. In a 1998 interview with Westword she said the following. “Frankie owed money to drug dealers who collected in blood.” She then went on to say “He was starting a new life, he had everything to live for. Why would he go back to drugs? Why? Frankie was murdered. I know that with all of my heart.”
Elizabeth Waters, Lymon’s first wife revealed that she’d seen Frankie right before he passed and he seemed happy. She also said that she seen his lifeless body and there was a bruise on his forehead… perhaps there was a struggle?
All reports say that a needle/syringe was found next to Frankie’s body, not in his arm but there was never an autopsy.
Frankie was signed to Roulette Records for the majority of his career and this label was owned by Morris Levy, a man known to have been well connected with the mob. By many accounts he had no problem threatening or hurting artists who asked him about unpaid royalties. In his book former Roulette artist, Tommy James talked about what happened to his labelmate, Jimmie Rogers who demanded his royalties. “The problem was, of course, getting your money was like taking a bone from a Doberman. It just wasn’t going to happen. And they let us know early on if we made too much of a fuss, we’d end up like Jimmie Rogers!”, “He never recovered from it. He was getting screwed, and he knew it. They basically beat him to what they thought was to death on an L.A. freeway, but he survived. This was always an issue, and I knew it. He had gone after his royalties, and he had not stopped. So we were always very aware of that and what the scene was at Roulette if you pushed it too far.” Read more https://www.goldminemag.com/articles/tommy-james-shares-his-stories-of-mobsters-and-drugs
During a low point in his life Frankie sold the rights to his song “Why Do Fools Fall in Love” to Morris Levy. However there were a handful of songs he didn’t sell his rights to but never received royalties for. Once Frankie was clean he wanted everything that was owed to him as he had gone broke and was trying to make a successful comeback. Knowing what we know about Morris Levy there’s no way that was going to happen.
In 1968 (right before Frankie passed) Levy and Frankie’s new manager, Sam Bray were planning to release some of his earlier work along with new songs he’d recorded including “Seabreeze” & “I’m Sorry”. With Levy in full control of just about all of Frankie’s older material and with Bray in control of his new projects is it possible that the two of them came up with a plan to get rid of Lymon?
After Frankie passed away his former group members Jimmy Merchant, Herman Santiago and Sherman Garnes all met with Levy to discuss money and he threatened to kill all of them.
This is just the tip of iceberg, we’ll really get into it in pt. 2.
In the previous article I highlighted reasons why Frankie Lymon may have been murdered and who may have been involved. Here in pt. 2 we’ll dive deeper and take a closer look at what could be one of the biggest cover ups ever.
First let’s look at three people with possible motives.
1. Morris Levy
Morris is listed first for obvious reasons. The main reasons being his history with the mob and how he threatened the Teenagers. During a 1993 court case Herman Santiago (original member of Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers) testified that in 1969 (just one year after Frankie’s death) he went to Levy’s office, accompanied by another original Teenager, Sherman Garnes, and Levy threatened to kill him. Jimmy Merchant, who’s also an original member of the group testified that in 1977 he, too, went to Levy’s office accompanied by Garnes to ask for money. According to Merchant, during that visit Levy told him and Garnes to leave his office or he would have them killed. Read it for yourself https://casetext.com/case/merchant-v-lymon/
Also in a 2011 documentary Jimmy Merchant revealed that he and Herman Santiago once met with Levy in the 80s to talk about unpaid royalties but Levy wasn’t hearing it and dismissed them by intimidating them.
Merchant later said that he and Santiago received threats following the meeting. They much like everyone else knew he had connections and if that happened to them then who knows what happened to Frankie Lymon who was apparently talking with Levy about his unreleased songs and back royalties. Frankie as an adult knew more about the business than he did as a kid so naturally he wanted to be paid for the work he’d done. It’s been said that around the time of Frankie’s death he and the other members of The Teenagers were getting ready to sue Morris Levy for unpaid royalties.
2. Drug Dealer(s)
As mentioned in pt. 1, one of Frankie’s ex girlfriends said that he owed money to dealers who “collected in blood”. If that’s true then that would explain why he fled New York and didn’t want to go back. Frankie’s wife, Emira said multiple times that he did not want to go back to New York when his manager called him.
In 1968 Frankie himself told Jet magazine “New York isn’t fun city to me anymore…. This may sound strange coming from the mouth of a native New Yorker who has seen, done and become hip to everything but I feel comfortable and accepted there” (Georgia where he and Emira lived together). Maybe he didn’t feel comfortable in New York because he knew people were after him. In fact just weeks after this interview he was found dead. A few people from Frankie’s neighborhood said that after his death dealers would promote their product by saying “my bag killed Frankie Lymon.” Make of that what you will.
3. Sam Bray
Sam Bray was Lymon’s last manager and it seemed like he was the only person in the music industry who cared enough to revive his career. Bray’s intentions seemed good and genuine but maybe everything wasn’t what it appeared to be. Frankie had been down and out for awhile and then entered Bray who for some unknown reason decided to take a chance on him.
Prior to “pulling him out of the gutter” Sam Bray had never even met Frankie Lymon so why did he do it and where did he come from? Did he just do it out of kindness or was he a part of a dark plan? We know Frankie was no stranger to trouble but it wasn’t until he got involved with Sam Bray that he died. There was lots of money to be made off of Frankie Lymon’s music and Morris Levy knew this so it’s possible that he sent Bray in to look like a savior to help set things up. When Lymon died both Levy and Bray benefited from it financially. When an artist dies their records seem to fly off the shelves and in the case of Frankie Lymon his music was used in both movies and commercials. His unreleased songs were also released some time after his death, songs from his teen years which were under Morris Levy’s Roulette label and songs from his final days which were under Sam Bray’s Big Apple label. The only reason Frankie went back to New York is because Sam Bray promised him a new record deal and a chance to record new songs. How crazy is it that Frankie died soon after he signed the deal with Bray?
Where was Frankie Lymon’s body found? It was first reported that he was found in a friend’s apartment (see the picture below), it was later changed to him being found on his grandmother’s bathroom floor and it was even said that he was found outside in an alley.
Frankie told his wife, Emira that after he left New York he was going to Europe as a part of a revue. He then told her she could quit her job because he could take care of her. According to Emira this was the last conversation she had with her husband and it took place on February 26, 1968, the day before he died. You can read more about this in the December 1998 issue of Ebony magazine but back to what he told her. If Frankie was traveling to Europe and was going to make enough money to take care of his family then he must have been promised a lot. Did Sam Bray promise him this to lure him back to the Empire State?
Every article says “Lymon decided to celebrate his good fortune by taking heroin.” The question here is who said that? Did Frankie tell someone he was going to shoot up? How does anyone know this? Everyone just assumed he overdosed because there was a needle/syringe found near his body, there was never an autopsy. People knew Frankie struggled with addiction so if someone killed him wouldn’t it make sense to place a syringe next to his body?
Let’s close it out with a statement that may very well answer the question, was it murder?
In 2019 when talking about Frankie Lymon’s death Antonia Figueroa said the following. “Lewis Lymon was a strong hearted man and knew how to play his cards right by protecting himself. Seeing his brother being rolled out in a black paper bag and he knew he would be next if he told the truth. Lewis did the right thing by not telling the truth about how our Frankie died.” Yes, this is the same Antonia Figueroa who said “Frankie owed money to drug dealers who collected in blood” and “Frankie was murdered. I know that with all of my heart.” You can read more about that here https://www.westword.com/news/fools-for-love-5059045
As mentioned in pt. 2 Sam Bray was the reason Frankie Lymon went back to New York even though he didn’t want to go. In the December 15, 1978 issue of Record Digest Bray recalled Lymon’s response when he asked him to come back, “Sam, please don’t ask me to come back to that jungle.” This shows just how much Frankie didn’t want to go but after being promised a chance to record new songs and a tour in Europe he finally agreed.
In the same issue of Record Digest Sam Bray said that once Frankie got to NY they discussed a new song and a “new soul sound”. They then recorded the song and according to him Frankie loved it and was so excited to release it that he said “I can’t get over it”, “we picked a winner!” Seeing how enthused he was Bray said he pleaded with Frankie to keep clean but a few hours later he received a phone call from Howard Lymon (Frankie’s father) who said “our Frankie is dead.” When talking about the day of Frankie’s death Bray said that from the time he and Frankie last spoke, till the time he died “Frankie must have run into the devil himself.”
Now let’s take a look at what Frankie said in 1967 during an interview with Ebony magazine “You know, an addict is the most pathetic creature on earth. He knows that every time he sticks a needle in his arm, he’s gambling with death and, yet, he’s got to have it. It’s like playing Russian Roulette with a spike. There’s always the danger that some peddler will sell him a poisoned batch—some garbage. I was lucky. God must have been watching over me.”
Was it an overdose?
Jimmy Merchant recently released a book titled “A Teenager’s Dream: Why Do Fools Fall in Love: Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers”. In this book Mr. Merchant said the following regarding Frankie’s death. “Unfortunately, in February 1968, he received a call from his so called “new manager” (Sam Bray) in New York City that proved to be the catalyst to his overdose death. In fact, his death certificate reads: “Acute Intravenous Narcotism” (Habitual use of narcotics leading to a drug overdose.)”
It very well could have been an overdose but that doesn’t mean Frankie stuck the needle in his arm himself. It’s quite possible that he was attacked and someone forced the needle into his arm, this would explain the bruise on his forehead (see pt. 1). It’s also possible that he was threatened with a weapon and forced to shoot up, not knowing that it was a hot shot.
Also it seems clear that Mr. Merchant doesn’t believe Sam Bray was legit as he referred to him as Frankie’s “so called new manager”. So again was Bray sent by Morris Levy to set Frankie up? If so then this explains why after Frankie died Bray stuck around for about a year to release “I’m Sorry” & “Seabreeze” and to help promote the records of the former child star he aligned himself with a soon to be child star… or so he made it seem. He started managing Paul Hunt, an eight year old kid who was the son of Tommy Hunt (The Flamingos). The kid’s career never took off but Sam Bray did, he took off to Miami, Florida where he opened a small business and started a new life.
So after all that has been said and written what do you think happened to Frankie Lymon?