KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — 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.
There have been rumors a gun might have been fired on board the plane and that the Big Bopper might have survived the crash and died trying to get help.
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. Bass took X-rays of the body and found nothing Tuesday to support theories about a gun.
“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 Civil Aeronautics Board determined pilot error was the cause of the crash. A gun that belonged to Holly was found at the crash site, fueling rumors that the pilot was shot, but no one has ever proved a gun was fired during the flight.
Richardson watched Bass open the coffin on 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.”
“I was hoping to put the rumors 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 famous cases. He confirmed the identity of the Lindbergh baby, who was kidnapped in 1932 and murdered.
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