The Elliott Smith Mystery

The L.A. County Coroner’s Office said Wednesday that it can’t determine whether singer Elliott Smith committed suicide or was the victim of a homicide in his Echo Park apartment two months ago.

Smith, 34, died from two stab wounds to the chest on October 21. "The injuries sustained by Smith could have been inflicted by the decedent himself or by another person," said county coroner spokesperson David Campbell. "The coroner was unable to determine which occurred … due to incomplete knowledge of the circumstances surrounding the death."

A Post-It note was found at the scene, but LAPD homicide detective Jay King wouldn’t disclose its contents. King said the case remains open, but he would not say what, if any difference, the coroner’s ruling would have on the investigation.

Smith’s live-in-girlfriend, Jennifer Chiba, of the band Happy Endings, was reportedly in another room at the time of the incident. A police source said that Chiba found Smith mortally wounded in the kitchen at 12:18 p.m. and pulled the knife out of his chest. He died at County-USC Medical Center 78 minutes later. Chiba told the Weekly in November that Smith’s death was not a homicide, but she would not elaborate.

The singer, who was born Steven Paul Smith, had been battling depression, drugs and alcohol for years, and had attempted suicide in 1997. However, the coroner found no traces of illegal substances or alcohol in his system at the time of his death. Chiba told authorities that Smith had been drug free for one year. The coroner did find prescribed levels of antidepressant and attention-deficit-hyperactivity-disorder medications in his system, including clonazepam, mirtazapine, atomozetine and amphetamine (the latter a byproduct of metabolizing the drugs).

The LAPD initially reported that the singer died from an apparent self-inflicted single knife wound to the chest. The next morning, the L.A. County Coroner’s Office said an official determination would be made after further police investigation and toxicological tests.

Smith was born August 6, 1969, in Omaha, Nebraska, and began his career in Portland, Oregon, where he played in a punk-rock band called Heatmiser. In 1994, he released his first album, Roman Candle, and later signed with Dreamworks, putting out XO in 1998 and Figure 8 in 2000. In 1998, Smith was nominated for an Oscar for best original song for "Miss Misery," from the soundtrack to Good Will Hunting. At the time of his death, Smith was said to be close to finishing his latest CD.

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