The Sunday Times, 22 June 1986
Mystery of American pop star in lake: It was murder, says manager
Death in Berlin for defector who changed his tune
by Russell Miller
BETWEEN 8 and 9 o'clock last Tuesday morning, the body of an American was pulled from a lake in East Berlin. His name was Dean Reed, he was 47 years old and he was the most famous pop singer in the Soviet bloc - the only American to be awarded the Komsomol Lenin Prize.
Dean Reed was widely reviled in the United States as a traitor and a "commy bastard", a defector who became "the Johnny Cash of communism" according to The New York Times.
One of his few friends in his own country was Dixie Lloyd, a Denver business-woman who acted as his manager. She does not believe he killed himself or that his death was an accident. She is convinced he was murdered because he had been talking openly about leaving the Soviet bloc and returning to the United States after 14 years living in the East, where he was a valuable propaganda tool.
Reed's death attracted minimal attention in the media. Yet the circumstances are surrounded in mystery and obfuscation normally found in a Len Deighton thriller.
A hasty autopsy soon after his body had been recovered apparently revealed no signs of foul play. "At least there were no bullet holes or stab wounds," said an East German friend. It seemed his body had been in the water for at least four days and there was no obvious cause of death. Late on Tuesday the official East German news agency, ADN, announced that Reed had died as the result of a "tragic accident".
By a bizarre coincidence, I was in Berlin last weekend to interview Reed for The Sunday Times Magazine. We had arranged to meet at his home in East Berlin on the Saturday morning. According to the autopsy report Reed drowned some time on Friday morning.
I arrived in West Berlin on Friday afternoon and immediately telephoned his home. His wife, Renate Blume-Reed, a well known East German actress, told me that Reed had been taken to hospital that morning. She was waiting to hear what was wrong with him.
We spoke again that evening and she said that the doctors thought Reed hat a virus or a lung infection. He was sweating profulsely and feeling very unwell.
During this conversation the telephone was taken away from Renate while she was in midsentence and a man came on the line. He introduced himself as a Mr. Wieczaukowski, co-director of a film that Reed was due to start shooting in a few days. Wieczaukowski confirmed that Reed was in hospital and that he might have to stay several days. They were very worried about him, he said, partly because they were having difficulty in getting any information.
Next day Renate told me that her husband was going to be kept in hospital for tests until Tuesday. I promised to return to Berlin to do the interview at a later date and flew back to London.
According to the autopsy, all this time while I talked to his wife, Dean Reed's body was floating in the lake at the back of his rented villa on the outskirts of the city.
Wieczaukowski had given me his home telephone number in Potsdam in order that I might stay in touch. When I heard that Reed had died I telephoned the Potsdam number. A woman answered. "This is a private number," she said. "No one of that name lives here."
When Dixie Lloyd telephoned Reed's home in East Berlin after hearing the news, Wieczaukowski answered. Reed, he said, had gone for a swim that morning and must have got cramp, or something. Renate had been taken to a clinic under sedation. Wieczaukowski told Lloyd he had last spoken to Reed on Sunday evening. There was a technical problem with the film and they were to meet on Tuesday.
At the American consulates in East and West Berlin, the death of this particular citizen seemed to cause little concern. "I didn't know much about him other than all that garbage about him being a big star and winning the Lenin prize," a remarkably undiplomatic diplomat at the West Berlin consulate told me.
"It was a little strange to me that the East Germans did not release the cause of death. That made me a bit suspicious, but then I thought what the hell."
A woman at the East Berlin consulate said: "I don't know any more than I've read in the newspapers, altough I did hear there was a rumour that he had handed himself."
Dixie Lloyd, who was at school with Reed in Denver, is convinced that the prospect of his "double defection" led to murder.
Reed grew up with his two brothers on a chicken farm in Wheat Ridge, Colorado. When he was 20 he went to Hollywood to study acting at Warner Brothers' study under Paton Price, who had spent two years in prison as a conscientious objector during the second world war. Price politicised the boy from the chicken farm.
While in Hollywood Reed began recording for Capitol and discovered, somewhat to his surprise, that his records were enormously popular in South America. In 1961 he was voted the top singer in South America, above Elvis Presley, Paul Anka and Ray Charles.
On his first concert tour he needed a police escort in every city to protect him from the fans. Reed stayed in South America for four years, espousing the causes of Marxism and "world peace" between country-and-western numbers at his concerts.
When he took full-page advertisements in newspapers throughout South America asking people to write to Kennedy and Khrustchev to halt nuclear tests, he was kicked out of Peru.
In 1967 he moved to Italy to make spaghetti westerns. In 1971 he returned to Chile and was arrested for washing the Stars and Stripes outside the American consulate, proclaiming it to be "dirty with the blood of the Vietnamese".
But it seemed of late that Reed was tiring of life under socialism and he began talking more and more to Dixie Lloyd about moving back tho the United States, despite the universal hostility with which he was greeted on visits to Reagan's America.
When Reed recently appeared on CBS's 60 Minutes in a programme entitled The Defector, most viewers were outraged that a "commy guitar player" should be given prime time on American television. His two brothers regarded him as a "traitor". His father, a staunch Republican, commited suicide two years ago.
On Reed's last visit to the United States in October, Lloyd was surprised that he openly admitted to reporters that he was "homesick". She is convinced that this admission alerted the authorities in East Germany to the possibility of Reed becoming a double defector.
"Things definitely changed when he got back to Berlin," Lloyd said. "He was trying to make a movie in Russia but they were making things difficult for him. They confiscated some of the props for no reason, pulled of the directors. He did not know what was happening."
Reed was in the habit of teleophoning her every week. The last time he called her he complained about the pressures he was under. "I don't know my status here any more," he said. "I'm frightened."