By Rebecca Bulnes
By Lee Zimmerman
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In fictionland, the investigator from the medical examiner's office might be Quincy and the cop, perhaps, Columbo. Then there's the requisite nosy, bothersome "close friend" of the "victim." But you can't make up reality, where the M.E.'s office is up to its gills and the homicide cop is busy looking for whoever killed that other cop. In real life, close friends aren't incidental characters who exist just to make others miserable and to provide comic relief. And during his 25 years of life, rock-and-roll guitarist Ed Stokes had friends.
Bill Henry was a close one. He recorded with Stokes and others as Psychic Fair. Apart from his rootish, neo-psych rock endeavors, Henry is a veteran massage therapist, a psychology student at FIU, and a pizza deliveryman. Nonetheless, when it came to the mysterious death of Ed Stokes, Bill Henry also found time to play the roles of Quincy and Columbo.
"I've known Ed since 1987," Henry says. "We talked a lot, jammed a lot. Psychic Fair was basically me and him. When I found out about his death, I decided to do my own investigation." At one point, Henry suspected foul play. He says that the last time the two spoke, on December 20, Stokes did not complain about any illness, but adds that Stokes had survived a few bouts with drug abuse. "Please tell me it wasn't an O.D.," Henry said in early January.
But no one could or would tell him much of anything. There was no death certificate. Other information was woefully vague. Where was the body? What would become of Stokes's remains? Where were his personal possessions? The biggest question of all: Who was the next of kin? Though Stokes died on January 2, it would be days before answers were found. Bill Henry was trying to do just that.
So was Metro-Dade police homicide detective Tom Romagni. When someone who is under a doctor's care dies, such as in a hospital, the physician signs a death certificate, listing the cause and relevant details. But Stokes wasn't being treated for anything, investigators weren't immediately aware of any health problems, so his death became what cops call "unattended" or "unclassified." In such instances, detectives conduct an investigation on behalf of the medical examiner's office. "That doesn't mean there's any foul play involved," Romagni cautions. "The homicide department acts as an agent for the medical examiner's office, doing the Quincy sort of work. We look for signs of foul play, drug abuse." In the Stokes case, the detective says, there was nothing suspicious. All the evidence pointed to illness. "He was sick for a very long time," Romagni says. "Apparently he had a lung disorder, and his general health wasn't good."
Stokes was born in New York on May 20, 1966. When his father, Ed, a radio announcer, died in the early Seventies, Stokes's mother, Susan, took her son and moved south. Stokes attended Cooper City High and played in the school band, and then studied for a semester at Broward Community College. From 1987 to August 1990 he played guitar and sang in a band called the Pranksters, which specialized in covers of songs by groups like Cream, the Yardbirds, Led Zeppelin, and Jimi Hendrix. At the same time Stokes was working with Bill Henry; the loose amalgam that was, and still is, Psychic Fair recorded tracks from 1987 till May 1989, when their eponymous debut album was released. The group also issued a three-song single - featuring "Addicted," "Going Out of Town," and "Rockin' with Mr. Reed" - in April of last year.
"The first time I met him he was hanging out with [guitarist] John Salton," recalls bass player Marco Pettit, who's worked with Charlie Pickett, Psycho Daisies, and others. "I was in the last version of Psycho Daisies and he came to see us play," Pettit continues. "He was a super-nice guy. Maybe he didn't have that many friends because of his weight," Pettit says of Stokes, who weighed 472 pounds when he died. "People are prejudiced against those who are underweight or overweight. But he was a good, undiscovered guitar player, and he definitely could have been a great guitar player. But he didn't have the opportunity or take the opportunity to come out of his shell."
Singer Bob Crespo worked with Stokes in the Pranksters. He says the two met in 1978 in the parking lot of a Pembroke Pines record store. Stokes was standing there with his guitar, playing Cream's "White Room" well, and singing it not quite so well. "I kinda helped him out with it," Crespo recalls. "We always talked about getting a band together, but it didn't happen until years later. I don't know about him being shy. He had a heart that was as big as he was. He was just a really cool guy."
This past winter Stokes had been hanging out at the Pronto Pub in Coconut Grove, where he would play his guitar out on the sidewalk. According to Det. Romagni, the Pub's Jim Cahill attempted to help Stokes, who was living essentially as a homeless person. Cahill, reportedly no longer affiliated with the Pub, could not be reached for comment, but Romagni says Cahill allowed Stokes to sleep at the club and gave him some clean-up work to make a little money. Stokes was ill, and Cahill was concerned, so on New Year's Day he invited Stokes to spend the night at his home. According to Romagni, when Cahill left the house at 8:30 that night, Stokes was sitting on the couch, watching television. Cahill returned after 4:00 a.m. and Stokes was still on the couch. The time of death is listed as 4:45 a.m., but the medical examiner's office says he may have died any time that night. The cause of death, determined later, was bilateral pulmonary thrombolemboli due to phlebothrombosis due to morbid obesity. Blood clots in the lungs, essentially, says Dr. Bruce Allen Hyma of the M.E.'s office. "Obesity is a risk factor. One of the predisposing factors is stagnating blood in the lower extremities. Clots in the deep veins of the legs move into the lungs. He was relatively inactive." Stokes also smoked cigarettes. "He smoked like a chimney, the bastard," says Crespo in a tone more regretful than angry. "That couldn't have helped."