Real Name: Charles L. Liston
Nicknames: Sonny, The Big Bear
Location: Las Vegas, Nevada
Date: December 30, 1970
Details: Sonny Liston was a famous boxer who defeated Floyd Patterson for the title of Heavyweight Boxing Champion of the World on September 25, 1962. Nine years later, on January 5, 1971, Sonny's wife Geraldine returned home from a trip to find her husband dead in their Las Vegas home from an apparent drug overdose. Although authorities ruled his death accidental, many including his wife, housekeeper, manager, several friends, and others, believe that his death was not an accident and that he may have been murdered.
Sonny was one of twenty-five children and was frequently abused by his father, a sharecropper. When he was twelve, he left Arkansas and traveled on a bus to St. Louis, Missorui. However, his life continued on a downward spiral. He spent several years in prison for theft and robbery. While in prison, he began to practice boxing. In 1953, after he was released from prison, he went professional. He won thirty-two of his first thirty-three bouts. By 1962, he was ready to go for Patterson's title. After his victory, he remained champion for nineteen months. Then, he met Cassius Clay, also known as Muhammad Ali. In February 1964, Ali and Sonny fought and Ali won. During this time, Sonny stayed in Las Vegas and befriended manager Davey Pearl. Rumors circulated that he was drinking heavily.
In 1967, Ali was stripped of his title after he refused to be drafted. Sonny decided to resume training for his boxing career. He went on to win fourteen of his bouts. Davey then had him signed up to fight an up-in-coming boxer named Chuck Wepner. There were rumors that some gamblers were betting on Sonny to lose.
On June 29, 1970, in Jersey City, New Jersey, the fight between Sonny Liston and Chuck Wepner began. After several rounds, however, it had to be stopped because of Chuck's severe injuries. He ended up needing fifty-four stitches for his face.
Just six months after the fight, Sonny was dead. When police arrived at the scene, they found three small bags of heroin on the kitchen counter. A small amount of marijuana was found in his pocket. Also, a syringe was found near his body. Based on evidence at the scene, police believe that he died on December 30, 1970. An autopsy discovered needle marks on his right arm. The official report stated that he had died of a cardiac arrest after injecting himself with heroin. However, there was only small amounts of heroin found in his body. It did not appear to be an overdose death.
A month before his death, Sonny was injured in a car accident. He received IV treatment at the hospital; Davey believes that this is where he received the needle marks from. According to both Davey and his housekeeper, Sonny did not like needles and would refuse to go to the doctor to get shots. They find it unlikely that he would inject himself with drugs.
Some believe that on the night of his death, he was given a drugged drink and was later taken to his home where he was given the fatal injection. If he was murdered, there are some theories as to who may be responsible. Some believe he was killed because he refused to take a dive in a bout with Chuck Wepner two days before the fight took place. Others believe he was killed because he was involved in a business deal gone wrong. To this day, Sonny's death has been shrouded in mystery.
Suspects: Sonny's trainer, Johnny Tocco, claims that two days before the fight, Sonny met with two gamblers that were betting heavily on Chuck Wepner to defeat Sonny. Sonny went on to defeat Wepner and Tocco believes that this may have endangered his life. The two gamblers have never been identified.
Extra Notes: This case was featured as a part of the November 22, 1989 episode.
Results: Unsolved. In 1982, an informant named Irwin Peters told Las Vegas police that Sonny Liston was murdered by a former police officer named Larry Gandy. Gandy was allegedly hired by Ash Resnick, a bookie who had money troubles with Sonny. It is suspected that Resnick was one of the gamblers that Sonny met with before his death Investigators, however, found no evidence to support this theory. Irwin Peters would die suspiciously in 1987.
In 2014, journalist Shaun Assael began writing a book about Sonny's death, titled "The Murder of Sonny Liston". He interviewed Gandy, who denied killing Sonny. However, Gandy claimed that the killer was a dealer named Earl Cage. Cage, however, died in 2000 and was never questioned in the case. Some investigators now believe that Sonny's death was a homicide; however, it remains unsolved.
- Sonny Liston on Unsolved.com
- Sonny Liston at Wikipedia
- Was legendary boxer Sonny Liston murdered?
- One Journalist's Attempt to Solve 'The Murder of Sonny Liston'