Parsons had first met up with the Stones when they were in Los Angeles in the summer of 1968 to mix their Beggar's Banquet album. Also hooking up with the Stones around that same time was Phil Kaufman, a recently-released prison buddy of Charlie Manson. Kaufman initially lived with the Manson Family after being released in March of 1968, and he thereafter remained what Kaufman himself described as a "sympathetic cousin" to Charlie.
His Flying Burrito Brothers released their second album, Burrito Deluxe...By June, Parsons had been booted out of the band, reportedly due to chronic alcohol and drug abuse. He quickly signed with A&M Records and was partnered with our old friend Terry Melcher. Gram became a regular visitor to Melcher’s Benedict Canyon home, where the self-destructive pair worked on songs together, with Gram on guitar and Melcher on piano. John Phillips became a close associate of Parsons at this time as well. In late October of 1970, Gram went to A&M and signed out the master tapes of ten songs that he had recorded with Melcher; those tapes were never seen or heard again, as seems to happen from time-to-time with recordings made with Melcher. During roughly that same period of time, Parsons was busted with a briefcase full of prescription drugs.
There are many who claim, by the way, that the musicians under examination in this series were relentlessly persecuted by agents of the state, ostensibly to silence their voices of protest. But if that is true, then why is it that on more than one occasion when the state seems to have had solid evidence of crimes that could bring prison time, no action was taken? ... John Phillips, busted for wholesale trafficking of pharmaceuticals, was, by his own account, "looking at forty-five years and got thirty days." He began serving his sentence on April 20, appropriately enough, and served just twenty-four days – in a minimum security prison.
As July of 1973 rolled around, a series of tragedies befell Parsons and the people around him... According to Fong-Torres, "Around the same time that Clarence White was killed, Sid Kaiser, a familiar face in the Los Angeles rock scene, a close friend of Gram's and, not so incidentally, a source of high-quality drugs, died of a heart attack." Just after those two deaths, "In late July 1973 … [Gram’s] house in Laurel Canyon burned down."
How Gram Parsons died is anyone's guess. There are as many versions of the event as there were witnesses to it....Details of the incident – such as how long Gram had been left alone, whether he was still alive when discovered, who made that discovery, etc. – were wildly inconsistent in the accounts of Fisher, McElroy, and Frank and Alan Barbary (the Inn's owner and his son, who were also witnesses, and whose accounts conflicted both with each other and with the girls' accounts).
At the hospital, police spoke briefly with the two girls and then released them. Within two hours, Phil Kaufman was on the scene to pick up Fisher and McElroy. Bypassing the police and the hospital, Kaufman went directly to the Inn, which the girls had returned to, and quickly hustled them straight back to LA. Police never spoke to either of the women again, despite the conflicting accounts and the open question of what exactly it was that killed Gram.
On the autumnal equinox of 1973, Kaufman and Martin, driving a dilapidated hearse provided by McElroy, arrived at LAX to claim the body of Gram Parsons. Apparently no one, including the police officer who was nearby, found it at all unusual that two drunken, disheveled men in an obviously out-of-service hearse (it had no license plates and several broken windows) had arrived without any paperwork to claim the body of a deceased celebrity. In fact, according to Kaufman’s dubious account, the cop even helped the pair load the casket into the hearse – and then looked the other way when Martin slammed the hearse into a wall on the way out of the hangar. Kaufman and Martin then drove the body back out to Joshua Tree, doused it with gasoline and set it ablaze.