Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown, even if the crown is studded with rhinestones. The King of Rock & Roll, beset with troubles in life, found himself disturbed even in death. It wasn’t aliens but rather human beings who attempted to abduct Elvis Presley’s remains 13 days after his untimely passing at age 42 from drug-assisted heart failure. The incident launched a police investigation into what some called a conspiracy, and prompted the Oct. 2, 1977, move of Elvis’ body to Graceland.
Presley was originally laid to rest in Memphis’ Forest Hill Cemetery on Aug. 18. His body was entombed in a large mausoleum, not far from the plot where his mother, Gladys, had been interred since 1958. The hysteria that accompanies a superstar’s demise had already begun: Early on the morning of the funeral, a drunk driver plowed into the mourners crowded near Graceland’s gate, killing two. Security was becoming an issue at the cemetery as well. ”Things were just crazy down at Forest Hill, with fans, paparazzi, curiosity seekers, all kinds of mayhem,” recounts Todd Morgan, director of media and creative development for the Graceland estate.
The insanity escalated in the early morning hours of Aug. 29, when three Memphis ne’er-do-wells — Ronnie Lee Adkins, Raymond M. Green, and Bruce Eugene Nelson — were arrested for trespassing near the mausoleum. Police found no burglary tools at the scene, but Adkins offered a compelling, if fantastic, confession: He claimed he was a police informant, planted to expose a conspiracy to steal Presley’s body and ransom it. He said the cabal — made up of himself, the two other men, and a mastermind he never met who reportedly promised the trio $40,000 for their services — had initially attempted to filch the King’s husk from the morgue.
Adkins’ wild stories were ultimately exposed as just that, stories. The police admitted he was an informant, but that the plan was probably a hoax. The trio was charged with misdemeanor trespassing — which was later dropped.
But Elvis’ father, Vernon Presley, had had enough. He applied for and received permission to reinter Elvis and Gladys safely within the gates of Graceland, and on the night of Oct. 2, the bodies were discreetly moved to the Meditation Garden. The site opened to the public Nov. 27, and thousands paid their respects in the chilly rain. Since then, two other graves — those of Vernon and Minnie Mae ”Grandma” Presley — have been added.
”It just needed to be done,” says Morgan of the move. Indeed, it made sense for Elvis to find peace at his beloved Graceland — and a fitting end to one of those sad, strange stories of the death of kings.
Time Capsule: October 2, 1977
At the movies, Roger Moore’s third spin as 007, The Spy Who Loved Me, thrills theatergoers, en route to an estimated $47 million take (a hit by ’70s standards). On TV, with its season premiere, Norman Lear’s All in the Family enters its eighth season on CBS. In music, Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours continues its blockbuster run atop the Billboard chart. And in the news, Israel rejects a Mideast peace declaration because of a proposal that the PLO be involved in talks. An agreement between the Palestinians and Israel won’t be reached until 1993.