The day musician David Crosby surrendered to the FBI in West Palm Beach
Updated: Jan 23
DAVID CROSBY, the influential musician who died Jan. 18 at age 81, performed several times in West Palm Beach over the years, both solo and with Crosby Stills & Nash, at the Kravis Center, SunFest and the old Carefree Theatre.
But nothing quite topped the show he set in motion on Dec. 12, 1985, when he walked barefoot into an FBI office in downtown West Palm Beach and surrendered.
Crosby, known as much for helping create the beloved classic-rock era bands The Byrds and Crosby Stills & Nash as for his destructive indulgences, was a fugitive from justice. Four months earlier, he had failed to appear at a hearing in Texas where he was appealing a 1983 conviction for possessing cocaine and a .45-caliber pistol.
At the time, the rock star's troubles were blamed on an addiction to heroin and free-basing cocaine. Earlier in 1985, he walked out of a drug rehabilitation center, complaining the treatment center refused to let him have his musical instruments.
With warrants out for his arrest, Croz — whose hippie-rebel image inspired Dennis Hopper’s character in the movie “Easy Rider” — concocted a plan: He would sail his 59-foot schooner, the Mayan, to Costa Rica, where he thought he would be safe from extradition to the United States.
But after Crosby docked the Mayan in Jupiter, he discovered the boat wasn’t seaworthy, a revelation that sparked “my moment of clarity,’’ he recalled in his autobiography, “Long Time Gone.”
“I realized with utter lucidity that I could not go on,” he wrote.
So, he stepped off the boat and “got a ride to the FBI office in West Palm Beach, where I turned myself in, just as I was, barefoot. … That’s how crazy I was.”
Robert Neumann, special agent in charge of the FBI's West Palm Beach office, told reporters that Crosby, 44, "appeared to be under the influence of something … and extremely uptight" when he turned himself in.
Crosby, in designer jeans and a red T-shirt with the words “David’s Tour,’’ was handed over to West Palm Beach police, handcuffed and taken to the county jail.
“Wish me luck,’’ he said to reporters.
Meanwhile, in the newsroom of The Palm Beach Post, City Editor Pete Ebel ran up to one of his new reporters, Greg Schwem, and breathlessly said: “David Crosby just turned himself in to the West Palm Beach police.’’
Schwem, just a year or so on the job, replied, “Who?”
Ebel: “David Crosby? Crosby Stills Nash & Young?”
“Oh, OK! I do know that name!’’ Schwem, in an interview, recalled saying.
At first appearance the next day, Schwem and reporters from two other newspapers filed into the jail’s courtroom and waited for Crosby to enter. The judge was Edward Garrison, then one of the county’s younger judges.
As reporters are known to do while passing time, they started mischievously speculating to each other about whether Garrison was at Woodstock and if he was a fan of Crosby’s music.
“We were like, ‘Do you think he’s going to look down at Crosby and go, ‘Man, you disappointed me. I believed in you, dude!’ because he was this really hip judge,’’ Schwem said, laughing.
But when Crosby and the 60 or so inmates filed in for their hearings, Garrison was all business.
“He called Crosby’s name first because he wanted us (the media) out of there,’’ he said.
Crosby wore a jail-issue navy blue shirt and trousers. He occasionally talked to other inmates sitting nearby.
“Everyone keeps asking me: ‘Who’s here?’’’ a deputy guarding the first-appearance inmates told a reporter. “Most of these guys don’t have the faintest idea who he is.’’
For Schwem, the Crosby in the courtroom that day did not resemble the cool musician he knew from the album covers. Crosby’s signature bushy mustache was gone and his hair was tousled — an image captured by photographers the one and only time the musician turned his head to look at them.
“I just remember how horrible he looked,’’ Schwem said. “He was very coherent to the judge and very polite. He said, ‘I”ve chosen to waive extradition’ and that was it. Then they took him away.’’
For his story lede, Schwem borrowed from a Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young song: “Rock singer David Crosby failed to find the cost of freedom yesterday in a Palm Beach County courtroom.’’
Before Crosby was sent to Texas on Dec. 20, he spent a week in the county lockup where another eager Palm Beach Post reporter, Steve Petrone, tried to get an interview.
“As I was being escorted to the captain’s office to ask about the interview, two corrections officers were walking a guy (who) looked like a real bum in chains into a cell. The guy was a real mess,’’ Petrone recalled in a Facebook comment the other day.
“We looked at each other as I passed within a few feet. After about three steps, I realized it was David Crosby. He looked so bad I didn't recognize him right away.’’
Petrone’s interview request was denied.
After serving five months in a Texas prison, Crosby was released in 1986 and managed, for the most part, to stay out of trouble.
"I guess he figured it's time to face the music, as they say," Bill Siddons, manager of Crosby Stills & Nash, said when Crosby surrendered in West Palm Beach. "I'm extremely pleased that David chose to do the correct thing."
Covering Crosby’s surrender in 1985 led Schwem to explore the singer’s music. “I became a real fan,’’ he said. “I listened to his music more, read his autobiography, “Long Time Gone,” and got a real sense of how screwed up this guy was and for how long.’’
Crosby was active on Twitter in recent years, often corresponding with strangers and fans, including two former Post reporters who covered his surrender.
Petrone said he tweeted to Crosby two years ago about how the singer had influenced Petrone’s musical aspirations. “He seemed pleased to hear this,’’ he said.
Schwem said, “I remember tweeting something to him about how I covered his first appearance and how glad I was that he was going great. And he responded. I can’t remember exactly what he said but he did respond, something like, ‘Ah, thanks, man.’’’
As for The Mayan, it’s not exactly clear why the boat was sailed to Jupiter in 1985.
“She sails beautifully,’ first mate Pete Roberts said. “But with a 64-foot mast, we cleared the Blue Heron Bridge by about 6 inches.’’
Several weeks earlier it was in the Bahamas. But news of Crosby’s surrender prompted local fans to look for the boat. The boat’s crew made reporters at the time promise not to divulge the boat's location and to write “only that the boat was in the Intracoastal Waterway somewhere in Martin or Palm Beach counties,’’ the Miami Herald said
“This (ship) was one of the only solid things in his life that he has besides drugs,’’ Robby Smith, the ship’s captain, told the Herald in 1985.
Crosby bought the boat in 1967 with money from severance pay after being fired from The Byrds. A year later, while aboard the The Mayan outside Sausalito, Calif., Crosby and Jefferson Airplane founder Paul Kantner wrote the song “Wooden Ships,” with Stephen Stills hopping on board to add the last few lines.
A few weeks later, Crosby, Stills and Graham Nash decided to form their own group. And the rest is history.
When Crosby was taken to Texas after his surrender, the Mayan stayed in South Florida.
“We really want to spend time cleaning her up,’’ Smith said. “She’s slid down — just like David. But David’s not going to stay down. He’s not going to die like you’ve been reading. He’s got a real bad problem and he’ll straighten it out.’’
(This story contains information published in The Palm Beach Post, the Sun-Sentinel and the Miami Herald).
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About the author
Joe Capozzi is an award-winning reporter based in Lake Worth Beach. He spent more than 30 years writing for newspapers, mostly at The Palm Beach Post, where he wrote about the opioid scourge, invasive pythons, the birth of the Ballpark of the Palm Beaches and Palm Beach County government. For 15 years, he covered the Miami Marlins baseball team. Joe left The Post in December 2020. View all posts by Joe Capozzi.