The Lady Who Shot Lee Morgan by Larry Reni Thomas


Jazz trumpet legend Lee Morgan was killed on a cold February night in 1972, at Slug’s Saloon, a jazz club in New York City’s East Village where his band was performing.  Following an altercation between sets, Morgan’s 46-year-old common-law wife, Helen shot him. He was 33 years old. According to an eyewitness, Helen walked out of the club just before the last set.  She returned and the band was already on stage.  Lee was trying to get up there, but was talking with some people.  He just started to get up on stage, when she entered and called his name.  Lee turned around and she shot him.  She then turned the gun on the club’s doorman Ernie Holman, who grabbed her wrist and took the gun away from her.  She started to scream, “Baby, what have I done?” and ran to him.

At the time of Lee Morgan’s death he was experiencing a comeback of sorts.  He had been battling a serious heroin addiction for years and by most accounts, was drug free.  His gig at Slug’s was the talk of the jazz world and was a must-see for all of those in the know.  There was always a packed house during his engagements at Slug’s.  He looked good, sounded great and seemed destined for a fantastic future. Then the unthinkable happened.

How could it be?  Why would Helen Morgan, whom almost everyone figured loved Lee more than she loved herself, kill her constant companion?  What happened in their decade long relationship that would cause her to do something that devastating to Lee and herself and to Lee Morgan’s legion of fellow musicians, friends and fans who adored him?

The only person who could answer such questions is Helen Morgan.  One month before Helen Morgan died from a heart condition in Wilmington, NC in March 1996 she granted an interview to North Carolina-based writer/radio announcer, Larry Reni Thomas.  She decided to grant the interview to give her account of the sad, tragic event. Reportedly that was the first and last time Helen Morgan spoke publicly about the incident.  

Upcoming North Carolina Book Signings With Author Larry Reni Thomas:

Pomegranate Books4418 Park Avenue, Wilmington, North Carolina, February 21, 2014, at 7 pm

The Regulator Book Shop: 702 Ninth Street, Durham, North Carolina, March 7, 2014, at 7 pm

To purchase The Lady Who Shot Lee Morgan visit or send e-mail to