The Death of Buddy Holly

Buddy Holly
December 25, 1932 – February 3, 1959“Sometimes we’ll sigh. Sometimes we’ll cry. And we’ll know whyjus you and I know true love ways.”

Ritchie Valens
May 13, 1941 – February 3, 1959“Let’s go, let’s go, let’s go little sweetheart.”

The Big Bopper – J. P. Richardson
October 24, 1930 – February 3, 1959“Do I what? Will I what? Oh baby, you know what I like!”

This story was put together almost completely by FindadeathfriendGaryThelen. Most of the photographs, text and information came directly from Gary orsources suggested by him. We owe him much gratitude. Thank you,Gary.

The airplane was a small, four-passenger Beechcraft Bonanza,tail numberN3794N.  It was painted red, with white and black trim. The pilot’s name was RogerPeterson, aninexperienced twenty-one year old that was not qualified to fly on instruments (jfkjrmuch?). The weather had been clear on the way from theSurfBallroom in Clear Lake, Iowa,

 to the MasonCity Airport. 

The National Weather Service had issueda storm warning, but it had not been received by the pilot or by Jerry Dwyer, theowner of the Dwyer Flying Service.

According to Findadeath friend Kevin Clarkeand others, the story is false about the plane being called American Pie, seethe story here.

The tour had been called “The Winter Dance Party.” Concert tourswere profitable and Buddy Holly needed the money. He was recently married with achild on the way. Buddy had broken up with his group, The Crickets, and had lefthis record company. Joining him on the tour was former Cricket, Tommy Allsup (afriend from his hometown of Lubbock, Texas), Waylon Jennings, and Dion and theBelmonts. The headliners were Buddy, Ritchie and the Big Bopper. It was agrueling tour of one-night stands in the middle of winter, in the cold and snowyAmerican Midwest. The bus kept breaking down and had no heat. One member of thegroup,  drummer, Carl Brunch, suffered frostbite. Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper caughtcolds. Their last concert was at the SurfBallroom, on Monday the Second of February.

Buddy was tired of the malfunctioning bus and did not want to take it to thenext stop on the tour, Moorhead, Minnesota, several hundred miles away. Hearranged to charter a plane to Fargo, North Dakota, the nearest airport toMoorhead. Two other members of the group could go with him at $36 per person.Dion balked at paying the tab. Waylon Jennings wanted to fly with Buddy, butexchanged his seat with J.P. Richardson because he had a cold. Tommy Alsup wasincluded in the group, but Ritchie Valens offered to flip him for the seat sincehe was ill. The local host of the “Winter Dance Party,” Bob Hale,flipped the coin. Ritchie called “Heads.” and won the toss. Yearslater, Tommy Alsup would open a dance club named “The Head’s UpSaloon” to commemorate this life-saving coin toss.

Buddy used the payphonein the lobby to call his wife, and Ritchie used it tocall his brother.

 Both complained about the miserable conditions of the tour,and spoke of future plans.

Before departure, Buddy teased his friend from Texas, Waylon Jennings,because he wasn’t joining him in the plane. Buddy said, “Well, you’re notgoing on that plane with me tonight?” Jennings replied, “No.”Buddy’s reply was, “Well, I hope your old bus freezes up again.”Jennings snapped back, “Well, hell, I hope your old plane crashes.”Both events occurred that night.

At about 1:00 am in February 3, 1959, the plane carrying three of rockmusic’s brightest stars took off into a blinding snow storm and crashed into AlbertJuhl’s corn field about fifteen miles northwest ofMason City in Cerro Gordo County, Iowa.

 Here’s a shot of the samefield, taken in 1999.

Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, Jiles P. Richardson, and pilot, Roger Peterson,were dead.

When Jerry Dwyer did not receive news of the safe landing of the plane inFargo, North Dakota, he became concerned and decided to mount a search. The nextmorning was foggy. This prevented him from flying until about 9:00 am. Hefinally took off along the same flight path as the “American Pie” andfound the wreckage within five minutes. It had gone unnoticed for eight hours alonga fence 

in that snow-covered field, about a quartermile from the nearest country road.

By 11:15, the coroner, Dr. Ralph E. Smiley, had arrived. As did the press,and inevitable spectators. Here is a brief synopsis of the wreckage:

“The wreckage lay about 1/2 mile west from the farm home of the Albert andDelbert Juhl. The main part of the plane lay against the barbedwire fence at the north end of the stubble fields in which it came to earth. Ithad skidded and/or rolled approximately 570 feet from point of impact directednorthwesterly. The shape of the mass of wreckage approximated a ball with onewing sticking up diagonally from one side. The body of Roger Peterson wasenclosed by wreckage with only the legs visible sticking upwards. RichardValenzuela’s body was south, lying prone, head directed south 17 feet from thewreckage. Charles Holley’s body, also in the prone position, was lyingsouthwest, head directed southwest, 17 feet from the wreckage. J.P. Richardson’sbody, lying partly prone and partly on the right side, was northwest of thewreckage, head directed south 40 feet from the wreckage, across the fence in acornfield. Fine snow fell lightly after the crash had drifted slightly about thebodies and wreckage. Some parts of each body had been frozen by ten hours’exposure in temperature reported to have been near 18 degrees during that time.

Amongst the wreckage was a large brown leather suitcase with one catch open,lay near one leg of Charles Holley, and about 8 feet north of the same body laya travel case with brown leather ends, and sides of a light plaid color. ADeputy Sheriff inspecting the ground near the wreckage discovered a billfoldcontaining the name of Tommy Douglas Allsup and a leather pocket case markedwith the name “Ritchie Valens.”

Findadeath friend Steve Cragg sendsthis:  when I was 17, I attended a Holly convention in TX, and purchasedthese pictures out of a hotel room. I remember it being very hush hush.. lol.Anyway,  I have had them in a folder for years, and was just thinking ofthem as I was perusing Findadeath.  

Thank you, Steve.  These imagesare incredible.  Their bodies hadn’t been removed yet.

The three bodies on the ground were removed. Peterson’s body was removedafter permission was granted by the inspector for the Civil Aeronautics Boardand Federal Aviation Agency. Deputy Sheriffs Wm. McGill and Lowell Sandquistused metal cutting tools to open a space in the wreckage. For some reallygruesome reading, check out the fine print, on these death certificates. Hisscrotum? Ouch.






Buddy had $193.00 on him, and unless I’m wrong, the coroner removed $11.65 ofit, for his own fees. Tacky, or what? Buddy also had a pair of cuff links and thetop portion of a ballpoint pen on him.

Peterson was taken to the Wilcox FuneralHome and Richardson was taken tothe Ward Funeral Home. No word on where the others were taken, specifically.

On Friday, Feb. 6, 1959, Roger Peterson was buried in the Buena Vista MemorialCemetery, in his hometown of Alta. 

Richardson’swake was held in the Broussard’s Funeral Home, inBeaumont, and he was buried in Beaumont, Texas. Private soldier Elvis Presleyand Colonel Tom Parker sent yellow roses to his funeral.

BIG BOPPER Update March 2007

Richardson’s son decided to dig up his oldman, and have his first look at ol pop.  Jay Richardson was born threemonths after his father’s death, and had his father exhumed, reautupsied todispel any rumors of foul play on the plane, and reburied in a GOREjus newcasket.  Seethe fascinating slideshow now.  Has the whole world gone Death Hag?  Thanks to everyone who sent me information, but especially Joab forthis particular link.

Update February 2015: