For a couple of months in the fall of 1969, a persistent rumor that Paul McCartney had been killed two years earlier and replaced with a look-alike captured the imaginations of Beatles fans and the general public.
The rumor began in the winter of 1967 when, after a particularly icy night, reports were flying among Britain’s national press that Paul had been killed in a car crash on January 7, 1967. The tale was reported in the February issue of The Beatles Monthly Book (#43) under the heading of “False Rumour,” and with a denial from the Beatles’ press office. In fact, it claimed that neither Paul nor his black Mini Cooper had even left the house that day.
Fast-forward to September 1969, about one week before the release of Abbey Road (9/26/69), when the student newspaper of Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa ran the story Is Beatle Paul McCartney Dead? In the article, which is written in the same style with which today’s Ancient Aliens posits its wildest theories, Tim Harper opined that Paul “may indeed be insane, freaked out, even dead.”
Harper supported the statement by examining Beatle’s album covers and lyrics, and pointed to Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (6/1/67) where he found two mysterious symbols (a hand over Paul’s head and what is conjectured to be “an ancient death symbol”), a left-handed guitar that “lies on the grave at the group’s feet,” (Paul was the only lefty), on the back cover Paul is the only one not facing the camera, and in the centerfold Paul is the only one wearing a black arm band.
Continuing with the examination, Harper looked at the walrus of The Magical Mystery Tour (11/27/67) (revealed to be Paul in 1968’s Glass Onion), which, at least according to Harper, was a Viking symbol of death. And then turning his attention to The Beatles (11/28/68), he reported that playing Revolution No. 9 backward produced phrases about death.
It’s not clear if Harper was kidding or not with his story, but it certainly captured the imagination of the country.