The Mysterious Deaths Of Gatti, Liston, Folley, Mills And Turpin

Foul Play Or Not Foul Play?

A man who has fought for years in the ring, who has risked his very life in doing so, is fully deserving of living a long and happy life after retiring from the toughest of all sports. After all, he has sacrificed in the ring, this is the least a brave, courageous fighter is entitled to. But throughout history, some fighters, having successfully navigated all the potential pitfalls fighting for a living threw their way, were not so lucky.

There have been a number of mysterious deaths of boxers over the years; tales of great fighters who met their end under incredibly murky circumstances. Instantly upon reading this, you are thinking of Sonny Liston and the strange case of the death of the former heavyweight champ. To this day, there are various theories on what really happened to Liston that winter evening in 1970 (or very early in 1971).

Here are five of the more mysterious, disturbing cases of a famed fighter dying under odd circumstances.

Zora Folley

Folley, a good heavyweight in the 1950s and 1960s, never got a shot at the title until he was past his best. Losing to Muhammad Ali in 1967, Folley, who had previously fought names like Sonny Liston, Henry Cooper, Eddie Machen, and George Chuvalo, was easily stopped by the peak Ali. Three years later Folley retired.

During the first week of July in 1972, 41-year-old Folley died, under very mysterious circumstances. Folley was happily married and he was the father of eight children. Popular and liked by all in the area of Tucson, Arizona where he lived, Zora was for some reason present at a motel on the evening of July 7. At some point (after checking in under a false name) Folley, along with a man and a woman, with a second woman also present, got in the motel swimming pool.
What happened then is unknown, but Folley apparently fell, or was pushed, and he suffered a head injury. Taken to the hospital, Folley later died of his injuries.

The autopsy report was never made public, but what is known is this: Folley had several bumps on his head, not just one as would be expected from an accidental fall – indeed, Folley is said to have had “a hole” in the top of his head. To this day, nobody has been able to come up with a motive anyone would have had for killing Folley, yet many, many people have major trouble accepting his death was a mere accident. Who were the three other people present that day, and why was Folley with them?

Freddie Mills

The former world light-heavyweight champion, London’s Mills was a hugely popular figure in the 1940s, the 1950s and the 1960s. Mills, who won the world title in 1948, retired in 1950. Living in London, Mills opened a nightclub and was also a doting father. On the night of July 24, 1965, 46-year-old Mills was found dead in the backseat of his car, shot in the eye. The rifle was found just inches away from Mill’s body. The death was ruled a suicide.

The odd elements of this case include the fact that Mills was in no way suicidal, that he had his eyes open at the time of the shot (all experts agree that any person, attempting to shoot themselves in the eye – itself a very odd area to shoot oneself – would instinctively and reflexively close their eyes) and no suicide note was found. To this day, many people feel the mob (maybe The Kray Twins) were responsible. One other lurid story that came from this case is the claim by one writer that Mills was a serial killer who murdered eight women!

Arturo Gatti

Gatti, one of the most consistently thrilling warriors in modern-day boxing history, was enormously popular the world over. Having fought on too long and going out after some heavy defeats, Gatti, at age 37, was still a young man. A devoted father and also a man who enjoyed partying, Gatti was found dead in Brazil, officially of a suicide by hanging. Initially, Gatti’s wife was arrested for suspected murder, but the authorities then said it was suicide.

Many people have doubts Gatti took his own life. Witnesses say Gatti was in no way suicidal, he was “no quitter,” and some felt the location of the body in relationship to the purse strap Gatti supposedly used to hang himself with was extremely odd. Then again, those who defend Gatti’s wife insisted she did not have the physical strength to be able to overpower Gatti, as drunk as he was that night.

Randolph Turpin

The former world middleweight champion who famously defeated the one and only Sugar Ray Robinson, Turpin of Leamington Spa, England, was also just 37 when he died. Another death that is officially listed as suicide, Turpin, supposedly depressed due to financial problems, was found dead from self-inflicted gunshot wounds – one to the heart, one to the head. In addition to this, Turpin had supposedly shot his young daughter as well, twice. Thankfully, she survived.

Many people who knew Turpin absolutely refuse to accept that Randolph would have taken his own life. Even less likely in the opinion of these people is the fact that Turpin would have harmed his daughter, who he “doted over.” Was Turpin in fact murdered, and if so, why?

Sonny Liston

The daddy of them all when it comes to tales of the mysterious death of a famous boxer. No less than a dozen books have been written about Liston’s untimely death, with a number of films and documentaries also devoted to the subject. The official story goes like this: Liston’s decomposing body was found by his wife, Geraldine, who had been away on a trip. Liston was dead on his bed in their apartment, supposedly passing away from natural causes.

But the theories abound. Liston had a puncture mark on his arm, thought to have been caused by a needle, and drugs were allegedly found on the scene (Geraldine was adamant until her dying day that her husband did not do drugs). Yet Liston was notoriously afraid of needles. It’s well known Sonny was associated with the mob and many people point their way when it comes to who did the deed. Was Liston given a “hot shot?” Was Liston killed because he defied mob orders to take a dive in his final fight, against Chuck Wepner in June that year?

Each of the fine fighting men listed above died way before their time and, as fascinating as their strange deaths may be, we must never forget how brave, talented and special each of them really was.

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