In her new book Masking Evil: When Good Men and Women Turn Criminal, biographer Carol Anne Davis examines the story of singing legend Marvin Gaye - shot dead by his own father ...
Standing outside his son’s bedroom, a father jangled his belt. The boy was terrified, trembling.
He regularly saw his mother Alberta being beaten at their home in Washington DC.
But his father, a church bishop, reserved the worst of his hatred for the little boy.
Marvin suffered night terrors and wet the bed, which only made the beatings worse.
Despite being a religious preacher, Marvin Penze Gay was a hard father.
His own childhood had been traumatic. Born to poor farm workers, he was one of 13 children and had to work long hours in the tobacco fields.
He often went hungry – and often saw his father beat his mother.
Like his parents, Marvin Snr was a member of House of God – a church that combined Pentecostal Christianity with Judaism.
At 20, Marvin Snr became a minister and married Alberta.
She already had a daughter by another man, and Marvin Snr sent the child away.
He would also later reject the daughter he and Alberta had together because he wanted a son.
However, when Marvin Jnr was born to the couple, Marvin Snr hated it when Alberta lavished affection on her son.
Alberta had three more children over the years and their father often deprived them of food, insisting it would bring them closer to God.
‘If you do not please the deity, you will go to hell,’ he warned.
But Marvin Jnr was already in a place of evil and suffering. There was little respite at school, where bullies teased him over his surname – at that time spelled Gay without the ‘e’.
His only solace was his remarkable voice.
He drew gasps when he sang hymns in church and soon he was performing in local clubs.
By the time he was 15, he was tall enough to defend himself against his violent father.
The boy left school – much to the disgust of his bishop father – to embark on a professional singing career.
He changed his surname from Gay to Gaye, further enraging his father, who turned to alcohol, forcing Alberta to juggle two menial jobs to make ends meet.
Marvin Snr grew increasingly irate as his soul-singer son found global fame with hits such as I Heard It Through the Grapevine and Sexual Healing.
‘The human voice is only designed to praise God,’ he’d spit.
Behind closed doors, Marvin Snr had long liked to dress in women’s clothes and underwear for sexual kicks.
But when word got out, he clashed with his church peers and parishioners. Forced to resign, he spent his days on the porch, drinking heavily, wearing a dress and ladies’ shoes.
Now rich and famous, Marvin Jnr bought his parents an expensive house in LA.
In a position to support his mother, he begged her to divorce his father – but she refused, adamant that marriage was for life.
Sadly, the singer’s own marriage failed and his career began to flag.
Battling a cocaine addiction, he moved back in with his parents in August 1983.
‘I’m going to die,’ he chillingly told his siblings and fellow musicians. ‘I’ll be poisoned or shot dead.’
They put it down to drug-induced paranoia…
But on 1 April 1984, the ex-bishop Marvin Penze Gay, then 69, snapped. He flew into a violent rage when he couldn’t find an insurance policy.
‘You stole it,’ he accused his son.
A furious fight broke out and the younger man shoved his father.
Marvin Snr left the room and got a gun. He returned to the room where Marvin was reading the Bible with his mother.
Then, he shot Marvin Jnr – who was a day short of his 45th birthday – at point-blank range.
Standing over his broken body, Gay shot him again, through the heart.
‘Please don’t kill me,’ his wife begged, crying hysterically.
Instead, her husband simply walked to the porch where he waited for the police to arrive.
After his arrest, Marvin Snr claimed he’d killed his son in self-defence.
He was refused bail and put on suicide watch, with his lawyer pronouncing him mentally unfit to stand trial.
Gay later claimed that he thought the gun had been empty or that it only fired blanks.
That summer, doctors found a tumour on his brain and the charge was reduced from murder to voluntary manslaughter.
It meant Gay was given just five years’ probation – and, finally, his wife divorced him.
Despite being a man of God, Marvin Penze Gay terrorised, bullied and beat his family members mercilessly.
And he callously killed his son – wiping out a soul legend.
Now his crime is remembered as one of the most famous and tragic deaths in music history.
‘A brutal tyrant’
Carol Anne Davis says: This killer had no redeeming qualities so the case remains foremost in my mind. He physically beat and emotionally terrorised his children and also half starved them. When they wet the bed, as many distressed children do, he beat them for this too. His hypocrisy was breathtaking as he indulged himself by wearing women’s panties in front of his family yet refused to let them listen to popular music or play sports. He was a cruel and twisted tyrant and I’m appalled that he wasn’t given life imprisonment for the murder of his talented son.
Carol Anne Davis’ book Masking Evil: When Good Men and Women Turn Criminal is available now on amazon.