Do You Want to Know a Suitcase?


Life is truly a journey. Some people find their faith, some find true love and some find a suitcase full of priceless Beatles memorabilia at an Australian flea market.

Enter Fraser Claughton, 41, from Tinkerton, England, who decided to make a last-minute trip to Australia for a friend’s 50th birthday celebration. While at a flea market in a small town outside of Melbourne, Claughton spotted an old, tattered suitcase and after a brief look inside quickly purchased it for about 50 Australian dollars ($36 U.S.).

For the record:

12:00 a.m. July 28, 2004 For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday July 28, 2004 Home Edition California Part B Page 13 Editorial Pages Desk 1 inches; 43 words Type of Material: Correction
Beatles memorabilia -- The weapon in Mal Evans’ possession when he was shot to death by police in 1976 was a rifle, not an air rifle as incorrectly stated in a July 18 commentary on a suitcase of Beatles memorabilia found in Australia.

What he found inside could be one of the most valuable Beatle collections ever archived, including hundreds of Beatles photos, concert programs, signatures from all the Fab Four and Beatle recordings still in their Abbey Road reel cases. But let’s not get too excited -- we’ve been fooled before. Just months ago, a website falsely claimed to have tapes of a 1976 Beatle reunion in California.


Many believe this suitcase and its contents were previously owned by Mal Evans, a Beatles roadie and confidant who was with the band from its Cavern Club days of the early 1960s.

Nicknamed “Big Mal,” Evans always seemed as much a friend as he was an employee of the Beatles. Starting out as a roadie, he moved up the ranks to executive status. Evans was so “Beatle in-crowd” that he was one of the few outsiders the band actually let perform on its recordings. Big Mal can be heard playing Hammond organ on “You Won’t See Me” on the “Rubber Soul” album; singing in the chorus of “Yellow Submarine”; playing bass harmonium on “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite” and one of the pianos on “A Day in the Life” on “Sgt. Pepper.” He even stroked the famous anvil on “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer,” from the “Abbey Road” album.

After the Beatles split up, he went on to produce a top 10 U.S. single for Badfinger, which he had discovered when the band was still called the Iveys.

Evans met an untimely end on Jan. 6, 1976, when he was shot to death by Los Angeles police after brandishing an air rifle during a scuffle with his girlfriend at his rented duplex. At the time, he was working on a book about his years with the Beatles.

After Evans was killed, his close friend singer-songwriter Harry Nilsson went down to Forest Lawn to help make arrangements regarding the body. It was suggested to Nilsson that cremation was the least expensive option for Evans’ family. Nilsson agreed and took the responsibility of sending Big Mal back to his wife and mother in London. Later that week, Nilsson received a frantic call from Apple executive Neil Aspinall when the ashes failed to arrive: “Harry, Harry! Where’s Mal?” Nilsson informed Aspinall that he had indeed sent Evans’ ashes through the U.S. mail. Sometime later, Evans’ remains were found in a dead letter office and safely returned to his family.

Which brings us back to this mysterious flea market luggage. Could it be that Harry also attempted to send a suitcase or two with those ashes and that’s what’s been found in Australia? Lost mail? Most likely not.


Enter British Beatle fan club headmaster Peter Nash, who late Thursday evening posted an online message claiming that he had just returned from listening to the so-called lost Mal Evans tapes and had concluded that this Australian find was just another false alarm.

Nash could be right. Who knows? We will have to wait and see what the authenticators have to say. In the meantime, even if for only a couple of days, I want to believe that Harry Nilsson sent a suitcase loaded with Mal Evans’ rare Beatles archive to England in 1976 that somehow got lost in the mail for 28 years and miraculously arrived at an Australian flea market in the summer of 2004. Across the universe indeed.

Chris Carter is host of “Breakfast With the Beatles” on Sundays on KLSX-FM. He produced the award-winning documentary “Mayor of the Sunset Strip” and was a founding member of the alternative rock group Dramarama.