Was Elvis’ Manager A Murderer? ► Monday Musical Appreciation

It’s always been a curious thing. During the entirety of Elvis’ career, he only played overseas once and only performed in Canada only 3 times. Despite the proximity Colonel Tom Parker, his manager, didn’t accompany his star client.

I’ve long heard rumblings that The Colonel was a wanted man, which is why he never traveled outside the country, but had never bothered to research the back story. A random Facebook post this morning took me to a page about The Colonel at the Smithsonian Institute published 4 years ago. What I learned was stunning. Colonel Tom Parker may have been a murderer hiding in plain sight. This article gets right down to the Colonel’s skulduggery:

So far as the wider world knew, the
Colonel was Thomas Andrew Parker, born in Huntingdon, West Virginia,
some time shortly after 1900. He had toured with carnivals, worked with
elephants and managed a palm-reading booth before finding his feet in
the early 1950s as a music promoter. Had anyone taken the trouble to
inquire, however, they would have discovered that there was no record of
the birth of any Thomas Parker in Huntingdon. They might also have
discovered that Tom Parker had never held a U.S. passport—and that while
he had served in the U.S. Army, he had done so as a private. Indeed,
Parker’s brief military career had ended in ignominy. In 1932, he had
gone absent without leave and served several months in military prison
for desertion. He was released only after he had suffered what his
biographer Alanna Nash terms a “psychotic breakdown.” Diagnosed as a
psychopath, he was discharged from the Army. A few years later, when the
draft was introduced during the World War II, Parker ate until he
weighed more than 300 pounds in a successful bid to have himself
declared unfit for further service.

WHOA! But it doesn’t stop there. I continued my research, jumping onto the WikiWackyWoo:

Presley fans have speculated that the reason Presley only once
performed abroad, which would probably have been a highly lucrative
proposition, may have been that Parker was worried that he would not
have been able to acquire a U.S. passport and might even have been
deported upon filing his application. In addition, applying for the
citizenship required for a US passport would probably have exposed his
carefully concealed foreign birth. Although Parker was a US Army veteran
and spouse of an American citizen, one of the basic tenets of U.S.
immigration law is that absent some sort of amnesty program, there is no
path to citizenship or even legal residency for those who entered the
country illegally.[50]
As Parker had not availed himself of the 1940 Alien Registration Act,
and there was no amnesty program available to him afterwards, he was not
eligible for US citizenship through any means.

Foreign birth? Undocumented immigrant? What else was The Colonel hiding? According to The Inside Story of Elvis and the Colonel, a chapter from the (self-serving) book Leaves of Elvis’ Garden:

Colonel Tom Parker was a master deal-maker who made
Elvis the highest-paid actor in Hollywood.   While other actors may
have commanded per-picture fees in excess of the $1 million Elvis got,
he often made double that again because he received an unprecedented 50
percent of all profits. It didn’t matter to the Colonel that the films
were, for the most part, artistically vapid. Colonel Parker proved his
worth, moneywise.
The Colonel, as he liked people to refer to him,
displayed a ruthless devotion to Elvis’ interests, and he took far more
than the traditional 10 percent of his earnings (reaching up to 50
percent by the end of Presley’s life).  Under his brilliant, skillful
and cunning guidance his one and only client, Elvis, reached
unimaginable heights.  Elvis considered him a genius.
But Elvis grew restless, feeling the Colonel had
limited his Hollywood career, even while acknowledging they had been
successful financially.  He felt trapped. 

John Lennon, famously, had several things to say about Elvis. Here are two:
“Before Elvis there was nothing.”

“Up until Elvis joined the army, I thought it was beautiful music and Elvis was for me and my generation what the Beatles were to the ’60s. But after he went into the army, I think they cut “les bollocks” off. They not only shaved his hair off but I think they shaved between his legs, too. He played some good stuff after the army, but it was never quite the same, It was like something happened to him psychologically. Elvis really died the day he joined the army. That’s when they killed him, and the rest was a living death.”

But I digress.
As Smithsonian Magazine continues the story: Back in 1960, soon after Elvis was discharged from the army, Parker’s family back in the Netherlands recognized him in a photo as Andreas van Kuijk, a long-lost brother who had disappeared into thin air. Sure he was older, and fatter, but there was no mistaking it. A brother was sent to the States. He met with Dries — as the family called him — who revealed very little about his personal life.
Even stranger is when he went back to Breda, the brother kept Parker’s secret which didn’t leak for another few years, but only in a small Dutch fan magazine called It’s Elvis Time. Then it was picked up in the ’70s by Albert Goldman in his Elvis biography. However, there were deeper secrets to unveil.
Journalist Dirk Vellenga, who also lived in Breda, got a tip that the Colonel was originally from there, which led to a 30-year investigation:
Vellenga had been filing occasional
updates on the Parker story—the Colonel was by far the most famous son
of Breda—and found that he was building a detailed picture of what was
by any standard a hasty departure. Parker, he learned, had vanished in
May 1929 without telling any of his family or friends where he was
heading, without taking his identity papers, and without money or even
the expensive clothing he had spent most of his wages on. “This means,” notes Nash,
that “he set out in a foreign country literally penniless.” In the
late 1970s, Vellenga ended one of his newspaper features by posing what
seemed to him a reasonable question: “Did something serious happen
before Parker left that summer in 1929, or maybe in the 1930s when he
broke all contact with his family?”

At least one of his readers thought
that question deserved an answer, and a short while later an anonymous
letter was delivered to Vellenga’s paper. “Gentlemen,” it began.

At last, I want to say what was told to me 19
years ago about this Colonel Parker. My mother-in-law said to me, if
anything comes to light about this Parker, tell them that his name is
Van Kuijk and that he murdered the wife of a greengrocer on the

This murder has never been solved. But look it up and you will
discover that he, on that very night, left for America and adopted a
different name. And that is why it is so mysterious. That’s why he does
not want to be known.

Turning hastily to his newspaper’s files, Vellenga found to his
amazement that there had indeed been an unsolved killing in Breda in May
1929. Anna van den Enden, a 23-year-old newlywed, had been battered to
death in the living quarters behind her store—a greengrocer’s on the
Bochstraat. The premises had then been ransacked, apparently
fruitlessly, in a search for money. After that, the killer had scattered
a thin layer of pepper around the body before fleeing, apparently in
the hope of preventing police dogs from picking up his scent.

The discovery left Vellenga perplexed. The 19 years of silence
that his mysterious correspondent mentioned took the story as far back
as 1961—exactly the year that the Van Kuijk family had made contract
with Parker, and Ad van Kuijk had returned from his visit to the Colonel
so remarkably tight-lipped. And the spot where the murder had occurred
was only a few yards away from what had been, in 1929, Parker’s family
home. Members of the Colonel’s family even recalled that he had been
paid to make deliveries for a greengrocer in the area, though they could
no longer remember which one.

Of course, all the evidence is circumstantial. There is no proof, even in the original police files, that Parker, or van Kuijk, was ever a suspect in the murder. This will always remain an unsolved mystery, but several of Elvis’ biographers truly believe that the biggest secret the Colonel was hiding was the fact that he was a murderer who had fled to ‘Merka to avoid suspicion.

About Headly Westerfield

Calling himself “A liberally progressive, sarcastically cynical, iconoclastic polymath,” Headly Westerfield has been a professional writer all his adult life.