"You're going to ask me if I killed Sonny Liston" - suspect number one

The former heavyweight champion died in suspicious circumstances

"You're going to ask me if I killed Sonny Liston" - suspect number one

25/2/1964: Sonny Liston looses his Heavyweight title to Cassius Clay (Muhammad Ali) after seven rounds at the Miami Beach Convention Hall, USA. ©INPHO/Allsport

The circumstances surrounding the death of Sonny Liston are the main topic of a new book by ESPN journalist Shaun Assael.

"The murder of Sonny Liston: Las Vegas, Heroin and Heavyweights" examines the suspicious death of the former heavyweight champion. 

Speaking to Sean Moncrieff today, Assael put some perspective on the influence of heavyweight boxers at the time saying: "He lived and fought in a time where heavyweights were the giants who roamed the earth. When Joe Louis fought Max Schmeling. They represented their countries."

"In America, Floyd Patterson was the face of an emerging civil rights movement. And later, Muhammad Ali becomes the voice of his generation. Sonny Liston was in the middle of that but he never compared - he was an uneducated, ill-spoken man," he added. 

Assael paints a picture of Las Vegas far from the bright lights of the strip. In 1970 "it was a deeply segregated place. Sonny lived in a white suburb that gave the illusion of celebrity and stability in a town where fathers came home at four in the morning with sex and booze on their breath."

"On the other side of Las Vegas was a red-line ghetto that was really in flames from race riots. And there was nobody else who transcended those two worlds like Sonny. And he did it by driving his pink convertible Cadillac down the Las Vegas strip."

Sonny Liston, new world's heavyweight boxing champion has a big smile as he meets the press in Chicago to talk about his victory over Floyd Patterson, Sept. 26, 1962. He said he would give Patterson his entitled rematch and after that "I'll fight them as they list them." (AP Photo/Harry L. Hall)

"What was he doing with his life? You'll never read this anywhere else but he was dealing cocaine out of the kino room of the International hotel. You'll never read anywhere else that he was under investigation by federal drug agents who wanted to sting him and make him wear a wire on his friends."

"You'll never read anywhere else that there was a contract out on his life by a rival drug dealer who thought Sonny had double-crossed him. Sonny Liston was really barrelling towards an abyss."

"For a dozen years, the rumour about Sonny was that he had died of an accidental heroin overdose. The reason for that was heroin metabolites were found in his blood and a balloon of heroin was found on the counter of his home."

"I argue in the book that that was a plant. In fact, Sonny did not die of a heroin overdose. That, in fact, the cops planted that bindle of heroin so that they could get a search warrant and search his house for the drugs they had suspected he had been stashing there.

"With that said we now have a completely new way to look at his death. What really made it completely new for me was when I get this envelope of this transcript of this Las Vegas snitch named Irwin Peters a dozen years after Sonny's death who walks into the Las Vegas police department with a story to tell. And it's a story about a hero cop, who he says in 1970 or early 71, confessed to him that he killed Sonny Liston."

"This is a hero cop, who broke bad, who later sold cocaine, who later became a convict himself and the last third of the book is when I bring myself into the present tense and I track down that cop and I knock on his door."

"You're going to ask me if I killed Sonny Liston" - suspect number 1.

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