Eagles memorabilia thieves go on trial for stealing ‘Hotel California’ lyrics

Three men are charged with conspiracy to sell ill-gotten notes by songwriter Don Henley for the hit album

The lyrics and handwritten notes of "Hotel California" by musician Don Henley of the Eagles in a store in New York City.
The lyrics and handwritten notes of "Hotel California" by musician Don Henley of the Eagles in a store in New York City.Michael Loccisano (Getty Images)

“On a dark desert highway / Cool wind in my hair / Warm smell of colitas / Rising up through the air.” So begins Hotel California, the Eagles’ most iconic song on the eponymous album, which is now the focus of a trial that just began in the New York County Supreme Court. Three men face charges of conspiring to sell notebooks and notes belonging to Don Henley, the drummer and leader of one of the most successful bands of the 1970s. One of the defendants is Glenn Horowitz, a well-known dealer in rare books and valuable documents who has sold items by Don DeLillo, Norman Mailer, and Bob Dylan.

Among the allegedly stolen manuscripts are notes for New Kid in Town and Life in the Fast Lane, two tracks from the 1976 Hotel California album played constantly by jukeboxes and radio stations around the world. The album sold 26 million copies in the United States, where it is the third best-selling album in history. The Eagles’ 1976 Their Greatest Hits (1971-1975) compilation dethroned Michael Jackson’s Thriller in 2018 as the best-selling album of all time.

Defendants Glenn Horowitz, Craig Inciardi, and Edward Kosinski appear in criminal court. July 12, 2022, New York.
Defendants Glenn Horowitz, Craig Inciardi, and Edward Kosinski appear in criminal court. July 12, 2022, New York.John Minchillo (AP)

“These defendants attempted to keep and sell these unique and valuable manuscripts, despite knowing they had no right to do so,” said Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg at the start of the trial. According to the prosecution, the manuscripts are collectively valued at over $1 million.

Horowitz is one of the most prominent US dealers in valuable documents. Bookcases with neatly arranged file folders line the walls of his New York office. Inside the colorful folders are letters, photographs, and documents that once belonged to famous people. Some of the most private papers belonging to Amadeo Modigliani, Vladimir Nabokov and Winston Churchill have passed through Horowitz’s hands. In 2003, his negotiated sale of Woodward and Bernstein’s Watergate papers for $5 million was front-page news around the world

Horowitz is charged with attempted criminal possession of stolen property and hindering prosecution. His co-defendants, Craig Inciardi and Edward Kosinki, face charges of criminal possession of stolen property. All three have also been charged with conspiracy to manufacture false provenance, and lying to auction houses, potential buyers, and law enforcement about the origin of the material.

“These men are innocent… The DA’s office alleges criminality where none exists and unfairly tarnishes the reputations of well-respected professionals,” said the statement issued by the defendants’ attorneys.

The notes for Henley’s songs disappeared sometime in the 1970s. The group, which started as Linda Ronstadt’s backing band at the Troubadour nightclub in West Hollywood, was beginning to take off with successful albums like Desperados and One of These Nights. According to prosecutors, Horowitz bought the documents around 2005 from a writer who worked on a never-published book about the Eagles in the late 1970s. The writer, who isn’t identified in the indictment, gave a variety of explanations to Horowitz over the years of where the documents came from, and in a 2012 email, admitted that he didn’t remember exactly how they came into his hands. He first claimed that Henley’s assistant sent them from the musician’s Malibu (California) home. Later he said he found them discarded in a dressing room backstage at an Eagles concert. In yet another explanation, he said someone who worked for the band gave them to him.

The Eagles: Bernie Leadon, Don Henley, Glenn Frey, Don Felder, and Randy Meisner.
The Eagles: Bernie Leadon, Don Henley, Glenn Frey, Don Felder, and Randy Meisner.GAB Archive (Getty)

Without clearly establishing the provenance of the manuscripts, Horowitz sold them to Inciardi and Kosinski, who fabricated a false statement of provenance. The prosecution has emails documenting how the defendants tried to agree on their story of how they obtained the manuscripts. When he learned they had his papers, Henley sued the defendants and told police the papers had been stolen. The prosecution argues that the defendants did not act in good faith, and instead of returning the manuscripts, they waged a lengthy campaign to prevent Henley from recovering them. While negotiating to sell the manuscripts through Sotheby’s auction house, they tried to get Henley to buy them back, arguing they had rightful ownership based on the false statement of provenance. Henley eventually bought one page for $8,500.

When police began an investigation in 2017 into the provenance of the papers, Horowitz changed his story yet again. Horowitz attempted to exploit the 2016 death of founding Eagles member Glenn Frey, this time claiming that the materials originated from the now-deceased Frey. In one email message, Horowitz observed that since Frey is dead, identifying him as the source would “…make this go away once and for all.”

“This action exposes the truth about music memorabilia sales of highly personal, stolen items hidden behind a façade of legitimacy,” said former Eagles manager Irving Azoff, who called the manuscripts “irreplaceable pieces of musical history.” One of the few managers inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, Azoff said, “We look forward to the return of Don’s property, for him and his family to enjoy and preserve for posterity.”

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