by Dominic Utton
Manic Street Preacher Richey Edwards vanished in 1995. Only now has a vital clue emerged...
On Tuesday, it will be five years since Richard James Edwards, guitarist and lyricist with the Manic Street Preachers, left the Embassy Hotel in London's Bayswater, got into his Vauxhall Cavalier and drove away. It was 7am. He was never seen again.
The following day, James Dean Bradfield, the band's singer, broke down the door of Richey's hotel room. Inside, he found lyrics, a packed suitcase, some Prozac, a novel addressed to a girl and a scrap of paper on which was written three simple words: I love you. Nobody associated with the band will reveal the identity of the girl.
Richey's fate is still a mystery. His car was found near the Severn bridge, a notorious suicide spot, but his body was never discovered. His parents, sister and the three remaining members of the band believe that he's still alive. In the fortnight leading up to his disappearance, he withdrew £2,000, suggesting that he planned his disappearance. There have also been numerous "sightings" - from Goa to Fuerteventura.
The rest of the band still pay a quarter of their royalties into a bank account set up for him. "The money's his," says bassist Nicky Wire. "We don't believe he's dead, he's always with us."
Yet there is one clue to this great rock'n'roll mystery that has, until now, been overlooked. The book left in his hotel room was a Russian novella called Novel With Cocaine. Most interpretations of its presence have centred on the book's plot - a Catcher In The Rye for the Russian revolution, it details how an intelligent boy, Vadim, descends into drug abuse and self-loathing.
The parallels with Richey's life seem clear - an anorexic self-mutilator he had also been treated for alcohol abuse and depression. However, the significance lies not in the book's plot but its author.
Written under the pseudonym M Ageyev in the early Thirties, the novel was sent as an unsolicited manuscript to Numbers, a Paris-based literary journal. Wildly impressed, Numbers published it and caused an immediate sensation. The journal then invited Ageyev, of whom nothing was known except that he was a young Russian living in Istanbul, to Paris and a new life as a literary superstar.
But, in an eerie foreshadowing of what would happen to Richey some 60 years later, Ageyev disappeared. What happened remains a mystery. Was he kidnapped? Did he commit suicide? Or is he still alive and enjoying his twilight years in anonymity?
Richey, with his fierce intellect, his passion for literature and great artistic gestures, would have known of this extraordinary tale. And Richey, who would now be 30, seems to have left it as a direct message to one woman - intimating that he was going away; that he wouldn't be back. Far from being the suicide note, it was a love letter and a coded message of hope.
In his final interview, given to a Japanese pop magazine, Richey suggested that all his pain may have been rooted in an unrequited love. "I have only really been involved with one girl," he said. "I can speak to her more naturally than to anyone else. But I've never told her I love her. I have known her for years but I have only kissed her once."
In the months before his disappearance, Richey returned home to his mother, father and younger sister by two years, Rachel, with whom he was very close.
On January 14, Richey and Rachel spent the day together after burying their pet dog. She later said: "As I went to leave that day, Richard did a very strange thing. He looked me up and down. He said nothing but I realise that he knew it would be the last time he ever saw me - which makes me think he had everything planned out."
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If it was unrequited love that drove Richey to disappear, it is sisterly love that keeps Rachel looking for him. She has contacted every coastguard and monastery in the country and makes regular appeals through the Missing Persons' Helpline.
"I thought we were so close and yet I couldn't stop any of this," she recalls. "It still tears me apart that he had to disappear to get away from his pain."
Rachel, her family and Richey's fellow band members have endured five years of anguish because the person they loved could not come to terms with his life and, possibly, his unrequited love.
They are no closer to solving the mystery of his disappearance but it now appears that he sought to end his turmoil - one way or the other - by following in the footsteps of a now-obscure Russian author.
[Originally published: The Express, 27 January 2000]