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How Did Thieves Manage to Steal Don Henley’s Handwritten ‘Hotel California’ Lyrics?

Elisabeth Edwards
Photo Credit: Henry Diltz/Corbis via Getty Images; Photo Credit: Michael Loccisano/Getty Images
Photo Credit: Henry Diltz/Corbis via Getty Images; Photo Credit: Michael Loccisano/Getty Images

Fifty years after they were stolen, pages of original lyrics to the Eagle’s 1976 album Hotel California valued at over $1 million are finally being returned to their rightful owner. In July of 2022, the Manhattan District Attorney indicted three people, including a curator at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, who reportedly kept the stolen lyrics. But how did the handwritten lyrics end up stolen in the first place?

The Eagles were formed in the early ’70s

The lyrics were penned by Eagles founding member Don Henley, who started playing with musician Glenn Frey and iconic ’70s songstress Linda Ronstadt in early 1971 in Los Angeles.

Members of Eagles

Photo of Eagles members: Bernie Leadon, Don Henley, Glenn Frey, Don Felder, Randy Meisner (Photo Credit: GAB Archive/Redferns)

While on tour with Ronstadt, Henley and Frey decided to form their own band with the addition of Randy Meisner and Bernie Leadon. Frey, Leadon, and Meisner all eventually left the group, which is now comprised of Henley, Joe Walsh, Timothy B. Schmit, and Vince Gill.

Rock n’ roll royalty

The name “Eagles” came from a tequila and peyote-fueled night in the Mojave Desert. Released in 1972, the band’s first studio album Eagles was an overnight success. Their combination of ’70s rock, country, and folky harmonies created an original sound that would soon become a signature style of the era.

Eagles performing live on stage

Randy Meisner, Glenn Frey, and Don Felder of the Eagles performing live onstage, 1976 (Photo Credit: Gai Terrell/Redferns via. Getty Images)

By 1976, the Eagles released their first compilation album Their Greatest Hits, which became the highest-selling album of the 20th century in the United States (surpassing Michael Jackson’s Thriller in 2018). In the same year, they also released Hotel California, which contained the smash hit single by the same name we all know and love to this day – although it had a different working title, which we’ll get to in a bit.

Following the band’s breakup in 1980, the Eagles began to perform together again in the mid-’90s and returned to touring in 2001. Today, they continue to tour and play shows throughout North America and Europe.

Thieves lied to avoid police

Three men have been charged in relation to the theft: Glenn Horowitz, Craig Inciardi, and Edward Kosinski. A press release from the New York Attorney General’s office revealed that the missing Eagles lyrics were stolen in the 1970s by an unidentified author who was writing a biography on the Eagles. He then sold the 100 pages of handwritten lyrics to Horowitz in 2005.

Hotel California lyrics

Another version of Don Henley’s handwritten “Hotel California” lyrics and notes on auction in 2012. (Photo Credit: Michael Loccisano/Getty Images)

Later on, Horowitz sold them to Inciardi and Kosinski. Reportedly, Inciardi and Kosinski tried to sell the lyrics at auction several times by lying about their origin – but that’s not the only thing they lied about! When Don Henley caught wind of who might have the stolen lyrics, he filed a police report. Trying to deflect any investigation, Inciardi and Kosinski claimed that the papers had been given to them by former Eagles member Glenn Frey.

Finally charged

Horowitz, Inciardi, and Kosinski have each been charged with conspiracy in the fourth degree and attempted criminal possession of stolen property in the first degree. Horowitz has also been charged with two counts of hindering prosecution in the second degree due to his interference with Henley’s police investigation.

Don Henley sings on stage

Don Henley of the Eagles performs at MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo Credit: Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

The manuscript of original lyrics contains iconic Eagles songs like “Hotel California,” “Life in the Fast Lane,” and “New Kid in Town.” Now that a piece of rock ‘n roll history is finally in good hands, the thieves might get their own visit to a different kind of “Hotel California” where you can “check out any time you like, but you can never leave!”

The song had a very different working title

“Hotel California” is a song so familiar to many of us that it’s odd to think of it being called something else, but it originally had a much different name. Don Felder, who played lead guitar with the Eagles from 1974 to 2001, recalled coming up with the melody in a Malibu beach house.

Don Felder, Don Henley, Joe Walsh, Glenn Frey, and Randy Meisner are pictured circa 1976

L-R: Don Felder, Don Henley, Joe Walsh, Glenn Frey, Randy Meisner – posed, studio, group shot – Hotel California era (Photo Credit: RB / Redferns via Getty Images)

He’d been sitting in the house on a beautiful summer day, letting the fresh air in through the open doors. “I had a bathing suit on and was sitting on this couch, soaking wet, thinking the world is a wonderful place to be,” he told Guitar World in 2013. “I had this acoustic 12-string and started tinkling around with it, and those ‘Hotel California’ chords just kind of oozed out.”

Felder later presented some instrumental tapes to his bandmates as they were working on new songs together. He wasn’t sure if the reggae-like guitar part would work for the Eagles, but Don Henley and Glenn Frey were quite taken with the music. “We said this is electric Mexican reggae,” Frey recounted to In The Studio With Redbeard in 1992. “Wow. What a nice synthesis of styles.”

More from us: Stevie Nicks Explains the Meaning Behind Her Greatest Song, ‘Landslide’

As the song evolved, the band used the working title “Mexican Reggae,” until Frey came up with the famously cryptic lyrics and “Hotel California” was born.

Elisabeth Edwards

Elisabeth Edwards is a public historian and history content writer. After completing her Master’s in Public History at Western University in Ontario, Canada Elisabeth has shared her passion for history as a researcher, interpreter, and volunteer at local heritage organizations.

She also helps make history fun and accessible with her podcast The Digital Dust Podcast, which covers topics on everything from art history to grad school.

In her spare time, you can find her camping, hiking, and exploring new places. Elisabeth is especially thrilled to share a love of history with readers who enjoy learning something new every day!

The Digital Dust Podcast

linkedin.com/in/elisabethcedwards