Death of A Heavy Metal Legend: The Shocking Murder of Dimebag Darrell

 (Dimebag Darrell. Picture credit: Loudwire)

To describe Dimebag Darrell as one of the greatest guitar players to have ever existed is no exaggeration. Here was a man who was born to play the guitar, like he was made to play the guitar and boy did he play the hell out of it. If you're a heavy metal fan you won't need me to tell you who Dimebag Darrell is or the sad fact that he is no longer with us. 

There are people to this day who are still struggling to come to terms with his death, how it happened, why did it happen? The huge hole that was left in the world of heavy metal can still be felt today. Covering this case I felt a huge sense of loss and also the sadness that his brother Vinnie (who was also an amazingly talented drummer) is also no longer with us.  Two brothers who were so close and so talented suddenly broken apart by someone's selfish and heartless actions. 

In this post I will be briefly talk about what happened to Dimebag on the night he died but first a little background. 

Dimebag Darrell was born Darrell Lance Abbott on the 20th of August 1966 (his brother Vinnie was born on the 11th of March 1964) in Texas as was his brother before him. The boys showed a natural spark for music at an early age and their father was a country music producer. Darrell was given his first guitar at the age of 12 and that was it, he just seemed to blow everyone away with his playing. By the age of 14 he was winning talent show after talent show to the point where the organisers had to ask him to stop entering because they knew nobody else had a look in once Darrell picked up the guitar. After winning 7 contests in a row he was asked to be a judge, all while just being a young teen, people could see that Darrell had something magical about him, something unique and the way he played that guitar was quite something to witness. 

Vinnie was amazing on the drums too and it wasn't long before the brothers joined together and ended up in the legendary band Pantera. Their image in the early 1980s (the early days of the band) was very glam metal taking inspiration from bands they admired such as Kiss. So the look was very much big hair, spandex and makeup. Like a lot of bands they were experimenting and just trying to find their feet. There were a few changes in the band but the boys remained and when their high school friend and original band member Terry Glaze decided to leave, he was replaced by Phil Anselmo in 1986. 

The Abbott brothers wanted to move away from glam metal into a more heavier sound and the band soon changed their image and toured extensively in the 1990s and their audience grew and grew. Their album 'Vulgar Display of Power' debuted at no 44 and stayed on the charts for 79 weeks, it was later ranked no 10 on The 100 Greatest Metal Albums of All Time by Rolling Stone magazine. 

(Two talented legends: Vinnie and Darrell. Picture credit: Loud & Heavy

As their popularity grew so did the problems within the band. The brothers each had their partying ways on the road but Phil seemed to be taking it to a whole new level. Phil developed a heroin addiction after suffering with chronic back pain and his overbearing personality was beginning to be an issue for the boys as well as some of the fans. Instead of hanging out with the band before the show, Phil kept his distance and his behaviour was creating a negative atmosphere. More success followed but tensions in the band were still growing and Phil suffered an overdose after a show in Dallas but miraculously recovered to continue on with another show two days later. 

Instead of their success and all that they had achieved up until that point bonding the band together, they seemed to drift more and more apart. Everyone had their issues but Phil was out of control and his ego was even worse. Recording sessions would be a nightmare because he would have an issue with certain songs and the Abbott brothers were beyond tired of his drama. 

(Pantera. Picture credit: Loudwire)

Tragedy struck in 1999 when Darrell and Vinnie sadly lost their mother, Carolyn to lung cancer. The boys were devastated and Darrell was said to have never fully recovered from the loss of his mother. Despite the negative situation with the band they continued on and were set to go on another tour when the September 11th attacks happened. The band decided to cancel the tour, head back to Texas and take a break for a short while. 

A short while after this the band broke up much to the hurt of Darrell and Vinnie, they felt that all of their hard work had been for nothing. Phil had decided to go his own way with his own projects and this created a long standing grudge between the former band members of Pantera that was never to be resolved. 

There was a lot of back and forth between the brothers and Phil especially in interviews, there was no love lost between the brothers or him, it was clear that neither could see eye to eye and The Abbot boys blamed Phil for the breakdown of Pantera. Things were very sour. 

There was a fight over the Pantera name, Darrell and Vinnie wanted to start another band with the Pantera name and it ended up in an expensive legal battle with the boys just having to come up with something else. Eventually they settled on the name Damageplan and toured across the country in 2004. 

Both Darrell and Vinnie were not afraid of hard work and always put their all into their music, they knew that they would have to start all over again with this band but they were willing and ready to do it. They both admired Van Halen and before every show they would always say ''Van Halen'', it was their motto to go out there and play their all, which they always did.

When it came to their fans they had time for everyone, you'll find tons and tons of stories from people who met either Darrell or Vinnie (or both) and they will tell you that they were so down to earth and always happy to sign autographs and take pictures. Whilst I was doing my research I was watching a clip of Darrell signing a fan's arm at a convention and Darrell said something like ''I'm so sorry man, that looks a mess'' and the fan just kept yelling  ''I don't care man, IT'S DIMEBAG DARRELL'' and was over excited at having Darrell's name on his arm, this was what Darrell meant to his fans, he was seen as a Metal God and still is. 

The fact that Vinnie and Darrell were only too happy to play smaller venues and get close to fans says a lot about how humble they were. They had a different approach to fame, Phil went off the deep end and his ego took over but they actually enjoyed interacting with fans and feeling the energy from the audience. 

The date of the 8th of December 2004 is one that very few can forget, a night that should never have happened. Darrell and Vinnie were playing one of their last shows of the tour before Damageplan took a  well-earned break. The show was taking place at Alrosa Villa nightclub in Columbus, Ohio. 

Unknown to the band, outside in the parking lot was a guy named Nathan Gale, he didn't have a ticket and when someone asked him why he wasn't going inside he said that he wasn't interested in watching some local bands play, he just wanted to see Damageplan. 

The truth was, Nathan was waiting, waiting to go in and murder Dimebag Darrell and whoever else got in his way. 

(Nathan Gale. Picture credit: Murderpedia

When researching Nathan Gale I found him to be giving off a lot of Mark David Chapman vibes (the man who shot and killed legendary Beatle and musician, John Lennon in 1981). Nathan had become obsessed with Pantera during his teens and began telling friends that Pantera stole song lyrics from him. He would obsessively sit and write endless Pantera lyrics in his journal. 

Nathan was diagnosed as a Paranoid Schizophrenic and was supposed to be taking his regular medication to help manage his condition. He'd had a stint in the marines but was soon discharged due to psychological problems. Looking back, before the night of the 8th of December 2004, the red flags that trouble was ahead where Nathan was concerned, were all over the place. 

His behaviour had previously been out of control and he'd had delusions, imagining that he could see dogs that weren't there and a number of people were witness to this strange behaviour and outbursts. Just six months before the 8th of December he'd actually attended a previous show of the band and had caused a lot of damage to equipment, the details are sketchy but there was an incident with him before and luckily nobody was harmed but did he plan to kill that night? 

There are differences in opinion here but I have to say this, the fact that his own mother knew of his Paranoid Schizophrenia (the delusions, the outbursts and the fact that he would just sit and start laughing for no reason at all and he was exhibiting this behaviour right up to the night of Darrell's death) and BOUGHT HIM A GUN!!!!  

Now I know parents are humans too and nobody is perfect but come on, giving a clearly unstable person a gun is a nightmare waiting to happen. I don't understand the thinking behind that? What did she think he was going to do with the gun? Keep it on the shelf as an ornament? No good could have come from that as we clearly learned from this horrible situation but yes, in my opinion Nathan's mother had a hand in this. She may not have pulled the trigger but you don't give a disturbed person a gun. 

Back to that night on the 8th of December 2004 in Columbus, Ohio. So Nathan is waiting outside and as soon as he knows Damageplan are on stage he sneaks into the building with a handgun (and ammunition) and makes his way to the stage. People assumed he was just another fan wanting to crowd surf but his real intentions soon became clear. 

Cameras inside the club and footage recorded on phones filmed the whole scene. Once on the stage Nathan made his way directly towards Darrell who was headbanging at the time and was in his element on the stage. Darrell was very much into his performance and didn't notice Nathan charging towards him because his long hair was in his eyes. Chillingly, Nathan grabbed Darrell and shot him in the bag of the head at point blank range three times. 

Darrell fell to the floor and Nathan continued to shoot him as the crown looked on in disbelief not knowing if this was a stunt or for real. The head of security ran on to the stage to try to stop Nathan but was shot to death. Another security officer who tried to intervene was also killed. During all of this a brave fan got onto the stage and tried to give medical assistance to Darrell and one of the security men but was also shot to death by Nathan Gale. Another band member was shot three times but fortunately he managed to survive. Nathan tried to use this man as a human shield and began shooting into the crowd, injuring several people but a police officer (one of seven police officers) who had arrived on the scene quickly shot Nathan Gale dead. 

As all of this was going on, it was all happening so fast so the audience were not sure what was happening, when the realisation set in especially as Nathan began shooting into the crowd, people started panicking and trying to get out. 

Security grabbed Vinnie and removed him from the stage to safety but obviously he was fully aware of what had happened having seen Darrell and was clearly shocked and devastated. When they took him to the tour bus he got into his brother's bed and sobbed uncontrollably. Utterly heartbreaking. Vinnie and Darrell had such a strong bond and would have done anything for each other and for that to have happened is just so soul crushing. Your heart just goes out to Vinnie in that moment as well as Darrell and the brave men who did their best on that stage to stop Nathan Gale and lost their lives in the process. 

In a strange and chilling twist of events, the horrible shooting on that night came exactly 24 years to the day that John Lennon was murdered. 

So why did Nathan Gale do this sickening and evil act? Well, it's believed that he was angry that Pantera had broken up and as we know of his obsession with the band and previous claims that the band had stolen his lyrics, it seems likely. 

(The club where the fatal shootings took place. The building has now been turned into affordable housing. Picture credit: Loudwire)

Vinnie had a theory of his own. In a previous interview before Darrell's death, Phil had taken a swipe at Darrell by saying something along the lines of ''Someone should beat Dimebag Darrell up''. Vinnie believed that because Nathan was so obsessed with Pantera and the band breaking up be probably mistakenly blamed Darrell for the fallout. 

Darrell was just 38 when he was killed. He left behind his long-term partner (who he met when he was just 8 years old) Rita Haney. 

There was a memorial for Darrell and the guest list was like a who's who of the metal world. One of Darrell's idol's, Eddie Van Halen was also in attendance and one of his iconic guitar's was placed in Darrell's coffin. Eddie said ''Dime was an original, he deserves the original''

Darrell's last words was said to have been ''Van Halen'' which he and Vinnie always said before they went on stage. 

Darrell was laid to rest in a coffin designed with the band Kiss who was another huge influence on him. 

Darrell was laid to rest alongside his dear mother Carolyn at Moore Memorial Gardens Cemetery in Texas. Sadly on the 22nd of June 2018, Vinnie passed away at his home in Nevada, Las Vegas aged just 54 of coronary heart disease. He was also laid to rest in a Kiss designed coffin and placed beside his mother and brother at the family plot in Texas 

(Brothers reunited. Vinnie and Darrell's graves. Their mother is also buried close to them. Picture credit: Ultimate Classic rock

Sadly, Vinnie and Phil never patched things up after Darrell's death. Vinnie always felt that what Phil had previously said in that interview may have contributed somehow to Darrell's death. Upon hearing the news that Darrell had been murdered, Phil reportedly tried to reach out to Vinnie and express his condolences but never received a response. Vinnie banned Phil from Darrell's memorial and never spoke to him again. 

RIP to Darrell and Vinnie, Nathan Bray, Erin Halk and Jeff Thompson.

Thank you to Shilo (aka @TheStringTheor1) for persuading me to finally cover this case as it had been on my list for a while but I wanted to get it just right. Shilo himself has been a huge admirer of Darrell and Vinnie since he was a child and learned to play guitar himself from a young age. Please go and check out his Youtube, like and subscribe. Just like Darrell and Vinnie, Shilo is very down to earth and one of the nicest and most talented people you could meet. You can find his music and socials here

The club where the shooting happened has now been turned into an affordable housing complex. 

Thank you for taking the time to read this emotional post, the world has lost two of the greatest musicians the world has ever seen, two talented brothers who were so close and the brave and kind men who lost their lives that horrible night. They will never be forgotten. 

Further reading & sources:

Thank you again & I'll see you in the next post x 


  1. I love Pantera a lot and I still remember when Dimebag Darrell passed away.
    You did a fantastic job to cover his career and the horrific moment of his passing. That was such a tragic event. The passing of his brother Vinnie was also heartbreaking to me because he had a special place in my heart. I’ve been learning so much whilst reading your case Jo.

    I wasn’t aware of a lot of things and fact about the background of the band and the tragic passing of the mother of Vinnie and Darrell. The tragic event of the 8th of December 2004 will stick with fans and the heavy metal community forever. He injured so many people too. Nathan Gale is a monster. He took away one of the greatest during a night that was supposed to be a celebration. I totally agree with you about Mark David Chapman vibes ! I don’t get the gun part from the mother of Gale…Unacceptable!

    I feel for the music community, his partner Rita and obviously his brother Vinnie (even if he isn’t with us today).

    I’m also very sad about the fast that Phil and Vinnie never patched things up.

    Thank you so much for your amazing and incredible work on the case. I am still crying. I’m actually listening to Pantera right now as a tribute. You’re awesome Jo Xxx

  2. This was by far one of the most heartbreaking stories you've written to date.

    The loss of Dimebag Darrell hit all of us hard, but the loss in the guitar/musician community couldn't of been worse. Dimebag was not just a legendary guitarist, he was an inspiration, an icon, a person that we all looked up to not just how to play guitar but how to act towards other musicians and fans.

    Everyone admired him, not just his fans but his fellow musicians equally admired him. The sheer drive that Dimebag and Vinnie showed throughout their lives to get where they were. The bottom line of the whole thing comes down to the lack of seriousness that the United States takes in addressing mental health issues. When Nathan's own mother bought him the handgun knowing his mental stability brings so many questions up. Questions regarding this country's handling of gun control, to mental healthcare, to everyday security in places where we wouldn't normally be afraid to go.

    The loss and heartache that Vinnie and Rita suffered must of been beyond anything comparable to say the least. I know for myself just being a fan the news was completely devestating, as a fellow guitar player it was like a vacuum chamber being activated and pulled the power out of the metal scene.

    Another thing that needs to be looked at is the things that people say especially those that are in the public eye such as what Phil said with "Somebody needs to beat up Dimebag Darrell". These kind of inflammatory comments only incite violence and when someone with a mental illness like Nathan sees these things they are going to take it literally.

    I know every musician I talk to appreciated Dimebag and we all miss him greatly.

    In closing I just have to say a couple of things...

    First, thank you so much for covering this story. You really wrote an amazing and incredibly detailed true crime story that was equal parts riveting, heartbreaking, informative and heartfelt. Your work always has been truly incredible and I really appreciate the work and dedication you put into it.

    Second, I will never be able to find the words to show my appreciation and complete admiration for the beautiful and touching shout out that you did for me at the end. Your kind words leave me speechless, leave me in awe and admittedly in tears after seeing that. You are as beautiful as you are talented and you are truly amazing!

    Thank you so much!

    1. Thank you, I really appreciate everything you have said here x