January 6th, 2011
06:40 PM ET

An AC360° Cold Case: Mystery still surrounds rappers' deaths

Ted Rowlands and Michael Cary

Los Angeles, California (CNN) - In the late 90s, two of hip hop’s biggest stars—Tupac Shakur and Christopher Wallace (aka Biggie Smalls, Notorious B.I.G.) were gunned down six months apart in eerily similar fashions.

According to witnesses, both were passengers in vehicles, stopped at busy intersections, but police never received solid leads to arrest a suspect for either of the seemingly targeted shootings.

On September 7, 1996, Marion “Suge” Knight, then head of Death Row Records, was driving Tupac Shakur, his multi-platinum recording artist, to a party in Las Vegas after attending the Mike Tyson-Bruce Sheldon boxing match. Their security team was in separate vehicles. While stopped at a busy intersection just off the Las Vegas Strip, witnesses say a white Cadillac pulled alongside, and a gunman in the backseat fired multiple rounds from a semiautomatic gun into Knight’s vehicle.

With Shakur bleeding in the passenger seat, Knight made a u-turn, driving over a street median, and ultimately coming to a stop blocks away.

Las Vegas bicycle police nearby, who heard the shooting, followed Knight’s vehicle. The white Cadillac sped away.

Cathy Scott, who was one of the first reporters on the scene and author of “The Killing of Tupac Shakur,” tells CNN the failure to secure the actual scene of the shooting and interview witnesses immediately doomed the investigation. Las Vegas police said witnesses were not forthcoming with detailed information.

There are several possible motives for the murder.

One theory is that the shooting was payback for a fight caught on casino surveillance video three hours before the shooting. The man who was beaten that night, Orlando Anderson, told CNN a year later that he had nothing to do with the crime. Eight months after that interview, Anderson was killed in what police described as a gang shoot-out in Los Angeles.

Another theory focuses on the “gangsta” lifestyle of the hip hop world at the time and a publicized East Coast-West Coast rap war between Knight’s Death Row Records in Los Angeles and Bad Boy Entertainment in New York, which represented rapper Biggie Smalls. Shakur and Smalls had been embroiled in verbal sparring through their music.

Six months after Shakur’s shooting, Smalls came to California to promote an upcoming album entitled “Life After Death” and told a San Francisco radio station that he wanted to “squash” rumors of the East Coast-West Coast battle.
Four days later, on March 9, 1997, when leaving a music industry party at the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles, Smalls was shot and killed. Los Angeles police said a lone gunmen pulled alongside the suburban and opened fire on Smalls, who was in the passenger seat.

The main theory behind Smalls’ shooting: payback for the slaying of Shakur six months earlier.

Retired Los Angeles Police Detective Russell Poole, who worked on the Smalls’ case, tells CNN that he believes Suge Knight was behind the murder, even though the Death Row Records’ boss was serving time on a probation violation at the time.

“Suge Knight ordered the hit,” Poole says, adding that he believes it was arranged by Reggie Wright Jr., who headed security for Death Row Records.

Poole goes even further, stating that he believes Knight was behind the shooting of Tupac Shakur as well. Poole says Shakur’s bodyguards told him that the rapper planned to sever ties with Knight’s Death Row Records which could have cost the company millions of dollars.

“That theory doesn’t even add up,” says Scott, who wrote “The Killing of Tupac Shakur,” noting that Knight was sitting in the driver’s seat next to the rapper. “Open fire on my car, but try not to hit me?”

Reggie Wright Jr. told CNN he had nothing to do with either murder, and Suge Knight has repeatedly said he had nothing to do with the crime.

But two months after Shakur’s killing, Knight talked to ABC News and one quote seems to follow the former record company executive: “If you knew who killed Tupac, would you tell police?” To which Knight responded: “Absolutely not. It’s not my job. I don’t get paid to solve homicides. I don’t get paid to tell on people.”

Both the Los Angeles and Las Vegas police departments say the investigations are still open.

Filed under: 360° Radar • Crime & Punishment
soundoff (11 Responses)
  1. Shay

    Conspiracy? Let's get real! Why would the government have to waste time killing rappers when they proclaim death to themselves and their own people in their lyrics? It is sad and it promotes violence and promiscuity against OUR people. The BLACK community. This was a crime of ignorance started by 'gangsta' rap. It is not about freedom of expression but puts on display the type of ignorant behavior that people expect from us. Act like a gangsta, talk like a gangsta...die like a gangsta. Are you surprised? Why are you amazed? Would not be surprised if the officer's allegations are not correct. TIME WILL TELL....

    January 7, 2011 at 8:06 pm |
  2. Michelle

    Wonderful news reporting. I hope this mystery will be solved in the next 5-10 years. Personally I think Suge Knight should serve jail time for this and the corrupted police officers should be ashamed of themselves. Their are crooked police officers all over the country including the state that I live in. It is a shame. The justice system does not work. I was a victim of an assault myself and the justice system did not work for me, so I can definately see how this becomes a cold case because no one who knows exactly what happened has come forward. It is obvious Suge Knight ordered the hit on at least one out of two of these men. They need to rest in peace already! God help them and the murder/s who pulled the trigger.

    January 7, 2011 at 7:56 pm |
  3. James

    sorry I didn't elaborate on the biggie killing being a cover up for Suge knight. I just believe that because Tupac was so loved on the West Coast that Suge would have to save face, so you blame everything on the east vs. west coast thing and you plan revenge. It was public knowledge that Biggie was going to the West coast and Suge still has entertainment ties. It would have been easy for him to find out about that party, who was attending and so on. So basically it was a crime of opportunity, "revenge" and a cover up. I don't claim to know anything other than what was posted in the papers or online,so those are just my thoughts.

    January 7, 2011 at 2:27 pm |
  4. James

    Suge Knight was definitely behind at least the Tupac Murder and probably the Biggie murder as well. The Biggie murder was more of a cover up murder for what happened to Tupac. Think about it...Death Row records had already lost all of its talent i.e. Dr. Dre, Snoop etc etc etc. Tupac was their only talent left, if he walks Death Row goes in the tank. Suge Knight has never been a good business man, he was out for his and that is all, riding the backs of big name talent and getting rich off them. That is why everyone left, he was nothing more than a body guard before Death Row, known for being a hot head, but that is neither here nor there. He knew how much recorded unreleased music Tupac had and how much money those recordings were worth. If Tupac leaves all those recordings go with him but if he has him shot, then all those recording belong to Death Row Records i.e. Suge Knight. Look at how many records Suge knight put out after Tupac died. Now I am sure he did the almost decent thing and gave some of the proceeds to Tupac's Mom but you can bet your bottom dollar most of that money went to "Death Row". It is total possible to order a hit on your own car and not be shot, as long as you know where it is coming from and when. How did this person know which car Tupac was in and how did this person know what side of the car he would be on. Why didn't the gunman spray down the whole car with gunfire to make sure that where ever Tupac was sitting he would be shot. He didn't he knew exactly where and when he would hit and so didn't suge knight. It is plain as day, I haven't even researched this case at all. But if I don't believe that Suge is involved I have to believe that Tupac would be alive if he sat in any other seat in that car except the passenger seat. Just think about it. Just my two cents. The whole thing is non-sense and the Hip/Hop industry lost two of its most talented writers and performers.

    January 7, 2011 at 2:16 pm |
  5. Niya

    @ Crystal. No matter what your opinion may be about Mr. Wallace, his family deserves closure about this. They've sensationalized gangsters for generations. I have to agree with you.

    January 7, 2011 at 11:59 am |
  6. Justin

    I believe Suge Knight was behind both murders. 2 Talented rappers murdered for no reason!

    January 7, 2011 at 9:30 am |
  7. Deanna

    This is something that shoul've been taken care of. People only want the "truth" to be told when it's in their Home.... The world wil never change tho...

    January 7, 2011 at 1:23 am |
  8. Latoniyawest

    This is crazy, the whole situation im tired of all the commotion and killing of eachother, now two of the greatest rappers ever is gone and we hip hop or rap will never be the same!!! Its really sad because I loved them both!!! Those were sad days in the rap history, I will never forget......

    January 6, 2011 at 11:57 pm |
  9. Jared

    Not sure that they will ever solve this one...

    January 6, 2011 at 11:15 pm |
  10. Crystal

    I'm a big conspiracy theorist, and I say the Government.

    January 6, 2011 at 9:31 pm |
  11. spike in conshohocken pa

    So Suge wouldn't tell police even if he knew who murdered Tupac? Great. "Don't snitch" continues to take the place of justice and the rule of law in the dismal, ignorant rapper community.

    January 6, 2011 at 8:16 pm |