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The Unsolved Mystery of the Notorious B.I.G.

Page 3 of 13

B.I.G., Combs and the rest of the Bad Boy contingent headed for the nearest exit. In the cool, fresh air outside, B.I.G. and Combs waited for valets to deliver their vehicles and debated whether to hit another party or head back to the Westwood Marquis. Combs decided they should just return to their hotel and climbed into a white Chevy Suburban next to his driver, Kenneth Story, with his three bodyguards in the back seat. B.I.G. lifted himself into the passenger seat of a green Suburban, next to his driver, Gregory "G-Money" Young, while Junior M.A.F.I.A. rapper James "Lil' Caesar" Lloyd, who had grown up with B.I.G. in Brooklyn, and B.I.G.'s best friend, Damien "D-Rock" Butler, rode in the back seat.

Combs, in the lead, blew through the amber light at Wilshire as the signal turned red and Biggie's vehicle stopped on the south side of the intersection. A white Toyota Land Cruiser promptly made a U-turn and tried to cut between Biggie and a trailing Chevy Blazer driven by Bad Boy's director of security. At that moment, a black Impala SS pulled up on the Suburban's right side. The driver, alone in the sedan, was a black male whose blue suit, bow tie and fade haircut suggested Louis Farrakhan's Nation of Islam sect. He looked B.I.G. in the eye for a moment, then reached across his body with a blue-steel automatic pistol held in his right hand, braced it against his left forearm and emptied the gun into the front passenger seat of the Sub-urban. B.I.G. was the only passenger in the vehicle hit by the bullets. As the Impala sped away, heading east on Wilshire, the Land Cruiser made another U-turn and drove off. The Suburban in which Combs rode slowed nearly to a stop when Story heard the gunshots. Everyone inside ducked, then someone shouted that B.I.G. was under attack. Combs jumped out of the vehicle and ran across Wilshire to the green Suburban. When he opened the passenger-side door, Combs saw B.I.G. hunched over the dashboard with his tongue hanging out of his mouth, bleeding through his jacket. He spoke to B.I.G., Combs told police, but his friend just stared back, eyes open and blank. The terrified Combs jumped into the Suburban behind B.I.G., while Story pushed G-Money aside and drove the vehicle to the emergency dock of the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, less than five minutes away. At the hospital, it took six people to lift B.I.G. onto a gurney. Doctors rushed him into surgery as Combs and the others dropped to their knees and prayed, but B.I.G. was pronounced dead at 1:15 A.M.

The most striking thing about the immediate investigation of the murder was the absence of detectives from the LAPD's elite Robbery-Homicide Division. "They were there that first night," notes Sergio Robleto, a former LAPD lieutenant who would eventually join Sanders on the case as a private investigator. "But they were gone by the next morning and didn't come back to the case until an entire month had passed. In thirty years, I had never seen that: a murder case involving a major celebrity that wasn't taken over by Robbery-Homicide right out of the gate."

The Wilshire detectives who handled the investigation that first month accomplished almost nothing, notwithstanding a number of promising leads. The LAPD had solid descriptions of both the killer and his vehicle, plus four spent shell casings from the gun that had fired the fatal shots. Despite multiple descriptions of the killer as "a Muslim," however, the people downtown wanted to focus attention on rumors that B.I.G. had been murdered by Crips gang members angry that they hadn't been paid for security work. "To me it was obvious this wasn't a gang shooting," says Detective Russell Poole, who, with partner Fred Miller, would become a lead investigator on the case when it was finally assigned to Robbery-Homicide in April 1997. "Biggie's murder was much more sophisticated than anything I've ever seen any gangbanger pull off. This was professionally executed."

The clues collected by investigators assigned to B.I.G.'s murder pointed in the same direction as the word on the street did — directly at Suge Knight.

The detective had come to the Smalls case directly from a shooting investigation that was no less controversial. It had taken place nine days after B.I.G.'s killing, on the other side of the hills, in North Hollywood. Two men — one white, the other black — had become embroiled in what appeared to be an out-of-control traffic dispute. Only after the black man was dead did the California Highway Patrol officers who were first to arrive on the scene discover that the shooter was undercover LAPD detective Frank Lyga, and that the dead man was off-duty LAPD officer Kevin Gaines. What was immediately a politically explosive case took the first of several strange turns when detectives ran a computer check on the customized Mitsubishi Montero that Gaines had been driving and learned it was registered to Suge Knight's estranged wife, Sharitha.

Poole and Miller soon received a tip that Gaines, although married, had been living with a girl-friend in the Hollywood Hills — in a gated mansion owned by Suge Knight. Gaines' girlfriend, it turned out, was Sharitha, who, among other things, had served as Snoop Dogg's manager.

Rumors had been circulating for months that there was a cadre of black LAPD officers employed as "security" by Death Row, despite the department's having explicitly forbidden any involvement with the gangsta rap label. But from the start, Poole's superiors discouraged him from pursuing "the Death Row aspect of the case." The LAPD brass also seemed in no hurry to vindicate Lyga, even though every bit of available evidence supported the detective's self-defense story. Poole was stymied in his efforts to move aggressively on the investigation when it was transferred to the LAPD's Internal Affairs Division, under the supervision of then-deputy chief Bernard Parks. Poole knew that under the auspices of Internal Affairs, the details of the case would be shielded from the public and the investigation would likely be more controlled by the department's top officials.

Poole's orders to steer clear of anything having to do with Death Row Records, however, were becoming difficult to obey. Officers from the LAPD's Pacific Division told Poole that Gaines regularly showed up for work wearing thousand-dollar Versace shirts and that he owned a fleet of cars, including a BMW and a Mercedes. "All this on a salary of $56,000 a year," Poole observes. Then Poole received information from a reliable prison informant that "Officer Gaines and other LAPD officers provided security for members of Death Row Records during various criminal activities … [They] accompanied the members during drug deals and acted as lookouts and advisers."

The day after reading the informant's statement, Poole received a phone call from a detective in the Wilshire Division. The caller advised him that homicide investigators there had information that Gaines might be involved in the recent assassination of Notorious B.I.G.

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