Music

One Detective’s Theory on Who Killed Tupac and Biggie

The Notorious B.I.G. and Tupac Shakur backstage at Club Amazon on July 23, 1993, in New York. Tupac is flashing a crude hand gesture at the camera.
The Notorious B.I.G. and Tupac Shakur on July 23, 1993, in New York.
Al Pereira/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

In 2006, Greg Kading was a narcotics detective with the Los Angeles Police Department. On his 43rd birthday, he got a phone call from the Robbery-Homicide Division. The LAPD was reopening a cold case: the 1997 murder of Christopher Wallace, the Notorious B.I.G. They asked if he wanted to join the task force.

Kading wasn’t looking for a new assignment, but he decided to take the spot. ”I think the overriding factor was that this is a really big, important, historic case,” Kading said. “If we do solve it, that’s going to be worthwhile.”

A few days later, he got to look at the case files. There were a lot of them. He knew it would take months to catch up on the investigation so far. “It was just daunting,” he said.

In the days after Biggie’s murder in Los Angeles, the police interviewed anyone they could find with a plausible connection to the case. Detectives spoke to Sean “Puffy” Combs, the CEO of Biggie’s label Bad Boy Records. They talked to the bus driver whose route passed the scene of the shooting, and clerks at the hotels where Biggie stayed at in L.A. They even reviewed surveillance tapes at the hospital where Biggie was pronounced dead.

Still, the case had gone cold.

“I don’t understand how could they not have any leads?” Faith Evans, Biggie’s widow, said eight months after his murder. “I’m sure they have a lot, but maybe they’re not following the right ones?”

What leads should the Los Angeles Police Department have followed? One widespread rumor had it that Suge Knight of Death Row Records had put a hit on Big as revenge for Tupac Shakur’s killing six months earlier. (Knight has denied involvement.) Maybe Biggie’s murder was another drive-by in the long-running war between Bloods and Crips.

Or maybe it was something else—something more explosive.

A lot of people thought that crooked L.A. cops had been involved in Biggie’s murder and that the LAPD was protecting them. Biggie’s family came to believe there was something to that theory.

In 2002, Faith Evans and Biggie’s mother, Voletta Wallace, filed a wrongful death suit against the Los Angeles Police Department. Three years later, a judge found that the department had withheld evidence and forced the city to pay Biggie’s estate more than $1 million in legal fees. A mistrial was declared, and the case started over.

In 2006, still under pressure from the wrongful death suit, the LAPD announced it was reopening its investigation into Biggie’s murder. The detective who recruited Kading for that investigation told him the department had nothing to hide—that the LAPD was willing to implicate its officers if that’s where the evidence led.

“He goes, ‘We’re going to go where the clues go. Whatever it is, it is. If there’s dirty cops, fuck it, so be it. Let’s get ‘em outta here,’ ” Kading recalled.

It took Kading’s task force months to sort through the previous investigations. By late 2007, they began to focus on a Southside Crip named Duane Keith Davis, who went by Keefe D.

Keefe D was a drug kingpin in Compton. In 1997, after a federal investigation, he was convicted on narcotics charges and served four years in prison. When he got released, he went right back into the drug business.

That gave Kading and his task force an opening. They built a federal drug case and used a potential prison sentence of 25 years to life as leverage against him.

On Dec. 18, 2008, Keefe D agreed to talk to the LAPD. But what he said wasn’t what Kading was expecting.

“Initially our interest was: All right, tell us what you know about Biggie’s murder,” Kading said. “He was like, ‘That one wasn’t us.’ Those were his words. ‘That one wasn’t us.’ ”

Kading had been trying to find out who killed Biggie Smalls. Instead, he was about to find out who killed Tupac Shakur.

What you’ll hear in this week’s episode of Slow Burn is the story of Kading’s investigation, the last official inquiry into the deaths of Biggie and Tupac. I’ve read a lot about these two murder cases over the past year. There are numerous theories about who killed Tupac and Biggie, and we’ll cover many of them in this episode. But Kading’s conclusions seem the most reasonable to me.

Who killed Tupac and Biggie, and why? Why has no one been charged in either man’s murder? And what legacy did these two hip-hop icons leave behind?

This excerpt has been edited for length and clarity. Subscribe to Slow Burn Season 3: Tupac and Biggie now on Apple PodcastsSpotifyStitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts. And to hear the interviews we just couldn’t fit into the main episodes, join Slate Plus.