On March 8, 1997, the world's number-one rapper, Notorious B.I.G. (real name: Christopher Wallace), presented an award to Toni Braxton at the 11th Annual Soul Train Awards in Los Angeles, where several members of the audience booed him. He then headed to the nearby Peterson Automotive Museum for an after-party, which the fire department shut down due to overcrowding. B.I.G. and his entourage left in a three-car motorcade at around 12:30 a.m. Sean (then "Puffy," now " Diddy") Combs, president of Biggie's label Bad Boy Records, was in the first car flanked by three bodyguards. B.I.G. sat in the passenger seat of the second Suburban, joined by two associates and his cousin. Behind Biggie's car was a Chevrolet Blazer, carrying Bad Boy's director of security.
At 12:45 a.m., when people were flooding the streets after leaving the party, the motorcade approached a red light about 50 yards from the museum. Combs' car sped through the light, while the other two vehicles stopped. A black Chevrolet Impala SS pulled up to the passenger side of Biggie's vehicle and an African-American male dressed in a blue suit and bow tie fired approximately six shots into the passenger side door of the truck, four of which hit Notorious B.I.G. in the chest. He was rushed to Cedar Sinai Hospital, and pronounced dead at 1:15 a.m.
It took the Los Angeles Police Department an entire month before assigning the case from the local police department to the Robbery and Homicide Division of the LAPD—a more elite task force that deals with high-profile murders. Then, the LAPD was accused of corruption in the handling of Biggie's murder case—several officers were investigated in connection with the murder, along with Death Row Records honcho, Suge Knight—reportedly as alleged retaliation for the murder of Death Row rapper Tupac Shakur, who was killed in a similar fashion six months before B.I.G.'s murder. Knight has repeatedly said he had nothing to do with Biggie's shooting. Biggie's mother, Voletta, brought a $400 million wrongful death claim against the LAPD/City of Los Angeles, but the case was dismissed. The investigation was closed after the LAPD and FBI dismissed information allegedly implicating two key suspects, despite suggestions of a treasure trove of evidence against them.
In January, however, four years after the investigation was closed, there was a major breakthrough in the case and the FBI reopened it. Below are the top 10 most shocking revelations from the recently released— and heavily redacted—FBI files on Biggie's murder.
1. IF THE CAR FITS…
LAPD Officer David A. Mack, a suspect in the case, allegedly drove a 1995 black Chevrolet Impala SS with chrome wheels—matching the description of the shooter's car. When police searched his home, they reportedly found a shrine to Tupac Shakur in his garage, five 9mm guns—the same type of weapon used to kill Biggie—and a stash of Gecko 9mm ammunition (also the same type used to kill the victim). Gecko 9mm ammunition, a metal-piercing bullet, is manufactured in Europe and rarely used in the U.S. Mack was reportedly suspected of being a Mob Piru Blood gang member with ties to Death Row Records. However, according to FBI files, Mack allegedly "thwarted the murder investigation" when several other LAPD officers "began to show up as potentially being involved." Mack was released from prison on May 14, 2010, after serving a 14-year prison sentence for robbing $722,000 from a South Central Los Angeles branch of Bank of America. He has denied any involvement in Biggie Smalls's murder.
2. THE REAL REASON BIGGIE WAS "GOING BACK TO CALI"
In April 2004, an informant claimed Tupac Shakur stated, "the west coast is [Shakur's] and that if 'Biggie,' who use to be a friend of Tupac's, ever comes out to the west coast, he will be gunned down." The informant also alleged that everything about the East Coast/West Coast rivalry was true, including that Tupac slept with Biggie's estranged wife, Faith Evans, and that Biggie had Tupac shot in New York. Evans has repeatedly denied having a sexual relationship with Tupac. At one point, the informant also claimed Tupac and his entourage approached a location where B.I.G. and his entourage were hanging out, bearing guns. The informant said they were told "not to shoot him," prompting Tupac to tell Biggie that if he ever came back to California, "he would be killed." The informant then attested that B.I.G. came out with the song "Going Back to Cali" immediately after Tupac was murdered, referring to their prior exchange.
3. THE LAPD'S DROPPED CALL
Shortly after the murder, an anonymous person placed a telephone call allegedly accusing LAPD Officer Mack of being involved in Biggie's murder, but the LAPD responded that there were over 500 people with Mack's name in the phone directory. The LAPD reportedly only realized the name matched an LAPD officer's in the write-up after reading an article in the June 7, 2001 edition of Rolling Stone magazine.
4. THE BODYGUARD-CRIPS CONNECTION
One of the motives proposed by an informant for B.I.G.'s murder was that the rapper owed a sizeable amount of cash to the Crips—a formidable L.A. gang—for bodyguard duties. Many members of the Crips were employed by a security company in California, to which Biggie allegedly owed money. However, another witness was later interviewed and claimed B.I.G. would only usually use one or two security men at events, described as "high tech guys, militia men or cops," none of whom were Crips.
5. MORE DRUG PEDDLING, MORE PROBLEMS
An informant divulged a strange theory to the FBI. According to the FBI's files, the informant suggested Death Row records&mdashwhich at the time, was run by Suge Knight&mdashallegedly owed Tupac Shakur $10 million in royalties. Furthermore, the informant said that Death Row had many of its artists, employees, groupies, and even the LAPD peddling drugs—allegedly buying cocaine for $14,000 per kilo on the West Coast and selling it for $24,000 per kilo on the East Coast. Several top artists reportedly left Death Row records because of the alleged practices, despite fearing for their lives. According to the FBI's records from the informant, since Tupac was owed so much money in royalties, the rapper was going to leave Death Row—taking un-released songs worth millions with him&mdashand blow the whistle on the drug operation. The records state that the informant also alleged that this Death Row employee made it look like L.A. Crips murdered Tupac and Wallace. Complicating matters, "in late 1996 or early 1997," the key witness in Tupac's murder, was, according to an informant, "executed from point blank range" in East Orange, New Jersey. He was allegedly killed by "16 and 17-year-old subjects," who, according to the FBI files, "apparently had an uncle or some other relative who lived in Los Angeles and was somehow involved with Death Row Records."
6. MARRIED TO THE MOB?
An informant claimed that Notorious B.I.G. and many of his cohorts had connections to New York City's Genovese crime family. According to the released files, the FBI speculates that they could have evidence of Biggie's shooting, but do not have proof of their hypothesis.
6. LACKING PEACE WITH THE MIDDLE EAST
While LAPD Officer Mack was investigated as a possible suspect in the events surrounding Biggie's death, Biggie's actual shooter was described by one informant as "a contract killer" with a "middle east sounding name" who was an ex-member of the Southside Crips gang. The shooter was allegedly then a member of "Fruits of Islam"— awing of the Nation of Islam, whose members sport distinctive blue or white uniforms, caps, and bowties. The suspect was a black male with short, cropped black hair, 6'1"-6'2", 220-230 lbs., and 29-30 years old. He was described as wearing a bow tie with a gray suit. On March 10, 1997, a composite artist—assisted by several eyewitnesses—completed a drawing of the suspected shooter in the case. On January 21, 1998, the FBI received a DMV photo from a redacted source that reportedly closely resembled the composite, believed to be Amir Muhammad (a.k.a. Harry Billups), another suspect in the case. Muhammad has said repeatedly he had nothing to do with Biggie's death. According to the FBI's files, another witness claimed that the Muslim shooter was not a real Muslim because he didn't greet people face-to-face, but was probably an LAPD officer because, "he knows a cop when he sees one."
8. STILL NOT ENOUGH PROTECTION
At the time of Biggie's murder, he reportedly had the following items on his person: 0.91g of marijuana, a pen, an asthma inhaler (Primatene Mist), and 3 magnum condoms.
9. DID THE BULLETS HIT THE WRONG MAN?
A later informant in 2004 suggested that Biggie was, in fact, not the intended target. The rapper would often walk around Los Angeles—go to the mall, go out to eat, go to the movies—without security, so he/she questioned the timing of the murder, in front of hundreds of eyewitnesses, since the rapper could have been killed at any time. However, according to the FBI's files, the informant did believe that the LAPD was involved. The police allegedly approached said informant with a strange picture of him/her with Wallace, and when the informant asked where they got it, the LAPD snatched it away. Later, when he/she asked LAPD officers where they were the night of the shooting, he/she got no response. The informant's lack of trust in the LAPD was reportedly augmented by the informant's observation that no police were around when the shooting occurred, despite it being a major award show after party with many celebrities in attendance.
10. DEEP IN THE HEART OF TEXAS
Years after the murder, the FBI conducted 30-day mail and trash orders—going through a potential suspect's mail and trash for evidence—on a man in San Diego. The search yielded no evidence. Furthermore, the FBI reportedly investigated a blue 1996 Bentley registered to Houston, Texas, as possibly being in connection with the shooting, as well as a Houston rap entrepreneur, who was allegedly near the crime scene that fateful night. Police have not produced evidence associating the Bentley or the Houston entrepreneur with the crime.
Marlow Stern works for The Daily Beast and is a masters degree recipient from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. He has served in the editorial dept. of Blender Magazine, as an editor at Amplifier Magazine, and, since 2007, editor of Manhattan Movie Magazine.