What we still don't know about Tupac's death

Tupac Shakur is widely considered to be one of the greatest voices in rap history. Born in 1971, Shakur attended the Baltimore School for the Arts, where he studied acting and music. He moved to California in 1988, and within a few short years, became a preeminent figure in the West Coast rap scene. His first two albums were successful on their own, but his third, Me Against the World, catapulted him to stardom and was awarded best rap album at the 1996 Soul Train Music Awards.

By the time of his death that same year, he was a multi-platinum artist and had developed a sizable filmography as an actor, to boot. Even after his death, his posthumous recordings have been massive sellers and wildly popular. His influence is acknowledged and celebrated by artists and critics alike. 

And yet, despite all of this, the circumstances of his murder are still foggy. There's a lot we still just don't know about what happened that night.

The facts we know about Tupac's death

There are some agreed-upon facts. On September 7, 1996, Tupac Shakur, Suge Knight — CEO of Shakur's record label, Death Row Records — and a number of their collaborators and associates were in Las Vegas, NV at the MGM Grand to watch a boxing match featuring Mike Tyson against the then-current heavyweight champion, Bruce Seldon, according to E! News. In the lobby of the MGM Grand after the match, Shakur, Knight, and several others spotted a member of the Crips named Orlando Anderson, who had previously robbed an associate of theirs. They assaulted Anderson, then left in a convoy of cars. Shakur rode in a vehicle driven by Knight himself.

While at a red light a short distance from the MGM Grand, a white, late-model Cadillac pulled up alongside Knight's vehicle. The back driver-side window rolled down, a hand reached out holding a Glock pistol, and the gunman fired several shots into the vehicle with Shakur and Knight. Tupac was hit four times. Once in the hand, once in the leg, and twice in the chest. Suge Knight was grazed in the head with a bullet fragment. Paramedics took Shakur to the nearby University Medical Center of Southern Nevada. Six days later, on September 13, Shakur died from his wounds.

Beyond this is where things get murkier, with lots of questions about the investigation, perpetrators, and even whether or not Tupac died at all.

Was Orlando Anderson involved in Tupac's death?

One frequently suggested killer is Orlando "Baby Lane" Anderson, the man that Shakur and his entourage attacked in the lobby of the MGM Grand. According to The L.A. Times, the Crips were extremely angered by the assault. Embarrassing a member of the gang in public like that could only be answered with murder.

According to this theory, Anderson and three others followed Tupac and Suge Knight. In some versions of the story, they meant to ambush them later in the evening and just happened to see them in traffic. In other versions, the four jumped into the white Cadillac and immediately followed the convoy, intending to attack as soon as possible. Anderson is widely speculated to have been the gunman either way. 

While the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) believed that Anderson was directly involved, the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department (LVMPD) were not so sure. They only interviewed Anderson once, briefly. Anderson denied any wrongdoing, obviously. As reported by The L.A. Times, Anderson was killed in a separate shooting in 1998, but he was never charged. His uncle, Duane "Keefe D" Davis even alleged that he was in the white Cadillac with Anderson and that Anderson did fire the fatal shots. However, this confession was originally part of a plea bargain for an unrelated crime and was only made public after Davis was diagnosed with cancer, so some skepticism may be required. Davis has also never been charged in Tupac's murder.

Did Biggie or Diddy have something to do with Tupac's death?

Christopher "Notorious B.I.G." Wallace (also known as Biggie Smalls) and Sean "Diddy" Combs were two of the biggest figures representing New York City in the East vs. West rap rivalry. Shakur and Knight were similarly huge on the West Coast side. Shakur and Smalls had both insulted and provoked each other in raps and interviews.

Allegedly, Smalls and Combs were angry about a diss track titled "Hit 'Em Up", where Tupac claimed to have slept with Faith Evans, Smalls' wife and another of Bad Boy's biggest artists. According to The L.A.Times, Orlando Anderson and the Crips allegedly planned to kill Shakur based on the assault at the MGM Grand, and they approached Combs and Smalls about being paid for the murder.

In this scenario, Smalls agreed to $1 million for the hit, but only if it was committed with a Glock he personally owned. He supplied Anderson with the gun, who fired the shots from inside the white Cadillac. Smalls claimed to have been in New York at the time, and provided documentation to that effect, but it's been called inconclusive by The New York Times. It's also claimed that Bad Boy only paid $50,000 of the promised million. Smalls was murdered in a shooting in L.A. six months later, which, according to this theory, was revenge for Shakur's death.

Did Suge Knight set up Tupac's death?

Suge Knight has a pretty long history with the law, to put it mildly. Over the last 30 years, he's done basically any he can (and can not) do to get what he wants, including threats, robbery, assault, allegedly dangling Vanilla Ice off a balcony, and yes, killing people. He has a reputation for being absolutely ruthless and not caring if he breaks the law. So, you might not be surprised to hear that a great many people suspect that Suge Knight masterminded Tupac Shakur's murder.

Why would Knight want to kill one of his most popular artists? The rumor goes that Suge Knight owed Tupac a lot of money, supposedly somewhere in the neighborhood of millions of dollars. On top of this, he found out that Shakur planned to leave Death Row, according to the Hartford Courant. In this theory, Knight was aware that Shakur had made a large backlog of unreleased records, and figured that if Shakur died, he wouldn't have to pay back the money he owed and he'd be able to sell the unreleased recordings for even more.

It sounds like a stretch, but Tupac's mother, Afeni Shakur, did take Death Row to court over unpaid royalties and won, according to TMZ. And Tupac did have a lot of posthumous albums, and they did make Death Row a lot of money. Even former label-mate Snoop Dogg told police that he believes Suge Knight orchestrated Tupac's death, according to MTO News.

Who was in the white Cadillac?

Tupac's assailants were driving a late-model white Cadillac, and the shots were fired from the back driver-side window. That's really all we know about the vehicle the killers were in. The exact year and model are unknown. The driver and any passengers in the car are unknown. The vehicle's owner is unknown. While it has been reported that four black men were in the car, some armchair detectives believe there may have only been three men, or that not all of them were black. Point is, we simply don't know.

While most theories hold that Orlando Anderson was somewhere in the vehicle, it is not known for sure if he was the shooter or in another seat. Anderson's uncle, Duane "Keefe D" Davis claims that he was also in the car with his nephew, according to The Source, but this has never been confirmed, and it still leaves at least one occupant of the vehicle unknown.

According to The L.A. Times, the car was spotted in Compton a few days after Shakur's shooting with a rental car sticker on it. LAPD police were notified, and they passed the word along to the LVMPD so that Las Vegas police could investigate it, but the LVMPD supposedly never followed up on it. 

What actually happened in the hospital where Tupac died?

Immediately after the shooting, Shakur was taken to University Medical Center of Southern Nevada, where he was placed into a medical coma. He had a number of surgeries, including one where his right lung was removed due to the damage one of the bullets caused. His girlfriend at the time, Kidada Jones (daughter of Quincy Jones and sister of actress Rashida Jones), says that Shakur did briefly come out of his coma. His eyes were swollen and he could barely communicate, but he did at least nod when she said she loved him, according to The Washington Post.

There's also a lot we don't know about Shakur's stay in the hospital. It's unclear if he woke up any other times. The BBC reported that Suge Knight claimed that on the day Shakur was pronounced dead, he was awake and joking around.The official story is that he never fully woke up, though. 

Several of Shakur's friends and associates also kept watch over him, in case the assailants tried to come back and finish the job. Film director Gobi Rahimi was also present and claims that the hospital failed to care for Shakur properly, according to The New York Daily News, often ignoring him or disappearing for long periods of time.

Where were the witnesses to Tupac's murder?

Although Tupac's shooting occurred in heavy traffic at 11 pm on a Saturday on the Las Vegas strip just after a very well-attended Mike Tyson match, there were extremely few witnesses to the attack. In fact, it seems that no one outside of Shakur's convoy has ever spoken up about what they saw at all. This alone is puzzling enough, but the few witnesses who did come forward were either not interviewed or not taken seriously at all by the LVMPD, according to The L.A.Times.

There is one witness in particular who might have had some very useful info. Yaki Kadafi, a member of Death Row's Outlawz group, reportedly told police that he was in the car directly behind Shakur's and not only saw at least one person in the car, but could identify them as well. He didn't want to have his name attached to his information because he would be labeled a snitch, but allegedly he did at least try to share what he knew with police, but they never interviewed him. LVMPD reportedly did try to reach out but couldn't get into contact with Kadafi. 

According to E! News, Kadafi was also killed two months later in a shooting which police have said was not related to Shakur's. Whether or not that's true is up in the air, but any information Kadafi had died with him, and it was never heard by investigators.

What were Tupac's last words?

In recent years, a former Las Vegas police sergeant named Chris Carroll has said that he was the first officer at the scene of Shakur's shooting. According to Vegas Seven, Carroll claims he was the one who pulled Shakur from Suge Knight's vehicle. Carroll also claims that Shakur was dazed but when Carroll asked who shot him, Shakur pulled it together just long enough to say "F*** you," to him. The only problem with Carroll's story is that no one else has confirmed this exchange ever happened or even that Carroll was first on the scene.

According to Carroll, Shakur then passed out and never awoke again. However, according to Vanity Fair and other reports from the time, Shakur clearly said that he was "dying" as he was being admitted to the hospital. While it's possible that Carroll just didn't know this or that the original reports were mistaken, it's also suspicious that Carroll waited nearly 20 years to tell his story. He implies that this was because the LVMPD was somehow prohibiting him from doing so, and also says that he didn't want to make Tupac seem like a "hero" for using his last words to say eff you to a cop. That could potentially be convincing, but in reality it just makes Tupac sound like even more of a badass and it just took an extra 20 years for us to hear about it.

Was the Jewish Defense League part of Tupac's death?

In 1991, five years before Tupac's murder, Dr. Dre famously left N.W.A. and Jerry Heller's Ruthless Records. He did so with the help of this then-bodyguard, Suge Knight, who allegedly threatened and intimidated Heller and Eazy-E into letting Dre out of his contract. Knight then founded Death Row Records with Dr. Dre as his first artist. Heller, worried about future issues with Knight, contacted the Jewish Defense League (JDL) for help, according to The A.V. Club

Not to be confused with the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), a far more mainstream pro-Jewish activism group, the JDL was instead considered a radical right-wing group known for committing violent acts and fomenting extremism. The JDL then began to intimidate, threaten, and otherwise harass Death Row Records and its artists. 

It was largely unknown until 2011, when the FBI released documents after a Freedom of Information Act request, that the JDL had also made telephoned threats against Tupac Shakur and other artists (including Eazy-E), demanding extortion money from them in exchange for their lives. While the files record the phone calls were made and monitored by the FBI (who was investigating the JDL under suspicion of exactly this kind of extortion), they do not make a direct connection between the calls and Tupac's murder. The incidents are very curious to some researchers, though, because they're the only specific, documented threats (that we know of, anyway) made by anyone on Tupac's life before he was killed.

Did Las Vegas police bungle the investigation into Tupac's death?

One common conclusion reached by investigators, journalists, and even people directly involved with the case is that the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department (LVMPD) did not seem equipped to handle the investigation of Tupac's murder. While gang activity wasn't entirely unknown in Las Vegas at the time, they didn't have the same amount of experience with gang violence as the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) did. 

At the time of Tupac's murder, Compton had its own police department, the CPD, that was extremely well-regarded in terms of gang-related work. However, the CPD also had a history of corruption, and it was alleged that several high-ranking leaders were themselves working on behalf of the city's gangs, giving preferential treatment to some gangs over others. According to Chuck Philips of The L.A. Times, this led to a major disconnect between the LVMPD, the CPD, and the LAPD. The LVMPD was reportedly so concerned about the corruption in the CPD that they turned down a lot of assistance from the office, some of which might have helped catch Tupac's killers.

As such, the LVMPD did not take advantage of groundwork done by the CPD and LAPD, including interview offers, tips, and documents and tried to handle the investigation completely on their own. While it's understandable that they wanted to avoid potential corruption destroying the case, it seems they may have leaned too far in the opposite direction and made things harder on themselves.

Was Tupac even the real target?

It has been speculated on-and-off over the years that the killers might not have been after Tupac at all, but were instead targeting Suge Knight. This theory had been less remarked upon until 2017 when, in an interview, Knight himself claimed that this was indeed the case, according to The Daily Beast.

In Suge Knight's version of events, the killers were Reggie Wright, Jr. and Knight's ex-wife, Sharitha Golden. According to Knight, Golden wanted to kill him as part of a coup, and she recruited Wright, Death Row's former head of security, to help her pull it off. They were in the white Cadillac and fired the lethal shots. Knight alleges that Golden thought that by killing him, she was next in line for ownership of Death Row Records.

Sharitha Golden has, naturally, denied the allegations, according to TMZ, and like a great many things Suge Knight says, the accusation must be taken with a grain of salt. Still, it does raise a valid point that we're not even sure if Tupac was meant to be the target or was just collateral damage.

Is Tupac still alive?

While many musicians who died young have been theorized to still be alive, no one's fans are more diligent than Tupac's. Elvis may get more references in pop culture, but theories about Presley still being alive are typically tongue-in-cheek. Shakur's fans tend to be completely serious, and what's more, their reasons aren't completely ridiculous, which would make them so much easier to dismiss. Instead, they have a lot of pieces of alleged evidence that really make you wonder.

As time goes by, these theories becomes less and less likely, but they are still quite interesting. One of the biggest purported clues is that Tupac referenced himself being shot and killed in several of his songs. Fans also point to Tupac's first posthumous album, recorded shortly before his death under the name Makaveli, and included several oblique references to the number 7, resurrection, and odd, esoteric symbolism, according to the NME. There's also the fact that Shakur has had more albums released after his death than there were before his death, with the most recent coming in 2006. 

On top of that, as reported by the BBC, there's the fact that his associates, including Suge Knight, keep fueling the fire by making comments that imply that Shakur is still alive out there somewhere. The shooting definitely occurred, so did Shakur survive his wounds and then disappear somewhere to quietly live out the rest of his life, minus a few album releases?