S HE TOOK his sunrise walk through a quiet Las Vegas suburb of tan stucco houses and desert landscaping in late September, Duane Davis resembled nobody’s idea of a gangster legend. A bald man on the soft side of 60 in a white Polo Sport T-shirt and loose-fitting pants, he could have been just another middle-aged neighbor plodding uphill against the ravages of time.
Whatever reverie Davis enjoyed ended as officers from Las Vegas Metro’s Criminal Apprehension Team swiftly approached in tactical gear out of unmarked vehicles. “Hey, Keffe, Metro Police,” one cop said. “Come on over here. I appreciate your cooperation, though.”
Armed only with a cellphone and water bottle, Davis was the picture of compliance. He’d expected this since July, when police served a search warrant at his home seeking evidence in the 1996 murder of rap superstar Tupac Shakur. With a long criminal history, Davis knew the drill. He wondered aloud why the police hadn’t brought the media with them, and even managed to quip with his captors after his hands and feet were shackled. When a cop offered to assist him into the vehicle, he declined, assuring the police, “I’m a pro.”
That he is. But somehow, Duane Keith “Keffe D” Davis — major drug dealer, penitentiary veteran, and longtime South Side Compton Crips street-gang leader — has managed to talk his way into the biggest trouble of his felony-littered life.
After Davis was transferred into the back seat of a black-and-white, his uniformed police escort asked, “So what they got you for, man?”
“Oh, man,” Davis replied. “The biggest case in Las Vegas history … Sept. 7, 1996.”
“Sure took ’em a while, huh?” the cop said.
“I ain’t worried about it,” Davis mumbled, and the officer replied, “That’s what court’s for, right?”
Now facing a murder charge with a gang enhancement, the self-described and self-styled “Compton street legend” is preparing for a Las Vegas trial scheduled for June 3. Delays are anticipated as two court-appointed special public defenders pore over reams of discovery and attempt to pry open metaphorically cobwebbed files in a crime that has generated multiple theories, a plethora of potential suspects, and a maze of conspiracy theories. The Sept. 28 indictment describes Davis as the murder’s shot caller, and the person responsible for providing the weapon — a .40-caliber Glock — used in the Las Vegas shooting that killed Tupac and wounded Death Row Records godfather Marion “Suge” Knight.
At a press conference at Metro headquarters hours after Davis’ arrest, homicide Lt. Jason Johansson cop-splained, “It wasn’t until 2018 that this case was reinvigorated as additional information came to light related to this homicide, specifically Duane Davis’ own admissions to his involvement in this homicide investigation that he provided to numerous media outlets.” In nearly three decades, Las Vegas homicide detectives had amassed plenty of information describing Davis as the leader of the criminal conspiracy, but, Johansson said, “we never had the necessary evidence to bring this case forward.”
However, the charges against Davis appear more self-inflicted than the product of dogged detective work. After years of investigative inertia, the information Las Vegas police compiled arrived all but gift-wrapped. Davis gave interviews for shows and documentaries, and even published a 2019 memoir that contains potentially incriminating excerpts placed before the Clark County grand jury. He acknowledges the existence of a 2009 federal agreement he signed in a narcotics investigation in L.A., in which he admitted his role in the Tupac shooting. His cooperation helped earn him a pass in the narcotics case, and the Tupac information couldn’t be used against him — as long as he kept his mouth shut. (Through his lawyers, Davis declined to speak for this article.)
After former Los Angeles detectives wrote their own tell-all books — including one that revealed details of the agreement (known as a proffer agreement) — and appeared in documentaries, Davis made admissions in print and on-camera that could bury him in court. In the end, this was no case for Columbo.
Tupac’s sister, Sekyiwa Shakur, expressed relief and reticence in a statement, acknowledging the indictment as a “pivotal moment,” but added that the “silence of the past 27 years surrounding this case has spoken loudly in our community. His life and death matters and should not go unsolved or unrecognized, so, yes, today is a victory, but I will reserve judgment until all the facts and legal proceedings are complete.”
“We have been through decades of pain. They have known about this guy, who been running his mouth for years,” Tupac’s stepbrother, Mopreme Shakur, told CNN. “So why now?”
Investigators generally agree that retaliation was the prime motive for the fatal shooting, and that Davis’ nephew, Orlando “Baby Lane” Anderson, was the triggerman, firing from the back seat of a white Cadillac as it pulled alongside the black 750 BMW Knight drove with Tupac inside at the intersection of Flamingo Road and Koval Lane. Tupac, Knight, and members of their entourage had beaten up Anderson earlier that night — following a boxing match at the MGM Grand — in a crime captured on a hotel surveillance camera. Anderson and his allies exacted payback, with Davis allegedly directing them and providing the murder weapon. In one of many chest-thumping lines from Davis’ memoir, he writes, “We couldn’t let no record company studio gangsters do us like that. Had they lost their fuckin’ rappin’ ass minds?”
But there are deeper intrigues to consider. Police — and even Davis — have long contended the killing of Tupac and the 1997 murder of Christopher “Notorious B.I.G.” Wallace were part of a violent East Coast-West Coast hip-hop rivalry. The feud’s focal points were Knight’s Death Row Records on the West Coast, and Bad Boy Records and its CEO Sean Combs on the East. Add to that gang involvement and the stench of police malfeasance wafting through Knight’s insider connections to the LAPD, and there are dark alleys in all directions. (Reps for Combs and Knight did not reply to requests for comment.)
With the indictment generating global news and tabloid fodder, family members aren’t alone in wondering “Why now?” The story of the long-stalled case appears to include not just warring gangs and treacherous hip-hop bosses, but also sparring law-enforcement agencies. The lack of closure in the murder of such a troubled but undeniably talented victim has encouraged conspiracies to grow like weeds from the asphalt.
One of the biggest murders in Las Vegas history might also be the most tangled investigation. Did the LAPD and Las Vegas police collaborate on solving the murder or try to stymie each other? Did two cops from different departments almost come to blows over a possible murder weapon? Did certain members of Vegas police not want to solve it in the first place? Why weren’t follow-ups done with key players connected to the murder? When exactly did Las Vegas police learn about that crucial agreement Davis made with law enforcement? Did egos get in the way of law enforcement? Interviews with cops, reporters, lawyers, and Davis’ own account of events suggest all that and a lot more.
With detectives from two of the nation’s largest police departments and agents dispatched to a federal task force in 2006 investigating the sensational hip-hop murder cases of Tupac and Biggie Smalls, Tupac’s family, fans, and foes alike continue to wonder what took so long to get an indictment. If pointed fingers were loaded pistols, a lot of people should be running for cover.
“We couldn’t let no record company studio gangsters do us like that. Had they lost their fuckin’ rappin’ ass minds?”
BY HIS OWN TELLING, Davis doesn’t fit the stereotype of a gangster. He had two parents, a roof over his head, and food on the table. As a kid, he didn’t play with pistols, but Pop Warner football — coincidentally, on a team with Knight. Davis’ father served in the Marines and moved his family to California. His mother kept busy with the children, eventually a dozen in all. The young Davis family settled in the South Los Angeles neighborhood of Watts, where Davis was born. As he recalls it, after the 1965 Watts Riots, his dad used $50,000 won at Tijuana’s Agua Caliente Racetrack to move the family up to Compton, three miles and half a world away. He candidly admits that the decision to go gangster was his alone. “Compton was where my parents chose to raise their family,” he wrote in his memoir. “But the street life, that decision was all mine.”
Davis started dealing weed as a teenager before graduating to powder and crack cocaine, whose profits would fuel gang violence and ravage the neighborhood he grew up in. At least two brothers joined in. By 1990, his older brother and “best friend” Michael joined him in the gangster life and was shot and killed in Compton. Keffe D lived large and developed interstate operations with trafficking connections linked to the Cali Cartel. At the height of his game, he claims, he was moving hundreds of kilos of cocaine a month. But he also paid a heavy price, beginning in the mid-1980s with multiyear stretches in state and federal prisons. In his memoir, he brags about shooting up a neighborhood, operating crack houses, and battering women. How accurate a narrator Davis might be is up for debate, but of such things, Compton street legends are made.
Despite giving conflicting accounts of his role in the Tupac murder — he denied his involvement in the shooting for a decade — Davis is confident in his own self-image. Bragging Godfather-style in his memoir, he writes, “In my South Side Crip neighborhood, I was known by several names; Big Dawg, Big Homey, some called me Gotti, but most knew me as Keffe D. In terms of rank, if we were an Army, I was a five-star general. If we were a city, I was the mayor. If we were a country, I was President Obama.” If he lost family members and those under his command from time to time, that was the cost of doing business.
Although Davis risked his freedom discussing his role in the murder publicly, he appears to have believed that he was in the clear, susceptible only to the shaky aim of old enemies, the rhetorical stones of reporters, and the chiding of retired cops hyping their own memoirs. One was Greg Kading, a retired LAPD detective who left in 2010 after watching a lengthy task-force investigation into the murders of Tupac and Biggie falter, he believed, due to the politics inside the department. Kading’s 2011 memoir, Murder Rap: The Untold Story of the Biggie Smalls and Tupac Shakur Murder Investigations, includes information gleaned from the 2009 federal proffer Davis signed.
The book, in which Kading calls Davis “a legend in his own mind,” also claims Keffe D is an admitted liar and blowhard whose credibility is suspect. In a quote that’s sure to have defense attorneys in the Davis case taking notes, Kading writes: “We were well-aware of the informant’s shortcomings as a credible witness in any legal proceeding. No court in the country was going to accept the word of Duane Keith ‘Keffe D’ Davis, a convicted felon and a confessed liar. As to whether we believed what Keffe D was telling us, with certain reservations I’d have to say that we did.”
Commonly known as a “queen-for-a-day agreement,” a proffer is a written statement between a prosecutor and a defendant that allows the defendant to give truthful information about an alleged crime without the government using the information obtained against him. At the time of his proffer — orchestrated by Kading and his partners — Davis was facing a minimum mandatory sentence of 25 years in a federal investigation of his interstate narcotics operation. The offer to Davis was straightforward: He agreed to speak truth-fully about a range of crimes, beginning with the drug investigation, but also what he knew about the murders of Tupac and Biggie. And he knew plenty.
In his memoir, he says he agreed to the proffer to save not only himself, but also family members and his crew. He answered questions about his drug activity, his relationships with feuding hip-hop record-company bosses Knight and Combs, and his knowledge of the murders of Biggie and Tupac. Law enforcement couldn’t use the proffer itself against Davis, but it didn’t protect him from incriminating himself if he spoke out publicly.
Admissible as evidence only in the court of public opinion, Kading’s book failed to make waves with the Las Vegas homicide detectives who had jurisdiction in the Tupac investigation, some of whom subsequently claimed they were not aware of the proffer agreement. But Kading kept busy, collaborating on a book-based 2015 documentary, Murder Rap: Inside the Biggie and Tupac Murders, with filmmaker Mike Dorsey that included excerpts of the detective’s recording of Davis around the time of the proffer agreement. “We’ll wipe they ass out quick,” Davis brags in the film, referring to the shooting. Believing no one outside the room would ever hear his conversation, Davis shows zero compunction about the attempt to take out Tupac and Knight for what he believed would be a $1 million payoff from Death Row’s competition, Bad Boy Records CEO Combs. (A rep for Combs did not reply to a request for comment, but Combs has previously vehemently denied the allegation.)
Las Vegas law enforcement initially responded with silence to the documentary. Was it the message, or perhaps the messenger, that bothered them? Former Las Vegas journalist and true-crime author Cathy Scott has followed the Tupac case since the shots were fired, and suspects it’s a little of both. “Kading is all about publicity and taking credit for things, but the problem for Kading was he’s no longer a police officer and hasn’t been for years,” Scott says. “He was trying to get either the LAPD or Metro to sign on with him to get [the investigation] done. He went to Vegas to talk to Metro. He called me at the time and asked for advice. He was all hyped up, and had also reached out to the DA’s offices in both L.A. and Vegas.”
By 2018, the Dorsey-Kading collaboration reemerged as the 10-episode Unsolved: The Murders of Tupac and the Notorious B.I.G., starring Josh Duhamel as Kading. Davis, who by then had survived colon cancer and life in a racket with a prison-or-death retirement plan, stopped exercising his right to remain silent while others profited from his proffer. He apparently forgot that he was the one with something to lose by going public. After learning that Davis agreed to sit for multiple interviews with an attorney present during the production of the BET series Death Row Chronicles, Kading and Dorsey could barely believe their ears.
“He has to know that he can’t talk about this case the way he did in his proffer deal,” Dorsey recalls saying to Kading. “He’s not protected outside of that one day that he went in and did his proffer. If he went on CNN and told that same story [the next day] … it could have been used against him. I think Keffe saw all this attention on his story and wanted to be the one to tell it.”
“What they got you for, man?”
“The biggest case in Las Vegas history.”
IN THE SUMMER OF 2017, Kading and Dorsey signed on as consultants for Death Row Chronicles, whose producers managed to get Davis to sit for two studio interviews. Seated at a desk in an empty office 50 feet from the studio, Dorsey listened by headset and texted follow-up questions to the producer as Davis treaded carefully through the questioning.
The plan was nearly exposed when Davis was escorted down a hall that passed Dorsey’s listening post and briefly stared at him through a window as he went by. “He looked in the office and locked eyes on me,” says Dorsey, who by then had gone public about his own opinion of Davis’ culpability.
Arriving in shorts and a T-shirt, Davis initially balked at sitting down without his suit on, but eventually relented. “He was very cagey in the interviews. He was careful about how he worded his answers, and had a lawyer present with him in the studio,” Dorsey says. When the series was being aired, Dorsey contacted Metro’s homicide bureau and suggested the officers watch the Davis interview on Death Row Chronicles, which premiered in February 2018, a week before Unsolved. The profile of Davis was about to get much bigger. Dorsey says he reached out to Metro’s homicide bureau with a simple goal: “I made it my mission to get the detectives to reopen the case, which they did.”
At the time, Davis was in the process of digging his hole deeper with his memoir, Compton Street Legend: Notorious Keffe D’s Street-Level Accounts of Tupac and Biggie Murders, Death Row Origins, Suge Knight, Puffy Combs, and Crooked Cops. Co-authored with Yusuf Jah, the 225-page paperback is a readable and remorseless advertisement for Davis’ life as a drug dealer. He admits providing the proffer and substantial cooperation in exchange for a pass on a federal narcotics case. He acknowledges he was riding in the white Cadillac at the time of the shooting, and passed the murder weapon into the back seat — all of which can be used against him, prosecutors argue. Davis’ message to readers on the back of the book won’t help his case: “The last living eyewitness to Tupac’s murder is telling his story.”
Compton Street Legend was published 23 years after the shooting, and not long after Death Row Chronicles and Unsolved brought the case back before the public. Those who had watched the homicide case languish for so long remained skeptical. As the months passed, Las Vegas detectives kept a low profile on the status of their investigation.
Perhaps emboldened by police silence, Davis became more comfortable in front of the camera as he pushed his memoir, appearing in YouTube interviews on popular hip-hop channels such as The Art of Dialogue and VladTV. He at times expressed regret that the shooting had taken place, but didn’t deny having an insider’s knowledge of the details. “When nothing happened to him, I think he thought, ‘I guess it’s safe. I guess they’re not going to do anything as long as I’m being careful how I word it,’” Dorsey says.
“DJ Vlad” Lyubovny is among those skeptical of the timing of Davis’ indictment after he spent so many years hiding in plain sight. “The information has been out there,” Lyubovny says. “It’s not like they have to have [a lot] to corroborate what Keffe D is saying. I mean, Keffe could always say, ‘Hey, I made all this up because I was facing a life sentence, and then I made up more of it because I was being paid to do the interviews. I saw it as a stream of income.’”
ON JULY 17, 2023, with a heat warning in effect and temperatures in the Las Vegas valley expected to exceed 112 degrees all week, Las Vegas police and a SWAT unit converged on the Henderson home Davis shares with his wife, Paula Clemons. According to grand-jury testimony, police recovered a cellphone, laptops, documents, two tubs of photographs, a copy of Vibe featuring Tupac, a copy of the Kading book, and news clippings about the murder, including some contained in a small clothbound photo album dating back to 1996. Police also recovered a copy of a 1998 search warrant and a room receipt from the former Monte Carlo Hotel and Casino, where, authorities say, a Davis associate stayed at the time of the shooting. In addition, they found .40-caliber cartridges of the general type used in the fatal shooting, which Metro sources said would be compared to the slugs that killed Tupac.
Around seven weeks later, the Metro police came calling as Davis ambled down the sidewalk. There’s the rub for Keffe D. After nearly three decades, he’s the last man standing in one of the biggest unsolved murder cases in hip-hop history.
Beyond the lack of a murder weapon and getaway car, the suspected shooter and two other accomplices have already been lost to the hard grind of gangster life. Orlando Anderson has most often been identified as the suspected triggerman. Firing from the back seat of the rented white Cadillac, he reportedly aimed at targets in a parked BMW just a few feet away. The indictment also names Deandrae “Big Dre” Smith as another passenger and possible killer. But under Nevada law, you don’t have to pull the trigger to pay the price. Active participants in a premeditated homicide can also be charged with first-degree murder. In legalese, that leaves little wiggle room for Davis, who is accused of “aiding and abetting in the commission of this crime, with the intent that this crime be committed, by counseling, encouraging, hiring, commanding, inducing and/or otherwise procuring the other to commit the crime.”
Returning to California hours after the shooting, Anderson reportedly wasted little time dropping hints to his fellow Crips about his alleged role in the Tupac hit. Anderson was already a suspect in at least one other murder that year. Hauled in for questioning by police in the Tupac case, he was never charged. On May 29, 1998, Anderson was killed in a gang shootout at a Compton car wash.
It wasn’t the bullets, but the burgers that took out Big Dre Smith, who, a friend said in grand-jury testimony, was six feet six and weighed close to 400 pounds. The trusted Crip who might have pulled the trigger on Tupac died in 2004 from complications related to obesity. The Cadillac’s wheelman, Terry “Bubble Up” Brown, was shot to death in 2015, with his body discovered inside a Compton marijuana dispensary.
But years before, Smith and Brown were in Vegas with Davis, who admits he was among the nearly 10,000 people in attendance at the heavyweight fight at the MGM Grand Garden Arena that saw Mike Tyson flatten World Boxing Association titleholder Bruce Seldon in the first round. Seated near ringside in a $3,000 blue pinstripe suit and gold tie, Davis would have been easy to spot.
The main event was a bust, but the violence in Vegas had just begun, first with the beating of Anderson inside the MGM Grand by Tupac, Knight, and members of their entourage. Prosecutors alleged in the grand-jury proceedings that the fight, purportedly payback for the theft of a Death Row gold chain a few weeks earlier during a Crips and Mob Piru melee in California, precipitated the drive-by shooting that came hours later.
Metro bicycle cops, supervised that night by Sgt. Chris Carroll, patrolled the traffic-clogged Strip and sidewalks bustling with boisterous party animals. One veteran officer describes the policing strategy not in traditional law-enforcement terms, but as just “trying to keep a lid on things” in the hope that nothing heavy goes down.
That hope faded at approximately 11:15 p.m., when Carroll received a shots-fired call from two bicycle officers positioned on an upper floor of a parking garage near the attack. The officers didn’t witness the shooting. From their surveillance vantage point, they could see a line of cars pull away and proceed west toward what they later learned was Knight’s mobbed-up Club 662, where Tupac and Tyson were scheduled to make an appearance that evening.
“If we were an Army, I was a five-star general. If we were a city, I was the mayor. If we were a country, I was President Obama.”
In a moment that provides an easy metaphor for the much-criticized investigation to come, Carroll’s cohorts initially gave chase on two wheels after seeing a Black BMW peel away from the procession, catching up to it in traffic near Las Vegas Boulevard and Harmon Avenue. Carroll reached the vehicle — two of its tires flattened after hitting a concrete curb — at a nearby intersection. Drawing his weapon, Carroll ordered the two occupants out of the car. Only the hulking driver complied. The cop was no hip-hop fan, but he recognized an agitated Knight. Carroll repeatedly ordered Knight to stay back as he attempted to check the status of the passenger, slumped in his seat behind a bullet-pocked door. After prying open the damaged door, Carroll recalls easing the body of a badly bleeding and barely conscious 25-year-old man to the pavement. From somewhere behind him he heard a frantic Knight shouting, “Pac! Pac! Pac!”
Only then did it dawn on the cop that the man bleeding from multiple chest wounds, his nostrils, and mouth was Tupac Shakur.
“He was still breathing, but in very bad shape,” Carroll recalls. “I spoke to him. Most homicide victims know their killer. I asked who shot him.”
The rapper known for his lyrical elegance offered a terse response: “Fuck you,” he told Carroll before sagging into unconsciousness.
Approximately four minutes later, Carroll recalls, paramedics arrived and intubated the dying man. Knight was also taken to the hospital. As ambulances made their way through clogged streets toward University Medical Center, Davis says in his memoir, they passed four men — Davis, Anderson, Smith, and Brown — waiting to cross Las Vegas Boulevard. As sirens blared and chaos ensued, the quartet gazed at the vehicles racing to the hospital. “There we were, looking right into the ambulances transporting Tupac and Suge,” Davis recalls in his memoir. “The moral of the story, real Gangsters are nothing to fuck with!”
Hit four times, including twice in the chest, Tupac stayed alive for six days before he was declared dead on Sept. 13, 1996. Knight recovered from a messy but minor flesh wound. He had much bigger headaches coming his way.
When news of the shooting reached California a few days later, the South Side Compton Crips and Mob Piru and their Bloods allies went to the mattresses in a South Central shooting war. Several drive-by shootings and three murders followed in the next 10 days, and bodies dropped for months afterward. When East Coast rapper Biggie Smalls died in a still-unsolved drive-by shooting on March 9, 1997, in Los Angeles, police sources surmised it was a West Coast retaliation for the Tupac killing.
Tupac’s defiant epithet would come to define the Las Vegas detectives’ frustration as they attempted to get material witnesses to cooperate. Knight was no help, and years later, journalist Randall Sullivan would claim in his book that Knight used his legal connections to avoid sitting for an interview in the aftermath of the shooting. Knight’s refrain with the cops was consistent. One officer recalled, “He heard something, but saw nothing.” (An attorney for Knight did not reply to a request for comment.)
“He has to know that he can’t talk about this case the way he did in his proffer deal. I think Keffe saw all this attention on his story and wanted to be the one to tell it.”
Mike Dorsey, ‘Murder Rap’ director
THE EARLY INVESTIGATION took another blow in November 1996, when one of the few eyewitnesses willing to cooperate with Vegas detectives — Tupac backup-group member Yafeu Fula — was shot to death in an Orange, New Jersey, housing project. “It just kind of adds to our frustration of this whole investigation,” Metro homicide’s Sgt. Kevin Manning told the Los Angeles Times. (Subpoenaed in the Davis case, Manning declined an interview request for this article.)
Further, Metro detectives found few potential witnesses willing to speak to police. Those who were not at the crime scene had plenty to say about gang violence, the shame of the Tupac shooting, and the tragic loss of a gifted, creative talent. But those who were present mostly kept their mouths shut. Despite a 10-car entourage idling near the shooting scene, “all of the people seem to be looking somewhere else and didn’t see much,” wisecracked Metro veteran Phil Roland at the time.
Suspicions between the Las Vegas and Los Angeles police departments didn’t help. During the six days Tupac lingered on life-support, off-duty cops employed as Death Row security remained at the Las Vegas hospital, Sullivan claims in his book, thwarting Metro homicide detectives’ attempts to locate witnesses willing to cooperate. Key suspects returned to California, and some of the Compton and Los Angeles cops were working for Knight, according to Sullivan. Metro detectives soon started hearing the name of a suspected triggerman: Orlando Anderson.
Critics chided Las Vegas police for being sloppy and slow, questioning everything from their racial sensitivity to their efforts to preserve the crime scene. As time went on, observers wondered if Metro lost focus on the investigation at a time when, as one street cop from the era tells Rolling Stone, “it seemed like there was a house-party rapper getting shot every week in those days.” To some in uniform, Tupac paid the price for embracing Death Row’s gangster ethos.
The first reporter at the shooting scene remains a critic of Metro’s early efforts in the case. Former Las Vegas Sun reporter Cathy Scott covered the breaking news, the immediate aftermath, and wrote a true-crime paperback on the anniversary of the shooting. The Killing of Tupac Shakur explores early conspiracy theories about Tupac’s death and includes a photo from the autopsy that some disbelieving fans tore from its pages. (One easily debunked theory painted Carroll as an accomplice to the killing, claiming that he hauled away a breathing Tupac. “Didn’t they realize that I was riding a bicycle that night?” Carroll asks.)
Less than a year after the legal circus surrounding the O.J. Simpson murder trial in Los Angeles, a Metro captain told Scott that “a big trial would be bad for tourism.” “I always got the feeling they just didn’t want to solve it,” Scott says. “Maybe they hoped it would go away.”
Scott feels it “seemed off” the way detectives blamed Tupac’s entourage and Knight for not talking to police, and because of that, they said, they were getting nowhere with the case.
“Every detective I spoke with said the same thing,” Scott adds. “So, I asked a captain why it appeared the police weren’t eager to solve the case. At the time, the PR machine was in the midst of trying to turn Vegas into a family and kid-friendly destination. The captain said it would be bad for tourism to have gangbangers coming into Vegas for a big murder trial. I said, ‘You’re kidding.’ He said, ‘No, it’s from the top.’”
“There we were, looking right into the ambulances transporting Tupac and Suge. The moral of the story, real gangsters are nothing to fuck with!”
It wasn’t the only allegation of reluctance to solve one of the biggest murders in hip-hop history. During the LAPD investigation of the drive-by killing of Biggie Smalls — which law enforcement considered an act of retaliation following the Tupac murder — Detectives Russell Poole and Fred Miller traveled to Las Vegas to confer about the status of the Tupac case and get a look at the evidence. Following Metro’s protocol, evidence boxes marked “Shakur” would have been moved by technicians from a secured warehouse into an examination room, where the detectives would enter only after showing identification and signing in. The examination takes place with handlers wearing gloves and evidence personnel present.
Poole recalled to Sullivan seeing “this whole cabinet of clues that they had just sort of filed away and weren’t really following up on.” Could ostensible minor details have cracked the case wide open? “We all talked about what a defense lawyer would do with all the contradictory evidence that had come in,” Poole said in Sullivan’s 2003 book, LAbyrinth (based on some of his earlier Rolling Stone reporting on the case). “But then the Vegas guys told us the main reason they would never solve this case was that the politicians didn’t want them to. They said the powers that be had let them know the city didn’t need an O.J.-style circus. I was shocked, but my partner was yukking it up with them, and saying he feels the same way about the Smalls case.” Poole recalled one police officer saying, “These are just gangbangers with money.” (Metro homicide detective Brent Becker would later scoff at Poole’s assessment.) Poole retired in frustration in 1999 with his theories of the case taking flak. He died of a heart attack in 2015.
Metro had its own lamentable history of controversial officer-involved shootings that would eventually lead to a Department of Justice review, but proud former cops like ex-homicide detective Phil Ramos are quick to defend the Las Vegas department against accusations its detectives dumped the Tupac case. Without eyewitness cooperation, key suspects in California, and no murder weapon or getaway car, there could be no easy solutions. “We knew who the shooter was,” Ramos says. “It was Orlando Anderson, and Orlando was dead. The consensus was, nobody’s going to be charged with Tupac’s murder because the shooter’s dead.”
Kading defends much of the Las Vegas effort. “The idea that Vegas didn’t want to solve this because it was high-profile defies logic,” he says. “Because if you don’t solve it, the message you’re sending to the criminal community and the public is that we don’t care if gang members come here and shoot people and kill them. And we don’t do anything about it if they do. So that actually works against the idea that it’s bad for tourism.”
“I asked a captain why it appeared the police weren’t eager to solve the case. … [He] said it would be bad for tourism to have gangbangers coming into Vegas for a big murder trial.”
Cathy Scott, Las Vegas journalist
IF THE FALLOUT FROM the Tupac murder case is a story of gangs in conflict, it at times has included warring police departments. From the start, Metro has been criticized for failing to bring suspects to justice, while the LAPD’s secrecy and lack of information-sharing is also in question. One Las Vegas homicide veteran recalls Detective Dan Long nearly coming to blows with an LAPD counterpart over the processing and custody of the possible murder weapon, with the California cops believing the detectives in Las Vegas were holding out on them. After LAPD told Long they had the murder weapon, he traveled to L.A. to take custody of it, but was told he was being tested to determine whether Metro had been hiding it. Neither the murder weapon nor the getaway car were ever recovered. (Kading claims that the LAPD willingly turned over a possible murder weapon to Metro around 2007, and that the incident with Long occurred in 2009, when he went to Vegas to arrest Davis, which he was unable to do due to the proffer agreement. He also says claims of physical fighting are “overexaggerated.” A subpoenaed witness in the Davis case, Long declined interview requests for this article.)
Davis participated in the proffer agreement with law enforcement, but if you’re wondering whether or not Las Vegas Metro knew about it, you’re not alone. Kading writes in his book that Vegas police were cut out of the loop with the approval of LAPD chief legal counsel Gerald Chaleff and Chief Bill Bratton. “We were not obliged to notify the LVMPD of our findings,” Kading writes, “thus freeing us to pursue the broader conspiracy case without jeopardizing our prized informant.” (Bratton did not reply to a request for comment; attempts to reach Chaleff were unsuccessful.) When the hip-hop-war task force folded in 2010 without bringing indictments in the Tupac and Biggie murders, or the greater conspiracy case involving rival record companies, street gangs, and millionaire drug dealers, Kading says he felt ethically comfortable in taking a recording of the Davis interview with him when he retired to write his memoir.
Whatever Metro’s legitimate complaints were, as Kading sees it, there’s essentially no Davis indictment without the proffer and all that followed. “We’re an agency who took it upon ourselves to investigate a murder that they would perceive as being their jurisdiction. So I get where they feel a little bit disregarded,” Kading tells Rolling Stone. “But there is no prosecution of Duane Davis had we not done the things that we did. The drug investigation led to the proffer. The proffer led to a confession. The confession led to a public outing of Keffe D. And that compelled him to speak for himself, which is ultimately how we got to today’s indictment and prosecution.”
The prosecution argues that Davis has written and talked his way into the charges he faces. But will it be enough? With no murder weapon and no trace of the getaway car, the 2023 presentment before the Clark County, Nevada, grand jury was missing traditional physical evidence. Instead, it included dozens of video excerpts and articles, along with the testimony of Denvonta Lee, a former Crips associate, who testified about what his former roommate — the now-deceased “Big Dre” Smith — supposedly revealed about the shooting. Namely, that Smith and not Anderson was the actual triggerman that night in retaliation for the beatdown at the MGM. “That’s exactly what Dre told me, that he did the shooting,” Lee said. In this version, it seems Smith was smart enough to let Anderson take the credit for killing a superstar.
What remains unclear is when Las Vegas police learned of the proffer’s existence and substance. Grand-jury testimony in Davis’ case last September raised questions of a lack of communication between the two police departments that legal experts say could put the case in jeopardy. Now retired, Clifford Mogg was the latest in the line of lead detectives in the Tupac case when he joined in 2018. He testified before the grand jury that he still had not received a copy of the recording or transcript of the Davis proffer. (Mogg declined an interview request for this article.) But given the revelations contained in Kading’s 2011 book and the 2015 Dorsey documentary, how could the leader of the investigation not know about the existence of the Davis proffer agreement before 2018?
Kading tells Rolling Stone that the proffer was initially kept from Las Vegas police out of a need to protect their witness, Davis, but that Metro was later informed. When that case folded, Kading took the material with him and used it as part of his book Murder Rap. “Normal procedure would be for us to turn over the results of our investigation to [Las Vegas police] — except that there was nothing normal about this case,” Kading wrote in his book. “We were apprehensive that the Las Vegas investigators would insist on conducting their own interviews.… We couldn’t let that happen.”
After the grand-jury proceeding, Kading tells Rolling Stone, he made sure Mogg received copies of the Davis proffer-session recording, explaining, “I don’t know if he had it at the time, but he certainly has it now because I gave it to him.”
The only parts of the proffer that Mogg claims he knew about had been posted on the internet “in small snippets,” as the prosecutor put it. Although prosecutors read from the Davis memoir during the grand jury, and Mogg endorsed the conclusion of Poole and others that the murders of Tupac and Biggie were related, he said in his testimony he hadn’t read Kading’s book.
“I get where [Las Vegas police] feel a little bit disregarded. But there is no prosecution of Duane Davis had we not done the things that we did.”
Greg Kading, Former LAPD officer
A 40-year law-enforcement veteran who has investigated 500 murders, Mogg only picked up the Tupac cold case in 2018. He was one of several detectives to work the murder case in its third decade. Nearing retirement, Mogg planned to open a private-investigator’s office, according to a Metro source, after solving one last big case. “He said he wanted to go out with a bang by solving the Tupac Shakur case,” one law-enforcement source says.
Mogg wasn’t the only person involved in the investigation who says he hadn’t been aware of the proffer and recording until recently. David Roger, the Clark County district attorney from 2003 to 2012, recalls few specifics from the long-ago murder, but he’s certain his office was never informed of the existence of a federal proffer by a prime suspect in such a sensational case — especially one that resulted in the ridicule of Metro for failing to bring a killer to justice. “Law-enforcement agencies have a spirit of cooperation when going after the criminal element,” Roger says. “If LAPD had the authority to discuss this proffer agreement with us and chose not to, then shame on them. This was a murder investigation that was important to a lot of people, and they should have shared with us whatever information they could.”
L.A. detective Poole remained suspicious of the Tupac and Biggie investigations to the end. “Murders don’t go unsolved when the victim is a celebrity who gets shot dead in front of dozens of witnesses who can identify the killers,” he told Sullivan. “Remind me of any recent cases where that has happened, other than Tupac Shakur and Biggie Smalls. Murders like that go unsolved if the police don’t want to solve them.”
As authorities closed in on Davis during the heat of July, his own tone changed in an interview with the YouTube hip-hop channel The Art of Dialogue, admitting: “I hate that shit happened, dog. It fucked up a lot of people’s lives, dude. Power to God.… I wish that shit would have never happened.”
“If LAPD had the authority to discuss this agreement with us and chose not to, then shame on them.”
David Roger, Former Clark County District Attorney
ONE PERSON WHO could shed light on what happened is Knight, who currently squats in a San Diego County, California, correctional facility, serving a 28-year sentence for manslaughter after his 2015 fatal hit-and-run of friend Terry Carter. After a menacing football career at UNLV in the mid-1980s, the Mob Piru Blood gang member parlayed bodyguard gigs into entering the music business, co-founding Death Row Records with a style that intimidated competitors and even some of his stars.
The ensuing 28 years have seen Knight endure bankruptcy, beatings, multiple shootings, and prison stretches, but nothing appears to have changed his worldview. In a brief, but insightful interview from the penitentiary with TMZ, Knight expressed surprise over the Davis arrest, declined to identify him or anyone, reminded his interviewer that the two had once played Pop Warner football together, and emphatically denied Anderson was the shooter. “I’m not going to take the stand and testify on somebody, for what?” Knight asked.
Special public defenders Charles Cano and Robert Arroyo, who represent Davis, declined to comment for this article, but wrote in a bail motion that the case was based on an “astounding amount of hearsay and speculative testimony” presented to the grand jury: “It cannot be said that the proof is evident and the presumption great that Duane is guilty of first-degree murder for the death of Shakur,” they wrote. In a theme sure to be repeated throughout the trial, Cano and Arroyo argued, “The truthfulness of the content of the interviews was never verified. The book and interviews were done for entertainment purposes and to make money from a situation that Kading and others had already profited.” In January, District Judge Carli Kierny set bail at $750,000 and ordered home confinement for Davis pending trial.
Dayvid Figler, a veteran defense attorney and former Las Vegas special public defender, concludes after reading the grand jury testimony that the defendant’s public statements create a steep legal challenge. “The core of the case begins and theoretically ends with the various statements Duane Davis has made over the years,” Figler says. “Those statements will always be admissible as evidence. Here you don’t even have to rely on individuals who say that’s what he told them. He did interviews that are recorded. He wrote a book and put it in his own words.” Even the most capable defense team might have a hard time explaining away admissions Davis makes in his own memoir, such as, “I pulled the Glock … tossed it in the back seat. Bubble Up did the driving, Baby Lane and [Big Dre] were riding in the back.” A short time later, Shakur’s life was draining away in the shadow of the Strip.
Call it an extreme example of literary license, but Davis also attempts to claim something approaching self-defense. “Tupac made an erratic move and began to reach down beneath his seat,” Davis writes. “It was the first and only time in my life that I could relate to the police command, ‘Keep your hands where I can see them.’ Instead, Pac pulled out a strap [handgun], and that’s when the fireworks started. One of my guys from the back seat grabbed the Glock and started bustin’ back.” Mogg testified to the grand jury that there was no evidence that either Tupac or Knight had a weapon.
A portion of Kading’s damning recording was also used in Dorsey’s documentary. Around the time of Davis’ recorded conversation with Kading and his partner, the LAPD was facing a wrongful death lawsuit filed by Biggie’s family, alleging corrupt cops were behind the murder. (That litigation was eventually dismissed.) The LAPD named Knight as a possible suspect in the Biggie shooting, but he was never charged. In his interview with Kading, all Davis would say about the Biggie hit was, “That one wasn’t us.”
Davis’ admissions aren’t the only statements he’s given to authorities — and his earlier claims may be a basis of his defense. In 1997, just months after Tupac’s murder, Davis denied to the FBI his involvement in the shooting. Davis adhered to this dubious version of events for the next decade — until he was once again in trouble and, once again, was approached by investigators trying to solve the killing.
At its dark heart, however, this is a murder story. The spotlight is on Duane Davis. Prosecutors say he’s a hardened gangster with hurt feelings because he believes he didn’t get enough credit and cash for his role in killing the voice of a generation.
Like the cops who grew winded chasing him across three decades, Davis wrote a story. Now, he’s on the brink of achieving where they failed, bringing a degree of closure to — how did he put it? — “the biggest crime in Las Vegas history.” This legend in his own mind never stops spinning.
Slow down, Scarface. Las Vegas is the place that venerates its murderous gambling pioneers with a museum and offers tours of the homes and businesses of the infamous. A short distance from where Tupac died is the scene of the largest mass shooting in American history. Biggest crime? Get in line. Senseless bloodletting has plenty of competition here.
Riddled with dark alleys, corrupt elements, and conspiracies, the winding Tupac murder investigation remains a noir mystery for a new generation that still threatens to embarrass law enforcement. Despite Keffe D’s admissions, the biggest challenge now facing police and prosecution might be in keeping the trial from tumbling down a rabbit hole of discovery littered with conflicting evidence.
But in the end, the question remains, “Why now?” Carroll, the retired bike cop, answers the question with a question as he speaks to the frustration of many of his colleagues. “It comes to a point where, how long are we all supposed to sit by and listen to this guy brag about committing a murder and not be charged with anything?”
But as the cop who arrested Davis told the aging gangster, “That’s what court’s for, right?”