All That Glitters
By Rob Marriott
Tupac Amaru Shakur, hip hop's shining serpent, was gone. And now, so was Bobby Ray Finch. Under a cloudless stretch of L.A. sky, Finch's friends and family made the mournful circuit around Inglewood Cemetery. Low-flying planes swept tremendous shadows over the somber procession of mothers and off-duty officers, neighbors and fellow bodyguards, former gang members and present-day cholos, a girlfriend robbed of a lover, a daughter robbed of a father, and a reporter trying his best to look inconspicuous at an intimate family gathering.
I'd been covering the story since September 7, 1996, when a hail of bullets tore into Tupac's body for the second and final time in his brief life. Now, on September 18, six days after Shakur's death, I looked on as, one by one, Bobby Finch's family filed by and stared into his lifeless face. The carnations lying on the casket, as well as the casket itself, were baby blue, seeming to confirm reports that Bobby was a member of a marked gang, the Southside Crips, and was killed in retaliation for Tupac's shooting.
On the morning of September 11, Finch, age 30, was murdered in front of his mama's house in Compton while sitting at the wheel of his new Acura. He had just dropped off his 10-year-old daughter at school and was heading to the gym for a workout. According to a witness, a Honda Civic hatchback pulled up alongside Finch, and shots were fired. He was taken to Martin Luther King Jr. Medical Center with multiple chest wounds and pronounced dead minutes after arrival.
This was a case of mistaken identity. Bobby wasn't no gangbanger. "He wasn't part of that lifestyle," said Leshaun Smith, godfather of Bobby's daughter, in frustration. "Look," he told me, "if you live in an area, you know people. Around here, if somebody in a neighborhood does somethin' wrong, the entire neighborhood will suffer the consequences. The whole neighborhood is at risk."
"When the gangs do shit like this, they go after the ballers," explained Leshaun [baller bolah n. 1: high-rolling hustler 2: nigga that got his money right, as opposed to a banger, who works in blood and bullets]. "They aim to take out the money first. Because Bobby had a nice car, they assumed he was a baller. He was a bodyguard, but he didn't work for none of them rappers. He had nothing to do with any of this."
Finch was one of three fatalities among 13 shootings police say resulted from the attack on Shakur and Knight. The two other dead men, Timothy Flanagan and Marcus Childs, were believed to be Piru Bloods. One of the survivors, a Southside Crip leader named Darnell Brim, was ambushed in a convenience store and shot several times. An innocent bystander, 10-year-old Lakezia McNeese, caught a stray bullet in the back. When the shooter approached Brim's fallen body, gun outstretched to finish the job, he saw Lakezia's wounded form lying beneath Brim's. He paused and then walked away without firing.
As I stood in the back of the church at Finch's funeral, listening to a young woman sing the last stanzas of Precious Lord, someone grabbed me by the arm and pulled me out of the service. He was a hulking, off-duty LAPD officer, one of several cops regularly employed by Death Row as security guards. He recognized me as one of the reporters who'd stood vigil outside the Vegas hospital where Tupac took his final breaths.
"What are you doing here?" he whispered, his eyes darting.
"Just trying to find out what's going on."
"I hope you realize you're playing a dangerous game."
"What you mean?"
"Just be careful with what you write."
And so it has gone for the past few months. Cryptic warnings. Demanded anonymity. Lies and whispers. Few in L.A. have been willing to speak on record about anything relating to the ongoing Death Row saga. Vegas police have alternately affirmed and denied that they have any suspects in Tupac's murder. They have yet to arrest anyone, even though a 29-year-old Compton resident named Orlando Anderson was reportedly heard bragging about his involvement days after the shooting.
There are no easy answers to the myriad questions surrounding Tupac's death. But it has become clear that the rap star's killing, and the three homicides that followed, are only the most visible tragedies in a tangled web of intrigue that extends deep into the L.A. underworld--a place where entertainers, cops, gangstas, lawyers, and bodyguards coexist in the same shadowy milieu of nepotism and corruption. Its still very much the wild, wild West out here, and the truth, especially the bloody truth, is hard to come by.
Since February 28, when Suge Knight caught a nine-year bid, everything you thought you knew about Death Row has been thrown into question. Did Knight really build the $300 million empire from the ground up, or was start-up money provided by an incarcerated drug kingpin? Was Knight really the man calling the shots, or was it his attorney, David Kenner? And was Knight so short on cash that mortgaging Death Row's assets to its distributor, Interscope Records, was his only option?
The spray of lead that took Tupac's life had been a long time coming but it wasn't coming from where most of the media suspected. Numerous reporters, quick to vilify hip hop music, assumed that the shooting was related to the highly publicized feud between East (Bad Boy) and West (Death Row). But any evidence implicating Puffy and Biggie was slim at best. According to police, they had been known to enlist members of the Southside Crips, who'd been feuding with the Mob Piru Bloods for years, as personal security.
But among Compton residents and police informants, one name kept coming up in connection with Shakur's fatal shooting: Orlando Napolian Anderson, also known as Baby Lando, a reputed Southside Crip from nearby Lakewood.
According to a Compton police affidavit, the stage was set for Pac's murder approximately two months earlier when some Crips and Bloods ran into one another at the Lakewood Mall. Travon Lane (a.k.a. Tray), a five-foot-four Mob Piru who was wearing a diamond-encrusted Death Row pendant, was in the mall's Foot Locker store with fellow Pirus Kevin Woods (a.k.a. K.W.) and Maurice Combs (a.k.a. Lil Mo) when they were confronted by seven to eight Southside Crips. The two crews got into it, and Tray's pendant was taxed.
On September 7, Tray attended the Mike Tyson/Bruce Seldon fight with Suge, Tupac, and other members of Death Row. After the fight, Tray recognized Orlando Anderson in the MGM Grand Hotel lobby as one of the Crips who stole his pendant. Pac, ever the soldier, stepped up to Lando and asked, You from the South? It became a rhetorical question when Pac and the crew got to kicking and stomping Anderson into the ground. Shakur, it seems, had finally crossed the line from gangsta rapper to official L.A. gang member. According to the police affidavit, he had recently added a MOB tattoo to one of his heavily illustrated arms.
The melee, broken up by MGM security, was recorded by the hotel's surveillance cameras. Security personnel advised the victim, identified only as Orlando, to file a report. He refused and soon left the hotel. About three hours later, Suge and Pac were in Knight's black BMW 750, leading a caravan of cars along the Strip. While they idled at a red light, a late-model white Cadillac rode up alongside.
"We was at the light," Suge told police some days later, "We was havin' a conversation; heard some gunshots. We looked to the right of us. Tupac was tryin' to get in the backseat. . . . I grabbed him and pulled him down. It was about fifteen gunshots." Police reports said that shell casings from a Glock .40-caliber were recovered from the scene.
Investigators turned up leads 220 miles to the southwest, in L.A., where gang members had already begun exchanging gunfire. An informant told cops that on September 9, two days after Pac's shooting, he'd seen a Southside Crip by the name of Jerry Monk Bonds driving a late-model white Cadillac into an automotive shop at White and Alondra in Compton. On September 10, cops saw Monk and Orlando Anderson drive to 1315 Glencoe Avenue, a known Southside Crip safe house and hangout. Police raided the Glencoe duplex that same day, recovering seven ski masks, an assault rifle, and a large amount of ammunition, including Smith & Wesson .40-caliber rounds. They also found photos of gang members and a black duffel bag with a Southwest Airlines baggage tag bearing a Las Vegas address.
Excerpted from Tupac Shakur by The Editors of Vibe. . Excerpted by permission of Three Rivers Press, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.