Russell Poole was the lead detective with the Los Angeles Police Department who was assigned to investigate the shooting death of hip hop artist Biggie Smalls. His investigation into the case spawned conspiracy theories.
Poole’s role in the case is chronicled in the new true crime series Unsolved: The Murders of Tupac and the Notorious B.I.G. The series is scripted and also discussed theories swirling around the shooting death of Tupac Shakur. Actor Jimmi Simpson stars as Poole in the series, which airs on the USA Network.
Tupac, 25, was murdered in Las Vegas in September 1996. Biggie Smalls, 24, was murdered in March 1997. Both murders have never been solved, and the series takes viewers into both police investigations, including that helmed by Poole.
What happened to Russell Poole? Where is the detective now?
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Russell Poole Died of a Heart Attack in 2015
Russell Poole is no longer around to give his impressions of the series – or the cases. The detective with the LAPD died suddenly of a heart attack in 2015. According to Rolling Stone, he suffered the heart attack “while meeting with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s homicide investigators to discuss a cold case.”
Poole was rushed to a hospital, where he died, after suffering the heart attack. According to The Los Angeles Times, “Poole quit the police force in 1999 after a series of disputes over the direction of multiple investigations, including Wallace’s murder.”
According to The Independent, witnesses said Poole “appeared to suffer a heart attack and fell to the floor after clutching his chest.” Some believed that Poole was collecting materials for a new book at the time he died, reported The Independent.
2. Poole’s Theories About Biggie’s Murder Were Very Controversial
Poole was responsible for floating some of the most controversial and unproven theories in the Biggie Smalls death case. He once alleged that Death Row Records founder Marion “Suge” Knight should be considered a suspect in Biggie’s death, even though Knight was behind bars when the slaying occurred.
According to NBC News, “Poole alleged that police were involved in the killing, as part of a general theory that the killing sprang from an East Coast-West Coast rap feud.” Poole’s investigation was featured in a book on his theories that was called LAbyrinth: A Detective Investigates the Murders of Tupac Shakur and Notorious B.I.G., the Implication of Death Row Records’ Suge Knight, and the Origins of the Los Angeles Police Scandal.
Poole alleged a conspiracy within the LAPD. The book’s description on Amazon says, “During his investigation, Poole came to realize that a growing cadre of black officers were allied not only with Death Row, but with the murderous Bloods street gang. And incredibly, Poole began to uncover evidence that at least some of these ‘gangsta cops’ may have been involved in the murders of rap superstars Notorious B.I.G. and Tupac Shakur.”
According to Rolling Stone, Poole “believed that Knight, with the help of LAPD officer David Mack and another associate, was responsible for B.I.G.’s death as ‘retaliation’ for the murder of Tupac Shakur a year earlier.” He also thought that Knight allegedly wanted to avoid paying royalties to Shakur. However, Suge Knight and Davis Mack have never been arrested nor charged in connection with the death.
“There’s been different adjectives used to describe this guy,” Lt. Al Michelena said of Knight to Rolling Stone on another occasion. Michelena was then supervising the detective working the case. “‘Key,’ ‘prime,’ etc. I use the adjective possible — possible suspect.”
However, Vice reports that Poole argued that “the chief conspirators were Sharitha Knight and Reggie Wright Jr., head of Death Row Security.” Neither has been arrested nor charged with the death, either. Futhermore, some believe Poole was planning to apologize to Suge Knight before Poole died.
That claim came from author Michael Douglas Carlin. He alleges that “former LAPD detective Russell Poole planned on apologizing to Suge Knight prior to his passing last year,” reported HipHopDx.
“Russell had thought that all of this evidence pointed to an inside job with Death Row Records,” Carlin said, according to HipHopDX. “And he blamed Suge for it. And he was very vocal about that. And he was going to the sheriff’s to apologize to Suge Knight and tell the investigators that they had this case against Suge that’s crumbling. And to abandon that case and get on board with solving the two biggest mysteries in rock n’ roll history…He felt very bad.”
Greg Kading, the author of Murder Rap, who later took over the Biggie Smalls case for the LAPD, said that Poole “failed at being objective…An investigation was done on him for misconduct. He was removed from it. And those are just the facts. Now listen, I’m not saying Russell Poole is a bad guy. I’m not saying he’s a malicious guy. I’m saying he failed at being objective on this one particular case.”
3. Busta Rhymes Thanked Poole For His Investigatory Work
The rapper Busta Rhymes raised questions about Poole’s death on social media. “Coincidentally he dies after meeting with the police about the cold case of Biggie’s death and strangely collapse’s shortly after and was unresponsive and was pronounced dead when he arrived at the hospital,” he wrote. “Ain’t this some s–t?”
Poole had urged the LAPD to reopen the case before he died. “If this was Elvis Presley and Frank Sinatra who got murdered, there would’ve been arrests a long time ago,” Poole says. “This case can be solved, but needs police follow-up. There are clues sitting right in front of the police. It’s a travesty of justice.”
According to Rolling Stone, “In 1999, Poole was essentially forced into early retirement after implicating a fellow officer in Biggie’s death; he later filed a lawsuit against the LAPD claiming that his First Amendment rights were being violated because he couldn’t take his B.I.G. findings public.”
4. Russell Poole Helped Uncover the Rampart Scandal
Poole was also part of another major case involving the LAPD: This one related to corrupt cops. Russell Poole “was the decorated LAPD detective who helped unravel the late-90s Rampart Scandal, uncovering widespread police misconduct throughout the LAPD’s Community Resource Against Street Hoodlums (CRASH) unit,” reported Vice. “His work revealed that off-duty LAPD officers handled security for Death Row, many of whom were dirty cops engaged in criminal mayhem.”
In 2000, Poole filed suit in federal court alleging that then LA Police Chief Bernard C. Parks and others “thwarted his efforts to investigate widespread corruption in the Rampart Division.” He claimed he faced harassment after detailing the Rampart allegations to higher-ups, whom he alleged stymied the probe.
“While investigating the murder of rap star Notorious B.I.G. in 1997, Poole found evidence linking fellow LAPD officers to the Bloods street gang,” his suit also alleged.
5. Johnny Depp Was Attached to a Movie In Which He Would Play Russell Poole
The Tupac Shakur and Biggie Smalls murders have spawned multiple literary attempts. In one, Poole will be played by Johnny Depp. Daily Variety reported on the project in 2016.
“In the movie, disgraced LAPD detective Russell Poole (Depp), is unable to solve his biggest case – the murders of the two music icons. After two decades, the case remains open,” Daily Variety reported.
The film is slated for a 2018 release. “Academy Award winner Forest Whitaker…takes on the role of a journalist who teams with him in order to find both truth and redemption on a path that sets them directly against the L.A.P.D.,” reported ComingSoon.net.
The USA Network describes its separate series Unsolved as “a scripted true crime serial that chronicles the two major police investigations by LAPD Detective Greg Kading (Josh Duhamel) into the murders of Tupac Shakur (Marcc Rose) and Biggie Smalls (Wavyy Jonez).”