Who Shot Ya?: Famous, And Not-So-Famous, Unsolved Musician Deaths

Late into the night of March 9, 1997, a GMC Suburban carrying Brooklyn rapper Notorious B.I.G. left a party sponsored by Vibe magazine and was riddled with bullets as it waited at a red light on Wilshire Boulevard near Beverly Hills. When the Suburban arrived at nearby Cedars-Sinai Medical Center moments later, the man born Christopher Wallace - arguably the finest rapper to emerge from hip-hop's second generation - was dead at age 24.

An unlucky 13 years later, law-enforcement agencies from the FBI on down have been unable (or, skeptics believe, unwilling) to solve the murders of both Biggie and his former friend Tupac Shakur, also arguably the finest rapper to emerge from hip-hop's second generation. Many believe Smalls' shooting was retaliation for Shakur's own drive-by murder in Las Vegas in September 1996.

Not surprisingly for a profession with the unofficial mantra "live fast, die young and leave a good-looking corpse," popular music has an unnaturally high premature body count. Lots of people believe the deaths of everyone from '60s icons Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison and the Rolling Stones' Brian Jones - whose 1969 "death by misadventure" in his London swimming pool remains the ultimate rock-and-roll coroner's determination - to '90s stars like Kurt Cobain, Elliot Smith and Jeff Buckley are a lot more suspicious than simple ODs, suicides or "accidental drowning."

Every so often, advances in forensic technology allow authorities to eventually close the books, like when new DNA testing procedures led to the arrest and conviction of Cuban refugee Jesus Mezquia for the 1993 rape and murder of Gits singer Mia Zapata. Many cases are never solved, though, thanks to one of the oldest natural laws on those same books: Dead men (and women) tell no tales.

As we do from time to time, Rocks Off combed the Internet earlier today looking for musical demises that never got wrapped up like the ones on Cold Case or Law & Order. 'Pac and Biggie you know - here are a few you may not, including a couple from the Bayou City's own body-strewn backyard.

Peter Ivers: Harvard pals with Animal House and Caddyshack co-writer Doug Kenney, Ivers wrote "In Heaven (The Lady In the Radiator Song)" - later often covered live by the Pixies - for Eraserhead at director David Lynch's request. In 1981, he began hosting New Wave Theatre, which brought subversive sketch comedy and performances by bands like Black Flag, Fear, the Circle Jerks and X to late-night L.A. TV and then the USA Network's Night Flight until his body was discovered bludgeoned to death in his apartment in March 1983. Read about Ivers' life and times in Josh Frank and Charlie Buckholtz's 2008 book In Heaven Everything Is Fine: The Unsolved Life of Peter Ivers and the Lost History of New Wave Theatre.

Charlie & Kathy Hayes: Besides sweethearts at La Porte High School who reconnected and married eight years after graduating in 1979, Charlie and Kathy Hayes were lead guitarist and backup singer, respectively, for local Southern rock band Charlie and the Hayz. The couple was found beaten to death - so badly police originally thought they had been shot - in late September 1997, shortly before the Hayz was scheduled to open for Billy Ray Cyrus in Nashville. "We've never closed it," La Porte PD Sgt. Tammy McBeath told local newspaper Sea Breeze in January 2008.

Rhett Forrester: If you couldn't tell by his name, Forrester was a native of Gone With the Wind country. The Georgian got of the taste of the hard-rock high life after moving to Brooklyn and joining Riot, who opened for big names like KISS, the Scorpions and Aerosmith in the early '80s. In January 1994, Forrester was shot and killed in a carjacking gone awry in Atlanta.

Kirsty MacColl: Kirsty MacColl, best known on these shores for her duet with Shane MacGowan on the Pogues' besotted Christmas classic "Fairytale of New York," met one of the grisliest ends imaginable when she was sliced nearly in two by a runaway powerboat while snorkeling near Cozumel in December 2000. According to Carl F. Horowitz's Web site, the circumstances surrounding MacColl's death involve a Mexican supermarket magnate who owned the boat, the functionally illiterate fall guy and supposed driver who never spent a day in jail (and subsequently disappeared) and - of course - high-level government corruption. Sounds like an Elmore Leonard novel, and actually is a 2008 BBC documentary by Olivia Lichtenstein, Who Killed Kirsty MacColl?

Al Jackson Jr.: The founding drummer of Booker T & the MGs and session hand on albums like Al Green's Let's Stay Together, Freddie King's Texas Cannonball and Eric Clapton's 461 Ocean Blvd. (not bad, huh?) was murdered in his Memphis home after watching the George Frazier/Muhammad Ali "Thrilla In Manila" in 1975. Just who may have pulled the trigger on "The Human Timekeeper" (who also co-wrote Ann Peebles' frisky "I Feel Like Like Breakin' Up Somebody's Home") can be summed up in two words - "Citation Needed" - but at least someone had the good sense to edit out the reference to Jackson's "pistol shot snare sound." Yikes.

Fat Pat/Big H.A.W.K.: These late Houston rappers and brothers were crucial members of DJ Screw's groundbreaking, bass-quaking Screwed Up Click - after Screw died in 2000, H.A.W.K. became known as the SUC's "Five Star General" - and both appeared on the first Houston rap song to break the Billboard Hot 100, Lil Troy's "Wanna Be a Balla." They shared something else too, unfortunately: Both were cut down by bullets in homicides that remain unsolved, Pat in February 1998 and H.A.W.K. in May 2006.

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Chris Gray has been Music Editor for the Houston Press since 2008. He is the proud father of a Beatles-loving toddler named Oliver.
Contact: Chris Gray