Monte' Ray Talbert was slumped over his car's steering wheel with two bullet wounds in his head when police pulled up to Airport Liquors in Inglewood, California on the night of Sunday, May 15. A member of the hip-hop group Cali Swag District, known for its platinum-selling song "Teach Me How to Dougie," Talbert (a.k.a. M-Bone) had stopped there on his way to a nearby recording studio when a gunman pulled up next to him and fired.
Six weeks later, police are still looking for a suspect and a motive in the case and have been stymied by witnesses' reluctance to cooperate with the investigation. "When witnesses don't want to come out and talk, that's a challenge," says Lieutenant Oscar Serrano of the Inglewood Police Department. "It's proven to be a challenge in these types of shootings, and it's a challenge right now."
The members of Cali Swag District have a high profile in Inglewood two videos for "Teach Me How to Dougie" were recorded there and feature dozens of friends and residents dancing on camera with the group. Some locals suspect the killer might have been jealous of Talbert's success. M-Bone recently had an online feud with someone. "It's something that's been brought to the attention of detectives, and they're looking into whether it's important to the investigation," Serrano says.
Overall, violent crime is down in Los Angeles, having dropped by 20% in the period from 2008 to 2010. But in Inglewood, shootings like Talbert's are not uncommon and gangs are rampant. According to Cali Swag District member Cory Fowler (nicknamed Smoove), Talbert wasn't in a gang, but he may have been the victim of one. "The violence is crazy here," Fowler tells TIME. "It may have been gang violence. Who knows? The area speaks for itself."
As the choreographer and official dancer of Cali Swag District, Talbert taught audiences the idiosyncratic moves that comprise the Dougie (inspired by the dancing style of 1980s rapper Doug E. Fresh). His energetic interpretation of the dance is featured in Cali Swag District's videos, which have gotten more than 29 million views on Youtube, and helped catapult the four Inglewood-raised high school friends who comprise the group into the national spotlight. "He was the best at doing the dance, and on tour he was always the one in the forefront," says Greg Miller, the Cali Swag District spokesman. "He helped bring it to the masses." The Dougie caught on with the likes of Michele Obama, Elmo the Muppet and Wolf Blitzer all of whom performed it in public.
During Talbert's funeral service at Inglewood's Faithful Central Bible Church last month, Los Angeles civil rights activist Eddie Jones alluded to the envy motive. "Don't be jealous because someone's doing something big," he said. Other funeral-goers expressed similar speculation about the shooter's jealousy. "I think he was a hater, someone who didn't want to see [Talbert] come up," said Khristiana Elliott, a friend of Talbert's. Another acquaintance thought a quest for infamy might have been the motivation. "I think he wanted to be known as the person who took [Talbert] out," Colina Burton told TIME.
The Inglewood Police Department says it does not consider the shooting a gang hit, yet it dispatched 19 police officers to Talbert's funeral, both for traffic and crowd-control reasons and because of the nature of Talbert's death. "The man was murdered and we don't know who did it," Lieutenant Mark Fried, who oversaw the police presence at the event, tells TIME. "We didn't want any problems. High visibility was the name of the game."
The subject of violence in the Inglewood community came up several times during the funeral, including when Talbert's grandmother, Mary Alice Phillips, stood to address the 500 mourners assembled in the church. She encouraged them to look closely at her grandson's corpse, which was displayed at the end of the service. "We want all the young people all over the city to see the wounds and see where he bled out," she said.
There were also lighter moments during the ceremony, and Talbert's dance moves were very much a focus his grandmother did her own version of the Dougie from the pulpit, and funeral-goers danced in their seats during a tribute video featuring Talbert's distinctive take on the Dougie.
The day after the funeral, Cali Swag District reunited many of the same Inglewood friends to participate in a video shoot for a song they wrote and recorded in Talbert's memory. "We did a song to remember M-Bone as we knew him, fun and energetic," Fowler of Cali Swag District says. "We want him to live through that song."
Meanwhile, the search for Talbert's killer continues. "It's a very active investigation," says Lieutenant Serrano.