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He was an acclaimed rapper from the streets of the Bronx who fired one of the opening shots in the East Coast/West Coast rapper feud of the 90’s.
But in 2011 Timothy Blair – the hip hop artist whose nom de mic was Tim Dog -- was exposed as a sophisticated conman.
After he defrauded Mississippi single mom Esther Pilgrim, he was arrested, pleaded guilty to grand larceny and was handed five years’ probation. And he was ordered to pay Pilgrim back $19,000 of the money he stole.
Story over. Or so it seemed.
But on Valentine’s Day last year -- eight months after Dateline aired “The Perfect Catch” – culture magazine The Source broke the news online that Tim Dog, aged just 46, had died from a seizure linked to diabetes. Even though the rapper was considered a has-been, whose biggest hit was the iconic 1991 diss track “F*** Compton”, news of Tim Dog’s death made international headlines.
A memorial service was planned in Harlem -- a poster announcing donations could be made via a PayPal account that would benefit Blair’s daughter.
While it was strange perhaps that no media were allowed to cover the local celebrity send-off, it seemed Tim Blair had been laid to rest.
But months after the planned memorial, no public death record of Blair’s death could be found; and whispers began among those who had claimed to have been scammed by the rapper. The memorial service was canceled, they claimed -- a sham. Who was that PayPal account benefiting? Why wasn’t there any public record of Blair’s death?
And it wasn’t long before another outrageous story about the larger-than-life rapper took hold online: that Tim Dog, a brilliant scam artist, had faked his own death to avoid paying the court-ordered restitution to Esther Pilgrim.
Pilgrim, who was no longer receiving monthly payments from Blair, was suddenly stoked -- determined to find her scammer and make sure justice was served.
A Mississippi prosecutor in Pilgrim’s country issued an arrest warrant for Blair, further fueling the “rapper faked his death” story, while Blair’s wife Alexandra – who kept her distance from any media – apparently didn’t seek to silence the growing chorus. Even if she didn’t want to face media cameras, some wondered, why didn’t she release a statement – or produce her husband’s death certificate?
Pumping up the mystery to an even higher volume, rappers with whom Blair had collaborated scoffed at the notion Tim Dog was dead. In fact a few months after Blair’s memorial service, a track called “Falsified” appeared online featuring the vocals of the supposedly dead Tim Dog himself. To those who doubted he was dead, Tim Dog seemed to be thumbing his nose at his victim and authorities -- reveling in his notoriety.
So where was he?
As Dateline set off to investigate what happened to Blair, residency records led our team to a home in Fairburn, GA. There, neighbors claimed they had seen Blair, Alexandra and their young daughter – but said they had kept to themselves for the seven months they lived there, and left suddenly around April this year. Was it possible that the urban former hip hop star from the streets of the Bronx was living a sedate, undercover life in the Atlanta ‘burbs?
Our search took us to another home in Decatur, GA, where traces of Tim Dog petered out. The house where we thought he could be living, was occupied by someone else.
But Pilgrim was still on the hunt and, with help from a man who claimed his boss had been ripped off by Tim Blair in a fake concert promotion deal in Australia, was able to sniff out a new trail of breadcrumbs that she revealed to Dateline.
The clues lit up a new path suggesting Blair had been treated at Atlanta Medical Center before being discharged to Hospice Atlanta. But since the hospice could not release any information about whether Blair had been treated there – we began calling funeral homes in same zip code as the hospice, and continued widening our search until at last one funeral home confirmed a record of the hip hop artist.
Timothy Blair died at Hospice Atlanta, Dekalb County, GA on 14 February, 2013. Dateline obtained his death certificate from the Dekalb County GA Board of Health. No paperwork was filed in the county where Blair was widely believed to be living – because death records are filed in the county of death; and no one except close family, friends and carers knew where the former rapper lived – and died.
There is a final twist in the story of Tim Dog’s death. It turns out his cremation was paid for by the county.
For Esther Pilgrim that is the ironic parting shot of a conman, but a fitting exit for the scam artist -- who ended up with a pauper’s funeral.