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Two slayings rocked Atlanta's hip-hop scene a decade ago. Only one has been solved.

The family of DJ Nando — who helped rappers get their start — is desperate for answers about who gunned him down outside his home in 2014.
Onyx Nightclub in Atlanta.
William Fernando Barnes — who went by DJ Nando — was a DJ at Club Onyx in Atlanta before his death in 2014. Dateline

Two killings connected to Atlanta’s club scene shook the city’s hip-hop community a decade ago. One was solved. But the fatal shooting of one of Atlanta’s most influential DJs was not, and his death continues to haunt friends and infuriate relatives.

William Fernando Barnes — who went by DJ Nando — was known for helping launch the careers of local rap stars. But the last time Yolanda Beasley saw her younger brother, he was in tears in the backyard of the rural Virginia home where they grew up.

Barnes believed someone was after him, Beasley recalled him saying at the Christmas Eve 2013 gathering at their mother’s home, and he needed to “get away from them.” 

When she pressed Barnes on what he meant, he responded, “They don’t mean me no good,” she recalled.

For more on the slaying of the wife of an Atlanta DJ, tune in to "Sound and Fury" on "Dateline" at 9 ET/8 CT tonight.

Three weeks after that ominous exchange, early on Jan. 14, Barnes, 38, was gunned down in his driveway in a quiet Atlanta suburb. Roughly 10 months later, on the morning of Nov. 23, the wife of another DJ who worked at the same venue as Barnes — Club Onyx — was fatally shot in a manner the detective who investigated the case described as an “execution.”The killings stunned the city’s club scene — and Barnes’ death marked the end of an era for Atlanta hip-hop, as one music writer put it. But the fatal shooting of Tiffany Jackson Pugh was solved: Weeks after her death, her husband, Andre Pugh — known as DJ Awesome — was charged with murder after authorities said he asked a close friend to carry out the killing. 

The pair denied the allegations but were convicted and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Yet no suspects have been publicly identified in Barnes’ killing.

“Everybody remembers January 14th,” Nick Love, a DJ who worked with Barnes, told “Dateline.” “And we still don’t have any concrete answers. It’s crazy.”

“I want my brother’s killer to be caught,” Beasley told NBC News. “My mother needs closure. Our family needs peace. We need justice.”

Capt. John Ivey of the Clayton County Police Department’s Major Crimes Division did not respond to a detailed list of questions about Barnes’ killing, but he told “Dateline” that he was assigning a detective to review the case. Detectives who investigated the killing in 2014 did not respond to requests for comment, nor did a department spokesperson.

‘King among kings’ 

Beasley, 63, recalled her brother as a typical country kid who grew up in a small town north of Richmond, Virginia, and spent his time fishing, playing ball and riding bikes with friends. He was also a gifted tinkerer: He once built a go-kart out of a broken-down lawn mower.

Barnes didn’t get into music until he’d moved to Atlanta in his early 20s and began working at an auto detailing shop. There, he saw people selling mix CDs from the trunks of their cars or backpacks, Beasley said, and became intrigued with the club scene.

Eventually, she said, he began buying secondhand equipment, teaching himself to DJ and selling his own CDs from a rented house in the Atlanta suburbs.

“He learned everything — every skill — by listening and watching others,” said Beasley, who also lived in Atlanta at the time.

William Fernando Barnes, also known as DJ Nando.
William Fernando Barnes, also known as DJ Nando.via Dateline

Barnes’ talent landed him a gig DJing at one of Atlanta’s strip clubs. These were the venues where aspiring rappers trying to get their music heard had long sought the attention of the DJ — the gatekeeper who could make or break a career. By 2008, said Love, who managed a crew that Barnes belonged to, Barnes had become a “king among kings” — a DJ known for his gift of gab, his booming, customized sound system and his ability to draw massive crowds flush with cash. 

“He made everybody feel like stars,” rapper Jeezy told “Dateline.” “He made these guys that’s coming out of these hoods and these ghettos and coming out of these dire situations — he made them believe in themselves.”

Barnes was also known for his integrity. Though artists paid DJs to play their music, Love recalled, Barnes demanded excellence.

“Everybody knew that even if you had $20, $50, $100, whatever the case may be, Nando would look at your music, pop it in his headphones, and if it wasn’t poppin’, he hand you your money back,” Love said.

While trying to establish himself in the early 2000s, Jeezy said he set his sights on getting Barnes to play his music. Initially, Jeezy recalled, Barnes’ reviews of his material were brutally honest: “He used to call me, like, ‘This is whack, this is terrible, figure it out.’” 

Eventually, Jeezy said, he did, in a collaboration with DJ Drama — “Trap or Die,” released nearly two decades ago — that Barnes played in its entirety at another strip club, Magic City. The mixtape transformed Jeezy’s life, catapulting him from the streets to a career that took him far beyond Atlanta.

“He literally, single-handedly saved my life,” Jeezy said. “He put me in a position to do something that I loved to do, and to make a living out of it.”

A death captured on video 

Beasley’s phone rang before dawn on Jan. 14. 2014. It was her brother’s girlfriend, who was with a detective who delivered gut-wrenching news: Barnes had been fatally shot in front of his home in Morrow, roughly 15 miles south of Atlanta.  

Beasley, who had moved back to Virginia four years before, immediately drove to Georgia. In those first days, she said, her time was spent dealing with the grim logistics of death — identifying her brother’s body, helping make funeral arrangements, sorting out his affairs.

It wasn’t until a few weeks later, she said, that she provided police with details of the Christmas Eve conversation. When she’d pressed Barnes for names of the people who he said he needed to get away from, he’d provided them, and she said she shared them with investigators.

Ivey, of the Clayton County Police Department, did not respond to requests for comment.    

Later, Beasley said, investigators asked her to review video of the shooting. The clips had been pulled from her brother’s security system, she said, and investigators wanted to know if she recognized the gunman.

Beasley agreed to watch the video as long as it was shut off before the shooter pulled the trigger, she said. The cameras captured a man casually walking down the middle of the street toward Barnes’ home at the end of a cul-de-sac, she said.

“He does not hesitate looking around, like, I need to see where I can go,” she recalled. “This guy is walking straight to Fernando’s house.”

Beasley said she didn’t recognize the gunman, who had a hood pulled over his head. When he got to Barnes’ home, she said, he walked down the driveway and positioned himself behind bushes. 

It was raining, she said, and the gunman remained hidden for a few hours.

Barnes arrived home around 3 or 4 a.m., she said, parked and took some equipment inside. Authorities told her what happened next, she said: When her brother came back outside, the man emerged from the bushes and ran up behind him.

Beasley didn’t recall if the video had audio and the man could be heard saying anything before he put a gun to Barnes’ head and pulled the trigger. 

Afterward, Beasley recalled the investigators saying, the gunman walked away.

Losing ‘a good one’ 

The impact of Barnes’ death rippled across Atlanta, but it hit the club scene especially hard, Love said. Barnes wasn’t tied up in street business, he said, so people assumed his death was somehow connected to his work. Perhaps he hadn’t played someone’s music and they’d held a grudge, Love said. Or maybe Barnes had made a joke about someone who wasn’t in a joking mood, he said.

“We know so many people in this city that are tied up in one thing or another — involved with dangerous people, involved in dangerous businesses,” he said. “Nando wasn’t one of ‘em. So for the city as a whole, it’s like, ‘Oh, y’all took a good one away from us.’”

Tiffany Pugh.
Tiffany Jackson Pugh.via Dateline

Then, on Nov. 23, Tiffany Jackson Pugh was fatally shot in East Point, just south of Atlanta. She was in bed and had been shot once in the chest and once in the head at close range, according to Allyn Glover, the now-retired East Point police detective who investigated the killing. Her husband, Andre Pugh, worked with Barnes at Club Onyx and performed as DJ Awesome. Pugh dialed 911 at 6 a.m. and reported that he found his wife’s body after a home security company notified him of a possible break-in.  

First responders found the couple’s 2-year-old son in bed with her, though he was unharmed, Glover said.

During an interview with Glover, Pugh told the investigator that he may have been the intended target, and his wife happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, video of the interview shows.

“We didn’t know if we had a serial murderer on our hands or an aspiring rapper that is trying to make a name for themselves and they’re mad because Nando and Pugh didn’t play their music,” Glover said. “That was one of the avenues we had to visit.”

But authorities found evidence that sent them on a different path in Jackson Pugh’s killing. Cellphone data showed that a close friend of Pugh's was near the couple’s home around the time of the murder, as was Pugh. 

'We desperately need justice' 

Text messages between Pugh and his wife showed a troubled relationship, Fulton County Deputy District Attorney Pat Dutcher told “Dateline.” He’d had relationships with other women and she had threatened to leave, Dutcher said, yet he was struggling financially and often depended on her to pay his bills.

Pugh and his friend, Adrian Harley, were arrested that December and accused of carrying out a murder-for-hire — an event that prompted a flood of calls to Barnes’ family from people who wondered if the pair may have been linked to his killing. (Neither Pugh nor Harley have been accused of a crime in connection with Barnes’ death.)

“My mother and I are asking if an arrest is made that She or I be the first to know,” Beasley wrote in an email after the December arrests to a detective investigating her brother’s case. “We have been through so much there has been no peace and we desperately need justice and closure.”

In a written response to Beasley, the detective indicated that Pugh wanted to talk and the department was sending someone to interview him. In the email, which Beasley provided to NBC News, he also said the FBI was assisting.

“I will keep you informed on any updates,” the detective wrote. “I will make sure we contact you and your mom first on an arrest.”

Seven days later, Beasley asked for an update, according to an email she provided to NBC News. She said she never heard back — and hasn’t heard anything from the department in the decade since.

It isn’t clear if the police interview with Pugh ever happened. The detective with whom Beasley corresponded did not respond to a request for comment. Pugh’s trial and appellate lawyers would not comment. A lawyer for Harley told “Dateline” that he saw no evidence of his client’s involvement in Barnes’ killing.

A spokesperson for the FBI’s Atlanta field office said it didn’t appear that the agency was ever involved in the investigation. 

Glover said he hopes investigators in Clayton County will take another look at Barnes’ case. He wondered if they had reviewed cellphone data in the area at the time of the killing, and he recalled that while both Barnes and Pugh were DJs at Club Onyx, Barnes occupied a busier, more lucrative night, Friday. And in the hours after Barnes’ killing, Pugh asked for the DJ’s time slot, Glover recalled learning from the club’s management. 

Sabrena Swinger, who supervised Onyx’s dancers, told “Dateline” that she recalled hearing Pugh make the request. Afterward, Swinger said, Pugh DJ’d one Friday night, but the club hired someone else to replace Barnes going forward. 

Andre’s lawyers would not comment on the request and Ivey did not respond to requests for comment.