July 4, 2009. Former NFL quarterback Steve McNair is found murdered in his Nashville condo. He’s been shot four times—twice in the chest, once in each temple—and his mistress Jenni Kazemi is lying dead at his feet, with a single gunshot wound to her head. After just four days of investigating, Nashville police conclude that Jenni killed Steve and then herself. Murder-suicide.
Right away, though, McNair’s and Kazemi’s friends and family have a ton of questions—about the motive, the murder weapon and the crime scene—and so they turn to a former Nashville cop named Vincent Hill, who’s started investigating the case on his own.
Nine years later Hill is still chasing chilling new rumors and uncovering fresh leads. In Fall of a Titan—a podcast presented by SI: True Crime and Cadence 13—host Tim Rohan uses Vincent Hill as a guide, re-examining the case in a new light and exploring the question: Did Jenni Kazemi really kill Steve McNair?
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Shortly after Steve McNair’s death, a former Nashville police officer named Vincent Hill starts digging into the case on his own, reaching out to the victims’ friends and family, talking to people tied to the events of July 4, 2009, and sifting through the swirling rumors. He also does a few TV interviews, questioning just about everything police say. When Hill realizes there’s an audience for his viewpoint, he takes his media tour to a whole new level.
Vincent Hill introduces us to his investigative partner of sorts: Dr. Alvin Simpson, a close family friend of Steve McNair’s. Doc met Steve back at Alcorn State, where McNair was the star quarterback and where Doc was everyone’s favorite professor. Now Doc takes us on a trip back to Mississippi, to explore Steve’s history and to retrace the steps that led him to the condo where he was killed.
Steve McNair is retired from football, he’s trying to find his identity and his marriage appears to be on the rocks. Then he meets Jenni Kazemi, a 19-year-old Dave & Buster’s waitress, and they strike up a fast romance. When Steve and Jenni turn up dead six months later, investigators point a finger almost immediately at Jenni. They portray her as spiraling out of control, fueled by jealousy and financial freefall. But that isn’t the Jenni friends and family knew.
Jenni Kazemi’s phone records show that, in the last few weeks of her life, she was in regular contact with a number of male suitors. One of those men: Adrian Gilliam, an ex-con who allegedly sold Jenni the murder weapon. Another: Keith Norfleet, her ex-boyfriend who appeared to be jealous Jenni was dating McNair. The police interview and clear both men. But at least one of them seems to have lied about his alibi.
On the afternoon of July 4, 2009, one of Steve McNair’s friends, Wayne Neeley, drops by McNair’s downtown condo and eventually realizes he’s stumbled upon a crime scene. Neeley calls McNair’s bodyguard, Robert Gaddy, and Gaddy says: Wait there; I’ll be right over. But 44 minutes pass between that conversation and Gaddy’s call to 9-1-1. Why did the two men wait so long to call police? And what did they find in that condo?
In the aftermath of what police rule a murder-suicide, two family members on opposite sides of the tragedy take a serious and active interest in the case: Steve McNair’s mother, Lucille, and Jenni Kazemi’s older sister. Both women are distraught. Both have questions. Both go in search of answers. And that search leads them each to the same place: the Nashville Police Department.
Over the course of his 13-year NFL career, Steve McNair reportedly at least $90 million, and in the aftermath of his death those close to him wonder: Had McNair left behind a will explaining how to pass this on? He had. But it was unsigned. And so control over his estate is left to his estranged widow, Mechelle. The settling of that estate doesn’t exactly go over smoothly, and certain people are left to wonder: Why was the person who had perhaps the most to gain from Steve McNair’s death never interviewed by police?
After months of combing through the Steve McNair case, our reporter sits down with two Nashville PD detectives who worked the investigation as members of the department’s prestigious Homicide-Cold Case Unit: Pat Postiglione and Charles Robinson. As the two men defend their investigation, they reveal a startling new detail about Jenni Kazemi—a detail that could change the entire complexion of the case … if it’s even true.
Vincent Hill presents evidence before a Nashville grand jury, asking to formally reopen the Steve McNair case. And when that fails, his investigation hits the first in a series of roadblocks. Our reporter takes stock of where everything stands today, the questions that remain unanswered, and what it’ll take for this case to be reopened.
Illustrations by Andrew DeGraff