A new Netflix documentary may lead to the reopening of the Malcolm X murder case, the New York Times reports.  

The Nation of Islam leader, who eventually came to believe in Sunni Islam, not the religion created by Elijah Muhammad, was shot and killed while delivering a speech on February 21, 1965 at Harlem’s Audubon Ballroom. A man with a sawed-off shotgun delivered the first blast, then two others advanced with semi-automatic handguns.

Three men were arrested – Talmadge Hayer, who was caught and beaten by the crowd as he fled the Audubon, and two others from Malcolm’s X’s Harlem mosque  – Norman 3X Butler and Thomas 15X Johnson.

All three were found guilty of the murder in March of 1966. Hayer, who became Mujahid Abdul Halim, confessed, according to the Times and multiple accounts, but said the other two were innocent. Hayer/ aHalim did not reveal the identity of the other two men at trial,  but in the late 1970’s he absolved the men who were convicted and named four others. The case remained closed. Now 78, Hayer/Halim was released on parole in 2010 and was last known to be living in Brooklyn.

Audubon Ballroom After Malcolm X Shooting

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Johnson, who became Khalil Islam, died in 2009. Butler, now known as Muhammad Abdul Aziz, 81, was released on parole in 1985 and wants to clear his name. He is working with the Innocence Project and hoping that the Manhattan district attorney’s office will reopen the case. The New York Times reports that one of the prosecutors, Peter Casolaro; who is reviewing the case, was instrumental in overturning the convictions of the Central Park Five.

The men believed by many to be the shooters were members of the Newark, N.J. mosque. One of them, named in Hayer/Halim’s affidavit was William Bradley, who had changed his name to Almustafa Shabazz and was openly living in Newark with his activist wife, Carolyn Kelley-Shabazz.  In the documentary, former Newark mayor, Sen. Cory Booker acknowledges knowing Bradley/Shabazz but not his previous identity, according to the New York Times.

Shabazz maintained his innocence until he died in 2018.

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Because of the continuing mystery surrounding the Malcolm X case which includes hundreds of unreleased FBI documents, some amateur detectives attempted to track down clues themselves. One of them, Abdur Rahman Muhammad, a tour guide in Washington, D.C. started a blog where he posted information he found about the assassination. He is believed to be the first to identify Bradley in 2010,  and his research is the basis of the Netflix documentary.  Though Muhammad shared his findings with Malcolm X biographer Manning Marable, none of these efforts led to the case being reopened.

At the time of his death, Malcolm had made powerful enemies, including the F.B.I. and the NYPD, who both had him under surveillance. He had also split from the Nation of Islam, chiefly over allegations that its leader, The Hon. Elijah Muhammad, had impregnated a number of his teenage secretaries. (Those allegations turned out to be true.)

Because of the split, Malcolm’s embrace of Sunni Islam and his growing popularity, it has long been believed that Muhammad ordered Malcolm to be killed. It was also believed that Louis Farrakhan, who Malcolm mentored and who went on to lead the Nation of Islam, was involved, though he has denied it. Farrakhan did acknowledge being part of the culture that resulted in his death.

The Netflix documentary begins airing tomorrow. Watch the trailer below:

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