Eddie Jackson and Courtney Brown-Detroit Heroin Kings
The outfit said it all. It told you about the man he was and the man he was soon going to be. In the most simplistic of terms, Eddie Jackson’s wardrobe while in New York City attending the classic March 1971 boxing match between Muhammed Ali and Joe Frazier, exuded an aura of power, pride, excess and class. To be even more specific, he was sporting an ensemble that cost close to a quarter of a million dollars, more than half of which was accounted for by the jewelry he wore on his hands and around his neck and wrist.
Not even knowing who he was, Ebony Magazine snapped a photo of him to feature in an article they were doing on the best dressed to attend the fight. The picture was included in a collection from the event that besides Jackson, spotlighted nothing but well-recognized celebrities from the sports and entertainment world. It was the perfect metaphor for Detroit’s ultimate gentlemen gangster and a figure in the annals of the city’s underworld with few equals – comfortable living lavishly in the shadows, unfazed that others got headlines when he quietly crafted his luminous legacy.
Unassuming he was not.
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“The Fat Man,” or “The Crowd Pleaser” as he was affectionately referred to on the streets of the Motor City, was taking the Big Apple by storm, ready to cement a place for himself as a genuine player on a nationwide scale. He wasn’t comfortable with his current status as a successful mid-level narcotics distributor and he knew infiltrating the drug scene in New York was the answer to all of his prayers. Taking his seat in the fifth row to watch the Ali-Frazier fight, he scanned the crowd, intent on finding himself a steady connection, someone who could provide him large quantities of high-quality heroin at a reasonable price.
What he didn’t know was that he had already found it. And he was sitting right next to him. *****************************
Henry Bell, Eddie Jackson’s father, was born and raised in Arkansas. Taking off on an early life of petty street crime, Henry was forced to flee the South in the late-1920s after having a warrant issued for his arrest stemming from a shootout at a local tavern where he had killed a couple of guys following a heated dice game. Settling in Detroit around Thanksgiving 1926, Henry changed his last name to Jackson and immediately turned away from a life of crime and instead started off slowly but steadily building a career in real estate. Before long, Henry Jackson had worked his way up from stock boy at a grocery store to the owner of multiple businesses in Paradise Valley, the city’s all-black entertainment and night life district. Already into his forties, Henry married a beautiful young women who worked in one of his establishments and had two sons. The couples’ first son, Elijah was born in 1942 and two years later in 1944 they had Eddie. Tragedy struck the burgeoning new family a couple of years later when Eddie’s mother died while in the process of giving birth to a baby sister.
Using his natural keen instinct, Henry parlays his pair of small properties into a sizeable real estate portfolio, which came to include a restaurant, pool hall, bar, apartment buildings and industrial warehouses all across the Southeastern Michigan. Left to raise his two boys all alone, the stern and calculating man of rigid self-discipline did the best that he could. His reaction to his wife’s passing was to spoil his pair of sons, making sure they wanted for nothing in their early lives. The family lived in a large two-story house in one of the city’s nicer residential areas on the West Side and had a live-in maid.
Living nearby the Jackson brothers was a young boy around the same age as Eddie. His name was Courtney Brown and he would go on to become Eddie’s best friend and business partner. Brown and the Jackson boys were practically inseparatable their entire childhood.
Despite the fact that he came from moderate wealth, Eddie drifted towards a life on the street from an early age. By the time he was 12 years old, Eddie and his older brother Elijah had both quit going to school and spent their days running around with older troublemakers from the neighborhood, hanging out mostly in his dad’s pool hall, where a rogues’ gallery of local underworld characters were known to frequent due to the establishment’s reputation for high-stakes action. While Courtney stayed in school and graduated with a high school diploma, Eddie and Elijah got an early start in the hustler’s lifestyle and developed quite a taste for it.
Wrecked with guilt over the fact that his sons grew up without a mother, Henry allowed this behavior by basically ignoring it, turning his head and in some case pleading ignorance to those who inquired into why his two boys weren’t in school. As Courtney acquired the knowledge and book smarts needed for their future endeavors together, it was Eddie and Elijah who cut their teeth learning, mostly from an observational perspective, the ways of the Motor City underworld.
In 1965, when Eddie was 21, his father died of a heart attack and left him and his brother a quarter of a million dollar inheritance. The brothers lived lavishly off the unexpected windfall for almost three years, using the money to party and travel, all the while binging on a steady diet of women, alcohol, drugs. However, the good times would only last so long and by the start of 1968 the cash had run dry and the Jacksons were broke.
Forced to join the workforce for the first time in their lives, Eddie took two jobs, one driving a taxi cab around the city on the late night shift and the other working in an auto plant during the daylight hours. With the new decade dawning, Eddie and his brother found themselves practically destitute, living in near-squalor, barely able to make their monthly bill payments. It was quite a fall. And not a place in his life he intended on staying for very long.
Having little taste for the common man’s existence, Eddie Jackson used the squandering of his heritance and the subsequent repercussions as motivation to build back his family’s wealth by any means necessary. A man of prodigious weight, he had prodigious affinities and the idea of driving a cab the rest of his life simply didn’t suit. He fancied himself urban royalty in some ways and to live anything else but the good life was unacceptable.
Roughly six months into his career as a moonlight cab driver, Jackson had a chance encounter with “Gentleman John” Claxton, one of Detroit’s biggest wholesale narcotic distributors. This fateful introduction would go on to change his life.
It was spring 1968 and Claxton stopped into the family pool hall, at that time being run by Elijah, for a drink. After taking a few shots of whisky, he requested that Elijah call him a taxi cab to drive him to the city’s West Side. Elijah told Claxton that his brother drove a taxi and called upon Eddie to drive Claxton to his desired destination.
The pair got into the taxi and Claxton told him he wanted to make two stops, both at hotels, before being driven home. While Eddie drove Claxton from a hotel on one end of the city to a hotel on the other, the two struck up a causal conversation and immediately hit it off. There was something about Jackson’s demeanor and obvious natural intelligence that made Claxton trust him right off the bat.
When the cab finally reached Claxton’s driveway at a mansion in Sherwood Forrest, a strictly upper class white neighborhood, Eddie was blown away. He didn’t understand how a black man, not much older than himself, afforded to live in such luxury. Before exiting the vehicle, Claxton gave Jackson two crisp 100 dollar bills and asked him if he would return the following morning and take him back to the two hotels they had just been at so he could do some more business. Not even knowing what Claxton’s profession was or why he had taken such a liking to him, Jackson accepted the request on the sole fact that he thought that he could make a nice fat stack of cash for his troubles. He was right.
Eddie quickly figured out Gentlemen John was in the dope game. And not just in it, but on top of it. And just as quickly, decided he would do everything in his power to become exactly what his future underworld mentor was and more.
After Jackson picked Claxton up, drove him to his meeting and then back to his house for the second time in as many days, he was asked if he could repeat this same routine every day from that point further. Another $200 fee didn’t hurt the pitch either however, his decision would have been the same with the new fresh hundred dollar bills in his pocket or not. It was a no brainer. He was in. And ready to work, wiggle and hustle his way all the way to the top.
For the next three months, every day at 7:00 am Eddie Jackson scooped John Claxton up at his residence, drove him to his two “meetings” and returned him home. Men of equal fine taste and appetite for indulgence, they clicked from the very start. Soon, Claxton requested that Eddie make the trips by himself each day instead as a tandem. He explained that at each stop, he was to drop off the daily package of drugs, which would be concealed in a suitcase.
Just as Gentlemen John suspected would happen, upon being given the opportunity to get more involved with the drug game, Jackson was unfazed, cool and calm as ever. This instilled even more faith for Claxton in his new protégé. Accepting the job offer, he shook Claxton’s hand. Their newfound friendship had just become a business relationship. Never had Eddie been so eager to get to work.
Making the daily drop off on behalf of Gentlemen John was a minor, menial job when compared to his future riches as a boss in the drug industry, but it proved a tipping point. The fast, easy money was too appealing for the spoiled and broke former rich kid to turn down and it would quickly open a door to much bigger and better things.
John Claxton was part of the Motor City’s so-called “Black Mafia”, second-in-command to Henry “Blaze” Marzette, Detroit’s first ever urban Godfather. Marzette ruled over much of the region’s narcotic industry throughout the entire 1960s and early-1970s and carved out a legacy for himself as the area’s original ghetto kingpin.
Through his connection to Claxton, Eddie would get access to Marzette and a relationship he would slyly leverage to kingpin status for himself in just a few short years.
Around the same time Eddie Jackson started to make his drop-offs for John Claxton, he lost half of his left index finger in an accident at the auto plant he worked at during the day. As a result of the accident, Eddie quit his job at the plant and decided to jump full-time into the dope game. The unfortunate incident served as an easy excuse to abandon his life on the straight and narrow and transition into life of crime. Like a fish to water, Eddie was a natural.
In not time he had graduated from running errands for Gentlemen John and opened up shop for himself. Recovering a substantial worker’s comp claim in the following months, Jackson used it as seed money to jumpstart his own drug operation. Getting a steady stream of top quality heroin from Claxton, his burgeoning narcotics empire was off and running.
Proving a fast study, Jackson shot up the ranks and four months into his newfound profession, he was already Marzette’s and Claxton’s biggest earner with the growing reputation of being able to get rid of drugs almost faster than his new bosses could supply them to him. In no time, Eddie Jackson, or as he came to be called on the streets, simply, “The Fat Man”, for his overweight appearance, was making more money than he had ever seen before in his life. His dad had achieved moderate wealth. He was becoming rich. And because he was so good at his job, those he was working for, specifically, Marzette and Claxton, were getting richer.