The relationship between the old Curry Brothers Gang led by 1980s-era Detroit drug kingpin Johnny Curry and deceased Detroit Mayor Coleman Young gets a deep dive in Episodes 6 and 7 of the critically-lauded podcast Crimetown. Curry ruled the Eastside dope game in Motown at the peak of the government’s War on Crack with Young’s beautiful niece on his arm. Young served five terms as Mayor of the Motor City (1974-1994), hounded by accusations of corruption his entire time in office but never charged with a single crime. He died of emphysema in 1997.
Produced by award-winning Gimlet Media out of New York and co-created by Oscar-nominated documentarian Marc Smerling, Crimetown explores the convergence of politics, culture and crime in a different metropolis each season. Detroit is the subject of Season 2 after the hit podcast put the spotlight on Providence in Season 1, procuring a scripted-television option from FX.
Season 2 premiered last month. The first episode focused on Young’s rise to power and him becoming the first African-American Mayor of a major American city. Episodes 3 and 4 center on Motown heroin czar Eddie Jackson, a gentleman gangster of the mid 1970s, while Episode 6 touches on the emergence of the infamous and deadly Young Boys, Incorporated gang on the Westside of the city in the early 1980s. Listen to the podcast here.
Johnny Curry, known simply as “Lil’ Man” to those closest to him, has an underworld legacy that spans multiple eras. He got his start as one of the founders of the Black Killers street gang in the 1970s. Then along with his twin sibling Leo (“Big Man”) and baby bro Rudell (“Boo”), he began slinging marijuana and heroin out of a gas station they owned.
When cocaine reached the mainstream in the 1980s, the Curry Boys transitioned into the crack game and became major players in the city’s criminal landscape. Johnny’s marriage to Cathy Volsan, Mayor Young’s sister Juanita’s daughter, helped his cause tremendously. It also raised his status on the streets. Cathy’s love brought Johnny and his crew the Mayor’s protection and a whole slew of connections in the police department. Years later, court testimony in a police-corruption trial revealed that Young appointed an entire DPD security detail to watch Cathy’s back on a 24-hour basis. For all intents and purposes, the security detail, known as the “Black Bag Squad” was being paid to watch Johnny’s back too.
Young was no stranger to street activity. His FBI file notes that he ran numbers for local policy lottery bosses in his youth. Crimetown talked with one-time members of YBI in Episode 5 who claimed the gang had a line into the Mayor’s office through Young’s YBI-affiliated barber. Episode 6 quotes a former Detroit Police Chief who personally witnessed drugs being sold out of Young’s restaurant by Young’s brother-in-law Willie Volsan, Cathy’s father.
The protection afforded to Johnny and Cathy by the Mayor’s office and the police department appears to have shielded the Curry Brothers Gang from being implicated in a murder: the unsolved 1985 homicide of 13-year old Damion Lucas, the nephew of Curry Brothers Gang affiliate Leon Lucas. At the time of Damion’s accidental killing, his uncle was feuding with Lil’ Man and Big Man over money and drugs confiscated by law enforcement in a February 1985 raid. The elder Lucas failed to come through with pro boxing tickets and flight and hotel reservations in Las Vegas in April of that year as a means of repayment and Curry Brothers Gang enforcers are alleged to have peppered his house with a barrage of gunfire in a drive-by shooting on the evening of April 29, 1985. Leon was out for the night. His nephew was slain in the attack.
According to informants, Johnny Curry delivered a payment of $10,000 to high-profile DPD Homicide Commander Gil Hill and the investigation steered away from the Curry Brothers Gang. Another Lucas rival named LaKeas Davis was arrested for the Damion Lucas murder, but the FBI interjected, letting the judge know of the Curry Brothers Gang involvement and the charges against Davis was dropped. The case remains open today.
Curry denies any involvement in ordering the drive-by that killed Damion Lucas. He’s admitted in the past though to delivering cash to Hill for favors, including in the days following the Lucas murder. Hill, famous for his acting role in the Beverly Hills Cop movie trilogy (playing Eddie Murphy’s boss), always steadfastly denied covering up the Lucas homicide probe or taking any bribe of any kind. He died of natural causes in 2016.
Johnny Curry, 60, and his entire organization went down in a federal drug and racketeering case in the spring of 1987. Curry served 12 years in prison and was released in 1999. Cathy and him divorced during the time Curry was away behind bars.
The Curry Brothers Gang and the Damion Lucas murder were depicted in the recent Hollywood film White Boy Rick, chronicling the strange but true story of Curry’s one-time teenage protégé Richard (White Boy Rick) Wershe, the youngest informant to ever work for the FBI and the longest-serving non-violent juvenile offender in the nation’s prison system. Actor Jonathan Majors played Curry, actress Taylour Paige played Cathy Volsan and newcomer Richie Merritt played Wershe (the 49-year old Wershe has been locked up since 1988 and is set to finally be released in 2020).