The Detroit Drug Wars (Part 1)

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“Frank Nitti Usher was most likely the final Black drug kingpin in the area to be doing a majority of his business with the Italian mob,” said retired FBI agent Mike Carone. “The relationship between the mafia and the black drug gangs was really starting to change right around the time Usher went to jail. There wasn’t as much of a reliance on the Italians anymore for their product, so the landscape evolved away from the mob dominating the local drug market.”

Opposite in mindset to the Murder Row crew, YBI’s leadership did everything in its power to separate itself as quickly as possible from becoming dependent on the mafia for their drugs. Inspired by the likes of Henry Marzette who had successfully cut the mob out of his operations, acquiring a non-Italian source for his drugs in Southeast Asia before his death, starting in 1978 YBI founders Milton “Butch” Jones, Raymond “Baby Ray” Peoples and Mark “Block” Marshall constructed a steady supply line of “China White”, the purest of Asian heroin, directly from the Golden Triangle straight into downtown Detroit. The organization, which at its peak reached close to 400 employees all together, completely changed the landscape in the Detroit underworld, forever altering the way drugs were bought and sold in the entire state of Michigan from that point forward.*

“They (YBI) were the new breed,” De Fauw said. “When YBI became the predominant drug faction in the city, the rules changed.”

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Much of what separated gangs like Murder Row and YBI from their predecessors like Eddie Jackson or the BKs and Flynns was pure ruthlessness. Chester Wheeler Campbell, possibly the Motor City’s most feared assassin ever, was Murder Row’s top enforcer and his exploits were legendary. Frank Usher and several Murder Row lieutenants would be involved in a headline-grabbing triple beheading in 1979 that would decimate the organization in its aftermath and set the stage for the ascension of YBI.

Campbell, known on the streets by such ominous nicknames like “The Angel of Death”, “Dr. Death,” and “The Undertaker”, got an early start on his life of crime by first being incarcerated for burglary in 1946 at only 15 years old. From that point forward, he would rack up a laundry list of felonies that would make even the most hardened and incorrigible of criminals envious. Between 1946 and 1986, Campbell, who scored close to genius level on an IQ test administered by a court-appointed psychiatrist, would spend 30 years behind bars. Crafting a legacy of terror second to none in the city’s gangland history, federal authorities speculate that he’s personally killed over 50 people in his time as a free man. Well aware of his villainous character traits, Campbell was known to comment that he was “one of God’s unfortunate creatures,” with a slight grin, as downed shots of whisky with his friends at his favorite area watering holes.

“There aren’t many criminals I locked up that I still have nightmares about, but Chester Campbell is one of them,” said one former federal agent. “He was pure evil.”

In 1955 Campbell was convicted of second-degree murder charges and served a 13-year prison sentence. Upon his release in 1968, he began working as a freelance hit man for a variety of local organized crime groups, including the mafia and a number of top-tier drug gangs. He was known to dress only in the color black in an attempt to accentuate his morbid aura as much as possible and was soon being recruited by out-of- state criminal groups to carry out executions across the nation for fees that topped the $15,000 mark, which at that time was an astronomical, almost unfathomable amount for that type of work. A surprisingly cultured man, from years of reading and filling his head with a wide variety of worldly knowledge while locked up, he was known to fill his time by attending plays, browsing in museums and studying foreign languages.

For a short period in the early-1970s, Campbell hit a run of good luck and successfully dodged a pair of top priority government’s assault against him. In 1971, he was charged with intent to murder a star witness in a drug ring trial he was a defendant in but had the charges dropped before trial. While awaiting trial on another murder charge a few years later, the government’s star witness, James “Watusi Slim” Newton, a one-time Campbell confidant and business partner, wound up being executed in the protection wing of a maximum security federal prison in Ohio, and had the charges against him once again dropped before the case could ever reach a jury.

Around this time Campbell started associating and doing business with Frank Usher and Harold Morton, two young and up and coming heroin dealers from the Eastside. Introduced by mutual acquaintances in the mafia around late 1973, Campbell became the newly-created Murder Row gang’s “in-house” enforcer. Usher and Morton cut him in for a piece of their drug business and with his muscle and reputation, the pair of burgeoning kingpins took their organization to the top of the Motor City underworld. For a solid three to four years, Usher’s and Morton’s Murder Row crew was the biggest drug operation in the entire state of Michigan.

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