The Detroit Drug Wars (Part 1)

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Modes of transportation were of the utmost importance as well. And like with their clothes, members of YBI were notorious for purchasing in lockstep. Two dozen or more Mercedes and Corvettes were bought at the same time and then promptly shown off during impromptu 100-person caravans to places like Cedar Point or Kings Island amusement parks in Ohio or sporting events and music concerts in out-of-state locations within a day’s driving distance.

Dissatisfied with living in the city where they grew up and plied their trade to great riches, Butch and Baby Ray high-tailed it to the plushy suburbs as soon as they could. Both bought palatial estates in ritzy Oakland County, with Butch moving to Oak Park to a house he built with an indoor pool and Baby Ray moving further north to Troy where he purchased a three-story residence in a leafy and secluded newly-developed subdivision.

“I knew the second I laid eyes on these guys we were dealing with a different breed,” said Taylor, who spent a portion of the era working in the private security business. “It was an eerie feeling that came over me because I immediately realized how much destruction a group like this could do. These cats were young, but so sophisticated and organized. They had an aura unlike any group like them I had encountered before. The neighborhood kids all gravitated to them. There was a prestige on the streets when you were affiliated with the Young Boys. It was like saying you played with the L.A. Lakers or New York Yankees.”

The good times lasted a half-decade, from roughly 1977-1982. And then the common perils of the industry started to set in and they self-destructed. The core of YBI, which consisted of about 50 people, was torn apart at the seams by greed, jealousy and resentment. Like a circling shark that smelled blood in the water, the government came in and delivered the deathblow, levying back-to-back-to-back federal indictments that spelled complete decimation for the gang by 1987. It was an ugly dismantling process.

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The first cracks in the armor appeared in late-1980 when Baby Ray Peoples and Block Marshall had a falling out over a woman they were both seeing at the same time. Marshall might have had the reputation as a killer and Peoples that of a suave, laidback smooth-talker, but make no mistake about it, Baby Ray could more than hold his own in a fight. When he was 19 years old, Peoples was charged, but eventually acquitted of a racially-motivated murder of a man who was dragged from his car on Livernois Avenue and beaten to death with a piece of broken-off concrete. Things boiled over between Peoples and Marshall in early-1981. In the last of several heated verbal altercations the pair had engaged in that spring, Baby Ray shot Block, who survived the attempt on his life, but picked up and left Detroit for California as a result.

Around this same time, Wonderful Wayne began to chafe under the thumb of Butch’s heavy-handed leadership methods. Jones was power drunk and didn’t like to share credit or profits. Davis felt stifled and split town. First he went to Seattle and set up a small distribution operation in Washington State. Then he trekked cross country to Massachusetts and in a matter of months had completely seized control of a majority of the heroin market in Boston.

Returning triumphant to the Motor City in early-1982, Davis started an offshoot gang of his own called the “H20 Crew” and although he was still officially considered YBI, he refused to kiss Butch’s ring. It started when Wonderful Wayne’s crew took over much of the drug dealing in Pontiac, a traditionally independent town in Northern Oakland County, a good 45 minutes out of the city, and didn’t offer any tribute or commission to Butch or Baby Ray. He did the same thing a few months later when he branched off further up I-75 to working-class Flint and began selling powder cocaine, a product that had just become cheap enough to sell in the inner-cities.

This perceived lack of respect didn’t sit well with Jones and the rest of the YBI administration. Tensions came to a head between Davis and Jones over a territory squabble involving selling space on Lawton Avenue in Northwest Detroit. In Butch’s mind, all of Lawton belonged to YBI. When W.W. H20 lieutenants, many of whom were recent Boston transplants, started pushing a new mix of heroin called “Freak of the Week” in the area throughout the first part of 1982, Jones was personally offended. Things escalated when Kurt McGurk reported back to Butch that Davis was talking subversively and reportedly had said “Fuck that guy,” in reference to Jones personally.

On Mother’s Day, Baby Ray Peoples took a shot at an associate of WW’s while he was leaving a Hallmark store after purchasing a card to take to his mom on the way to dinner at her house. The summer came and went and Davis was still tolling around the city in his triple black Mercedes, outwardly disinvowing any and everything YBI. While standing outside a residence on Philadelphia Street on the city’s Westside in early-August, Peoples was shot as he assaulted a woman he had been dating named Cherrisse Jones. Some informants told authorities that the shooting was related to the infighting going on between Davis and his former cohorts in YBI, since the woman in question was said to have also been seeing a member of Davis’ H20 crew (Cherrisse Jones was found shot in the head, her body dumped by some railroad tracks near the city’s New Center area).

WW’s brash and careless behavior finally caught up with him on September 28, 1982 when he was shot in the head in broad daylight by two assailants, one of which he was having a conversation with, on the corner of Columbus and Lawton. Butch, Kurt McGurk and another pair of YBI lieutenants named Keith “Kethon the Terrible” Green and Maurice “Mo Heart” Gibbs were charged with the crime six years later in 1988, however, each soon had the charges against them dropped.

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