The Detroit Drug Wars (Part 1)

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In response to Pony Down’s takeover of a pair of YBI drug houses in the months after Butch Jones’ jailing, YBI lieutenants George “Scandalous Butch” Young, Vincent “Sharkie” Reed, Kevin “Bibbie’ Terrell, John “Potsie” Piner, staged an assault on three teenage Pony Down dealers on an Eastside street corner in April 1983. Driving up to the trio mid-afternoon, the YBI contingent, led by Young, a member of the gang’s “A-Team” enforcement unit, exited their vehicle and opened fire on them with automatic weapons. One of the boys was killed and the two other victims of the attack were wounded. The next month, members of Pony Down responded by beating to death a YBI associate named Douglas Pace, with baseball bats and then leaving him in an abandoned house on Pickford Street.

The bloodshed wasn’t exclusive to YBI either. Anybody who infringed on Le Roy Buttrum’s rule, was gambling with their lives. An independent drug peddler named William “Chilly Willie” Hunter was killed outside a Westside apartment on June 17 and several other dealers were gunned over the course of that summer, in murders the police attributed to Pony Down’s further consolidation efforts.

That fall, rivals of Gun Buttrum and his brothers, struck a very personal blow to the Pony Down gang and the Buttrum family itself. In an act of supreme contempt and disrespect, Le Roy Buttrum’s two-year old nephew was kidnapped in September and held him for a $100,000 ransom. The Buttrum brothers were incensed. Despite being warned numerous times to stay out of the investigation, that just wasn’t realistic. Striking a blow at the organization is one thing. Attacking the Buttrum family personally took things to a whole other level.

At a police-monitored drop-off of the money, Walter Buttrum and one of his henchmen disrupted the arrest of the assailants by opening fire on the man who came to make the pick-up. When word of an alleged $250,000 bounty on the heads of the kidnappers reached the streets in the hours after the botched ransom drop, the Buttrums’ nephew was returned unharmed before the end of the day, dropped off at a local McDonalds.

The reign of Gun Buttrum and the Pony Down gang came crashing down on November 20, 1985 when the federal government hit them with a wide-spanning 35-person, 50-count indictment, featuring numerous drug, fire arm and tax evasion violations. Gun Buttrum didn’t stick around town to see his fellow gang and family members arrested and hauled off to jail. Once again copying the actions of his biggest adversary, Butch Jones, Buttrum went on the lamb and became a fugitive of the law. He was finally arrested after a traffic stop in Berrien Township on the Westside of the state in January of 1986, apparently heading for Chicago, where the gang was said to have affiliations. Like all of his brothers, Le Roy Buttrum pled guilty to the charges against him and was sentenced to six and a half years in prison. LB, the gang’s reputed third-in-command, was back in the news after his release from jail when he pled guilty to further drug conspiracy charges stemming from a 2006 arrest in Missouri for intent to distribute marijuana and ecstasy.

The Davis Family Gang, soon known just as “DFG”, was started in the early-1970s and headed by Reggie Davis and his brothers and sisters. Reggie, only 18, when he began his organization, thought bigger than just Detroit. Bigger, even than the state of Michigan or the whole Midwest. He thought intercontinental.

Finding a California-based heroin connection, Davis re-located out to a mansion in Beverly Hills in 1977 and set up several of his siblings in a base of operations in Miami. With more siblings and cousins looking after things back home and further supply connections developed from sources in Jamaica, Ghana, Nigeria, Holland, Haiti, Thailand and Great Britain, the gang began flooding multiple cities throughout the country, including a good percentage of Detroit’s non-YBI territory, with both high-grade heroin, cocaine and marijuana.

The weak link in the DFG chain proved to be Reggie’s younger brother, Ricky, who had a well-known big mouth. Talking his way into a transaction with an undercover DEA agent in October of 1979 and soon thereafter introducing him to both his brothers, Duane and Reggie, DFG was infiltrated at the very top of the heap. Due to the this security leak, authorities were able to get extensive audio and video surveillance and learn of a June 1982 meeting that took place in a luxury suite at a downtown Detroit hotel, called by Reggie of several other area kingpins to discuss the negative effect YBI’s outlandish behavior was having on the rest of them.

Reggie Davis, whose son Reggie, Jr., would go on to become a popular local hip-hop radio disc jockey, had good reason to be worried about what was going on with and around YBI. During the raid of Seal Murray’s penthouse apartment at the Jeffersonian in December of 1982, the DEA seized documents and phone records that chronicled a business relationship between the pair. Earlier in the decade, Duane Davis was often seen driving around town in an audacious Yellow Fleetwood Cadillac registered in the name of Seal Murray, a fact that made the local press and caused a flare up between Murray and Butch Jones over where his allegiances lied.

The levy had actually broken three months earlier in August when a female DFG courier working on behalf of Duane and his wife, Alicia, was busted coming into Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport from Amsterdam with 1.5 kilos of pure heroin hidden in coffee cans. Agreeing to debrief for federal agents and divulge her intimidate knowledge of the DFG smuggling process – much if which were sending drugs untouched through customs in hand-carved religious statues being carried by men and woman parading as traveling Christian missionaries – , the courier’s cooperation was the first domino to fall. There would be more.

DFG’s fate was sealed on August 4, 1983, when the federal government unveiled a 57-count drug and income tax evasion indictment that essentially closed the lid on any further dealings with the group as an entity. While most of the gang either were convicted on the charges or pled guilty, Reggie fled and eluded the law for the next three years. He was finally apprehended in September of 1986 inside an Ann Arbor hotel room with over two pounds of uncut cocaine. In press releases issued relating to Davis’ status as a fugitive, he was called one of the “Top 10 heroin dealers in North America” and the leader of a drug ring “that stretched four continents.

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