The Story of Detroit’s Chambers Brothers & The REAL ‘Crack Commandments’

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Of all the Chambers brothers, the only one with a significant criminal record prior to the family’s entrance into the drug trade was Larry, the third eldest sibling. “Marlow”, as he was sometimes called, was highly-intelligent – a prison psychiatrist once tested his IQ at well over 140 – yet he didn’t want a regular 9-to-5 job as a young adult, instead finding himself drawn to the jolt he got from living a life on the wrong side of the law. While the rest of his brothers all dabbled in some form of legitimate employment before turning to narcotics to make their living, from an early age Larry knew being a crook was the only existence he ever wanted.

Unlike his younger brother, B.J., however, Larry didn’t find his criminal calling until he was practically middle-aged. And as a result of a rigorous and mostly failure-ridden trial and error process on the street early in life, his road to the top of the heap was considerably bumpier, filled with crater-sized pot holes and a flair for drama worthy of an old Clint Eastwood movie.

For a man who would go onto have one of the most memorable careers of any gangster to walk the streets of America in the latter-half of the 20th Century, Larry’s career in the underworld got off to quite an inauspicious start – 15 years of arrests, incarcerations and living on the run as a fugitive with a laundry list of escapes, felonies and frauds perpetrated along the way.

It wasn’t more than a few months after him and his brother Danny had left Marianna in the late-1960s and landed in St. Louis that he took his first major arrest. The day before Christmas Eve 1969, Larry, who had returned to Arkansas to spend the holiday season with his family, was caught stealing a pair of cars to go joyriding in with a boyhood friend he had been paling around with since getting back into town.

Spending Christmas behind bars in the Lee County Jail, he staged an escape on New Years Eve, springing himself from custody by causing a back-up of the toilet in his cell and then overpowering the guard on duty who had come in to fix it. Hiding out in a nearby church for the night, Larry stole the minister’s car in the morning and fled the county. Embarking on a two-day binge of armed robberies – seven in all –, he was finally caught along a highway in Oauchita County, a small community in the south central portion of the state as a result of a routine traffic stop by an Arkansas State Highway Patrolmen.

Living up to his reputation as the “wildcard” of the family, Larry wouldn’t do down without a fight and he shot a one of the officers coming to his car to request identification. Taking off on foot in below-freezing temperatures, he was apprehended the following morning after a county-wide manhunt and landed himself a 40 year state prison sentence for assault with intent to kill.

Five months into his sentence, Larry escaped again and made it all the way out to Phoenix before being caught and shipped back home to Arkansas where he received a 200 year sentence. It didn’t take long for the cagey criminal to work his magic and he once again escaped when be buried himself in a field during chain gang duty and bribed a guard to miscount when the caravan of prisoners were returned to their cells. Waiting a sufficient amount of time for everybody to leave, Larry arose from underneath the earth and went on another crime spree, robbing several gas stations and stealing a car on his way to visit a prison acquaintance in Pittsburg. A few weeks later on his way back to Marianna to try to sneak in a visit with his family, he was caught in a botched attempt to rob a jewelry store in Wynn, Arkansas.

Luckily for Larry, the Arkansas parole board showed mercy on him and he was released from prison in 1976 after only serving five years. Unlucky for Larry, his taste of freedom would be short lived and a mere 30 days after he was paroled he was arrested for robbing a post office in Helena, Arkansas, roughly 15 miles outside of Marianna. While awaiting trial in the local police station jail, he escaped three more times, tracked down after short stints on the run each time and before finally being convicted of the robbery and sentenced to three years in prison.

Almost an exactly one year later in the summer of 1977 Larry had his conviction reversed by the state supreme court, as result of a lengthy hand written appeal prepared by Larry himself and he returned to Marianna to try to live his life on the straight and narrow. Like many of his early life endeavors, his time trying to go legit didn’t last long.

By Thanksgiving 1977, Larry had resorted to his past behavior and resumed old habits, carrying out another string of robberies. In the fall of 1979, he was arrested with possession of a half-dozen stolen firearms from a Marianna area gun shop and was returned to prison for eight months.

Starting in the spring of 1980, Larry hit an unusual hot streak. Upon his release from incarceration, he went on a near year and a half run of uninterrupted success robbing jewelry stores in small towns across the state of Arkansas. Larry himself estimated that he most likely robbed over 100 stores in that time period, usually drilling a hole in the ceiling in the middle of the night and clearing out the place before morning.

The hot streak came to an abrupt end in late 1981 when Larry was brought down by authorities in Detroit, ironically the city where in only a few short years his fortunes in the criminal world would reach a crescendo. Wanted by numerous law enforcement bureaus in the South, Larry came to Detroit that October to take refuge and hide out with his brothers. The previous month Larry and a friend he had made in prison had stolen a money order machine from an Arkansas post office and the pair had been making a nice amount of cash selling the orders from the machine on the black market. While at his younger brother Willie’s House one afternoon, he received a phone call from his accomplice in Arkansas who said he had an uncle of his in Detroit who wanted to purchase some money orders. It was a set-up.

Meeting at a Highland Park motel off Woodward to make the transaction, Larry was surprised to find out that the accomplice’s alleged uncle was in fact was an undercover U.S. Postal Inspector. His former prison buddy had ratted him out. Arrested for theft of government property, among some other back charges levied by the state of Arkansas, he is sentenced to four years of federal prison time, which he spends the majority of in the U.S. Penitentiary at Leavenworth, Kansas.

Larry’s time locked up at Leavenworth – a prison with a long history of housing some of the Nation’s most notorious and dangerous hoodlums – didn’t go to waste. Within weeks of entering the facility, he undergoes a complete mind and body transformation in the way he conducts himself on a day-to-day basis, laying a solid foundation for what he would be able to accomplish in the years to come.

He swears off drugs, alcohol, caffeine and tobacco, four of his previous most cherished vices and becomes a devout advocate of yoga and spiritual mediation, which he encourages and teaches to his fellow inmates. Never before interested in physical fitness or personal health, he becomes a vegetarian and workout fanatic, lifting weights and running for hours at a time around the width of the fenced-in yard. Faced with hours upon hours of being alone in his cell, he fills his time by reading dozens and dozens of books about philosophy, politics and business strategy. Proving the consummate opportunist, Larry utilizes his general criminal savvy and what he learned from his reading and opens up a series of prison rackets at Leavenworth that range from gambling and loansharking to contraband smuggling and extortion.

In just over three years, his business interests in prison net him approximately $50,000 in cash, a nest egg of types that he plans to let hatch the minute he hits the streets. Once known for his unpredictability and a quirky, almost flaky disposition, Larry Chambers is now completely transfixed by self-discipline and regimentation. For a little while at least, it would serve him very, very well. And that nest egg he cultivated would grow to be very, very large.

2 COMMENTS

  1. This was a very interesting story. The Chambers Brothers successively became major kingpin drug dealers they were books and served long jail sentences I meant BJ a couple years ago. Very smart young man.

  2. I love this article about the Chambers Brothers because they might be related to me. My dad James Chambers was from Hope, Arkansas. It doesn’t matter that they have committed crimes, I would like to at least get to know if we were related somehow. I will pray for them, everybody makes mistakes. They had the intellect to run a business a big business that shows you they had qualifications to do other work, but like the article said it just didn’t pan out. It is sad that that is the face of many, many of our young men today. Qualified but nobody will hire. I hope they have repented so that God can bless them.

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