Almost as soon as the Chambers Brothers’ Gang reached the top of the drug food chain in Detroit, a six month streak of bad luck put in motion a series of events that would eventually lead to the organization’s downfall. The doom-filled half-year started on March 29, 1986, just a mere three weeks following Larry’s opening up the Boulevard, when Little Joe Chambers was killed in Marianna. B.J.s twin brother died in a brutal automobile accident, getting hit by an oncoming freight train when trying to beat it across the tracks only a month after his release from serving a two-year federal prison sentence for stealing food stamps and postal order slips back in Michigan.
With a few stragglers left behind to tend to the family business, practically the entire Chambers Brothers work force followed B.J. and Larry down to Arkansas in a caravan of expensive cars for Little Joe’s funeral which was held on April 4. Partying the night away in the hours after putting their brother in the ground, toasting copious glasses of cognac and moet to his honor, the Chambers brothers and their convoy returned to Detroit and got back to work.
Included in the organization’s caravan back up north were close to two dozen new recruits from their hometown, mostly underage youths between the ages of 12-16, that B.J. and Larry had brought back with them with the intention of opening a pair of new crack houses in Little Joe’s honor. Trying to honor their deceased brethren in any and every way became a major priority in the month of April. Prior to leaving for his funeral, both siblings bought new, flashy cars for the ride down home in his honor, each of a specific variety that their little brother was known to favor and once they returned B.J. instructed his entire crew to start referring to him on the streets as “Yo Yo”, Little Joe’s former alias as a way to further commemorate his passing.
A brief, yet much-celebrated and audaciously-announced return to Marianna by the group a few weeks later in May for their baby brother, Otis’ high school graduation, highlighted by their arrival into town and entrance into the graduation itself via a fleet of stretch limousines, brought back to Detroit more recruits to work in the family’s narcotics empire. One of these recruits, the one with the most expectations attached to his arrival in the Motor City, was Otis himself, immediately tapped by B.J. and Larry to head the gang’s security staff and enforcement unit. Otis, whose hair-triggered demeanor was considerably more reminiscent of Larry than B.J., gladly accepted the appointment and was quick to earn a reputation around his new neighborhood as someone who was capable, conniving and fast to shoot.
The beginning of the end for the Chambers Brothers came in August 1986, courtesy of three significant occurrences. First, in the first week of the month, Patricia Middleton, Larry’s den mother at the Boulevard, contacted the No Crack Crew and starting providing inside intelligence on the organization’s workings. These intelligence briefings would lead to a series of raids that uncovered evidence that proved lethal against the siblings operation.
Secondly, sometime in the middle of the month, in an attempt to impress and show off for a couple of neighborhood girls they had brought back Larry’s house on Buffalo, Larry and his lieutenant, “Jack Frost” Jackson decided to tape themselves clowning around with the mountains of cash they had made that day selling drugs. This incident would be part of a series of video-taped events that highlighted the luxurious, crime-ridden and excess-filled life being led by Marlow Chambers that, to his ultimate detriment, he kept in a home movie library of sorts for documentation.
The third and final nail hammered in the brothers’ coffins that August was a raid of two of the organizations drug houses by the No Crack Crew, the first pair in what would end up being a series of prosperous raids that the ambitious narco unit would conduct over the next three months. Both raids took place simultaneously at 1:30 in the afternoon on Monday, August 25 and yielded stashes of powder cocaine and bundles of cash. The organization was under siege, barely providing any time for the Chambers’ to enjoy their time on the throne.
“Bronco” Biernacki and the No Crack Crew sewed up their case against the massive and multi-layered drug syndicate in early-October by gaining the cooperation of Little Terry Colbert, the one-time insider in B.J.’s crew, who had since been relegated to the outskirts of the gang as punishment for a bothersome drug habit he had developed. Colbert might have been on the outer edges of the Chambers Brothers organization however, he still had a good deal of access to the gang’s inner-workings due to who his dad was. Days after garnering Colbert’s help, the No Crack Crew executed its third raid in as many weeks, hitting Larry’s house on Albion Street, with a full ground and air battalion as well as up and coming local investigative TV reporter, Chris Hansen, with cameras in tow.
At first glance, it looked like a big flameout. In the first 45 minutes of their search of the residence, the police and television cameras had failed to find one piece of incriminating evidence. There were no drugs, sales or manufacturing paraphernalia, nor any signs of hidden stashes of illicit cash.
Then, suddenly, they struck gold and uncovered the Holy Grail. The find would net the government’s number one piece of evidence at trial, promotions and commendations for the No Crack Crew and huge ratings and an eventual promotion to major network news for Hansen.
Stored in a set of drawers located in a plush-decorated entertainment room on the top floor of the house, Biernacki and his fellow cops found a collection of eight home video tapes, each containing raw and uncut footage of Larry, his brothers and their crew of soldiers living the lives of drug kingpins and outright flaunting it to the extreme. The video recordings spanned a five- month period of time beginning in the spring of 1986 and were all shot on a top of the line Panasonic camcorder that Larry had purchased on one of his infamous spending sprees.
The footage, highlights of which eventually made their way onto local and national television airwaves, showed the Chambers boys at a series of amusement parks and vacation spots, toting rifles and demonstrating their marksmanship on homemade targets and Larry himself taking the camera on self-narrated tours of his opulent-furnished house in Detroit, a boat he owned in Jamaica and a new garage he had constructed to store his fleet of expensive automobiles. It was damning and there was much, much more.
All in all, Larry recorded some 30 hours of clips ranging from the mundane – counting endless bundles of cash, Larry displaying a variety of yoga poses for the camera and teaching his pitbull, “Pancho” tricks and commands – to the maddening – Larry giving a series of soapboxy testimonials on any number of subjects from politics to pimping, Larry bullying his subordinates and outlandish flouting of authority by taunting the police assigned to catch them by name on camera.
Most crushing to the Chambers’ cause in the tapes was the segment filmed back in August at his residence on Buffalo when Larry and Jack Jackson taped themselves carelessly throwing cash around like it was tissue paper in trying to show off for a couple female companions they had just picked-up.
“Money, money, money, we rich goddammit!” proclaimed Jackson with a wide grin preening for the camera as he tossed cash from a laundry basket up in the air. “Fifty thousand here, ain’t no telling how much upstairs. I’m gonna buy me three cars tomorrow and a Jeep.
Later on in the segment, Jackson turns to Larry, who is seated at the kitchen table, and asks, “Should we give some of this stuff (cash) away, since we got five hundred thousand dollars up in here right now?”
“I’ll tell you what we can do,” Larry replies. “We can give it to the poor. We can send it over to South Africa where brothers and sisters need it the most. Either way, we still got like a million dollars upstairs for ourselves.”
And then to top it all off, Larry wanders with the camera outside onto the porch and, in an act of extreme stupidity, exposes the address and location of where he is shooting from. The proverbial ship was sunk at that very moment.
For the task force, it was priceless. For the Chambers brothers, it was a death-blow and meant their freedom was in grave jeopardy. The castle was about to come tumbling down.
Although B.J. was minimally featured throughout the collection of tapes, it was guilt by association. It might have appeared unfair to B.J. at the time, but his brother’s actions were speaking for him and speaking loudly. And what they were saying wasn’t good for his chances at avoiding the wrath of the government.
Two days later, the No Crack Crew raided a cook house of Larry’s on Knodell and found his infamous “Crack Commandments” list pinned to a wall in the basement, which they immediately confiscated and added to its mounting stable of incriminating evidence against the organization.
A majority of 1987 was uneventful, a calm right before the massive rush of a storm, you could say. As federal grand juries convened throughout the year, B.J. and Larry and the No Crack Crew each went about their business as usual.
B.J. opened more crack houses and just as fast as they were up and running, the No Crack Crew raided them. The Boulevard was clocking at optimum capacity and Larry began spending more and more time in Jamaica, even striking up a close friendship with the Mayor of the popular resort town of Ochos Rios.
In the middle of the year, Little Terry Colbert and Patricia Middleton were both tagged as informants by B.J. and Larry and dealt with accordingly. Colbert was attacked with gunfire by Otis and his enforcement posse, barely surviving the shooting, and Middleton was accosted and threatened by Larry and Roderick Byrd at gunpoint, in response to which she urinated on herself. Fortunately for government, neither strong-arm tactic worked to deter their cooperation and both Colbert and Middleton eventually made it to court to testify about those incidents as well as many many more while working for the Chambers boys in the months to come.
The month of September 1987 set the tone for the siblings’ foreseeable future when at the start of the month the Chambers family again buried one of its own. B.J. and Larry’s older brother, David, died on September 12 via complications resulting from contracting the Aids virus. With fall turning into winter just three months later, the case against the Chambers boys was finally completed and to the government’s great satisfaction, it was air tight.
The first of two mammoth federal grand jury indictments was unsealed in December, exactly one week prior to the Christmas holiday and took down, Larry and most of his crew. Unlike the year before when he and his inner-circle spent New Year’s Eve on a luxury cruise ship in Jamaica, Larry spent New Year’s Eve 1987 in custody in the Wayne County Jail, denied bail due to being more than accurately accessed as a flight risk.
The month of January concluded with the No Crack Crew completing its 48th and final raid on the Chambers’ organization. While most of the rest of the city sat down in front of their television sets to watch the Washington Redskins defeat the Denver Broncos in the Super Bowl that Sunday evening, January 31, 1988, the No Crack Crew arrested B.J. at one of his houses on Beaconsfield with seven ounces of cocaine, thousands of dollars in cash and a gun under his belt.
After reigning atop the city’s crack industry for four years, the Chambers Brothers gang was officially dismantled by a second, more extensive superseding federal indictment that came down on February 26 and charged B.J., Willie, Otis and 18 other members of their organization with 15 separate counts of conspiracy to sell narcotics. The four brothers were all tried together in a month-long courtroom drama that concluded with guilty convictions across the board for virtually the entire gang in October.
Larry, a habitual offender, got life without the possibility of parole. B.J., Willie and Otis all got sentences of 25-to-life, but with the chance of being paroled after 20 years of incarceration. The family’s rags to riches story was officially over, the siblings trading in the matching Nike tracksuits they favored wearing and were paraded in front of the local press corps in during their arraignment for prison uniforms.
“At first, I think we may have underestimated those guys because they weren’t from around here, but they sure changed that perception very quickly,” De Fauw said. “They didn’t look like much either, I’m talking a bunch of tiny little fellas who just kind of blended in. You wouldn’t think twice about these guys if you saw them walking down the street. However at the end of the day, they made a name for themselves and did a lot of damage. I don’t know of a single organization that sold more crack during that era than the Chambers did.”
Within days of Larry’s incarceration, the Boulevard went vacant. You had some junkies and vagrants who squatted there for shelter, but the Broadmore as no more by early-1988. What grew to be the symbol of the gang’s innovative thinking and superior salesmanship stood as a decaying and abandoned structure for the next few years before it was finally condemned by the city and torn down in 1992.
Willie was the first of the brothers to emerge from prison, gaining his freedom in August 2007. B.J. earned his release in December 2010, after penning a novel titled Prodigy Hustler and releasing it from behind bars in 2006. Baby brother Otis was the last of siblings to hit the streets, walking out of lockup in November 2011 at age 43. Already in his 60s, Larry is doing his time in a federal penitentiary located in Terre Haute, Indiana, at peace with the fact that he will never again see the light of day as a free man. In 2008, the gang’s exploits were further immortalized in an episode of the hit BET show, American Gangster, titled “The Chambers Brothers and the 10 Crack Commandments.”
*Bill Adler’s research from his book, Land of Opportunity, was consulted for this piece.