Black Caesar

Oct 14, 2009 - by Ron Chepesiuk - 0 Comments

February 20, 2007

Frank Mathews 

Frank Mathews

by Ron Chepesiuk

 In May of 1969, detective Joe Kowalski, a seven-year veteran with the New York Police Department, was living at 130 Clarkson Avenue in a quiet, low-to-middle income neighborhood in Brooklyn. One day, the apartment building's parking lot began to look like a luxury car sales lot, as people began streaming into the building at all hours of the day to see a new resident who had moved into a three-bedroom apartment on the fourth floor. "I didn't like him the first time I saw him," Kowalski recalled in reference to his new neighbor. "He was loud and flashy, drove fancy cars and had no visible means of support. His friends would block the driveway with their cars and park in other people's parking spaces. Some of them carried paper bags that looked as if they might contain money. As a cop, I knew I needed to pay attention to them."

Kowalski put the new neighbor and his visitors under surveillance and began taking down license plate numbers. As a detective in the NYPD's Intelligence Division, Kowalski had no problem doing background checks. When he put the license plate numbers through Motor Vehicles, he was not surprised to learn that many of the cars were registered to known drug dealers living not just in the Big Apple but also in cities throughout the eastern U.S., including Philadelphia, Baltimore, Atlanta, and in Durham, N.C.

A survey of the toll calls made by the neighbor disclosed that he was phoning known narcotics violators all over the country. The man making the calls and to whom the visitors were coming to see was Frank Mathews. He was living with Barbara Hinton, his common law wife, and their three children.

Kowalski became obsessed with finding more about Matthews, and he began to keep a detailed log of the suspects' comings and goings on his own time. Looking out his apartment window, Kowalski would sometimes see black men strategically stationed around the apartment. The detective knew from his experience that this kind of deployment was a good sign a drug buy was going down. On several occasions, he did a dangerous thing: sneaking up to Matthews's car when the owner was not around and taking a peek inside. He would see briefcases lying on the front or back seats.

One day in February 1971, Kowalski saw Matthews acting suspiciously in the garage area of the apartment complex. Kowalski searched the area when no one was around but found nothing. But a few days later, he did another search near Matthews's car and found a small silver foil package containing one ounce of white powder wrapped in wax paper and hidden within the padding placed around a support pole. More searching uncovered another package of white powder, also about one ounce and wrapped in wax paper. Kowalski took samples of both packages back to the NYPD headquarters, where they were tested at the police lab. The powder was found to be cocaine of good quality. Kowalski could not believe Matthews's carelessness. After all, his personal investigation showed that his new neighbor was involved in drug trafficking big time.

Kowalski recalled getting on the elevator at the same time Matthews and one of his associates were going up to his apartment. The detective's adrenalin was pumping, but as a professional cop, he saw an opportunity to size up the suspect. At about 5'10" tall, Matthews was a muscular 190 pounds and looked a little older than his 26 years. He had short cropped hair, but his wardrobe could make him standout in a pitch black room. He wore a white mink coat and fashionable platform shoes and sparkled with jewelry. Matthews was talking in a soft voice to his associate when suddenly he exploded: "That Guinea bastard! "That son-of-a-bitch. Who does he think he is? If I had a gun, I'd blow him away!" Watching Matthews spew venom, Kowalski had no doubt he could do the job.

Kowalski's investigation went on for months as he continued to gather a small mountain of information. Finally, he decided it was time to submit a detailed report of his findings to his superiors. In his report, Kowalski noted that while "Matthews's criminal record indicated that while "he had no narcotics arrests, liaison inquiries with federal authorities revealed that the subject was often mentioned in several unrelated and out-of-state investigations. It was further learned that Frank Matthews was considered extremely dangerous and suspected of several criminal homicides occurring in the past." Kowalski's supervisor read his report and told him: "You did a wonderful job, Joe, but this case is too big for us. We are going to give the case to the New York Joint Drug Task Force."

The case was too big for the NYPD because Kowalski's investigation revealed that Frank Matthews was suspected of trafficking heroin not just in New York City but also in seven or eight regions of the country. As the investigation proceeded, authorities began to piece together the details of Frank Matthews's remarkable young life. He was born on Feb. 13, 1944, in Durham, N.C., a poor, segregated town in the heart of tobacco country. Frank's mother died when he was 4, and his aunt, Marcella Steel, the wife of a lieutenant on a Durham city police force, took responsibility for the kid, treating him like a son, even though she had three of her own. Nicknamed "Pee Wee," Frank was bright and curious, but he dropped out of school after a year in junior high.

On the street, Pee Wee acted like a budding godfather, a natural born leader who could get the neighborhood kids to do all kinds of mischief. At age 14, he led a group of eight or nine kids in raids on chicken coops. One of the farmers, a white man, found out that Frank was the ring leader, and approached him, bent on teaching the kid a lesson. As the man approached, Frank threw a brick, hitting him in the head. The offence cost him a year in the state reformatory in nearby Raleigh. Upon his release, the teenager left North Carolina, but retained a strong attachment to his home town. Later, Matthews returned several times to the Durham area, where he showed off his wealth and recruited "home boys" for his criminal organization.

In Philadelphia, Matthews got a job as a numbers writer, but he was busted in 1963, avoiding arrest only when he agreed to leave the City of Brotherly Love. At his next stop, the Bedford Stuyvesant area of New York City, Matthews worked as a barber while operating as a numbers collector out of the barbershop. Once small and scrawny, Matthews was now a tough, lean and mean teenage gangster, who became so handy with his fists that he was not only a collector but also an enforcer for the numbers ring.

He was making good money in the numbers, but he wanted to make more. Frank always seemed to want more. Even when he was a fabulously wealthy narcotics trafficker, it seemed as if Matthews could never make enough money. Yet, once he had more cold hard cash than he could ever spend, the money did not really seem to matter to him. He would leave bags of cash lying around, much like many college students leave clothes and personal items strewn about their pads.

Matthews saw the illegal drug trade's money making potential and looked for a way to break into the racket. As writer Donald Goddard explained: "With a piece of a policy bank, he could reasonably expect to earn about $100,000 annually after covering his overhead. But there were 18-year-old punks making much more by just turning over a load of narcotics."

But how could a young ambitious would-be black drug lord of the late 1960s get the money to break into the trade? Matthews went to the only money source available at the time, La Cosa Nostra. Matthews needed to show the white mob that he had the resources to deal with it on its credit terms: 30 percent down on any drug deal with the balance paid in cash on delivery of the heroin. Such a deal, however, involved a lot of risk for Matthews; death would be the consequence if he could not pay the money back.

Remarkably, young Matthews managed to get an audience with two big Italian American crime families; the Bonnanos and Gambinos. The godfathers listened to Matthews pitch but turned him down. Normally, this would have left the typical aspiring young black drug dealer out in the cold, but Matthews was not typical. He boldly circumvented the white mob by making contact with legendary Harlem numbers operator Spanish Raymond Marquez, who put him in touch with Rolando Gonzalez, a big-time Cuban cocaine dealer. Tipped off that authorities were going to bust him, Gonzalez fled New York City for the safety of Venezuela with several million dollars. Before fleeing, however, he sold Matthews his first kilo of cocaine for $20,000 and promised to supply more narcotics for the aspiring drug lord. Gonzalez became Matthews's main supplier, shipping him large loads of heroin and cocaine from South America at fair prices.

It was the break Mathews needed. In less than a year, he became New York City's biggest dealer, exhibiting brilliant business skills and the ability to forge productive relationships with other gangsters. Matthews was a born drug lord, who was willing to buy from any source, not just the Italians, provided the product was of good quality.

Despite his flamboyance and taste for the opulent life, Matthews was not a greedy man. He did not operate like the La Costra Nostra, which sold drugs at inflated prices and did not care about the product's quality. As Goddard explained: "Matthews was always read to pay premium prices for multi-kilo shipments of, pure all the way down bundles of 3 percent street bags, if that was the best he could find."

In doing business, Mathews did not hesitate to use the fist as well as the glove. "In dealing with his fellow blacks, he worked to project a Robin Hood image, but if someone crossed him, he employed two of the most efficient killers to enforce his will," writer Hank Messick revealed. William Callahan, a former federal prosecutor who worked on the Mathews investigation recalled; "He insulated himself from the violent aspect of the business, but he could be as ruthless as they come when he needed to be."

By the early 1970s, Matthews's organization was handling multi million dollar shipments in at least 21 states. According to the U.S. government, "Matthews controlled the cutting, packaging and sale of heroin in every major East Coast city." Much of Matthews's drugs were processed and packaged at two main "drug mills," both of which were located in Brooklyn: one at 925 Prospect Place (nicknamed "The Ponderosa."), and the other at 106 East 56 Street. Investigators later learned that each day about 40 workers were bussed in to the East 56th Street mill, where, working for about $100 for an eight hour day, they bagged heroin and cocaine while wearing masks to protect them from accidentally sniffing any of the cocaine they packaged. The mill was built like Fort Knox, its walls reinforced with steel and concrete and protected by machine guns and two elephant guns.

When the authorities later broke into the compound, they found 2.5 million glassine bags that would have been used to package the heroin. The profits that drug dealers made from Matthews's heroin were staggering. In 1971, one drug gang alone was buying as much as five kilos of heroin at one time from Matthews for a price ranging up to $26,000 a kilo. The gang would then sell about 17,500 bags daily to as many as 10,000 retail customers for a gross of about $45,000 daily.

As his drug empire grew, Matthews began playing the role of the Black Caesar. Decked out in his large sable mink coat and leather safari suits, the cigar smoking drug kingpin could be seen traveling about Harlem with a harem of beautiful women. Even the DEA's internal reports described the black godfather as a "lady's man," and he maintained several of his mistresses in the six apartments he owned in the Big Apple. Black Caesar was a regular patron of Harlem's most popular clubs and got the best tickets to see Duke Ellington, Sammy Davis Jr., Cab Calloway or the latest hot act in town. He paid cash for his fleet of Cadillacs and bought dozens of $300 suits at Jacques in Greenwich Village.

He traveled frequently to Las Vegas, where he lost as much as $190,000 in one session at the gambling tables. "Frank really loved Las Vegas and he was treated like a king out there," recalled Roger Garay, a retired DEA agent who investigated the Matthews organization." We believed he was using his contacts in Las Vegas to launder money."

Black Caesar was chauffeured in a Rolls Royce to a front row seat at Madison Square Gardens where he enjoyed watching his idol Muhammad Ali's latest big fight. He traveled frequently to Atlanta on business and for pleasure. At the local Playboy Club, he met with his mistress, an attractive blonde Play Boy bunny. "When we would get him on the wire, he would talk about how much he liked blondes," Kowalski recalled.

Eventually, Matthews and his family moved from Clarkson Avenue to a $200,000 white pillared, marble floored mansion at 9 Buttonwood Road in Todt Hill, Staten Island. The mansion had it all: a large swimming pool, a marble floored foyer, wall-to-wall carpeting, gold-plated fixtures and surveillance cameras. As a member of the nouveau criminal rich, Matthews sent his three kids to the private Staten Island Academy in Todt Hill. Matthews's upscale neighbors included borough present Robert Connor, Assemblyman Lucio Russo and Paul Castellano, the godfather of the powerful Gambino crime family. Castellano did not take kindly to having a young flamboyant black man move into the neighborhood, but the Black Caesar could care less. "Matthews didn't fear anything," recalled William Rawald, a retired DEA agent who investigated Matthews. "Here was this kid from Durham, North Carolina, who was living in a world most of us will never see. He felt untouchable."

Later, DEA agents heard rumors that Castellano was contemplating whacking the Black Caesar. In the end, another brash gangster whacked Castellano. On Dec. 16, 1985, Castellano and his driver were shot to death in front of a steak house on New York's East Side. John Gotti, the so called "Dapper Don", was believed to be responsible for the hit.

Matthews liked to impress the homeboys from Durham who came to visit him. William Cameron came to see Frank, hoping to score a drug deal and make a little money. "I'm going to pick up some money; why don't you come along?" Matthews said to Cameron. In making one stop after another, Matthews kept packing shopping bags full of cash in his Thunderbird, filling up the backseat and trunk and even throwing out the spare tire to make more room. Cameron was awe struck. He had never seen so many dead presidents in his life. When the car ran out of room, Matthews stopped the pickups, and the two returned home to the drug trafficker's apartment on Clarkson. Matthews then walked into the bedroom and unlocked a big clothes closet. Cameron looked inside and almost keeled over. Bags of money were packed into the closet to a height of at least six feet.

Despite Matthews's high profile, the Joint Task Force did not begin its investigation of his organization until three years after he began in the drug trade. It would be another two years before the federal authorities discovered the Ponderosa's existence. After Kowalski alerted the law enforcement to the existence of the Matthews organization, the authorities moved to build a conspiracy case against it, primarily with surveillance and wiretaps. The Feds wanted to go as high up in the organization as they could, so Matthews was allowed to go about his business, even though he often broke the law. "We'd see him go to Harlem, stop the car, open the trunk, pull out a couple of bags of heroin and give it to someone, right there in broad view," Rawald recalled. "I don't know what Frank thought he was doing, but we had to let him do it."

Tailing Matthews turned out to be an impossible task. The agents never had enough men and cars to do the surveillance right. Matthews, moreover, was too smart, for he seemed to know when he was being tailed. He would then drive like a madman at up to 90 miles an hour, suddenly stopping and starting, shooting through red lights, driving in circles, parking the car, getting out and getting back in and then driving like mad again.

An informant named Donald "Keno" James recalled his experience with Matthews driving: "One time, I took a cab and met Frank in Brooklyn...he gave me a package of like five keys, wrapped up. He offered to drive me back. During the ride, he was driving extremely fast. We ran across a couple of traffic lights, and I became frightened. He was driving a green convertible, and scared the shit out of me. I said, "Maybe I might take a cab because I had five keys on me and any minute the cops are going to stop us.' He just laughed."

Mathews reckless actions may not simply had been the result of ballsy bravura. Later in the investigation, agents learned that, like many other big-time drug kingpins of the time, he was using cocaine. They suspected that a coke problem was causing Matthews's erratic and reckless behavior.

The ambitious Black Caesar was always looking for ways to expand his business while making it more independent of white gangsters. In 1971, Mathews convened an extraordinary meeting of black and Hispanic dealers and financiers in Atlanta to discuss ways to streamline the importation of cocaine and heroin and address issues relating to the La Cosa Nostra in the Northeast. More than 40 representatives arrived from destinations in the eastern and southern U.S. The DEA knew about the meeting and came to Atlanta as well. "When we began taking down telephone numbers we could see it was a meeting of the Who's Who of black organized crime," Miller recalled. "Matthews was the reason they came. At the time, he really was the country's biggest Black godfather."

The gathering decided that they should protect themselves against a possible rupture in supply that might occur through its Italian American mafia contacts by working more closely with the Corsicans and possibly the Cubans. They also agreed to diversify more into cocaine, since large supplies were available. Little by little, the white mob's grip on the drug trade was loosening and the nature of the drug trade, changing.

Mathews built strategic alliances that helped keep in check the violence associated wit the drug trade, but it was not all smooth sailing for him. In Philadelphia, for instance, he had to deal with the growing and ultra violent Black Mafia. Twenty-four year old, Tyrone "Fat' Palmer, Matthews main supplier in the city, made the big mistake of handling a drug deal that went bad and then not reimbursing Black Mafia godfathers for their loss. Rumors swirled that the Black Mafia had put out a $15,000 contract on Palmer. On March 2, 1971, Palmer was enjoying himself at the Harlem Club on Philadelphia's Kentucky Avenue, a popular venue that held 800 people and featured such performers as B.B. King, Sara Vaughn, Sammy Davis, Jr. and Billy Paul. As Palmer sat near the stage surrounded by a crowd of young women, several shots rang out. When the shooting finally stopped, Palmer lay dead and 20 others were wounded.

Mathews believed Philadelphia's Black Mafia (PBM) was sending him a message: Give us a kickback for operating in our territory or face the consequences. Eventually, the PBM killed three of Black Caesar's lieutenants, as it took control of its own turf. The Black Mafia's move was a harbinger of the drugs trade's future in the U.S.: local gangs taking control of their neighborhoods, as the power of La Cosa Nostra waned.

Matthews had another problem as well: violent vigilantes that included Black Panthers, Black Muslims and some Rastafarians who implemented a policy of shooting drug pushers on sight. "The self righteous vigilantes were frustrated by the lack of law enforcement activity in their communities and by the corruption of the police and had no other motive but to clean up their neighborhoods," explained Robert J. Kelley, an expert in U.S. organized crime.

But the vigilantes included the not so righteous Black Muslim commando groups who were seeking to collect 10 percent kickback on each drug deal consummated in their neighborhood. As we have seen, Matthews was not the intimated kind. He bought a shipment of automatic weapons and sent his men out to Harlem and other black neighborhoods in New York looking for the commandos. War broke out. According to Goddard, "The result was standoff—in effect a victory for Matthews."

Meanwhile, the authorities were doggedly pursuing their investigation. Given their frustrations, they were tempted to arrest the Black Caesar to ensure a "victory' in the War on Drugs, but they knew Matthews had such a well oiled and profitable organization in place that someone would surely step forward to run it if he were eliminated. But slowly the investigation began to show results. The FBI office in Atlanta received an anonymous letter on Feb. 10, 1972, detailing Matthews's activities. According to a confidential U.S Government memorandum, "This information proved to be 100 percent accurate, and it is believed to have been written by an individual close to Matthews." By June 1972, the authorities had sufficient probable cause to obtain a state court order that permitted the interception of Matthews's telephone calls from an expensive apartment he maintained in Bronx County. This wiretap provided enough information to justify a second wiretap of the telephone at Matthews's Staten Island mansion.

The authorities could tell that Matthews and his people suspected they were being wire tapped, but the many conversations that took place over the ensuing months provided invaluable leads to people and events that could be checked out. Most importantly, the investigation provided leads that led to Venezuela. The authorities, for instance, learned that Matthews had made a trip to the country in July 1971. With the pressure being put on the French Connection, the traditional sources of heroin were drying up and Matthews was looking for new contacts.

As usual, Black Caesar was one step ahead of everybody else; he knew time was not on his side. So instead of re-investing his profits into his drug business, he began to invest in his retirement by buying property and salting away money in overseas money laundering havens. The authorities got wind of Matthews move and they began intensifying their investigation. They estimated that Matthews was putting at least $1 million a month into his special savings account.

The international pipeline that Matthews used to get his narcotics supply was smashed on Sept. 2, 1972, in Caracas, Venezuela and Miami when authorities arrested 14 people, including Matthews's narcotics supplier, Rolando Gonzalez, and seized heroin and cocaine worth an estimated $13.6 million. On Sept. 15, 1972, the Task Force raided the mill on 101 East 56th Street, breaking down the reinforced door after hammering away at it for an hour with a 20-pound sledge hammer. They arrested William Beckwith, Matthews's close associate, on a raid of his 130 Clarkson Avenue apartment and found evidence that tied the Matthews organization to a variety of drug deals. By December 1972, federal authorities decided they had enough witnesses and evidence to prosecute the Black Caesar, and they issued a federal warrant for his arrest.

Matthews did not have a clue that the authorities were closing in, and he left for Las Vegas on New Year's Eve, 1972, with a stunning new girlfriend, 23-year old Denise Brown. He planned to spend about a week in Las Vegas and then go to Los Angeles to watch the Super Bowl game between the Miami Dolphins and the Washington Redskins. Federal agents were waiting at Las Vegas's McCarran International Airport to tail him and see if he could lead them to any more evidence before they busted him. The agents lost Matthews, and when they picked up the trail again, he had checked into the Sands Hotel. Matthews spent the next few days at the tables, losing $170,000.

The agents finally got the word they had been waiting for and arrested the drug kingpin as he tried to board his Los Angeles flight. When DEA agent Gerard Matthews and prosecutor William Callahan heard the good news, they caught a plane to Las Vegas. "You know what Frank said when he saw us?" Miller recalled with a laugh. "What took you guys so long?"

When Mathews appeared in court for arraignment, it was almost as if he expected this dramatic conclusion to his drug trafficking career to happen. As Messick explained: "The procedure was quite civilized. Mathews remained calm throughout, expressing no surprise and exhibiting no fear." Matthews tried to give Brown $5,000 to cover her expenses getting back to New York City, but the authorities confiscated the $25,000 he was carrying. Callahan wanted the authorities to hold Brown for the time being. The sheriff of Clark County had no evidence to detain her, so he looked in Brown's purse. He found a motel-room key and charged her with possession of burglary tools. Meanwhile, Miller persuaded the IRS to put a $7 million tax lien on Matthews' property.

After Stanley J. Kaufman, Matthews's attorney arrived in Las Vegas on July 8, another hearing was held. Kaufman asked magistrate Joseph L. Ward for a reduction in bail, arguing that his client was willing to wave extradition and return voluntarily to New York City. The U.S. attorneys strongly opposed any reduction in bail, but magistrate Ward met the two parties half way, reducing Matthews bail to $2.5 million. On July 13, Miller and Callahan accompanied Matthews back to New York City, confident that he would remain in jail until his trial. During the plane ride, Matthews hinted that a deal could be worked out, but when Callahan said the best he could do for him was 10 years in jail, Matthew told Callahan to forget it. He was not going to spend anytime in jail.

The authorities had Matthews locked up, but they received information that he was still running his drug organization from jail, even though he was on the verge of spending the rest of his life and then some in prison. Meanwhile, Gino Gallina, his new lawyer, worked on getting his bail reduced. He finally got a hearing in April before Judge Anthony J. Travia. The government had warned the judge that Matthews was a flight risk, but incredibly, he still reduced his bail to $325,000, pocket change for a gangster of Matthews means. "It was crazy," Miller recalled, shaking his head. "I can still see Mathews leaving the courtroom. I remember him saying: 'We'll see you.' Could you believe that? 'We'll see you.'" IRS investigators soon spotted Matthews with big-time drug dealers at 356 West 145th Street, one of Harlem's biggest gambling establishments.

With the help of his aunt Marcella Steel, Matthews had no trouble raising bail. The largest signer of the bond hold was Julius Sterling Sales, Sr. of Durham, N.C., who, to pay the bond, put up his business, Jake's Garage, which was estimated to be worth $100,000. Meanwhile, Matthews was indicted on six counts of tax evasion, as well as conspiracy to distribute cocaine and heroin. If convicted, the drug kingpin faced 50 years in prison. When the IRS seized his Todt Hill home, Matthews moved in with Hinton and his kids at 2785 Ocean Parkway in Brooklyn. Her husband's affair with Brown did not seem to bother Hinton. The Task Force was worried Matthews would flee the jurisdiction, but what could they do? They did not have the manpower to watch him 24-7, and, besides, they had to move on to other cases.

On July 2, 1973, Matthews was scheduled to appear in Brooklyn courthouse to face a new superseding indictment, but he never showed. Matthews disappeared with his girl friend, Denise Brown, and the authorities have been looking for them ever since.

The U.S. government offered a $25,000 reward for information about Matthews's whereabouts, the highest federal reward offered since the FBI offered the same amount for information leading to the apprehension of gangster John Dillinger in 1931. The New York Times reported that people close to the investigation revealed that, after jumping bail, Matthews "reimbursed in full the friends who put up the collateral for it." Meanwhile, the DEA remained on the case, confident that they would eventually find Matthews and bring him to trial. The years rolled by but that did not happen.

Matthews became a phantom, as DEA sources in the U.S. and in countries around the world claimed to have spotted him. Sightings were reported in such foreign locales as Nigeria, Rome, the Bahamas and Bonaire and in several U.S. cities, including Chicago, Philadelphia, Atlanta and Pittsburg. Authorities checked out every lead but were never able to catch up with Matthews.

In the 1990s, Lew Rice, who headed the DEA's Philadelphia office, received information that Matthews could be living in the City of Brotherly Love. Rice investigated but uncovered no solid leads. After moving to New York City to head the city's DEA office, he reopened the Matthews investigation. "Matthew was the big one who got away," Rice explained. "We will never close the case."

The DEA increased the reward to $50,000 and hired Frank Bender, a renowned forensic sculptor, to create a sculpture of Matthews that would show the public what he might look like after 27 years on the lam. Bender had done a remarkable sculpture of New Jersey mass murder John List, which helped lead to his arrest in 1989 for murdering his family. The DEA showed the bust of Matthews to several federal agencies countrywide, hoping to get a lead that could close the case. The DEA also conducted surveillance and checked out several leads. Still they uncovered nothing.

Is Frank Matthews still alive and enjoying his millions? On Feb. 16, 2006, he would have turned 62 years old, a relatively young age by today's standards. No one involved in the investigation really knows, but they all have an opinion. Most think he is still alive, although they believe Matthews has probably undergone plastic surgery to alter his appearance. There has been speculation that the Italian American mafia had Matthew whacked, but as Rawald explained, "Why would the mafia take risks by killing Matthews. When he disappeared, he left the drug scene and was no longer a threat to it."

Nor has a peep has been heard from Denise Brown since she fled with Matthews. "We have no evidence that she ever contacted her parents, and that was not like her. She was close to them, which leads me to believe she is no longer alive." In the seventh grade, Matthews wrote an essay in which he outlined his plans to get rich and live in South America. Some DEA agents on the case think Black Caesar may now be living out his childhood fantasy.

And so three decades after revolutionizing the U.S. drug trade and escaping from a long prison term, Matthews may still be thumbing his nose at authority. The DEA ranks the Black Caesar one of the top 10 drug traffickers in U.S. history, and it encourages anyone with information about Matthews to contact the agency. All contacts will be kept confidential.

Ron Chepesiuk ( is a South Carolina based journalist and Fulbright Scholar. He is the author 22 books and more than 3,500 articles. Gangsters of Harlem ( was published in January 2007.

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