By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
They had good reason. Through Dallas' crack holocaust in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when the city racked up record numbers of homicides and saw entire neighborhoods disintegrate under the drug's influence, Soldier slipped into the shadows of two of Dallas' most horrifying crimes. He was an associate of the young men who allegedly torched an entire Highland Hills family in their home in 1988 over a couple of thousand dollars of missing drug money, murdering five, including a toddler, and, according to three witnesses, he was inside the South Dallas crack house where five teenagers were squeezed into a bathtub and sprayed with semiautomatic gunfire in 1990. A 15-year-old boy died in the "bathtub murder," and three others were critically injured. The crime was a watershed event, signaling a new level of violence in Dallas' crack cocaine trade. Soldier wasn't charged in the shooting, but he bragged about his involvement, calling himself the "mastermind" of the attack, according to one account.
The Dallas Observer attempted unsuccessfully to contact Soldier through mail and by phone in New York City, where he has lived in recent years. While Dallas police were aware of his drug connections--Detective Charles Storey, who used to be on the area's Jamaican Task Force, has his street name logged in memory as one of the West Indians "who worked his way up" here--Soldier seemed to possess an uncanny ability to beat the many criminal charges against him and somehow escaped the net that encircled and choked off the big Jamaican crime syndicates in the early 1990s.
Today, it's difficult to retrace Soldier's steps: So often he seemed just beyond the reach of Dallas investigators who ended the careers of many Jamaican posse members. But sifting through court files, police records and interviews with former associates, a certain pattern develops, a way to follow the clues. You're on a trail of wreckage--of Dallas neighborhoods gone to hell, lives destroyed, a swath of murder and ruin.
All she wanted was a little weed.
Toni Thomas was fresh out of Skyline High School, the Dallas Independent School District's career development magnet, where she made the "A" honor roll and walked away in 1986 with a diploma as well as her beautician's license. Not long after graduation, probably in 1987, she heard about a place to get marijuana, a "weed house" run by the Jamaican boyfriend of one of her clients.
Thomas was no druggie, just a 19-year-old who worked hard all day. By her early 20s, in fact, she'd be running her own shop in Duncanville with 25 chairs, pulling in as much as $1,000 a day in the heyday of intricate, high-dollar weaves. She earned her fun, and the same adventurous streak that made her a success in business left her open to new sources of excitement.
That's how she found herself driving to the Briarcliff apartments one night with a couple of high school buddies, in search of a dime bag of weed.
Briarcliff, a two-story complex, was overrun with Jamaicans. "Oooh, Jamaicans got good weed," one of Thomas' friends said. "That's where my daddy gets his weed."
The three girls started tramping up the steps at one of the buildings. That's when Thomas saw him: A thin, light-skinned man stood at the top of the landing, coolly watching the girls. He was in his mid-20s, dressed in Run DMC mode--a red and white Troop track suit, thick gold chain, self-assured, limber posture. There was something about the way he bounced his head when he talked.
"Where y'all going?" he said.
"Y'all got something?" asked Thomas, the bold one, trying to act like she knew what she was doing.
"Like what?" the man asked coyly.
"Do y'all have dime bags here?" Thomas asked.
"I am," Thomas said.
"Then you come up." He meant alone.
Thomas glanced at her friends nervously. "Nobody gonna do anything to them," the man said in a soft Caribbean accent.
She walked up, then followed him down the breezeway. She noticed something she hadn't seen at first: a huge MAC-11, a wicked-looking submachine gun that he held in a peculiar way, with the end of the barrel balanced in his hand and the muzzle slid through his fingers. He cradled it so it was always concealed at his side, swinging in his arm as he led her into an apartment near the end of the hall.
When she got inside, two things caught her eye. An enormous jam box blasting the rubber-bottom bass lines of dancehall reggae and a table spread from end to end with tiny plastic baggies of a gray mineral-like substance.
"Pick what you want," the man said.
Thomas was baffled. He must have seen it when she practically stuck her face on the table, staring with wide eyes at all this stuff. "What is that?" she asked.
"Crack rock," he said quietly.
Weed, Thomas said. I want weed. Crack cocaine was new to Dallas, appearing here for the first time in 1986, police say. She'd heard a little about the stuff, but she'd never actually seen it. Later, she'd understand her miscue: These were $10 rocks, commonly known as dimes. The meanings were jumbled in her first encounter with the Jamaican man.