By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
Earlier that night, John had asked her to be his girl. She told him she already had a boyfriend.
"Tell him you found somebody," John said.
"I wish I could," Thomas said. "He likes to fight."
"He fight you?" John asked, seemingly astonished.
"He won't fight you no more."
In an instant, Thomas reached for her escape. She'd found a protector. "If you tell him that," she said, "if you tell him that and he leaves me alone, then I'm yours."
Thomas found herself driving to the Briarcliff apartments late that night. She'd been with John only a short while when her bulky, battery-pack mobile phone rang.
John picked it up. It was Michael.
The Jamaican kept it short. "I'll kill you if you ever call her again."
Dallas police weren't ready for the Jamaicans. If they'd known more about the posses, they would have understood that the city was ripe for invasion. For one thing, the climate was enticing, more so than Philadelphia, Kansas City and other stops along the posse trail. Most important, though, it was virgin territory, under the sway of no single drug-trafficking entity and possessing a large, concentrated population of black residents to hide behind.
The posses took control before anyone could see the big picture. They were tightly organized, imposing ruthless discipline on their workers and adjusting fluidly to law-enforcement tactics and changes in the market. Street cops understood it from their level, but one investigator says racial attitudes kept the higher-ups from grasping the magnitude of the problem. "Most white cops, when you have people who come from the islands, they will never think those people can be smarter than they are," says the investigator, who asked that he not be identified. "They're speaking broken English, they come here, and you try to tell people, 'These people have a business. They are organized. They know what they're doing.'
"There was a lot of ignorance. No one listened until there were enormous numbers of murders."
That was happening by 1988, when Dallas police attributed 55 killings to Jamaican drug trafficking. Only later would the business model come into clear focus, how the posses put sophisticated systems in place to ensure profits. At first they imported workers and product from New York to Dallas, a costly arrangement. Soon enough they began recruiting local kids and renting multiple units at single, fairly small apartment complexes--Dallas has an abundance of these, unlike New York--where the manager could be bought off or intimidated into looking the other way. One or two units would be set up as traps, or retail outlets for crack like the one at Briarcliff, and others would be stash houses, where the Jamaicans kept inventory. There was usually a "cool-out" unit, where workers could get some R&R--watching TV, napping, smoking weed. The location of the trap could change every day, making it extremely difficult for narcotics officers to obtain the search warrants they needed to build cases.
"I'll never forget we found a piece of paper one time, and it was a handwritten list of rules," the investigator says. "You report to work on time. You clean up. Don't take coins. Don't have women in here during your shift. If you want something to eat, call us. We'll bring it to you.
"I don't think we'll ever see anything like the Jamaicans again."
Most of the drug-related murders happened when someone found out where the money and drugs were kept. Kids in the traps would see tens of thousands of dollars flowing through a single dope house each week and search for new and better ways to supplement their $300- to $500-a-week commission. You could simply steal the cash: a pretty efficient way to get killed. Or you could sneak someone else's product in the dope house and sell it on better terms for yourself. (Some of Dallas' Jamaicans combated this by color-coding crack vials.) Robberies of rival dope houses became a common feature on the Jamaican scene, and it's a measure of the crackhead's desperation that many lived through such terrifying moments, face on the floor, 9 mm aimed at the brain, and they still went back for more.
It's in the bloody year of 1988 that Soldier begins to appear in the official record. By then Dallas police were militant, sweeping through neighborhoods with saturation force. The department made up for its slow start, eventually arresting more Jamaican drug traffickers than any other city in the Southwest, the investigator says. Local police coordinated their efforts with the FBI, DEA, INS, ATF and New York cops--especially the Brooklyn precincts--to keep up with the north-south travels of posse members. It was one thing, though, to chart the movements in Dallas of a guy like Soldier or "Freddie the Worm," who once operated out of Regency Village. But who were they really? The answers were slippery in the extreme. Detective Storey says many of the West Indian gangsters obtained false identities, complete with seemingly legit U.S. birth certificates and Social Security numbers.
Identities were elusive even in death. Take the case of Freddy Krueger, cut down in New York in 1992. He was known in various jurisdictions as David Wilson, David Broadbelt and, in Dallas, as Milton Lee Hunter Jr. Only the FBI's unique number corresponding to fingerprints enabled police to identify the dead and correlate their various criminal records under different names and birth dates. Dallas police still don't know who Freddy Krueger really is; they just know he's dead.