EPISODE THREE: THE FAT MAN AND THE FIELD MARSHALL
COLEMAN: I issue open warning now: To all dope pushers. To all rip-off artists. To all muggers...
DREW: It’s January 2nd, 1974. Inauguration day. And Detroit’s newly elected mayor, Coleman Young, has something to say to the city’s crooks.
COLEMAN: It’s time to leave Detroit. Hit 8 Mile Road.
COLEMAN: And I don’t give a damn if they’re black or white, if they wear Superfly suits or blue uniforms with silver badges. Hit the road! [applause]
DREW: After Coleman Young became Detroit’s first black mayor, a lot of people did hit 8 Mile Road...white people.
ARCHIVAL REPORTER: White flight has already begun here. Whites fled to the suburbs with some bitterness.
ARCHIVAL VOX POP: Most of the people in our neighborhood are prejudiced in the sense that they don’t like black people on the surface but as far as actual practice of any discrimination, they don’t, the only thing they do is leave.
DREW: As white people abandoned Detroit, jobs left too.
ARCHIVAL VINCE WADE: They started lining up at midnight to get job applications that were due to be handed out at 8 A.M. The job seekers far outnumbered the 200 or so jobs that are available. The crowd was unruly at times, pushing and shoving. Occasionally tempers flared to the point that punches were thrown and some got hurt. Rose Graves is one of the lucky few who was able to get a Cadillac job application.
ARCHIVAL ROSE GRAVES: I think we gotta find some way of getting some jobs in the city of Detroit… Well I’ll just say it this way, either I’m gonna work or I gotta get on welfare, one of the two.
DREW: For Detroiters, there were few prospects in sight… But that created another business opportunity.
CHARLES RUDOLPH: You can’t lose with drugs, because anybody that uses it or messes with it always wants more. Dope is a strong thing. It always makes you want more.
DREW: Today on the show: we meet the man who turned heroin into one of Detroit's only remaining growth industries...Eddie Jackson.
PEP: Eddie was a-- first off, god rest his soul, he was a good guy. He wanted to see everybody eat. He was the Santa Claus of the East Side, back in his day.
DREW: I’m Drew Nelles. Welcome...to Crimetown.
DREW: What kind of kid was Eddie?
COURTNEY BROWN: Always into something. Always, ever since we were six years old.
DREW: This is Courtney Brown, and he’s talking about his best friend, Eddie Jackson.
DREW: Like what?
BROWN: Like anything. You steal something, take something, whatever it is. Crap games in the alley or the back yard or whatever it was. Eddie's always been a good hustler though. Even when we was kids.
DREW: Courtney grew up in the forties, in Paradise Valley, a black working-class neighborhood. He and Eddie were opposites. Courtney was skinny, quiet, and responsible, while Eddie was a chubby hellraiser. One day, the two of them were wandering around Belle Isle, an island in the Detroit River, when Eddie saw something he liked.
BROWN: And he sees this bike. So a little white kid come up and start threatening him and tell him that, "what he doing with his bike?" and this, that, and the other. So he hits Eddie. So when he done that, I grabbed the white boy, threw him down and say, "apologize to my friend." Just like that. And I say, "he wasn't going to take your bike man. He just...inquisitive." When we got back home, his father see he had dirt all on him. He asked, "What happened?"
DREW: Eddie told his father how Courtney had stood up for him.
BROWN: And his father said, "From now on in life you've got a true friend.
DREW: As they grew up, Courtney and Eddie took different paths. Courtney got married and had a couple of kids. He moved his family to a little house on the West Side and got a job driving a city bus.
BROWN: I mean, I enjoyed driving the bus. You’d meet different people and different runs. And it was steady income.
DREW: What was your route?
BROWN: All the east side. Vernor, Gratiot, Jefferson. Six Mile, Seven Mile, Eight Mile.
DREW: As Courtney drove his route, he saw how the city was falling apart around him: empty storefronts, abandoned cars, gutted apartments. Then, on a long, hot summer night in 1967, he was driving the bus...when he found himself in the middle of a turning point in Detroit’s history.
ARCHIVAL NEWS: it all began early this morning with a police raid on an after hours drinking parlor. There have been some reports of gunfire. Police are under orders not to fire.
BROWN: I had a little transistor radio. People was getting on saying they was doing something on 12th Street but I’m listening to the news and the Station Master asked me, he say, Brown, you want to work overtime?
DREW: The station master told Courtney to drive to the armory. When he got there, the armory was full of National Guardsmen...called in to deal with the riots.
BROWN: And I remember the National Guard guys was putting on they uniform and the guy was -- whoever it was say, lock and load. Lock and Load. Lock and load.
ARCHIVAL NEWS: In a hundred places Detroit is afire. Whole blocks are now burning at dusk, the national guard has moved in.
DREW: After his shift ended, Courtney picked his kids up from their grandmother’s. As they were driving home, he saw a group of National Guardsmen up ahead at an intersection.
BROWN: So when I approached to make a stop at the stop sign, they jumped up with they rifles and pointed the rifles and stuff. And I just went off. I called him all kinds of names. What the fuck is you doing motherfucker? You pointing a gun you going to kill my kid! What the fuck are you going to do the fuck are you going to say. Man be quiet — Fuck you!
A sergeant or lieutenant came and say what's the problem. He said you drive--you work for the city. I says yeah I’m a bus driver. He said, I'm sorry and he said, Well go ahead home.
DREW: Courtney took his kids home. But the riot—or rebellion, as a lot of people in Detroit call it—went on for four more days. By the end, at least 43 people had been killed—most of them black. In the wake of the riots, Detroit continued its decline. But for Courtney's old troublemaking friend Eddie, this new Detroit was full of opportunity.
BROWN: So I goes by his house and the phone rang and he says, "Answer the phone for me." So I answer the phone and I say, "A guy named John." So he hands the phone and says, "wait right here for me. I'll be right back." He comes back about a half an hour 45 and he come back.
BROWN: He throws a bag on the table, just like that. I say, “What’s that? Sugar? Flour?” He say, “No that’s dope.” And he say, “Taste it.” I say, “What?” He say, “Taste it.” At that time, and I’m 30, I have never seen heroin in my life. Like a little kid I'm scared. So I taste it. And I say, "Man, you truly somebody pay you for this shit?” He say, "Yeah." I mean, I say, "Eddie, you've got to be crazy." He said "No, I'm telling you man, that's where money's at.” And... I still, I go on back to work. I didn't even think no more about it than the man in the moon.
DREW: But some of Eddie’s other childhood friends found the heroin trade a little more appealing. A guy named Charles Rudolph was working in the foundry at Chrysler… and it was a tough job.
CHARLES RUDOLPH: You know it was a foundry. Sweat running off you like you in the tropics somewhere. So I worked that job for five years. You know, hard job in the foundry. I really don't know nothing about drugs. So I did this. I said I want me a Cadillac Eldorado. So I got some drugs from Eddie on consignment. I sold mine for three dollars a pill. I never picked up my last check from the foundry. I started working for Eddie. I kind of joined in and was one of his lieutenants. And on from that it was more money, more money, more money.
DREW: Eddie got deeper and deeper into the game. His operation grew, his brothers came on board, and he started to make serious money. One day, Courtney went out looking for Eddie, and ran into one of his brothers.
BROWN: I saw his brother standing on the corner where they hang out at and I say where's your brother. He say he driving his car. I say what kind of goddamn raggedy ass car he got. He came around the block in this red--I didn’t know what kind of car it was but it was a red-- convertible Cadillac, and his brother Elijah say, “There he is right there.” So I looked over and say... where? He say in that car there. “What car?” He said, “That Cadillac.” And Eddie rolled down the window waved to me. “Come here.” I said nigga I ain’t gonna get in that damn car, that stolen ass car. And his brother say -- he ain’t stole, he just bought the car from [inaudible] Cadillac and he paid cash for it. I say cash? I got in the car. He pulled out some money--I forgot how much he gave me and say how you like your man now?
DREW: Eddie was driving a new Cadillac...Courtney was driving a city bus, making just enough to scrape by.
BROWN: And I said, I’m not going nowhere with this. And I haggled over it with myself. I woke up on a Monday morning, and I said I'm going to see Eddie. So I get into my car and drives over to his house and you know we greeted each other and he say “What’s the deal, Birmy?
DREW: Courtney wanted in...
BROWN: And he said “Well you caught me at the right time.” “How about four hundred dollars a week?” That was more that I was making driving the bus. Tax clear.
JOHN WHITE: What was going through your mind when you're thinking, Either I work for Eddie or I go back to this legit job? Was there any struggle with that?
BROWN: No. The only thing I say, well I thought about it and I say forget it. I ain't going back. I just quit.” And that was it. That was the beginning.
DREW: Eddie Jackson was rising in Detroit's heroin underworld...and as he brought his friends along with him, they learned the tricks of the trade. Charles Rudolph got a job working at Eddie's dope house.
RUDOLPH: I started off as a doorman opening the door. Eddie had bought the building. So they put like a pipe through from upstairs to down. All I would do was open the door. The customers tell me where he what he or she wanted. I would go upstairs and put it through a chute in the door, the money. They dropped the drugs through the pipe on the floor. I never picked it up, the customer could never say I gave him nothing…
DREW: Charles also learned how to cut heroin into what they called “mixed jive.”
RUDOLPH: Certain things like quinine and lactose that you would use to cut drugs. You could buy those in store. Because drugs is 97 percent filler, it’s so powerful, and they started adding dormins to it. Dormin is a sleeping pill. It helped you sleep. If the drugs was weak, you feel sleepy and think you in a nod.
DREW: And Charles learned how to cap up the dope.
RUDOLPH: We capping up gelatin caps and they only sold for a dollar. And that was that was the the low end of the business. And then you had a little higher where you had a 15 dollar pack, a 30 dollar pack, and a 45 or 50 dollar pack. This is all mix heroin, the kind that people inject.
BROWN: I gets fascinated looking at them and they're capping the stuff up.
DREW: Courtney Brown, Eddie’s old friend from Paradise Valley, was watching and learning too. Eddie taught him the rules. Rule number one: the customer is king.
BROWN: "Don't call them junkies junkies or dope fiends."
DREW: Rule number two: don’t mix business with pleasure.
BROWN: "You cannot trade drugs for sex. If you want to buy some sex, buy it from them.”
DREW: Rule number three: cash or credit accepted.
BROWN: They ain't got no money? Don't worry about it. If they say they gonna pay you later, that's what you do."
DREW: Rule number four: Don’t sell to white people.
BROWN: We don't do no business with them and we ain't selling them nothing. We don’t trust em. Period.
DREW: And the most important rule of all…
BROWN: He say, "Always remember this." And I say, "What Eddie?" "Treat it like a business." After a while, they started calling him the "The Fat Man."
BROWN: Because he was heavyset. He liked to eat. You know.
BROWN: I used to like to watch war movies. And everyone knew that. And Then Eddie would say, “Oh you a field marshall.” You know, that’s when he started calling me Field Marshall.
DREW: The Fat Man had his second in command: the Field Marshall. And soon enough, they started spreading the wealth around.
RUDOLPH: Nowadays in the strip clubs they be calling it making it rain…
DREW: Again, Charles Rudolph.
RUDOLPH: But Eddie is the first one ever I knew that ride through the depressed area where we were selling dope and you know throw money out of the car. Ones, fives and tens. They weren't just all one dollar bills, you know. You know I was with him when he bought the Rolls Royce. A Rolls has a spot for a phone. It has a fire extinguisher in it. It has three radios you know, am fm shortwave or whatever. It's a real nice car. And we rode downtown to the bar where the hoes were. He wanted to show the people he had got a Rolls Royce.
DREW: Along with flashy cars, Eddie bought an expensive new wardrobe and started flying around the country first class. And in the spring of 1971, he headed to New York for an important social function...
ARCHIVAL: I predict that when I meet Joe Frazier, this will be like a good amateur fighting a real professional...
DREW: ...the Fight of the Century: Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier at Madison Square Garden.
BROWN: He goes to New York. Goes into a shoes shoe store right on the corner on Broadway. So he goes in there, you know picking out shoes and stuff for the fight.
DREW: Courtney says there was another man at the clothing store. An Italian guy...who struck up a conversation with Eddie.
BROWN: And said, "Man, who do you like for a fight?" Eddie tells me he say, "I like Ali." The guy says, "I like Frazier." He say, "You wanna make a small wager?" So Eddie thinks he joking says, "Small wager, anything. $10, $15." Guy says, “How bout 10,000?" "10,000!?" So Eddie says, "Alright. Well, how we going to pay each other then?" He say, "You seem like you a gentleman. Whoever loses come back here Monday and straighten the bill out.” He say, but the Italian tells him, "Ain't nobody going to lose though."
ARCHIVAL: The winner by unanimous decision and still heavyweight champion of the world, Joe Frazier!
BROWN: So Eddie lost. Eddie came back, gave the guy the 10,000. Say, "I knew you was a gentleman." He say, "I think we in the same business." And Eddie caught on what he was talking about. Bring back 3 kilos. Sixteen thousand dollars apiece. And we really didn't know the quality of what we was getting at the time. We we just know it was dope and it was good and that's all we knew. And that’s when we really started making the money.
DREW: With Eddie’s new Italian connection, he could expand his business even more. And to transport the dope from New York to Detroit, he hired some drivers. Like… this guy.
BLACK BUTCH: My name is Black Butch. And uh, in my younger years, you understand, I used to sell drugs. I was doing all the road work. I was going from different states transporting anywhere from one to two million dollars of heroin from New York to Detroit.
JOHN: How did you do that?
BUTCH: At the time we would have stashes in the car. And the police weren’t hip to that shit. During that time.
JOHN: So when you say stash…
ROB SZYPKO: Like a hidden compartment?
ROB: So, what does that look like? Where was that in the car?
BUTCH: It could be anywhere. In a Fleetwood, in the door. You know, the dashboard. Places where things ain’t supposed to be, you know?
DREW: Black Butch would drive to New York a couple times a week, and the Italians would tell him where to leave the stash car.
BUTCH: Downtown. Every time I meet him we'll be downtown or in Chinatown. Broad daylight. I have to park the car. Leave it.
ROB: Where would you go?
BUTCH: Go to a hotel. Until they call me.
ROB: And how long would that usually take?
BUTCH: No more than about an hour or two. And they’ll tell me when to come back to pick the car up. When I pick the car up, the car be loaded.
And from the time I meet them. And they let me go. I don't have to worry about nothing until I get across the George Washington Bridge. When I get on the other side. I'm on my own then.
BUTCH: Because they made sure that I had protection to get out of downtown New York. I never had no problems.
JOHN: These sound like some powerful people.
BUTCH: Oh they are.
JOHN: What’s going through your mind when you’re transporting that much product?
BUTCH: Don’t get caught. Don’t get caught. That’s the main thing. And I was blessed cause I never did get stopped.
DREW: Eddie had built one of Detroit's largest narcotics networks...and now he had a wholesale connection back East. He was at the top of his game.
So, he did what everyone who could afford it was doing: He fled Detroit for the safety and comfort of the suburbs. In his case, it was to a place northwest of the city called Southfield. Charles Rudolph went with Eddie when he bought the house.
RUDOLPH: Eddie’s house was beautiful. I was with Eddie when he the lady name, her name was Miss Silberman. Probably a rich Jewish woman. Here is two young black guys and this older white lady open the door for us and she’s receiving the guy who is buying her home. I had never met people like this.
BROWN: Eddie bought the house in '71.
DREW: Again. Courtney Brown.
BROWN: And then he say, "I'mma do this with it, I'mma do this with it. Build a wall and all this, you know. For security lights and floodlights and all that.//and he then had swimming pool and all that down there.
And Eddie says,"Your man need some company." I say, "What do you mean some company?" He say, "Why don't you move out here with me?" I say, "Man, you crazy?" And I say, “Man, I can’t afford to move to Southfield. Not there.” He start laughing. He said, "God damn you. I know you're a man and you got your own pride so here, here what I do. From now on, you don’t work for me. You’re a partner. Now can you afford it?”
DREW: In fact, Eddie already had a house picked out for Courtney. Right next door.
BROWN: I took my wife out there. I goes to the guy, knock on his door and he said, "Where's your parents at?" Said, "What?" Said, "Where's your parents at?" I said, "We the parents."
DREW: How old were you?
BROWN: I was 30 then. No, I was 31.
DREW: And the guy whose house it was, was he a white guy?
BROWN: Yeah, he was a white dentist named Steinberg. And I say, “Well, what do you want for it?” "Is sixty five thousand alright?" I say, "Yeah, when can I bring you the money." He said, "What?" I said, "When can I bring you the money." He say, "Oh no no no no." I say, "I'll tell you what then, I'll bring a cashier's check when we close.” It was new to me, to know that you could buy anything you wanna buy. And it changed my whole lifestyle.
Send my kids to the best of schools. I mean, I would take my kids to the concerts, I'd take take them–-took them on vacations to Disney World, Disney Land, Hawaii, Mexico. Whatever they wanted to go, they could.
I was buying three cars, every time the model changed I would buy... I bought Cadillac Fleetwood for five straight years. Then I bought my wife, first I bought a Thunderbird, then I moved her up to Eldorado and Lincolns, and then I’d buy a third car just to ride around in.
JOHN: Did you like your job? What was the best part of your job?
RUDOLPH: The best part of the job was the women.
DREW: Again, Charles Rudolph.
RUDOLPH: When we got a car that was a nice color and women liked it. You know that's what I liked about it. Everything I ever did was because of women. Everything I ever did.
JOHN: What was the worst part of the job?
RUDOLPH: The worst part is seeing my friends that I've known all my life, some people got addicted. Some of them broke from it. This one guy used to work with us named Box. His neck was turned to the side because of a bad hit in that jugular vein in the neck.
It left scars on people. When you gotta punch a needle in your body every day you got to get a vein. I have excellent veins. You could see all in my hands and everything. People used to look at me and say, I wish I had your veins. Because at first they start off hittin’ in the easy place. I'm pointing my hand where you can see the veins come up and on my arm, but it burns out your veins some kind of way. Have people looking for veins in the most weirdest place. They vagina. Down by they scrotum. Uh, up in the hairline somewhere. You got veins all over your body.
It could have killed somebody sister, mama, aunt, brother. A lot of people died.
DREW: Next time on Crimetown… the Fat Man and the Field Marshall meet the feds.
RON GARIBOTTO: Whenever I had some free time and and was not obligated to be helping other agents on their cases I would, by myself generally, surveil Eddie Jackson.
DREW: Crimetown is Marc Smerling and Zac Stuart-Pontier. This season is made in partnership with Gimlet Media and Spotify.
It’s produced by Samantha Lee, John White, Rob Szypko, and Soraya Shockley.
The senior producer is me, Drew Nelles.
Editing by Marc Smerling and Zac Stuart-Pontier.
Editing help from Alex Blumberg and Caitlin Kenney.
Fact-checking by Jennifer Blackman.
This episode was mixed, sound designed, and scored by Kenny Kusiak.
Original music this season composed by Homer Steinweiss.
We recorded some original music at Rustbelt Studios in Detroit in partnership with Detroit Sound Conservancy. Special thanks to Carleton Gholz and Maurice “Pirahnahead” Herd.
Additional music by Kenny Kusiak, and additional mixing by Bobby Lord.
Our theme song is “Politicians In My Eyes” by Death.
Our credit music this week is “Somethang’s” (I just don’t do)” by Detroit Soul Ambassador Melvin Davis.
Archival research by Brennan Rees.
Show art and design by James Cabrera and Elise Harven.
We’ve got a great website with bonus content for each episode like photos, videos, and newspaper clippings, as well as a full list of credits and a transcript. Check it out at crimetownshow.com.
Thanks to the Detroit Free Press, Peter Bhatia, Jim Schaeffer, Mary Schroeder, the Walter P. Reuther Library at Wayne State University, Mary Wallace, the Charles H. Wright Museum of African-American History, Melissa Samson, the Detroit Historical Society, Scott Burnstein, Courtney Brown Jr., Cody Ryder, and everyone who shared their stories with us. Detroit is an amazing place, and we’re honored to tell a small part of its story.
Alex Blumberg is the podfather. So the other day we’re in a meeting, and he throws a bag on the table, just like that. I say, “What’s that? Sugar? Flour?” He says, “No, that’s dope.” And he says, “Taste it.” I say, “What?” He says, “Taste it.” Now I’m 32, I have never seen heroin in my life. I’m like a little kid, I'm scared. So I taste it. And I say, "Alex, truly, somebody pays you for this shit?” He says, "Yeah." I say, "Alex, you've got to be crazy." He says, "No, I'm telling you man, that's where money's at.”