Vonda’s Gang

The Boobie Boys were one of Miami’s most violent gangs responsible, according to the Miami Dade Police Department, for more than 35 murders and 100 killings over an eight-year period, beginning in 1993. The Boobie Boys were led by the gang’s namesake, Kenneth “Boobie” Williams, who, from the late 1980s, built a drug empire worth an estimated $80 million.

Boobie was as ruthless as he was criminally entrepreneurial. Tony Monheim, a retired detective with the Metro Dade Police Department, recalled, “The Boobie Boys used AK-47 assault rifles in drive by shootings with the intention of killing off the competition. They created a terror wave in Miamifor much of the 1990s.” In his book, Street Legends, noted crime writer Seth Ferranti described what it was like for the city of Miami during the Boobie Boys era: “It was a scary time for the community and police, with guns blasting ever night and bodies dropping. But it was also a time of street legends being born in a hail of gunfire.”

What is not widely known is that the gang war involving the Boobie Boys was largely fought against a gang led by a queen pin named Avonda Dowling (AKA Jackson AKA Black Girl), which held its own against the powerful Boobie Boys. Dowling, prominent on the Miami drug scene for more than 15 years, raked in millions by selling both crack and powdered cocaine while killing scores of rivals and screw-ups who got in her way. “When we began investigating the violence in Miami in the 1990s, we discovered Avonda  was at the center of it,” explained Jeff Lewis, a retired homicide detective with the Metro Dade Police, who focused on investigating the Boobie Boys. “We would bring in informants for questioning and ask them about Black Girl. We soon learned she was worse than Boobie.”

Monheim conceded he was surprised to learn that a woman was leading one of the most active drug gangs in Miami, but as he investigated the Vonda Gang he began to understand why. “She had an aura about her,” Monheim explained. ”People either respected her or feared her. Either way she was effective. When we brought people into our office for interrogation and asked them if they knew Avonda, they would say, ‘Oh yeah.’ But when we asked them if they would work for her, they would say, ‘Hell no! She’s dangerous.’”

Born in 1963, Avonda grew up the daughter of James Dowling (AKA Big Jake), a high ranking member of the International Longshoreman’s Union in Miami. Police officials who investigated Avonda describe her as bright, tall, slender and athletic and, as sources pointed out, bi-sexual, with both boyfriends and girlfriends.

Police records show that soon after graduating from Miami Carol City High School, Avonda began getting into trouble. “She became a petty thief who would grab big-ticket items in the stores and then run out,” Monheim explained.

Avonda was fearless and tough and, when challenged, did not back down from anyone. She was arrested for aggravated battery several times, beginning March 29, 1987. In a violent fight at 1140 Northwest Second Avenue, Vonda beat the victim with a bat, drove away and then came back to batter the victim with the bat again. Vonda was arrested in 1991 on two separate charges for fighting. In May 1992, she tried to run over a former employee after fighting with him.  Through 1998, several more arrests followed for grand theft, aggravated assault and battery, obstructing a police officer, unlawful possession of a fire arm, driving with a suspended license, gun charges and cocaine trafficking.

Avonda got hooked up with a prominent Miami gangster named Bunky Brown. and rose quickly in his organization. In a prison interview in the Atlanta Federal Penitentiary in May 1998, Brown confirmed for authorities that Avonda bought drugs from him while he was in the business.

When Brown went to prison, Avonda took over his organization and got involved in crack cocaine trafficking. One of Avonda’s top lieutenants, Jamal Brown (AKA Pookalotta), told investigators in December 2003 that sometime in 1994 a Haitian, by the name of Tony, taught Avonda how to turn powdered cocaine into crack. After much experimentation, she was able to cook crack in the pots on the stoves in the various apartments she rented.

Knowing how to cook crack gave the budding queen pin an advantage.  After a few years, everyone knew how to cook crack, but by then she had become a bigger player in the Miami crack cocaine trade.

In 1992 Avonda married Jerry Jackson, who worked at the port of Miami prior to his incarceration for drug-related charges. The couple had two children, Jervante and Vonshari Hoardes, before divorcing in October 1992.

From 1985 to 1999 Avonda maintained a so-called drug spot or “hole” at 11th Terrace and Second Avenue Northwest in Overtown, one of Miami’s oldest and poorest neighborhoods. Initially, known as “Colored Town,” Overtown is located between Northwest 8th and 20th streets and is bounded by I-95 and the Dolphin Expressway to the northeast, the FEC Corridor and Northwest Ist Avenue to the east and the Miami River to the southwest. Today, Overtown has a population of a little over 20,000 of whom 75 percent is black. Since the 1980s, the neighborhood has been marred by violence and a high crime rate.

David Gardey, a federal prosecutor who tried Avonda, told a Miami courtroom that the only things Avonda had for sale at the gang’s drug store were crack and powdered cocaine. According to Gardey, “Avonda’s drug spot was the Walgreen’s of cocaine; it was the Eckerd of crack cocaine—that is, the defendants operated their drug store 24 hours a day, seven days a week, preparing the packages of crack and cocaine powder they sold.”

Avonda’s spot occupied several apartments in one building. She used one apartment to stash her drug supply and another one for preparing the drug packages. Vonda’s Gang had two types of customers: junkies who used the drugs, and drug dealers who used the drug spot as a regular source of supply. At any one time, Avonda had 10 to 12 people working for her, not including several chief lieutenants. Robert Lee “Rah-Rah” Sawyer was one of the queen pins’ ruthless enforcers who would kill people encroaching on her territory. In December 2001, Rah-Rah testified before a grand jury that he first met Avonda in the early 1980s before the advent of the crack era. At the time, she was married to Jerry Jackson who was running a lucrative drug business in the Overtown area. Sawyer bought drugs from Avonda until his incarceration in 1985. Released in late 1986, he continued to make small purchases of cocaine. Eventually, Jerry Jackson went to prison, and Avonda took over his drug business.

Rah-Rah returned to the slammer in 1988 for cocaine trafficking. Then upon his release four years later, he returned to the drug game and bought increasingly larger quantities of cocaine from Avonda. On December, 25, 1992, Avonda threw a party in Rah-Rah’s honor at her duplex on Northwest 50th Street.

Jamal Brown was another key associate of Avonda. Pookalotta told authorities he met the queen pin in the summer of 1993 through a mutual friend when he was 16 years old. He started working for Avonda as a street level dealer who received about $1,000 per week. Pookalotta moved into Avonda’s duplex on Northwest 50th Street where she taught him how to cook crack cocaine and gave him other responsibilities. On January 1, 1998, Pookalotta was shot in front of his duplex. He survived but was paralyzed and confined to a wheelchair, unable to fend for himself. “Eventually, Avonda got tired of taking care of him,” Monheim revealed. “She no longer considered him a friend. She berated him as if he was responsible for his own condition and refused to do anything for him.”

A third key member in Vonda’s Gang was Andre “Bam” McWhorter, who joined her in the 1990s. David Gardey described Bam as a gunman who worked with Rah-Rah to protect Vonda’s Gang and its drug hole from competing drug dealers.

Avonda was a savvy business woman and an equal opportunity employer. “She paid good money and had a lot of women working for her,” Lewis revealed. “On a good day, a worker could make $15,000 to $20,000.”

There was no doubt as to who was in charge of the gang. Avonda supervised the gunmen who protected the drug spot and the workers who packaged and sold the drugs. She was known to have personally distributed the drugs to the bigger customers at their homes or to a location where they sold drugs. “We know that, at one point, Avonda personally delivered drugs to customers on a ten-speed bike,” ex-cop Monheim recalled.

Avonda did not always sell drugs for money. On several occasions, she used the drugs to buy weapons, primarily AK-47s and MAC 10s. Just because the queen pin was a woman did not mean she shunned violence. “She was ruthless, cold,” Monheim said. “She had to be in order to rise to the level she did in the cut throat world of Miami drug trafficking.”

The first murder police connected to Avonda involved a fight over drug turf. In 1986, a bold drug dealer named Michael McBride moved to set up his own drug operation in Overtown, right around the corner from Avonda’s hole at 11th Terrace. McBride was an aggressive dealer, and to undercut the competition, he slashed the prices he charged for his drugs. Moreover, he sold a better quality drug than Vonda. So Avonda decided that McBride had to go. ”In the cocaine business, a competitor is not defeated by better service, lower prices or a better product,” Gardey told the court. “On 11th Terrace they were murdered, they were rubbed out.”

Avonda hired Rah-Rah to kill McBride for $10,000 and half a kilo of cocaine. At around 11 p.m. on April 22, 1986, McBride was standing on the balcony of his apartment on 11th Terrace. McBride’s apartment was close to Avonda’s drug hole, but he did not realize the danger he was in. Rah-Rah killed McBride with a single gun shot, solving Black Girl’s problem.

By 1993, Vonda’s Gang was in a vicious gang war with the Boobie Boys, for Miami’s drug turf was simply not big enough to accommodate the criminal ambitions of both Kenneth Bobbie Williams and Avonda “Black Girl” Dowling. While Vonda’s Gang largely confined itself to Overtown, Williams built an empire that smuggled cocaine to 12 states through the Bahamas and Panama. “The (Boobie Boys) Gang was truly a family affair,” said U.S. Attorney Stacey Levine, who prosecuted the gang. “It was a very dangerous business and became more so as the Boobie Boys came into their own.”

On the orders of Avonda, Rah-Rah, Bam and other members of her gang drove around Miami looking to kill Boobie Boys gang members. The Boobies retaliated in a tit for tat scenario. During a five-year period to 1998, Miami was paralyzed by the lawlessness of the gang war that left a trail of killings in some of Miami’s poorest areas. The murderers wore ski masks, camouflage clothing and body armor and carried AK-47s. There were at least 62 shooting deaths and another 36 wounded during the period. Some of the victims were riddled by as many as 99 bullet holes and their faces were blown off. “It got to the point that people were afraid to go anywhere,” Lewis recalled. “Miamians became prisoners in their own neighborhood.”

The killings began in earnest after the Boobie Boys killed Rah-Rah’s close friend Wallace Fortner. On March 4, 1989, the Metro Dade Homicide Bureau interviewed Rah-Rah, who had agreed to speak to detectives about the gang shootings and drug-related crimes without his attorney present. Rah-Rah stated that shortly after the murders of Willie Geter (AKA Stinker) and E (real name unknown), he decided to go to Boobie’s Christmas Party and kill him. They spotted one of Boobie’s lieutenants instead and tried to kill him, but the lieutenant survived.

About a month later, Rah-Rah and an associate, Famous Johnson, were in Rah-Rah’s truck near 99th Street and 27th Avenue when they spotted three black males inside a small car. Rah-Rah recognized Marvin Rodgers, one of Boobie’s close associates, as the driver. Then he saw that two passengers were wearing ski masks and realized Rodgers and his associates were looking to kill him. Rah-Rah fled the scene; the would be assassins circled the block looking for Rah-Rah and Famous. When it looked safe, Rah-Rah returned to his truck, but the police arrested him for leaving the scene of an accident. Rah-Rah was taken to the Metro Dade Police Department’s Northside Station, but was later released.

Rodgers would not give up his quest to kill Rah-Rah, who had to be constantly vigilant to stay alive. Still, one day, he almost screwed up. As he backed a rented Lincoln out of a drive way at 590 NW 5th Street, Rogers and an associate named Fat Wayne ran up to the Lincoln and began shooting with rifles. Rah Rah was able to speed away before anyone was hit by gunfire.

Weeks later, Rah Rah told investigators, he was near his home at 95th Street and 26th Street driving a green Altima rental truck when he saw a brown and beige Honda Accord speed up behind him. Rah-Rah spotted Rodgers with two of his associates. Rah-Rah could see that Rodgers was carrying an AK-47.Gun fire hit Rah-Rah’s car several times, but he managed to escape without being shot. Bent on revenge, Rah-Rah rounded up several of his friends to look for Boobie, Rodgers or any of the other gang members, but they could not find them. During the coming weeks Rah-Rah was shot at again.  In September 1997, he was severely wounded while he traveling northbound on I-95 and had to be taken to the hospital. Rah-Rah claimed that, while in the hospital, his wife told him she spotted two of  Boobie’s associates in the hospital elevator and overheard them talking about trying to finish him off. Fortunately for Rah-Rah, nothing happened.

It was now a street war to the death, and with Rah-Rah looking for Rodgers, and vice versa. On December 31, 1997, Rah-Rah got lucky and spotted Rogers standing next to his car, talking on his cell phone, Pookalotta was driving the car and Rah-Rah and Bam were passengers. Rah-Rah and Bam got out of the car and approached Rodgers. Bam fired at Rodgers with his pistol, wounding him in the back of the leg. Sawyer then rushed up to Rodgers and fired his AK-47 into his face and chest. Rah Rah and Bam dropped their guns and fled. “I saw the photos of what happened to Rodgers and they were gruesome,” ex-detective Monheim recalled. Police had no problem identifying the killer. “We discovered that Rah-Rah called Avonda right after the killing and that she paid Rah-Rah $12,000 and 11/2 kilograms of cocaine for the hit,” Monheim revealed. “Then he fled toTallahassee.”

The day after Rogers was killed, Pookalotta was shot in the neck by a Boobie Boys gang in retaliation for Rogers’ murder. The gunfire paralyzed Pookalotta and confined him to a wheelchair.

The gang war of attrition ultimately did in both Vonda’s Gang and the Bobbie Boys. “The war opened up opportunities for us because the public was outraged at the violence,” Monheim recalled. “This led to the Feds getting involved, which was a good thing because the state didn’t have the resources the FBI had. The Feds could use the RICO statue and also put gang members away on gun charges. The Boobie Boys went down first, but it took us a couple of more years to get Avonda. Meantime, unwittingly we helped her to move into Boobie territory.”

More than 25 members of the Bobbie Boys were arrested, but Boobie, who was suspected in at least 15 murders, and some of his associates escaped and went into hiding. Before the trial, the Associated Press opined that “the jury may need a guidebook to keep track of the defendants, witnesses and other players in the drug world who used their real names as well as nicknames and aliases.”

The U.S. Marshals caught up with Boobie onMay 17, 1999, alone and unarmed, as he left an apartment in a green Ford pickup he was driving under an assumed name. “We had our men up there for more than a week, working around the clock, following up investigative leads,” John Amat, a spokesman for the U.S. Marshals in Miami, said.  “We did a traffic stop on him. There was no confrontation, no weapons found, and Boobie admitted to whom he was.”

Kenneth “Boobie” Williams was sentenced to life in prison. Avonda was arrested, and on November 14, 2003, after a six-week trial, she was found guilty of narcotics conspiracy and sentenced to 20 years in federal prison. In a way, Avonda was lucky. The U.S. Justice system had considered seeking the death penalty for her, but John Ashcroft, the U.S. Attorney General, kept delaying the decision for months. “In the end, he decided against it because there wasn’t enough evidence for a death penalty ruling,” Monheim recalled. Rah-Rah and Pookalotta had already plead guilty. On February 2, 2004, Pookalotta Brown received a 25 year sentence. Rah-Rah, who had agreed to testify against Avonda, was not put on the stand. Still, he received 40 years on a plea bargain. They jury found Andre “Bam” McWhorter innocent of the charges.

The authorities had put Avonda and Boobie in prison, but did not find their money. “They were really good at hiding it,” Lewis said. “Boobie buried millions, while Avonda liked to hide her loot in Tupperware.”

This is an excerpt from Ron Chepesuik’s new book Queenpins. Available at www.strategicmediabooks.com. If you want to learn more about the Boobie Boys check out the chapter on them in Street Legends Vol. 2 available on this site.

 

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