In 1974, Frank Matthews, history’s first African American drug kingpin, jumped bail in New York City with $15 to 20 million and ostensibly a beautiful girlfriend. Nearly four decades later, the fate of Frank Matthews, the money and the girlfriend, Cheryl Brown, remain a complete mystery. “It’s as if Matthews dropped off the face of the earth,” explained Mike Pizzi, a retired U.S. Marshal who was involved with the hunt for Matthews, the fugitive, for several years.
Now, in a new documentary, filmmakers Alan “Al Profit” Bradley (www.alprofit.com) and Ron Chepesiuk (www.ronchepesiuk.com) investigate the “Frank Matthews Story: The Rise and Disappearance of America’s Biggest Kingpin.” The one hour and 25 minute documentary features rare archival footage, interviews with Mike Pizzi and other sources who previously haven’t talked on camera about Frank Matthews and never before seen photos of Matthews. The documentary explores several intriguing questions: how was Matthews’ been able to operate for several years without being detected? What was his relationship with La Cosa Nostra? Why did the CIA get involved in the Matthews investigation? What happened to Cheryl Brown? Why has the mystery of his disappearance been so difficult to solve?
This documentary attempts to answer all the questions. But don’t take our word for it, we talked with the filmmakers themselves. Here is your exclusive.
Why did you all decide to make a DVD on Frank Matthews?
RON: I have been working on the Matthews project for 5 years ever since I wrote a chapter about Matthews for my book, Gangsters of Harlem, but it didn’t work out. Then Al Profit approached me about working on it together. I admired Al’s work as filmmaker, and I thought our skills meshed nicely for such a project. So we started working on the doc last October.
What is his significance to the dope game?
RON: Matthew was perhaps the first big black drug dealer to operate in an urban environment. I say “urban environment because another drug kingpin, Ike Atkinson, operated out of Thailand at the same time, Matthews was unique in his style and in the way he operated. The fact that he may have gotten away with it make perhaps the biggest legend in organized crime history. His fate is certainly is the most mysterious.
Who were the other big dudes of his era?
RON: Frank operated at a time when the French Connection was breaking up and La Cosa Nostra was losing its near monopoly of the drug trade. It opened up huge opportunities for black drug dealers who were able to become their own men in the criminal world. So we have Goldfinger Terrell, Liddy Jones, Zac Robinson, Dutch Schultz, Frank Lucas, Nicky Banes, Brother Carter and many more.
What do you think happened to him?
RON: Everybody we interviewed has an opinion and so do we. If I had to bet on it, I would say that, unless he died of natural causes (he would be 68 today) Frank is alive. But it’s amazing a story. There are as many good arguments for why he is dead as there are for why he is alive..
AL: There isn’t enough evidence to really point to any of the many theories about him being the “most likely” but if I had to say, I think he left the country until the early to mid 80’s and eventually came back here and has blended in somewhere. I think if you read between the lines of some of the interviews we did with law enforcement, they had some real evidence that he is alive and in the United States.
Does your documentary use images, interviews or archival footage? Explain and where did you get the material for the DVD?
AL: We have several never seen before images of Frank that we obtained from “secret” sources. I have a library of archival footage from my prior 5 documentaries, and we did 19 or 20 interviews, ranging from law enforcement to some of Frank’s biggest heroin customers down in Baltimore, to my personal favorite, Keith Diamond, who was hired to tutor Frank Matthews’ three young sons back in 1971. We also did some re-enactments of dramatic moments in the story that came out really well, I think.
What other DVD projects have you all been involved in?
RON: I’ve published 32 books and three documentaries now. I’m working on a doc about Ike Atkinson and a book about Matthews.
AL: I’ve done 5 crime documentaries prior to this one, my most recent being “Motown Mafia”, “The United States vs. BMF” and “Rollin: The Fall of the Auto Industry and the Rise of the Drug Economy in Detroit” I also will be releasing my first feature film, “Saint Aubin” in March. Written, directed, and starring me, check out the trailer at www.SaintAubinMovie.com
Describe the era back then when frank was doing his thing?
RON: Frank operated at a time when the French Connection was breaking up and La Cosa Nostra was losing its near monopoly of the drug trade. It opened up huge opportunities for black drug dealers who were able to become their own men in the criminal world. There was a heroine epidemic in America, and the money that was made by black gangsters was staggering. The era attracted were born. At the head of the class was Frank Matthews.
What did you learn in the making of the DVD about frank that you didn’t no before?
AL: For me, the fact that he was working directly with the French Connection, and that the people he was linked with inVenezuela were protected by the CIA was really amazing
Where do you think this genre of the urban gangster is going in pop culture?
AL: I actually think it’s become somewhat trivialized, as is almost everything in American culture. You have a lot of people, the film “American Gangster” with Russell Crowe and Denzel comes to mind, selling black criminality to the masses as a commercial product with no real understanding of it, and they usually don’t even get the facts of the story right. What we’ve done with the Frank Matthews Story is both entertaining and real journalism about an important piece of Americana.
RON: I don’t see much of a future for it. Frank Matthews is the last big story of the big era of drug trafficking, and it’s being done. Most of the stories sound alike. There are no real legends today there is a glut of urban gangster docs. Gangster rap is waning. May I need to say more?
Why do you think BET’S American gangster series didn’t feature Frank Matthews?
RON: That’s a good question. It’s a complete mystery to me. There were rumors Frank was going to be featured but nothing ever happened. Frank Matthews has been very lucky. He has managed to stay under the radar for nearly 40 years. How do you explain we have done the first documentary on him?
Where can people get the DVD?
Also if you want to read more on Frank Matthews check out Street Legends Vol. 2 and get yourself a Frank Matthews t-shirt, sticker and poster.