A new book on the legendary black Godfather Frank Matthews, written by crime expert and author Ron Chepesiuk, has been released on Strategic Media Books. Because we cover all things gangster, we got the exclusive on the book and the author, with this interview that follows. We also are attaching an excerpt of the book after the interview. So read on and see why Frank Matthews was called Black Caesar and why he has gone down as one of the biggest street legends in the chronicles of gangster lore ever, as he took off with $20 million in 1973 and still has never been apprehended by law enforcement. Here’s the interview with author Ron Chepesiuk.
Describe the research process you used to gather material for this book?
It was a difficult book to research, mainly because so many records were missing and many people wouldn’t talk some because they wanted money. Also, I didn’t want to cover too much of the same ground that was covered in Donald Goddards’s Easy Money. There wasn’t too much on the Internet but I did an exhaustive search. I managed to get some good reports from some of the agents who worked the case and they were quite generous with their time when it came time to interview them. They viewed Frank as criminal but had respect for him. Word started to get around that I was working on a Matthews’ bio and people who knew him and had good information approached me. Gradually you have enough info to write a compelling narrative.
So it was it difficult to find people willing to talk about Matthews who had firsthand accounts?
Yes, it was, but here is the thing. I came to realize after hearing some of the wild stories that most people who claimed to know Matthews didn’t know shit about him. Matthews is a legend and people want a piece of a legend and will say anything or embellish anything to be a part of it. I think I know Matthews pretty well now; in fact as well as anybody. He was essentially a loner who had great social networking skills. He knew how to make people feel important. Like a Lee Iacocca he knew how to make people feel special, a part of his team. He was constantly moving around like a social butterfly but he never hung around long enough for anyone to get to know him well. I think that was part energy and partly by design. A couple of his homeboys pointed this out to me. So I did the best I could with the hand I was dealt on this project. Several sources died during my research. Some of them I never got to interview. My book is the last say on Frank Matthews unless, that is, he shows up and say “Here I am.” (Laughs).
Where does Frank Matthews stand in the chronicles of gangster lore?
An original gangster who did it his way. He is the epitome of the Original Gangster. The only gangster I can think that compares in that regard is Ike Atkinson, “Sergeant Smack” He and Ike are also the top African American gangsters of all time, and I was lucky enough as a writer to do both stories. In non-ethnic terms he is right up there with Capone, Luciano, Gotti, Escobar, Bulger—not as well known YET, but right up there.
Why did you choose to do a book on Frank Matthews?
As a writer I’m always looking for a unique topic to write about. I discovered Frank Matthews as a subject when I was writing my book, Gangsters of Harlem. I did a chapter on Matthews for the book. I learned about the book Easy Money by Donald Goddard. After reading it, I discovered it was really about George Ramos, with the Matthews story as a backdrop. The book also stopped when Matthews fled, and did not cover the remarkable hunt for Matthews. I knew there was a niche for a book about Frank Matthews and went for it.
Where did you find all the images you used in the book?
There really aren’t that many photos around of Frank Matthews, but I did manage to find some good ones. People said they knew of photos of Matthews, but I don’t think that’s true. Another example of people being to be a part of the legend. There is no film footage of him that I know of it. But over the past five years sources did step forward with photos. I didn’t have photo of Gizelle Brown, but one of my DEA sources found the wanted poster of Gizelle. I hope the photos enhance the book.
Where does the black gangster stand in modern day popular culture?
He has had a tremendous influence on film, Hip-hop culture, fashion, even every day vocabulary. I expect this trend to continue, since there is a still a lot of black gangster stories still out there to be told. It’s important to remember though, that nearly all of them, with the possible exception of Frank Matthews met the same fate—jail or death.
How did Frank Matthews become the first black godfather?
He was at the right place at the right in history. I discuss this in the book. In short, La Cosa Nostra had a monopoly on heroin called the French Connection and the authorities in the late 1960s were having great success in breaking it up, opening up opportunities for black gangsters to move in. The Vietnam War and economic conditions in the U.S. created a huge demand for heroin. Black Power was asserting itself in all aspects of African American society. The time was ripe for a brilliant and ambitious gangster individual like Matthews to be successful.
Explain how he broke the Mafia’s stranglehold on the heroin trade?
What really pushed Frank to the top was the fact that, unlike other black gangsters in the US at the time, he had his own connection—an international drug connection to Venezuela, as well as contacts with important Cuban drug dealers., This allowed him to circumvent the Mob. It took a lot balls—cahones- for Matthews to do what he did, and he had plenty of them.
Where do you think he is now?
Anybody who claims that they know the fate of Matthews is bullshitting or a fool. I don’t claim to have a definitive answer, but now after researching this book, I do know more about Frank Matthews’ story, beginning to end, probably more than anybody, so I do have an opinion. If I was to bet, I would bet that he is dead. Nobody disappears without a trace as he did. Read the book. I discuss more in detail in the last chapter whether he is dead or alive.
Put the type of money he was generating in the late 60s/early 70s into the perspective of today?
The amount of money Matthews made was staggering. In the early 1970s some of the drug loads he was handling were worth $25 million plus. In today’s money that would be worth translate to from 90 million to 100 million plus. Matthews reportedly left with from $15 to $20 million, although that has never been verified. I think if you use the conversion tables for the eras, few if any drug dealers made as much money as Matthews.
Well, I have written a script about the Matthews’ story, and we hope the feature film on the Matthews legend will follow. Also, thanks for this for this opportunity, Seth. You run a great website. Anyone interested can find out more about the Matthews book and by going to these web sites www.frankmatthewsbook.com, www.strategicmediabooks.com and www.ronchepesiuk.com
Special to Gorilla Convict
This is an excerpt from Ron Chepesiuk’s new book about the Frank Matthews story: Black Caesar: The Rise and Disappearance of America’s Biggest Kingpin. It is published by Strategic Media books
Who was Frank Matthews?
Born in 1944 in Durham, North Carolina, Matthews left his hometown when he was a teenager, going first to Philadelphia and then to New York City. By the early 1970’s, Frank Matthews had become America’s biggest drug kingpin. His organization, headquartered in Brooklyn, stretched across 21 states, and he became the only Black gangster to establish direct ties to the French Connection heroin pipeline. To quote William Callahan, a federal prosecutor assigned to the Matthews’ case, “Matthews was a pioneering giant of drug distribution.
The $15 to 20 million Matthews is believed to have disappeared with is roughly equivalent to the $90 to $100 in today’s cash. The book explores various theories about the fate of Frank Matthews, and the author offers his own conclusion about the mystery.
P r o l o g u e
“Mr. Deary, am I going to get that life count they’ve been talking about?”
July 2, 1973– a typical hot, muggy day in New York City. Frank Matthews, alleged drug kingpin, is scheduled to appear in a federal court in Brooklyn, New York. He is already facing six charges of drug trafficking and conspiracy, but the new indictment will add charges and supersede the first one. On December 20, 1972, federal prosecutors swore out a warrant for Matthews’ arrest, accusing him of possessing 15 kilos of cocaine worth an estimated $3.6 million at street prices. About two weeks later, the authorities finally arrested Matthews in Las Vegas, one of his favorite haunts, as he prepared to leave the city and fly to Los Angeles for the Super Bowl VII game between the Miami Dolphins and Washington Redskins.
After being extradited from Las Vegas to New York City, Matthews had managed to secure bail despite the claim of the federal government that he is the US’s biggest drug trafficker. Federal prosecutors and law enforcement officials who investigated the Matthews organization considered the bail of $325,000 a bad joke, and they worried that Matthews would skip town. After all, investigators had evidence that Matthews maybe been quietly stashing $1 million a month for the past several months. So why, they wondered, would the drug kingpin be doing that unless he was preparing for his imminent flight? All Matthews had to do to meet the bond requirements was to report regularly to the US Attorney’s office and stay within the jurisdiction of the Eastern District of New York. Being short of manpower, law enforcement had no way of keeping tabs on Matthews.
The suspect’s attitude and demeanor reinforced the authorities concern. The charismatic and handsome Matthews swaggered into the federal courthouse and greeting everyone he met with a broad smile and a friendly nod, while flirting with the ladies. Law enforcement officials could only look on and marvel. “Frank looked and acted like the King of New York City,” said Ray Deary, the Assistant United States Attorney for the Eastern District who had served in the Appeals Division since 1971. “He walked around our turf like he owned it.” Deary was right.Frank Matthews is no ordinary criminal. On the mean streets of the urban jungles of America Matthews’ exploits have earned him the moniker of “Black Caesar.” He is charismatic as well as dangerous and even his adversaries, the authorities, have a grudging respect for him.
Matthews seemingly unconcern about the serious charges that could put him in jail for several decades baffled the authorities. They could not tail him, but they had received reports that Matthews has been conducting business with his associates even before securing bail. Sources within the West Street Detention Center, where Matthews had been detained after his arrest, observed that top lieutenants of his organization, as well as his lawyer, Gino Gallina, were visiting him frequently, and it seemed to the sources that Matthews was giving instructions and orders.
After his release on bond, Black Caesar was seen in the company of several leading drug dealers and gamblers. Moreover, Matthews was in the constant company of Cheryl Denise Brown, a beautiful light skinned black woman who turned heads wherever she went. It should have been an embarrassment to the alleged drug kingpin since he had a common law wife, Barbara Hinton, and three kids waiting for him at home. But Hinton, herself an attractive woman, did not seem to be bothered or embarrassed by Matthews’ apparent public infidelity, even after the family was forced to leave their luxurious surroundings for a more modest apartment at 2785 Ocean Parkway in Brooklyn.
In better days, Matthews had used the Ocean Parkway apartment as a getaway and a place to stash his many paramours. In their effort to nail Matthews, prosecutors hauled Hinton before a grand jury, offering her immunity if she would cooperate with their case against her husband. Hinton refused, even though she faced a possible conspiracy charge herself.
Then a few days before his scheduled court appearance, Matthews arrived in the Brooklyn federal court building with his lawyer, Gino Gallina when he bumped into Federal Prosecutor Raymond Deary as Deary was leaving a room. Matthews said to Deary, “Mr. Deary, am I gonna get that life count they been talking about?” Matthews was referring to part of section 848 of the Controlled Substances Act of 1970: “Any person who engages in a continuing criminal enterprise shall be sentenced to a term of imprisonment which may not be less than 20 years and which may be up to life imprisonment.” The thought of Section 848 terrified many traffickers because they feared that, if convicted under the statue, they would spend the rest of their lives in prison.
Deary looked at Matthews and said, “It’s very possible Frank…very possible.” Later, Deary said he was joking, but for Matthews, spending to him,” recalled Liddy Jones, a former drug kingpin and an associate of Matthews. “No way was he going to spend the rest of his life in jail.” Inside the steamycourthouse on this sweltering July day in 1973, the electric fans whirred as the judge, federal prosecutors and the defense team waited patiently for Frank Matthews to appear. But he never did. Instead, he became a fugitive from justice.
In the coming weeks, the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the lead agency in the investigation of Frank Matthews, is confident they will apprehend the fugitive. After all, don’t law enforcement officials always get their man? The weeks turned into months and the months into years, and law enforcement did not catch him. The US Marshal Service took over the hunt for Matthews from the DEA.
There were alleged sightings of Matthews in more than 50 countries. Cheryl Brown, Matthews’ mistress disappeared the same time he did, and her whereabouts were just as mysterious. No informant stepped forward. No bodies were ever found. No fingerprints were discovered. No solid leads appeared. Nothing.
With time, law enforcement moved on to other priorities. New generations of law enforcement officials replace the old guard and they knew little about Matthews. Periodically, Matthews’ story appeared briefly in the press and rekindled speculation. Is he alive or is he dead? The public wondered. But then the reports faded from public consciousness and people focused on other crime stories.
What follows is the remarkable story of the legendary Frank Matthews, one of organized crime’s most original gangsters. It is the story of the biggest gangster mystery of all time. It is a story with an improbable beginning and a story with no conclusive ending.
In this interview Ron states that he believes Frank Matthews is dead. This is interesting because in his interview in March of 2012 he and his co-documentary maker said the following below. So, I wonder if he has gotten some new information since then that has changed his opinion?
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.
I remember talking to an old black gentleman in Brooklyn NY back in the 90’s about organized crime. I mentioned Nicky Barnes to him because of the media attention he got in the past and present..
But I do recall that old fella saying the name.. Frank Matthews… And I had this puzzled look on my face… Like who the F*$!K is that guy? I’ll never forget that conversation..
I believe he and his girlfriend have died long ago. I also believe it was a hit by one of the stakeholders in the game. There will be no reason for her to keep quiet this long and it’s highly unlikely to be unrecognizable with all the money he has and especially in this day and age of the Internet. All they’ve to do now is find the remains.
Is there a photograph of the girlfriend…Denise?
I believe they might be dead now as well, but was probably on the run for a long time. It’s weird that he just left the kids behind.