This is the true story of a gangland hit man, and the parallel people and events that altered Detroit’s organized crime underworld. Drug wars, conspiracies, espionage, corruption and murder… this was a violent world forged from the economic windfall of heroin trafficking. Chester Wheeler Campbell was a reliable strongarm, freelancing for drug lords and mobsters alike. His tale spans from the early 1930’s through the turn of the new century. He was… Courier, Dealer, Spy, Gangster, Master of Disguise, Ladies Man… Hit Man. Check out Gorilla Convict’s interview with the author Christian Cipollini-
What inspired you to pen a book on Chester Wheeler Campbell?
There were definitely a few things that all came together giving me the final decision to write a book about Campbell. Primarily though, I have been collecting original photographs related to organized crime history for a few years now and when I stumbled across a photo of Chester, well, I was immediately fascinated. I had only heard of him vaguely, but that photo was mesmerizing and I had to begin researching. After a month or so of digging into the subject, I honestly couldn’t believe that his story and name was not more discussed or recognizable.
Why so surprised?
As the months of research went on, I found Chester Campbell was far more than meets the eye. Here was a man that as I can only describe as like a black James Bond of professional hit men. Incredibly intelligent, meticulous, professional, but also cold, distant, and highly manipulative. He was a major element of a much greater underworld economic system that went beyond Detroit, yet his story and name – the whole organized crime history and impact centered in Detroit really – were not nationally recognizable. I felt this was a story that needed to be told and added to the historical chronicles of underworld history.
How did you gather all the information?
Surprisingly, there was actually quite a bit of coverage in newspapers during the 1970’s, though much of it was very obscure – like finding a needle in a haystack. Although many people haven’t heard of Campbell, believe me, there was coverage to be discovered. Also, I have a very good friend who lived in the area where Chester was arrested in 1975 and he was an amazing research partner – helping me track down information dating back decades. I culled hundreds of articles, legal motions, court transcripts and primary evidence files as well. I interviewed a few people who were involved in the cases and some who have great knowledge of the overall history of Detroit’s organized crime. And, there’s an amazing collection of photographs in the book, including people, places and even some of Campbell’s own handwritten documents.
What do you want readers to take away from this book?
I hope readers find the story as fascinating to read as I found to research and write. Also, I tried to put the tale into an objective perspective, and by that I mean I didn’t want to glorify Campbell, but I also wanted to get the point across that the time and place when he grew up was not exactly one that offered many opportunities – especially to minorities. It’s like this – every gangster had a choice to not be a criminal, but every gangster, no matter the ethnic group, usually came from an oppressed or hopeless looking environment and simply found ways to survive and thrive. Really, I hope readers get the overall social, criminal and economic overview of the Motor City and how guys like Campbell and others came to be what they were. Perhaps, it will help to raise discussions about things that still haven’t been fixed in society. Plus, the book isn’t just about Chester Wheeler Campbell. The story evolved into a multi-decade look at organized crime in Detroit, the heroin problem, the warring factions and a good bit about the legal process there. I really hope the book inspires readers and researches to continue looking for answers and discussing or debating issues related to organized crime and, especially, the drug issue.
Who else is discussed in the book?
Researching Campbell led to a lot of parallel people and events. There’s a lot on Henry Marzette, the good cop turned heroin kingpin. Chester was involved in a giant conspiracy involving the 10th Precinct police and corruption. That’s discussed quite a bit. And then there’s the tales of Harold Morton and Frank Lee Usher, to name a few. Campbell’s numerous lawyers are discussed, as are many of the witnesses against him and a few of his associates – including his girlfriend. A lot of interesting side stories.
Why the title Diary of a Motor City Hit Man?
The title was something I had to think about for a while. I bounced ideas off my publisher and my family until the word ‘Diary’ seemed to make the most sense. It’s not Chester Campbell’s diary, but Chester kept such meticulous records – it was almost like he kept a diary. And the other reason, well, I had documents and photos all filling up scrapbooks as I researched. Then, as I wrote the book it felt sort of like my keeping of diary of Chester’s story. So, Diary seemed to fit the best overall.
Where can readers get the book?
The book is available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble and most other book sellers sites. The publishing company will have them too, at Strategic Media Books. I’m signing copies that are purchased from the official website www.diaryofamotorcityhitman.com
Any final thoughts?
I hope once people read the book that more stories and information comes to light regarding Chester and the numerous other characters and events of the time. I think it would be wonderful to delve into the subject even further at some point.
Excerpt from Chapter 13 – Revelations of a Hit Man
More startling discoveries relating to Campbell were made in the early days of March 1975. Detroit Police Chief Philip Tannian and Coretta Scott King, wife of the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. were guest speakers at the Michigan State University for a conference on crime. During the engagement, Chief Tannian made a shocking announcement.
“There was a school for professional hit men in Detroit,” he stated, “but it is out of business.”
Though he remained reticent when the question of Campbell’s recent arrest was raised, Tannian did remark that all but one of the ‘school’s’ pupils were already incarcerated or deceased. For reasons he did not go into, Tannian also refused to offer any further details on the school itself or those who operated and studied within it.
Trying to shift gears quickly, he sharply declared, “We’ll hear all about it soon.”
Tannian was clearly preventing any pre-trial publicity that might affect the outcomes. To quickly close the subject he said, ”There are prosecutions pending.”
It’s quite reasonable to imagine Tannian’s findings all tied into the bizarre complexities of a case so dynamic and large that the very foundation of Detroit’s sense of law and order would be shaken. That case of course was the 10th Precinct Conspiracy. Again, he was directly asked if the one remaining alumni was indeed Chester Campbell. Until the time was right, his lips were sealed, thus dodging the question altogether. King then took to addressing a general discussion of the city’s crime problems for the remainder of the conference.
Oddly enough, the public never did “hear all about it.” Neither Chief Tannian nor the media ever truly delved any further into the specifics of this mysterious institute of underworld learning. In a long list of questions without solid answers, yet another one is added.
With no more information on the school, or Chester Wheeler Campbell’s relation to it, the story died off. It wasn’t long though for Campbell’s name to come up for something else.
Just days after Chief Tannian’s announcement, Detroit police released another peculiar find from their search of Campbell’s home. Although a treasure trove of illegal and unusual items had been confiscated (and tallied up for the press to run wild with) when cops raided his Ivanhoe address shortly after his February 6th arrest, this particular find needed deeper investigation prior to making it a public affair.
Turns out, Chester had an authentic police badge and complete uniform stashed at his home. Detroit authorities traced all the items back to a police department in Ohio.
Detroit investigators contacted Toledo police regarding the articles. Records kept by the Toledo department indicated the badge was reported lost, by a former Toledo officer, five years earlier, and the uniform was a type the force discontinued three years prior to the find in Campbell’s home. Additionally, the uniform had been stripped of nametags, but a commanding officer’s style of hat was present, completing the set of official trousers and short-sleeved shirt.
When the story hit newspapers, Toledo police had not yet determined if the uniform had ever been officially reported as lost or stolen. However, in another perplexing twist, police did divulge how the officer’s badge went missing – at least how the incident was originally reported. In his report, the former cop stated he “lost the badge while assisting a disabled motorist.”
Chester Wheeler Campbell made trips to Ohio, frequently. Moreover, he was in possession of numerous phony I.D.’s, some of which attested to his being a resident of the ‘Buckeye State.’ The fake Ohio driver’s license, and other forms of identification found during searches of Campbell’s property, all signified he lived in Cleveland (though each form of identification displayed differing home addresses within the city). As for his Ohioan alter ego… Chester was known as Augustus Miller.
Perhaps the motorist with car troubles, as reported by the former Toledo cop in 1970, was indeed Detroit’s infamous hit man. Coincidental? Possibly. Only Chester knew the real story of how that uniform and badge came into his possession. Still, the chronicle of his exploits and skills in the art of manipulation up to this point certainly make such a scenario more than reasonable. Moreover, this was the first sign indicating that Campbell didn’t limit his alter egos to fake I.D.’s, but he also had grown accustomed to donning disguises. This was not a typical criminal, not even in the unpredictable and scandalous underworld of Detroit.
The first week of March had yet another foreboding, albeit vague revelation. Publicly, the move was little noticed, but officials in three counties were extremely concerned about newly revealed threats, and took quick action. Information had been obtained regarding a plot to kidnap at least four judges. On the evening of Tuesday March 4, within a few hours following Chief Philip Tannian’s comments at the crime conference, a report was passed around law enforcement offices, alerting police of the alleged scheme. Cops were unsure of the validity or where the information originated, but followed protocol by placing a net of extra security around the four judges mentioned plus all twenty of Detroit’s Recorder’s Court judges. The only information police were sure of… the plot had something to do with Chester Wheeler Campbell, who was currently still being held in Oakland County Jail in Pontiac Michigan.
Check out this Teaser Trailer – Diary of a Motor City Hit Man Book
I like the peace you did on Christian Cipollini who did book on Cheester Wheeler Campbell but do have any information if he is still currently incarcerated or not?
I met Chester Campbell in Detroit as a teen!
Phillip – thanks for the comments! Not sure if you’re asking about Christian or Chester, so here’s the answer to both: Christian is not incarcerated and Chester is deceased.
When y’all going to cover Rockin Reggie Brown?
I met Chester Campbell in Detroit when I was a young woman in my twenties around 1984 or 86 I’m not sure. I will never forget him. He was the Godfather of a girlfriend. We were at her apartment with another girlfriend and Chester smoking weed. When he looked at you he’ll look deep into your eyes almost scary like. He spoke very carefully and slowly pronouncing every word correctly so that you wouldn’t be mistaken about what he meant. I remember being fascinated by him and asked him a lot silly questions trying to get to know him. I had no idea until later who he was. The thing that I remember most about him was that he would take a cigarette empty all the tobacco and replace it with marijuana. That took a lot of time and patience. He would say something funny but never laughed. He was very serious but comfortable with us three very young ladies, but not so much when my boyfriend came in to put me up and grabbed the bag of chips that was on the table in front of Chester. I remember the look that Chester gave my boyfriend it made my boyfriend stop in his tracks and place the bag back on the table, and apologized. Funny, I wanted to know more about Chester so when I asked his Goddaughter. She told me that he was a dangerous hit man. I never saw him again just that one encounter, but I never forgot that day when I met the quiet mysterious man.