PROHIBITION TO THE HEROIN ERA
Detroit, formerly known as the Motor City, currently known as the Murder City, has always had a rich culture of drug crews, gangsters and violence. Dating back to the Purple Gang in the prohibition era of the 1920s the city has a rich history of street lore. The Purple Gang consisted of the children of Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe, primarily Russia and Poland, who came to the U.S. in the great immigration wave from 1881 to 1914. The gang started off as petty thieves and shakedown artists, but soon gravitated to the more lucrative areas of crime like armed robbery, extortion and high jacking, under the tutelage of older Detroit gangsters like Charles Leiter and Henry Shorr.
By the late 1920s, the Purple Gang reigned supreme over the Detroit underworld, controlling the city’s vice, gambling, liquor, murder and drug trades. “The gang was responsible for over one hundred bodies found in the Detroit River during the late 1920s and early 1930s,” newspapers of the day reported. They were also involved in kidnapping other gangsters for ransoms, which became very popular during the era. “The Purples,” as most people called them, were literally terrorizing the city of Detroit with the street executions of their enemies, as well as the murders of Detroit police Officer Vivian Welsh and radio personality Jerry Buckley. They were rumored to be Al Capone’s hired gunmen in the infamous and bloody St, Valentine’s Day Massacre.
For several years, “The Purples” seemingly enjoyed complete immunity from police interference. Witnesses to crimes were terrified to testify against any criminal identified as a Purple gangster. Reputedly they became more arrogant and sloppy as time progressed and that along with jealousy, egos and inner-gang quarrels would eventually cause the Purple Gang to collapse. Ultimately self-destructing and leaving a void in the criminal underworld.
After the reign of the Purple Gang, Detroit underwent a demographic shift called the white flight that began in the late-1950s, that transformed many of the city’s public housing projects, such as the Herman Gardens, from racially diverse to damn near all black in just a few short years. Out of the racial and economic unrest that transformed the city in the early-1960s, the murder rate soared to the highest in the United States. Detroit became increasing viewed as a dangerous place to live and in perpetual decline, street gangs began to proliferate seize territories.
Several violent street gangs emerged to control major pieces of the city’s drug trade, but one of the first major black criminal organizations to dominate the streets were the Errol Flynns. The Errol Flynns were founded on Detroit’s Eastside in the 1970s and reportedly the gang appropriated their name from Hollywood film star, Errol Flynn. They fashioned themselves as flamboyant gangsters, a trend that would carry on with Detroit gangsters even to this day.
Like many other Detroit street gangs, the Errol Flynns evolved to become a wealthy organization that monopolized many of the city’s criminal rackets, including extortion, robbery and drug trafficking. They were also linked to several notorious mass robberies including a high jacking and robbery of concert goers at a rock concert at Cobo Hall in 1977. The Flynns gang grew to include almost 400 members, but this prominence brought police, public and political attention and many of the gang members were eventually jailed.
“The Errol Flynn Gang collapsed in the 1980s, partially because the rise of crack cocaine which undermined their heroin trade, as well as the successful prosecution of many of the gang leaders, some of whom are still incarcerated today,” newspaper headlines reported. The Errol Flynns are known in Detroit as the Godfathers or the precursors of every black street gang or drug organization that followed them. “They set the tone and trends that hustlers from Detroit still follow-today,” a dude from the era says.
One drug crew that followed in the Flynns footsteps was Y.B.I., or the Young Boys Incorporated. Y.B.I, was formed in the late-1970s on the city’s Westside by a small group of childhood friends, Dewayne Davis a.k.a. Wonderful Wayne or W.W. and Raymond Peoples, along with Milton “Butch” Jones are credited as being the gangs founders, “Y.B.I, came out of the Westside under Butch Jones and Wonderful Wayne,” an old school Detroit hustler says.
From the start, Y.B.I.’s main place of operation was the Dexter/Linwood neighborhood, but two years after its formation, Y.B.I, completely took over the heroin trade in and around the city, with sales estimated at about $250,000 per day. “Them kids was getting it. They was running shit,” a fiend from that era says. Young Boys Inc. was the first black drug cartel that operated on inner-city street corners. “They were very savvy and innovative, opening franchises in other cities, and using youths too young to be prosecuted, to deal their drugs,” a narcotics detective related. Y.B.I, was the first to promote brand name heroin such as Hoochie-Con, Mixed-Jive and Summer Madness. They also had no problem unleashing extreme brutality and murder to frighten away rivals. “The Young Boys controlled over 80 percent of the heroin traffic in Detroit from the summer of 1978 through 1982,” the narcotics detective said.
The Young Boys organization’s monopoly on heroin sales in Detroit was seriously crippled in September 1982, when Butch Jones allegedly ordered the execution of W.W. over a turf dispute. W.W. was gunned down at the corner of Columbus and Lawton on the city’s Westside. “That was the beginning of the end for Y.B.I.,” an anonymous member of the gang says, A few months later, on December 7th, Raymond Peoples, Butch Jones and 41 of Y.B.I.’s top lieutenants were indicted, eventually convicted and sentenced to long federal prison terms. “They gave Y.B.I, football numbers in the Feds,” a dude from that era says. “They buried them.”
Butch Jones was released after serving 12 years in a federal prison, but was later indicted again on drug and murder charges. Under U.S. Federal law, anyone convicted of a drug related murder is eligible for the death penalty, and facing such punishment, Butch joined TEAM USA and cooperated with government authorities in lieu of a lesser sentence.
Although Butch turned Team USA, Y.B.I.’s reputation and organization impacted and influenced drug gangs all over the United States, during the 80s and 90s drug era. Consequently after the downfall of the Young Boys Incorporated, other black Detroit drug cartels would go on and copy their incredibly organized structure.
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