The Murder, Inc. Of Motown: Murder Row Crew Of Yesteryear Back In The News

Detroit’s almost-mythic Murder Row Gang has received some fresh ink this month. The mafia-supported drug trafficking organization and hit-for-hire crew hasn’t been active in more than 30 years, but made quite the impact in their gangland heyday of the late 1970s, building a mystique and fearsome reputation that still resonates on the streets of Motown today. They gang was known for its deep connections around the country and the sheer volume of capable racketeers and straight killers in its midst. Notorious Murder Row hitman Chester (The Angel of Death) Campbell got a shout-out in a British tabloid piece last week comparing the devilish and cultured Motor City assassin to the fictional shadowy John Wick character played to pinpoint perfection by actor Keanu Reeves in the wildly-popular eponymous-titled film trilogy. John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum opened on May 17 and has already cleared more than $100,000,000 at the box office ($120,000,000 to be precise). Former Murder Row leader James (Jimmy Red) Freeman, was paroled from prison back in March after 31 years behind bars. Freeman’s name pops up in a new book by retired U.S. Treasury Agent Jim Sanderson called Down The Rat Hole about an unsolved mob triple murder in Sterling Heights, Michigan – the book theorizes Freeman could have played a role in the Time Realty Massacre, which saw three Detroit-area bookmakers slain on April 3, 1985. The 69-year old Freeman was found not guilty at trial for the Michigan Federated Democratic Social Club Massacre, a triple beheading of two Murder Row lieutenants and a female associate in July 1979. Freeman headed Murder Row in the 1980s after he beat the case and the gang’s founders and first bosses were away in prison. Murder Row was founded in the early 1970s by Francis (Big Frank Nitti) Usher and Harold (The Hawk) Morton as a subset of the Detroit Italian mafia’s Giacalone crew. Usher came under the tutelage of the Giacalone brothers (“Tony Jack” & “Billy Jack”) at a young age and it was the Giacalone brothers, two of the country’s most respected mobsters with ties in criminal circles from coast-to-coast who set him up in the drug game. The Murder Row Gang’s No. 1 enforcer was Chester Campbell until Campbell was jailed in 1977 after police found him carrying an “assassin’s kit” and a hit list containing political and judicial targets. With Campbell behind bars, Freeman and Adolph (Doc Holliday) Powell became the gang’s top muscle. Powell served as Morton’s bodyguard. The Michigan Federated Democratic Social Club, located in Detroit’s Midtown neighborhood, was the headquarters was Powell’s headquarters. Usher and Powell went to war for control of the gang in the wake of Morton’s imprisonment in 1978 for smuggling heroin from Europe and then killing one of his female mules he worried would testify against him. Powell came to Detroit from New Orleans and was working with Morton before Morton joined forces with Usher and the Giacalone brothers. Murder Row members William (Little Dirty) McJoy and William (Straw Hat Perry) Jackson and a woman named Joanne Clark were slain and beheaded inside the Michigan Federated Democratic Social Club on July 18, 1979. McJoy and Jackson were Usher loyalists. Clark dated one of Usher’s best friends. Usher, Powell and Freeman were charged in the triple homicide that fall, with Powell and Freeman being acquitted at trial and Usher being found guilty, only to have the conviction overturned on appeal. Powell was gunned down inside La Players Lounge on Detroit’s eastside in 1984, while downing a shot at the bar and holding a fifty dollar bill in his hand. Freeman was jailed in 1988 on a gun case under a habitual offender statute.

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