New Details Fill In Blanks On 40 Year Anniversary Of Michigan Democratic Social Club Slayings

Earlier this year, Gangster Report gained access to five boxes of the police case file covering the stunning July 1979 Michigan Federated Democratic Social Club Massacre. The files provide fresh insight, detail and context to the grisly gangland slayings and triple beheading tied to internal acrimony in Detroit’s black mob, known at that time as the Murder Row Gang. The bone-chilling killings and dismemberments of two Murder Row lieutenants and the girlfriend of another top Murder Row lieutenant 40 years ago this week dominated headlines in Detroit in the summer of 1979, as Motown’s most notorious African-American drug lord of the day, Francis (Big Frank Nitti) Usher’s criminal empire came under attack from within. At the time, Usher was at war with Murder Row faction leader Adolph (Doc Holliday) Powell, who headquartered out of the Michigan Federated Democratic Social Club tucked away on a side street in Detroit’s Midtown neighborhood. On the late afternoon of July 18, 1979, William (Little Dirt) McJoy, William (Straw Hat Perry) Jackson, two of Usher’s top soldiers, and Joanne Clark, the girlfriend of his right-hand man James (Cool Cat) Elliott, were slain execution style on the floor of the club, allegedly on Powell’s orders, with Usher being forced to watch and then participate in the chopping up of the bodies afterward. The dismembered corpses were found by police in an abandoned van late that night on the eastside of Detroit. The case files paint a picture of dueling crime chiefs in the same organization, festering animosities, shifting alliances and an affair of the heart that lit the fuse for the entire gore-ridden saga that followed. Due to the newly-acquired files, we now have a much broader and fuller understanding of the circumstances surrounding the murders and why Usher himself was spared, a decision that has always vexed researchers and has never been explained until now. Two words might best sum up the reason Powell didn’t kill Usher: The Italians. Well, maybe five words do a better job: Tony Jack and Billy Jack. Usher was groomed in the ways of crime by the Giacalone brothers (“Tony Jack” and “Billy Jack”), the street bosses of the Detroit mafia from the 1960s into the 2000s. Raised on the city’s eastside, Usher started doing errands for the Giacalones out of the Luesod Social Club as a teen and came under the wing of legendary contract-assassin Chester (The Angel of Death) Campbell, a Giacalone brothers’ associate and sometime-employee described as a gangland James Bond. In the early 1970s, the Giacalones staked Usher’s Murder Row crew, a group of hit men, dope peddlers, pimps and gamblers that by the end of the decade grew to control most of Detroit’s African-American underworld, most importantly the bountiful heroin business. With the Giacalones money, reputation and supply lines behind him, Campbell on-call as his No. 1 enforcer and top advisor and a partnership with Westside dope boss Harold (The Hawk) Morton, Big Frank Nitti Usher, nicknamed by the Giacalone brothers after the real-life Chicago mobster and television-and-film character (The Untouchables), took over the city’s black rackets. And he did it while encountering zero resistance. The resistance would come later. Tall, well-dressed and thickly-built, Usher was the king of the Motown dope game. He also had interests in prostitution, numbers, bookmaking, floating dice and card games, fencing stolen goods and white-collar investments in real estate, bars and nightclubs. His office was at the Black Orchid strip club on Detroit’s Westside, an establishment he owned with an Italian mob associate, and his movements were tracked by law enforcement and the local reporters and gossip columnists alike. Usher’s powerbase began to weaken when Campbell was jailed in 1975, followed by Morton in 1978. Doc Holliday, Morton’s former driver and bodyguard, formed his own camp within the Murder Row crew and began plotting to overthrow Usher as boss. Doc Holliday was more boastful and flamboyant in his demeanor than both Usher and Morton and once Morton was out of the picture, Holliday and the more stoic Usher started butted heads. The tensions between Usher and Holliday ramped up in early 1979 when Holliday had Usher loyalist Edward (Sugar Bear) Brown killed for disrespecting him. From late 1978 into January of the New Year, Brown and fellow Murder Row soldier Robert (Lefty) Partee had been fighting over the romantic affections of a woman. Usher told Partee to back-off. Partee in turn took the issue to Doc Holliday who summoned Sugar Bear Brown and the woman for a meeting and upon Brown getting mouthy with Holliday, Lefty Partee shot him to death inside the Michigan Federated Democratic Club on January 27, 1979 per Holliday’s instructions. The very next day, Partee and his partner-in-crime in Murder Row, James (Jimmy Red) Freeman, were sent out of town to California by Holliday to lay low. Partee and Freeman were viewed by the police and FBI as part of Usher’s camp inside Murder Row and their work for Holliday appeared to them to be a sign that the balance in the gang had shifted away from Usher and trouble loomed. While Partee and Freeman were stashed in San Diego, Holliday allegedly called them and told them to look for a heroin connection out west, so they wouldn’t have to be reliant on Usher’s anymore. By the spring of 1979, word had leaked to Doc Holliday that Usher was hip to his plan and had put a murder contract on his head, giving the task to his best friend and second-in-charge, Cool Cat Elliott. Holliday responded by putting a contract on Elliott’s head and unsuccessfully attempting to lure him out into the open to be done away with. He’d never get another chance. The cops interrupted his plot. That interruption, however, set the stage for the Michigan Federated Democratic Social Club Massacre just days later. Elliott was arrested for racketeering on July 13 and locked up in the Wayne County Jail, finally leaving Usher unprotected. Doc Holliday pounced. That evening, Doc had his driver Clarence (Fuzzy Mickey) Welton make arrangements to bring Lefty Partee and Red Freeman back from California. Their assignment: execute Cool Cat’s men, Little Dirt McJoy and Straw Hat Perry Jackson, co-conspirators in the plan to assassinate Doc, and Cool Cat’s spunky girlfriend, Joanne Clark. Partee and Freeman received a $800 wire transfer at the San Diego Western Union office from Welton on July 14. The pair arrived in Detroit on the night of July 16 and met with Doc in an apartment building a number of Murder Row members lived at across the street from the Michigan Federated Democratic Social Club on Garfield Street right off Woodward Avenue. Usher arrived at the club in the early afternoon of July 18 for a meeting with Doc Holliday. Also present were Murder Row gang affiliates, Cass (Highway) Head and Bennie (Shorty B) Fountain, the club’s bar tender, and Forrest Alexander, a 66-year old former numbers runner who sometimes worked as a doorman at the club. At around 3:45, Usher and Doc’s meeting turned into an argument where Doc pulled a gun on Usher and relieved Usher of his weapon. Doc had Usher call McJoy, Jackson and Clark to the club and told to “act natural.” McJoy arrived first at 4:30, followed by Jackson and Clark at close to 5:00. Upon Jackson and Clark taking a seat at the bar, Doc told Cass Head to go across the street to Mickey Welton’s apartment where Lefty and Red were and tell them “The man with the straw hat is here.” Within minutes, Lefty and Red stormed into the club guns blazing. McJoy, Jackson and Clark were placed side-by-side on the floor and each shot in the back of the head. In the moments before the murders, Clark barked and cursed at her killers, telling them, “If you’re going to do this, than do it and get it over with.” Welton asked Doc Holliday why they weren’t including Usher in the slaughter and was told, “We’ll take care of him tomorrow.” Investigators believe he was bluffing and never intended to touch Usher out of fear of reprisals from the Giacalone brothers, not to mention losing access to Usher’s heroin. Doc’s goal, according to one informant, was to shift the power dynamic in the group and unseat him as Murder Row’s No. 1 shot caller. After the slayings, Doc forced Usher to take part in the dismemberment of the bodies as a means of adding insult to injury. He also popped a bottle of champagne and lit a fat cigar in celebration as he, Welton and Usher chopped up McJoy, Jackson and Clark and placed their heads, limbs and various other body parts into garbage bags. A drunken and giddy Doc Holliday tasked Welton and Bennie Fountain to get rid of the victims’ remains, however, the endeavor was doomed from the start. Welton and his girlfriend, Cynthia Skeens, put the garbage bags into a van and took off to bury them without shovels or lime to sprinkle in the makeshift graves. Fountain followed in his car and ended up shuttling Welton and Skeens back to the club to retrieve the materials. Welton stashed the van on the eastside in an alley near Harper and St. Antoinette. Before they could return, police found the vehicle with the three beheaded corpses due to a tip from a neighborhood woman who saw blood dripping from the van’s rear door. Usher immediately bolted for cover in Indianapolis. Skeens and Forrest Alexander, the elderly doorman, both flipped and became witnesses for the government. Mickey Welton was killed in October.

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