Baltimore Police Detective Harry Edgerton figured the real target was the younger kid, a 17-year-old street dealer by the name of Dashawn Powell. Five shots fired point-blank into his head and neck suggested that much. The older victim, Kelvin Thompson, was probably an afterthought, shot because he shared a stoop with Powell that night.
A veteran of the homicide unit, Detective Edgerton knew that much after an hour's work. A day or two in the neighborhood, and he thought he had the motive: Dashawn had taken 50 bags of dope on consignment from the New Yorkers working the Hollins Street corners. The teen-ager was supposed to sell the drugs for $10 a bag, keeping $50 and returning $450, but he turned in nothing.
By the end of the week, Detective Edgerton had three street names for the shooters -- "Peanut," "Soup" and "Caviar." Checking the Baltimore police computer, he even found arrest sheets for Peanut under five aliases, as well as two FBI fingerprint cards under different names.
The detective typed up an arrest warrant and began checking the Baltimore corners now dominated by New Yorkers -- Monroe and Fayette, Boyd and Pulaski, Pulaski and Hollins. Nothing on the west side. Detective Edgerton went east to Ashland over by Hopkins Hospital, to Federal and Rutland. No Peanut. Word came that the kid might be back in the Bronx, but May became June with no sign of him. And the other two -- Soup and Caviar -- were still nicknames in a case file.
That's the way it is with the New York Boys, as they're known to both local dealers and police. They come to Baltimore, deal some coke, do a murder, and then they're gone -- back to New York, on to Philly, or maybe even across town to some other neighborhood where they're not known. It's a Baltimore detective's latest nightmare.
Since spring, city police have investigated at least 11 murders involving suspected New York drug traffickers -- nine of them with New York victims, two in which local men were killed. Seven of those murders have been cleared by arrest, but detectives note that New York traffickers are suspected in several other unsolved slayings as well.
The growing numbers of New Yorkers on local corners have made the city's drug trade more complicated and more transient, and its violence harder to police. And the New Yorkers are settling in: Where once those who came to Baltimore were independents, content to come south on the Amtrak or the Greyhound with a single package, now they're working in well-schooled groups, setting up permanent shops in the city drug markets.
Economics has driven the trend. Since 1984, say narcotics detectives, heroin that no longer commanded top dollar in cocaine-laden New York still brought good money in Baltimore, with its estimated 20,000 addicts. New Yorkers could undercut local dealers with a stronger product, and now, with crack cocaine finally gaining here, they're feeding that demand as well.
Ashland Avenue just north of the Johns Hopkins Hospital is so thick with migrant dopers that it's known to police as Little Bronx. Likewise, the drug corners of Southwest Baltimore are packed with New Yorkers most every night. The same is true in Yale Heights, in Cherry Hill, in Barclay off Greenmount Avenue.
"When you talk to people from New York, they'll tell you that Baltimore is a safe haven," says city narcotics Detective Edward Fox, who is currently involved in a federal probe of one of the
New York drug rings. "If you're wanted on a warrant in New York, you get sent to Baltimore."
Detective Edgerton, who has been searching the drug markets for more than five months for his three murder suspects, estimates that 1,500 to 2,000 New Yorkers are working in Baltimore's drug trade. Other investigators offer higher numbers, but they acknowledge that there is no way to get an accurate count.
"They don't want you to know they're from New York," says Detective Fox. "You drive around and it's the Baltimore dealers that yell 'Five-Oh' and eye you. The New York Boys just look away. They're low-profile."
At the same time, street-level detectives and officers -- as well as some prosecutors -- criticize the city Police Department for failing to respond to a threat they say was known to the department leadership as early as 1985.
"You just couldn't get anyone over there interested," said Stephen May, a former city prosecutor who tried unsuccessfully to get city police to pursue a probe of known New York traffickers. "As far as the people in authority were concerned, there wasn't any problem."
Local drug traffickers beg to differ.
"I'd say that you've got several hundred New York Boys working out in that Southwest area alone," said Donald Nelson, a local narcotics figure now serving a federal drug sentence in an
out-of-state witness protection facility. "That's really been their stronghold."