FREDERICK, Okla. -- A dilapidated shell on the west side of town bore the first cryptic advertisement that something was amiss in rural America.
It simply said, "Bloods."
Then came the graffiti on the wooden barns, the tool sheds and the backs of stores on Main Street.
One scribble in black paint said, "Police 187." Most folks in this tranquil town of 5,200 figured it was just juvenile gibberish.
But Police Chief Jack Whitson read it as a warning that trouble was moving into this farm community, which lives off the rich, red Oklahoma earth. "187 refers to the section in the California penal code that pertains to the murder of a police officer," says the stocky chief, who rides around town with a pistol under his car seat. "It could be a threat," he says, but he sounds uncertain. "These signs are turf signs. Each gang is staking out a territory."
Unbelievable as it seems, little Frederick, Okla., is under siege.
The tentacles of two notorious Los Angeles street gangs, the Crips and the Bloods, have slithered deep into America's heartland. And they are taking hold in this quaint community, where rain-drenched cotton struggles to defeat Mother Nature, where cows grow fat in windblown pastures and where life revolves around the Bombers, nickname for Frederick High School teams.
Authorities say the violent, drug-dealing gangs infiltrated Oklahoma City during the past decade and now have moved into towns like Frederick, Ardmore, Hobart, Hugo and Elk City, folding the children into their ranks with the lure of gold chains, stuffed wallets and the illusion of power.
"They [gangs] want to expand their markets," said Whitson. "Little towns . . . are one area they can move into."
Frederick is 1,100 miles from the black street gangs in Los Angeles. It is closer to the Red River than to any sizable chunk of population.
So far, the gang activity in Frederick has been limited to thefts, shoplifting, graffiti and intimidation. There have been reports of drug dealing, and notes left on cars have carried warnings like: "The Crips are going to burn down your house."
The First Baptist Church sits in a black neighborhood across the railroad tracks from the main part of town but only a few blocks from the empty shell scrawled with gang profanities.
"Crime is on the rise!" the Rev. Lloyd Logan shouted during recent Sunday services. "AIDS is on a rampage. And cancer still is killing."
"We need a God!" Logan said.
And his flock said: "Amen!"