The Tragedy of Richard III The Tragedy of Rudy Williams

January 12, 1992|By DAVID SIMON David Simon is a reporter at The Sun and author of "Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets."

Now is the winter of our discontent. Right now.

Now is the winter of women claimed by stray bullets as they walk to corner stores, the winter of another year in which Baltimore records more than 300 slayings, the barren season for a police department that justifies paralysis by spending thousands of dollars to study its problems, as if the problems weren't obvious to any sergeant with five years on the street.

So have we set the stage for the last act of this fine morality play, this drama that bears the unlikely title of "Linwood Rudolph Williams." At first glance, our piece seems Shakespearean in its perfection, as cruel and as blood-soaked as any of the great tragedies. And our villain, too, is strangely reminiscent of one better employed by the Bard, and to more dramatic effect.

"I am determined to prove a villain," declares the King Richard III at the beginning of the play that bears his name. "Plots I have laid, inductions dangerous, by drunken prophecies, libels and dreams. . . ."

This is Richard, the Duke of Gloucester, the hunchbacked usurper who manipulates and destroys whomsoever he touches, then loves himself the more for it. This is King Richard, so "rudely stamp'd" by nature, that he glories only in power and death and strife, until at last, a valiant Richmond leaves him gutted and bleeding on Bosworth Field, saving England and bringing the War of the Roses to its close.

"I have set my life upon a cast and I will stand the hazard of the die," shouts the usurper king, aware that his last moments are at hand. "A horse, a horse. My kingdom for a horse."

In our account, Linwood "Rudy" Williams, 37, reaches the end of his play calling for neither sword nor steed. No, at his own climax, Linwood Williams stands in a sterile courtroom on West Lombard Street on Tuesday, convicted of federal drug conspiracy charges, demanding a new trial and a different judge. This is, after all, 1992.

"To Your Lordship of this Great Star Chamber of Injustice," declares Williams in his remarks to Judge Frank A. Kaufman. "By no stretch of anyone's imagination did I receive a fair trial, nor an honest or decent one. Because God has given me the sense, dignity and courage to decline the government's perverted plea bargain of 35 years and the strength to stand up to this persecution, your end has been from the very beginning to put me in prison for life."

A fine soliloquy, as venal as that offered by Richard to his troops at the edge of the Bosworth marsh, where Richmond and his followers are vilified as "base lackey peasants whom their o'ercloyed country vomits forth."

Nice talk from a guy who executes his closest advisers and orders boy princes suffocated in their sleep. But King Richard has little on Linwood Williams, for whom murder was not simply the means to any end, but rather a defining act. And like the villain king, he has a sociopath's gift for matching evil deeds with self-righteous obscenities:

"We shall overcome, without a doubt," Williams told the judge, wrapping his crimes in the language of civil rights. "And in 1993, I'll be free."

The words left Judge Kaufman cold. Life, no parole, he told Williams.

To the uninitiated, this drama might seem to little more than the decades-old story of any large-scale drug trafficker. These men rise and fall with the seasons, an endless cavalcade of inner-city gangsters who take hold of some ghetto corners and manufacture evil until a federal indictment swallows them up, clearing the streets for more of the same.

Not so. Linwood Rudolph Williams was unique -- a villain of a classic kind -- and his passing in federal court last week deserves special note. In Baltimore's drug trade, some men feel they are forced to kill; others kill because it serves their interest. // Linwood Williams killed because he is Linwood Williams, as elemental a force of nature as Baltimore's underworld has ever seen.

Richard, the Duke of Gloucester, was born deformed, a hideous creature "so lamely and unfashionable that dogs bark at me as I halt by them." Linwood Williams has no such deformity, though for such a terrifying force, he is oddly constructed.

Rail thin and little better than 5-foot-3, Williams seems utterly incapable of the details that comprise his career. He is proof of an old prison-tier adage that says the only measurement that matters is the eighteen inches between a man's head and his heart.

Early in his career, when Williams was doing time for a 1971 manslaughter at Hagerstown, he was badly beaten by an East Baltimore inmate in one of those Eastside-Westside struggles that periodically develop inside Maryland prisons. The other Westsiders asked the diminutive Williams if he needed help.

"No," said Rudy, "I'll handle it myself."

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