When every third dealer in Baltimore's drug markets is seemingly a young resident of the Bronx or Brooklyn, prompt, precise police work is no longer a possibility. Homicide Detective Harry Edgerton's last year proves that much.
Although he almost immediately identified three New Yorkers as suspects in a May 1991 double slaying in Southwest Baltimore, the veteran detective and a string of FBI agents spent months fruitlessly hunting for the trio in cities up and down the East Coast.
Now, 15 months after the slayings, one of the alleged gunmen has finally been caught.
When they occurred last year, the killings of Dashawn Powell and Kelvin Thompson, shot on a South Fulton Street stoop in a dispute over drug proceeds, served as a textbook example of the violence that has followed the influx of "New York Boys" -- young traffickers from the Empire State -- into Baltimore's drug markets.
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. The New Yorkers are coming to Baltimore, dealing some coke, doing a murder and then disappearing -- back to New York, or to Philly, or maybe across town to a neighborhood where they're not known.
Just as the May double slaying was indicative of the New York migration, the yearlong police investigation that followed is a textbook study of what has become a Baltimore investigator's latest nightmare.
Although Detective Edgerton had street names for three suspects within a week of the slayings, nothing but confusion followed.
The investigator ran the nicknames -- "Peanut," "Soup" and "Caviar" -- through the Baltimore police computer. He found arrest sheets for one Peanut under five different aliases. There were FBI fingerprint cards for the same individual filed under two names.
Finally figuring out the man's real name, the detective typed up an arrest warrant for 21-year-old Kalvin "Peanut" Johnson of Manhattan, then began checking the Baltimore corners now dominated by New Yorkers. No Peanut. Word came that Peanut might be back in the Bronx, but May 1991 became June with no sign of him. And the other two suspects -- Soup and Caviar -- were still nicknames to him.
FBI agents in New York managed later that summer to locate Johnson at a family address in the Bronx, but the agents made the mistake of allowing him to go into a back bedroom to get his clothes.
Seconds later, Peanut was out the fire escape, back into another apartment, back out onto the fire escape, down a drainpipe and running through the streets in his underwear.
In May 1992, a full year after the Baltimore killings, Detective Edgerton finally located a second suspect, 20-year-old Remel "Soup" Davis of the Bronx, in an East Baltimore drug market. The detective had been searching the east side for months on an informant's tip.
After his arrest, Davis told the detective that he didn't know where Peanut was. And as for the third suspect, Caviar, he was supposedly shot to death in New York. Detective Edgerton, who is still unsure of Caviar's correct name, doesn't know whether that's true.
Then, two weeks ago, Kalvin Johnson and another gunman allegedly pulled a street robbery in the Bronx. Johnson was arrested the next day by New York detectives, who matched his fingerprints with the Baltimore warrant. When he was arrested, he was using yet another alias.
"He's been arrested under so many different names," Detective Edgerton said. "I'm not ready to believe that he waited 15 months after my murders to rob one other guy in the Bronx. I have a feeling he's been doing other things we don't know about."
Detective Edgerton said he believes Johnson and the elusive Caviar to be the two trigger men in the slaying. If Caviar hasn't been killed, the detective can only hope his suspect also gets caught somewhere on the East Coast, committing a crime. Meanwhile, extradition efforts are beginning for Johnson; with luck, a trial date might be scheduled within two years of the crime.
"That's the way it is with these cases," the detective added wearily. "All you can really do is be patient."