Christopher Ian Murray was every inch the gentleman. Soft-spoken with a lilting island accent, the oldest of the three Murray brothers from Jamaica had a courtly manner and confident grace.
But for the bullet scar over his right eye, he might have been mistaken for a diplomat or college professor.
"Sweetest guy you'd ever want to meet," says Officer Ed Bochniak of Baltimore's Eastern District. "Nothing you ever heard about him could prepare you for the first time you met him. If I didn't know his history, I never would have guessed he was a cold-blooded killer."
Now awaiting transfer to a maximum-security prison, Murray is described by police as the last leader of a drug gang that dominated the notorious crack arcade at Hoffman and Holbrook streets behind Green Mount Cemetery for five years -- forging a reputation for violence that held an East Baltimore neighborhood hostage.
Etched in blood and measured in kilos of cocaine, empty bullet casings and corpses, the saga of the Murray brothers' gang shows that what appears in Baltimore to be random gunplay often is highly orchestrated to protect the plans of New York drug merchants.
It has proven to the region's often fractious law enforcement agencies -- whose leaders have denied for years that gang warfare is at the root of the city's record murder rate -- that such sophisticated adversaries can defy them when they stand alone.
By the time the Murray gang was brought down in January by the combined forces of city and county police, the FBI and the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), at least eight people were dead and 24 others were injured -- a body count to rival a Mafia war.
"It shows that these guys can operate at will if we let ourselves get distracted with the same old petty turf battles," says Bruce Ash, supervisor of an FBI squad that helped local police break the gang. "We've crossed bridges in cooperation with this case that we've never been over before and we're not going back."
The first time anyone with a badge heard of the Murray boys was 1986, shortly after Christopher's younger brother moved to town with his pregnant girlfriend.
Carlos Murray was 22. He had entered the country four years earlier with his mother, who had fled the poverty and violence of Kingston, Jamaica, and found work as a nurse's aide in Queens, N.Y. Her goal: To make a better life and bring her other nine children to the United States.
She enrolled Carlos in New York's public schools and stressed the importance of education, determined that he would avoid the fate of his two brothers who were gunned down while walking in Kingston's Watertown slum when Carlos was a boy.
One of them died before his eyes, cut to pieces by a storm of bullets. "It was so devastating that Carlos nearly went crazy," his mother, Ruth Brown, said in a 1992 court statement.
But Carlos dropped out of high school almost as soon as he enrolled. He pursued a string of jobs as a baker's assistant, a bicycle messenger and a deli clerk. Then he met Jamie Barnett -- a Pimlico girl who shared his taste for marijuana and cocaine.
She brought Carlos home to Baltimore, where he found work in the city's budding crack cocaine market. High prices and disorganized competitors made for a ripe opportunity.
"By the time I got here in 1987, Carlos and his brother Devon were already set up and terrorizing Pimlico," recalls Russ Spruance, an INS agent. "By the following year, they were moving into East Baltimore."
Two of Carlos' older brothers -- Christopher and Devon "Pepsi" Murray, both 26 -- had sneaked into the country through Miami, using forged papers that authorized them to work as cane cutters in the blistering South Florida sugar plantations, Agent Spruance said.
They bypassed the farm labor camps and headed north to
Baltimore. Their fake green cards wouldn't be discovered for years because no one was paying much attention.
Federal agents were preoccupied with chasing Cold War spies and illegal aliens swarming into California, Florida and New York. Places such as Baltimore, the branch office town near the Chesapeake Bay, were not a priority.
Meanwhile, Baltimore police commanders were steadfastly denying that the city's growing drug problem had any connection to New York and were resisting pleas from their own detectives to ask for federal help or to launch large-scale drug investigations.
Told of his own detectives' estimates in 1991 that hundreds of New York drug dealers were working in the city, then-Police Commissioner Edward V. Woods said: "That's ridiculous."
'The local economy'
In such a climate, the Murrays flourished.
A review of more than 1,000 pages of court records yields a few measures of their business.
From 1989 to 1993, police caught couriers for the Murray gang bringing cocaine from New York to Baltimore at least half a dozen times, on planes, trains and cars.