Gambling, guns and these changing crimes

April 10, 1994|By MICHAEL OLESKER

Last Thursday on Hoffman Street in West Baltimore, in a raid considered so stunning that this newspaper devoted five entire paragraphs to it, Housing Authority police swept through what is laughingly called a Drug-Free Zone and arrested 25 people on narcotics-related charges.

Five paragraphs.

On the same day on Greenmount Avenue, in a drug raid considered so monumental that this newspaper devoted four paragraphs to it, city police charged into the National Variety Store -- Neiman Marcus, it ain't -- and seized enough narcotics-packaging materials to fill two prisoner transport wagons, while arresting more than a dozen people thereabouts.

Four paragraphs.

On the same day in South Baltimore's Cherry Hill, a 26-year-old man was shot to death, in a gesture considered so newsworthy that this newspaper devoted two paragraphs to it.

And, from a journalistic point of view, maybe we overplayed it.

At moments like this, all of us should say a prayer for Julius "Lord" Salsbury, who once was considered a criminal and now should give everyone pause for a sense of perspective as we mark his wife's funeral and his own quarter-century flight from authorities.

In his day, no one devoted a couple of paragraphs to Salsbury. He got headlines. Law enforcement people in high places told us he was a dangerous person, and everyone believed him, and so Salsbury was front-page stuff right up to the moment he fled the country, hiding from the feds in the bottom of a horse van, rather than face 15 years in prison.

For gambling.

In the 24 years since Salsbury took off for parts rumored but not known, everybody's concept of crime seems to have changed. In a city where gunplay and drug running are conducted routinely, and a siege mentality results, arrests sometimes seem acts of futility. From this, we arrive at puny four-paragraph stories about major raids that we once hoped would change the safety of neighborhoods.

In his era, Julius Salsbury was considered a big-time criminal. The other day when his wife, Susan, died, there was much conjecture about her funeral. Surely, law enforcement people would attend. Surely, they'd be watching for Salsbury, missing since 1970.

If Salsbury is, in fact, still alive, he should have come home and dared us to lock him up. He would be 78. He could have paid respects to his wife, and given everyone around here a reminder of the idiocy that sent him into hiding for 24 years.

He ran a gambling operation. For this, they called him a criminal. What he did, entire states have now undertaken. But we don't call those running such operations criminals any more. We call them governors.

Salsbury worked The Block. Today, criminals have taken over entire residential neighborhoods. In the 3000 block of Greenmount Ave. the day after the National Variety Store was raided, people were hoping it might make a difference.

"I remember when you could walk through here in the middle of the night," Scott Draggoo, manager of the Sunny's Surplus a block away, said. "I wouldn't do it now. And I was a Navy SEAL."

From Greenmount Avenue, it was possible to look through the front window of the National Variety Store last week and see a sign above the cash register. It said, "The supplies sold here are not to be used as cutting agents for drugs or drug paraphernalia. Don't even think about asking for advice."

The cops call this an official disclaimer. They say this place was a supermarket for drug dealers. Among the things they seized: suspected heroin or cocaine, $6,100 found in a water cooler jug, gelatin capsules, glass and plastic vials and cutting agents.

If there are convictions, it'll be interesting to see the nature of sentencing. Typically, drug-possession convictions get a couple of years. Add on attempt-to-distribute charges, add a few more years.

Julius Salsbury got 15 years for gambling, and they told us he was a major criminal. Hours before he fled, Salsbury met at the Oyster Bay restaurant with some of his friends, including Pacey Silbert, Fifi London, Henny Corcoran and a Block figure named John the Baptist who lived in the 400 block of E. Baltimore St. and was so devoted to betting the daily number that, when he died, all his friends played his street address as a sentimental gesture.

Meanwhile, Pacey Silbert later got 12 years in prison -- for gambling. Fifi London, desperate to avoid the police but needing to talk to Salsbury about mutual gambling business, restricted all telephone conversations with Salsbury to conversational Yiddish. It was Fifi who put up $80,000 bail for Salsbury, who then split with the help of Henny Corcoran. Henny found a horse van. Salsbury hid on the bottom of it and didn't come up until he'd crossed the border into Canada.

So now it's 24 years later, and the few people who might know whatever happened to Salsbury are keeping it to themselves. Rumors abound. A couple circulated last week, saying he'd died only days before his wife.

We don't know. All we know is that law enforcement people considered him a bad guy for gambling, and newspapers put his name in front-page headlines. And today, a time of rampant murder and narcotics that ruin neighborhoods, we run three-paragraph stories of major police raids because they're no longer considered a very big deal.

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