Famous Gangster Informants in US History

Famous Gangster Informants in US History

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Joe Valachi
In 1963, convicted New York mobster Valachi broke the Mafia’s sacred code of silence to become an informant, revealing key details about the organization’s structure and customs. The first member to publicly acknowledge the existence of the American Mafia, he later published his memoirs, entitled “The Valachi Papers,” about his years as a low-ranking soldier for the Lucchese and Genovese crime families. Though Valachi’s motives for telling all remain unclear, he may have spilled the beans to avoid the death penalty for a murder he committed while incarcerated. Valachi died in prison in 1971 with a $100,000 mob bounty still on his head.

Joseph “The Animal” Barboza
Born in Massachusetts to Portuguese immigrants in 1932, Barboza pursued a boxing career before becoming a hit man for New England’s Patriarca crime family. By the mid-1960s, he had earned a reputation as one of Boston’s fiercest mobsters—not least because of a legendary incident in which he chewed a man’s ear off—and his relationship with the Patriarcas had turned stormy. Imprisoned for murder in 1967, he testified against many of his former associates; it later emerged that he fabricated some of the evidence to frame mobsters who had disrespected him. In 1976, after moving to California and serving time for murder there, Barboza was gunned down in San Francisco.

Joseph “The Ear” Massino
In 2004, Massino made history by becoming the first official Mafia boss to cooperate with federal authorities. Hoping to avoid the death penalty after being convicted for seven murders, the longtime Bonanno crime family boss agreed to wear a wire during conversations with his successor, implicated many of his former associates and revealed the location of an infamous mob graveyard to the FBI. He was sentenced in June 2005 to life in prison.

Salvatore “Sammy the Bull” Gravano
A prolific hit man, Gravano rose through the ranks of both the Colombo and Gambino crime families in the 1960s and 1970s. Promoted to underboss in the late 1980s by the infamous Gambino kingpin John Gotti, Gravano was arrested alongside his boss during a raid on the Ravenite Social Club, their hangout in New York City’s Little Italy neighborhood. The next year he cut a deal with the government and testified in court against Gotti in exchange for a reduced sentence, becoming the man responsible for Teflon Don’s demise. Gravano later entered the Witness Protection Program, had plastic surgery to better hide from the mob and moved to Arizona. Ultimately, however, the Mafia turncoat refused to abandon his life of crime: He is currently serving a 19-year sentence for running an ecstasy trafficking ring along with his wife and children.

Abe “Kid Twist” Reles
Born in Brooklyn in 1906, Reles became involved in bootlegging during Prohibition and was one of the founding members of Murder, Inc., the enforcement unit of the gang known as the National Crime Syndicate. A notoriously deft assassin responsible for countless contract killings and random acts of violence against many people who simply displeased him, Reles typically slaughtered his victims with an ice pick jammed into the ear. In 1940, fearing the death penalty after being arrested for several murders, the 32-year-old gangster ratted out several of his accomplices, all of whom were executed. The following year, Reles fell to his death from a hotel window in New York’s Coney Island; it is likely that he was pushed.

Ken “Tokyo Joe” Eto
A Japanese-American born in 1919, Eto was interned along with his family during World War II. He later moved to Chicago, where he joined forces with the Outfit crime syndicate and started an illegal gambling racket. In 1983, the FBI finally caught up with him. Afraid Eto would sing for a reduced sentence, his mob associates decided to rub him out. Miraculously, he survived the hit when three bullets meant to kill him merely grazed his skull. The botched assassination convinced Eto to testify against his former partners and enter the Witness Protection Program. He died in Georgia, where he was living under an assumed name, at age 84.

Tommaso Buscetta
Born in Sicily in 1928, Buscetta began working for the Italian Mafia as a teenager; he later moved to the United States and developed ties to the Gambino crime family. In 1983, after two failed attempts to seek refuge in Brazil, Buscetta was arrested and sent back to Italy to serve time for a prior murder conviction. Repulsed by a bloody gang war within the Sicilian Mafia, he became an informant, helping authorities make key arrests on both sides of the Atlantic and exposing corrupt Italian politicians. In return, he was allowed to return to the United States and enter the Witness Protection Program; he died in New York in 2000.

Frank Lucas
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Lucas controlled Manhattan’s largest heroin ring, buying directly from his connections in Asia and smuggling the drugs into the United States. Worth many millions at the time of his 1975 arrest, he was sentenced to 70 years in prison. He soon turned informant, naming dozens of Mafia accomplices and corrupt New York police officers in exchange for a 15-year sentence. The biopic “American Gangster” was based on his life.

Max Mermelstein
A mechanical engineer born in New York, Mermelstein became involved with the now-defunct Medellín drug cartel through his Colombian wife’s friends and relatives in the 1970s. He smuggled an estimated $360 million worth of cocaine into the United States before the law caught up with him in June 1985. Mermelstein agreed to inform on his associates and entered the Witness Protection Program along with 16 of his extended family members. His testimony resulted in numerous indictments and helped bring the Medellín cartel to its knees. Pursued by Pablo Escobar until the drug lord’s death in 1993, Mermelstein died of cancer in 2008.

Henry Hill
Born in Brooklyn in 1943, Hill was involved with the Lucchese crime family from a young age. He helped spearhead several high-profile heists during his career, including the 1967 theft of $420,000 in cash from the Air France terminal at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport and a much larger robbery from the Lufthansa terminal in 1978. Arrested for drug trafficking in 1980, Hill became convinced that several of his former associates had a hit out on him and decided to come clean, divulging information that led to 50 convictions. He entered the Witness Protection Program but was ejected in the early 1990s for continuing to commit crimes. Hill’s life inspired the book “Wiseguy” and the film “Goodfellas.”

The 10 Most Famous Feuds in History

A feud, or vendetta, is an extended argument between two groups of people, usually started as the result of an insult, violence, or even murder. Today the term is more popularly associated with celebrities and sports rivalries, but historical blood feuds were fairly commonplace, and there were even rules and laws—like dueling—that were set up in order to help resolve them. Some feuds managed to escalate beyond individual groups and families, and in a few extreme cases, like the War of the Roses, they even led to large-scale conflicts in which thousands were killed. Here are ten of the most famous examples:

Famous Couples in History: Intellectual Couples

Much may be said of brilliant individuals with supportive spouses, such as Harriet Beecher Stowe (author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin ) with Calvin Stowe, or Auguste Rodin (“The Thinker”) and Rose Beuret. However, there is something appealing in two intellectuals meeting and falling in love, working either together or apart in their respective fields.

Harriet Beecher Stowe with her husband, Calvin Stowe

Famous Intellectual Couples in History: John and Abigail Adams

John Adams was 2nd President of the United States and father of 6th President John Quincy Adams. He was a Harvard graduate, and a lawyer. He helped draft the Declaration of Independence, and was both a diplomat and a legislator. Abigail Smith was daughter of a parson, home-schooled but well-read.

Because of the lack of girls’ education at the time, Abigail Smith stood out for her open-mindedness, intellect, and interest in politics and philosophy. She and her husband wrote over 1,100 letters to one another over the course of his various careers. The letters were full of political news and ideas, shared between equals.

Letter from Abigail to John Adams

Famous Intellectual Couples in History: Pierre and Marie Curie

Marie Sklodowska was a Polish immigrant to France, planning to study at the Sorbonne in Paris. She took a degree in physics in 1893, first in her class , and a degree in mathematics in 1894, second in her class. Pierre Curie was director of the lab at the School of Industrial Physics and Chemistry in Sorbonne. This is where he first met Marie.

It was Marie, looking for a subject for her doctoral thesis, who first investigated “uranium rays.” She soon discovered that thorium gave off the same rays, or radiation, and that some reaction in the element was what caused the radiation. Pierre left his own work to join her, and they made this study their life’s work. They are most famous for discovering radioactivity.

Pierre and Marie Curie in their laboratory

Famous Intellectual Couples in History: Mary and Percy Shelley

Percy Shelley was a poet, constantly pushing the bounds of philosophical thought in his time. He wrote pamphlets on his ideas. He was also expelled from Oxford for suggesting to a professor that God should not be taught as a fact. Mary Wollstonecraft is most famous as the author of Frankenstein , but she was also a poet.

Percy Bysshe Shelley and Mary Shelley, with drafts of their writings

Mary Shelley was better known in her time as Percy Shelley’s wife, but he was her greatest supporter. He constantly encouraged her to write , and it was her writings they carried around with them during their elopement. On her part, several books of poetry written by her also carried his verses inside.

Aurelio 'Ray' Cagno, Toms River

Another Toms River resident, Aurelio "Ray" Cagno, was sentenced to life plus 20 years in prison in June 2004 for the slaying of James V. "Jimmy" Randazzo. Randazzo was killed on May 17, 1993 in the parking lot of the Tinton Falls Holiday Inn.

Authorities alleged that Cagno, his brother Rocco Cagno and Salvatore Lombardino - all soldiers in the Colombo crime family - killed Randazzo because they thought he was cooperating with authorities.

Aurelio "Ray" Cagno in court to be sentenced for the murder of mob soldier James V. Randazzo in Tinton Falls (Photo: Thomas P. Costello/Staff Photographer)

Rocco Cagno was the star witness at his brother Ray's trial. A mistrial was declared in Ray Cagno's initial trial in 2002 after the jury was unable to reach a verdict.

Charged with multiple counts of racketeering and conspiracy, Brick resident George Weingartner committed suicide at his Brick home in July 1998. In a videotaped suicide note, Weingartner said he was killing himself to derail the racketeering trial that was underway.

Weingartner's death helped derail the trial of other mobsters connected to the Genovese crime family after an Ocean County Superior Court judge would not allow evidence of Weingartner's criminal behavior to be used in the trial of the other defendants.

Authorities had alleged that Weingartner was the Genovese family's New Jersey crew boss.

10 Notorious Female Gangsters

Idolized and villainized, the American gangster is a character as iconic as the cowboy. Though organized crime tends to be a boys' club, there have been a slate of deadly women who have broken into its ranks. You know John Dillinger, Al Capone, and Bugsy Siegel. But do you know Stephanie St. Clair or The Pretty Pants Bandit? We think it's time that you did.


Undoubtedly the most famous of the female American gangsters, Parker was half of the iconic crime duo Bonnie and Clyde. The two were notorious bank robbers in the "public enemy era" of 1931 to 1934, when the exploits of outlaws made them celebrities.

Parker was born in Rowena, Texas, where she earned a reputation for being smart and outspoken. She met Clyde Barrow in 1930. Though she was married, the two hit it off immediately. Apart from their robberies and killings, the legend of Bonnie and Clyde grew in part because of a photo shoot they did near their Joplin, Missouri hideout, images that still inspire re-imaginings of their lives. But those lives were cut short in a gruesome shootout with police in 1934. She was 23 he was 25.

Parker has been portrayed by Dorothy Provine in 1958's The Bonnie Parker Story, by Tracey Needham in the 1992 made-for-TV movie Bonnie & Clyde: A True Story, and by Holliday Granger in the 2013 mini-series Bonnie & Clyde. But best remembered is the sultry turn of Faye Dunaway in the two-time Oscar-winning biopic Bonnie & Clyde.

2. Stephanie St. Clair

She was called "Queenie" in much of Manhattan, but in her Harlem home she was known only as Madame St. Clair. An immigrant of French and African descent, St. Clair set up her numbers bank ten years after moving to the U.S. and became fiercely protective of her neighborhood. She testified against corrupt cops, getting them fired from the force. Even more impressive, she thwarted the invasion of downtown mobsters once the end of Prohibition sent them uptown in search of new revenue.

With the help of her chief enforcer Ellsworth "Bumpy" Johnson and an alliance with Lucky Luciano, Madame St. Clair kept the likes of Dutch Schultz out of Harlem. She later gloated when Schultz lay dying from a gunshot wound, sending a note to his hospital bed that read, "As ye sow, so shall ye reap." When she retired, St. Clair handed her operation over to Bumpy, who became known as The Harlem Godfather.

St. Clair has been immortalized in two films to date. In 1984, Novella Nelson played her in The Cotton Club. In 1997, she was portrayed by Cicely Tyson in Hoodlum.


Believed to be born in Texas, Long earned the nickname "Mack Truck" because of her size (though it's said no one called her this to her face). She was a member of John Dillinger's Terror Gang, brought in as the wife of Russell Clark. A caretaker by nature, Long—who preferred to be called Bernice Clark—happily cleaned the hideout and cooked for the whole gang, who she considered family.

Things soured when her husband was arrested in Tucson, Arizona on January 25, 1934. She attacked the police who made the arrest, and later begged Dillinger for money to fund an appeal of Clark's case. Her demands ultimately ostracized her from the group. That summer she, too, was arrested. She never squealed on her cohorts, yet earned parole by November 1934. She lived out her days in Chicago.

4. Helen Gillis

At 16, Helen Wawrzyniak made a fateful move marrying Lester Gillis, the man who came to be known as Baby Face Nelson. By 20, she had two babies—and a spot on the "shoot to kill" list of Public Enemies, thanks to him. She's regarded more as an accomplice than a gangster in her own right, but Gillis was present at the "Battle of Barrington" in Illinois on November 27, 1934. There, Nelson spotted a cop car, and with Gillis and fellow thug John Paul Chase in tow, chased it down, guns blazing. This led to a shootout that killed Nelson along with two police officers.

Gillis earned her place on the Public Enemies list by harboring her dying husband. She surrendered on Thanksgiving Day. Bitter over Nelson's ugly demise, Gillis testified against Chase, helping secure his life sentence. She died more than fifty years later, but was buried next to her beloved Baby Face in Chicago's St. Joseph's Cemetery.

5. Ma Barker

Don't let the nickname of this godmother of crime throw you. Arizona Donnie Barker (aka Kate Barker) was considered a merciless matriarch. At 19, Arizona Clark married George Barker and the two went on to have four sons: Herman, Lloyd, Arthur, and Fred. But the Barkers weren't just a family they were a crime family, pulling off highway robberies as early as 1910.

These heists led to murder, and soon captivated the press and public of the Midwest. But fate took a turn for the Barkers in 1927, when Herman committed suicide to avoid arrest. Shortly thereafter, the other three sons ended up in jail. Arizona faced some lean years, but she reunited with Fred upon his release in 1931, spurring a new crime spree that led to her death and his.

Both were killed when the FBI stormed her hideout in Lake Weir, Florida on January 8, 1935. Posthumously, her role in the Barker gang has been the matter of debate. Those close to the family insisted she could have played no active role in the criminal dealings of her sons, but J. Edgar Hoover called her "the most vicious, dangerous and resourceful criminal brain of the last decade."

The legend of Ma Barker has inspired a slew of malevolent mothers in film and television, from ones seen in the James Cagney gangster classic White Heat to the children's cartoon show DuckTales. But the character of Ma Barker would go on to be played by Jane Crowley in 1959's The FBI Story, Shelley Winters in 1970's Bloody Mama, and Theresa Russell in 1996's Public Enemies.

6. Pearl Elliott

She shared ties with John Dillinger and Harry Pierpont, but Elliott was no hanger-on or gun moll. Instead, she was a notorious madam. She owned a whorehouse in Kokomo, Indiana that boasted police protection. To help keep things at her rural brothel safe, they had a system where she'd shine a flashlight out a window to signal for help should some john get out of hand.

Her establishment also served as a hideout for Pierpont's crew following a 1925 bank robbery. Later, her role as "treasurer" for Dillinger earned her a spot on the 1933 Public Enemies list, which ordered officers to "shoot to kill." Despite her illegal operation and dangerous dealings, Elliott did not die in a hail of gunfire or in prison. She passed away on August 10, 1935, from an illness that may have been cancer. She was 47.

7. The Pretty Pants Bandit

Described as an attractive brunette with brown eyes and a habit of carrying two guns, this outlaw known as Marie Baker grabbed headlines in 1933 for a string of shop robberies committed by her Pants Gang. Baker earned her nickname for her bizarre demand to the shops' clerks. Once all other customers had left, this lingering lady would draw her weapons and command, "Take off your pants!" Those too shy to oblige were forcibly helped, with Baker sneering she couldn't be shocked.

The Miami News reports that it was vanity that eventually brought her down. While checking her makeup during a butcher shop heist, Baker allowed a hostage to run free. She was soon caught and booked as Marie Baker. Later, it was uncovered she was in fact Mrs. Rose Durante, who would ultimately serve three years before vanishing into obscurity.

8. Virginia Hill

Known as The Flamingo as well as "Queen of the Gangster Molls," Hill became notorious as the girlfriend of Brooklyn mobster Bugsy Siegel. She came from a poor background, telling people she didn't own a pair of shoes until age seventeen. Born in Alabama and raised in Georgia, she moved to Chicago to seek fame and fortune. She found a bit of both working as an accountant for Al Capone.

When she moved to Los Angeles to pursue her acting ambitions, she met Siegel, for whom she'd soon be lover and courier. He'd later name his Flamingo Hotel in Las Vegas after her. But this proved a bust business, bringing an abrupt end to Siegel's career, and arguably his life. He was gunned down in Hill's Hollywood home on June 20, 1947.

Hill was coincidentally out of the house, and claimed, "If anyone or anything was his mistress, it was that Las Vegas hotel. I never knew Ben was involved in all that gang stuff. I can't imagine who shot him or why." Her underworld dealings had her take the stand increasingly as the years went on. In 1961, Hill was found dead in an Austria snowdrift, the victim of an apparent overdose of sleeping pills—although some speculate this too was a hit.

Though Hill never made it as an actress, she did make it to the big screen in 1991, when Annette Bening portrayed her in Bugsy.

9. Arlyne Brickman

Born in 1933 to a Jewish family in East Harlem, Brickman grew up idolizing the glamor and thrills of Virginia Hill. "In my eyes, here was a broad that really made good," she later told biographer Teresa Carpenter. She worked for the mob as a numbers runner, drug dealer, and loan shark. Yet her Jewish heritage was an obstacle to rising up the ranks of the Sicilian-run crime syndicate. Still, the money and power was good enough to please her.

Years later, after a loan shark threatened her daughter, Brickman turned informant. Her spying and testimony ultimate led to the conviction of Anthony Scarpati and several associates for racketeering. In 1992, Brickman told her story in Mob Girl: A Woman's Life In the Underworld.

10. Evelyn "Billie" Frechette

She became infamous as John Dillinger's devoted girlfriend, but Frechette came from an unexpected background for a gun moll. A child of French and Native American descent through the Menominee tribe, she attended Catholic grade school, then went on to graduate from high school. Even with an education, finding work was difficult, which led Frechette to Chicago. After her first husband was jailed for a post office robbery, Frechette met Dillinger, and traveled with him through a cross-country crime spree. The pair survived several shootouts.

She was later convicted for harboring a fugitive, and served two years in prison, during which Dillinger died. Upon her release in 1936, Frechette spun her criminal past into a new career, setting out on a lecture tour called "Crime Does Not Pay." She died of cancer 33 years later.

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American Gangster (2007)

No. In the movie American Gangster, Denzel Washington's Frank Lucas states that he had been Bumpy Johnson's driver for 15 years. In an interview, Bumpy's widow, Mayme Johnson, said, "Bumpy never had nobody drive him for 15 years." She admitted that Frank may have driven her husband a few times, but she said that her husband never saw Frank as anything more than someone he might have allowed to carry his coat. Former Philadelphia Inquirer reporter Karen E. Quinones, points out in her book Harlem Godfather that Bumpy was released from prison in 1963 and died in 1968, leaving only a possible window of five years that Frank Lucas could have been Bumpy's driver. Bumpy had never been out of prison for fifteen years. -Philadelphia Daily News

Did detective Richie Roberts really turn in $1,000,000 in drug money?

Yes. In an interview, the real Richie Roberts said that he did get some heat for turning in the money, but he didn't become a "pariah" around his fellow officers like he does in the movie. -HOT 97 FM

Did detective Richie Roberts' partner really become a junkie?

"One of my partners did, yeah," said the real life Richie Roberts. -HOT 97 FM

Did Frank Lucas' wife really buy him the fur coat and hat?

Did the fur coat really give him away?

"No," Richie Roberts said in an interview. "Law enforcement knew of him. Frank doesn't believe that, but law enforcement certainly knew of him and his people. But certainly it brought a lot more attention onto him, that coat. You don't go around showing that kind of money when the people who are trying to arrest you are making in those days $25,000 a year, and you're showing a coat that's like five years salaries. It gets these guys a little angry. So, it was a bad mistake" (HOT 97 FM). Specifically, Richie is speaking of the flamboyant mistake that Frank made when he wore the chinchilla coat and hat to the March 8, 1971 Frazier vs. Ali fight at Madison Square Garden. The above picture of Frank Lucas and his wife Julie was taken on the night of the fight. The detectives in attendance noticed Frank, whose seats were closer than those of the Italian Mafia (BET, American Gangster series).

Did Frank really prefer to stay out of the limelight?

In a documentary about rival gangster Nicky Barnes (Cuba Gooding Jr. in the movie), titled Mr. Untouchable, the real Nicky Barnes said that Frank was actually the more flamboyant of the two of them. The real Frank Lucas responded to Nicky's accusation in an MTV interview, "Nicky was a flamboyant guy, who was kind of live. He would jump out of cars and beat up junkies and all kinds of foolishness. I didn't like that. I tried to stay out of the limelight" (MTV.com). Nicky Barnes displayed his flamboyancy for everyone to see when he appeared on the cover of The New York Times Magazine in his notorious goggle-like Gucci glasses, boasting that he was "Mr. Untouchable." Nicky's bold declaration got the attention of President Jimmy Carter, who insisted that something be done about the dope problem in Harlem (New York Magazine).

Did Frank really smuggle heroin from Vietnam in the coffins of dead servicemen?

Did Lucas really visit the poppy fields and meet with his Southeast Asian supplier directly?

Former heroin dealer Frank Lucas said that this is true. He met with a Chinese man who went by the alias 007. The man took Lucas upcountry to the Golden Triangle, a poppy-growing region where Thailand, Burma, and Laos merge together (New York Magazine). Frank saw endless fields of opium poppies. See poppy fields and opium poppies close-up. These poppies are used to make heroin, a semi-synthetic opioid synthesized from morphine.

Did Frank Lucas really dress in a U.S. Army uniform to blend in when he was overseas?

In the movie, Denzel Washington's Frank Lucas is seen dressed in an Army uniform when he is in Southeast Asia. According to the real Frank Lucas, he would dress up as a lieutenant colonel. "You should have seen me -- I could really salute." -New York Magazine

Did Frank really recruit the help of his brothers and cousins from North Carolina?

Yes. This part of the movie is true. Emerging drug kingpin Frank Lucas recruited the help of family members, and he moved them to New York from rural North Carolina. Frank's five younger brothers who worked with him became known as the Country Boys. In an interview, Frank Lucas explained his strategy of recruiting his rural relatives into his business, "A country boy, you can give him any amount of money. His wife and kids might be hungry, and he'll never touch your stuff until he checks with you. City boys ain't like that. A city boy will take your last dime, look you in the face, and swear he ain't got it. . You don't want a city boy -- the sonofabitch is just no good." -New York Magazine

Did Frank really witness the police murder his cousin when he was a boy?

At the end of the movie American Gangster, Denzel Washington's character tells Richie Roberts (Russell Crowe) about how when he was a 6-year-old boy, he watched his 12-year-old cousin get shot in the mouth by the police, who had tied him to a pole. The true story behind this incident involved members of the Ku Klux Klan, not the police. Frank said that the Klan came to his house, which was located in the back woods near La Grange, North Carolina. They accused his brother of eyeballing a white girl, who was walking down the street. "They took ropes on each hand, pulled them tight in opposite directions. Then they shoved a shotgun in Obadiah's mouth and pulled the trigger." Frank said that this moment caused him to begin his life of crime (New York Magazine). "They crossed the line. Now everything is a fair game now" (BET, American Gangster). Ron Chepesiuk, author of Superfly: The True, Untold Story of Frank Lucas, American Gangster, said that he has found no evidence that Frank had a cousin murdered by the Ku Klux Klan (The Chicago Syndicate).

Was Frank Lucas' wife Julie really a former Miss Puerto Rico?

No. Frank admits that the filmmakers were wrong about his wife, Julie Lucas, being a former Miss Puerto Rico, "She was some kind of homecoming queen, but I don't know about [being Miss Puerto Rico]. No doubt about it, she was a pretty girl" (MTV.com). Further research confirmed that Frank's wife's maiden name, Julie Farrait, does not appear on the Miss Puerto Rico winners list. Frank met Julie while on a trip to Puerto Rico, where he would isolate himself to brainstorm his "business" ideas (New York Magazine).

Did Frank really shoot a rival drug dealer on a crowded sidewalk?

Yes, although Frank has since retracted his account of the incident, which first appeared in Mark Jacobson's 2000 New York Magazine article "The Return of Superfly." In a powerful scene in the movie American Gangster, Frank Lucas (Denzel Washington) shoots a rival drug dealer in the head in broad daylight on a crowded sidewalk. Frank's original account of the incident was similar, except that his brothers weren't watching like they are in the movie, and he didn't return to eat with them within a stones throw of the murder scene.

In real life, the gangster's name was Tango, a 270-pound bald-headed character who was quick on his feet. "Everyone was scared of him," Frank told Jacobson in 2000. "So I figured, Tango, you're my man." Frank confronted Tango and asked him for money that Tango owed him. Tango cursed at Frank. Unlike in the movie, Tango "broke" for Frank, prompting Frank to shoot him four times. ". bam, bam, bam, bam," Frank recounted. "The boy didn't have no head. The whole [email protected] blowed out back there . That was my real initiation fee into taking over completely down here. Because I killed the badest motherf*@ker. Not just in Harlem but in the world." Lucas has since denied the murder. He was never charged (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution).

Was Frank's Blue Magic "brand" of dope really 100% pure?

Not exactly. The movie asserts that Frank Lucas' heroin, Blue Magic, was 100 percent pure. In reality, it was 98 percent pure when it arrived from Southeast Asia. Frank then cut it with "60 percent mannite and 40 percent quinine." This resulted in a product that was only 10 percent pure when it hit the streets. However, this was much better than the rival "brands," which were lucky to be at 5 percent purity (New York Magazine). Addicts who were used to heroin that was only 1 to 3 percent pure often wound up dead after using Frank Lucas' Blue Magic, which was much stronger. Frank had to cut down a little bit on the quality in order to keep his customers alive (BET, American Gangster series).

Did Frank really use naked women to cut his dope?

Yes. According to heroin dealer Frank Lucas, he employed 10 to 12 women who were naked, except for surgical masks. A petite, ruby-haired woman nicknamed Red Top was in charge. -New York Magazine

How much money was Frank Lucas earning at the height of his dope operation?

In the 2000 interview with New York Magazine, Frank claimed that he cleared $1 million a day selling drugs on 116th street. He claims that he once had "something like $52 million," which was mostly in Cayman Islands banks. In addition, he had "maybe 1,000 keys of dope on hand," which was worth no less than $300,000 per kilo. -New York Magazine

Was Frank Lucas a family man as shown in the movie?

The real detective Richie Roberts (now an attorney) told the New York Post, "The parts in the movie that depict Frank as a family man are ludicrous. They did it for dramatic purposes, you know, to make him look good and me look bad." Roberts called the American Gangster scene that shows drug kingpin Frank Lucas (Denzel Washington) holding hands with his family during a Thanksgiving prayer "sickening." View a photo of Frank Lucas sharing a meal with his family.

Did Frank and his wife have a child not shown in the movie?

Yes. Although she is not included in the movie, Frank and his wife Julie Lucas had a daughter, Francine, who was 3-years-old at the time of the raid on her family's Teaneck, New Jersey home. The raid ended with both of her parents being arrested. Her mother spent six months in jail for throwing suitcases filled with tens of thousands of dollars out the bathroom window during the raid. She also stuffed money into her daughter Francine's pants in an attempt to hide it. Francine was raised by her mother and her mother's parents in Puerto Rico until the age of nine. It was then that her father was released from prison and the family returned to New Jersey to live with Frank's parents. Frank started dealing again.

Several months after her father was released, Francine found herself on a trip to Las Vegas with her mother. Unbeknownst to Francine, her mother Julie was there to help with a drug deal. The FBI busted Julie and she served four and a half years in prison. Frank was sentenced to seven years (Glamour). Francine returned to Puerto Rico to live with Julie's parents, where she eventually graduated college after attending the University of Puerto Rico. She returned to the United States in 1996 as an Olympics volunteer in Atlanta. After visiting the set of the movie American Gangster, Francine decided to create a web-based organization that she named YellowBrickRoads.org. The organization is dedicated to offering support and advice to kids with incarcerated parents (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution). Frank has a total of seven children (Charlie Rose).

Did Frank Lucas' wife really ask him to come clean and leave the dope business?

Yes. In the movie, drug kingpin Frank Lucas (Denzel Washington) is asked by his wife Eva (Lymari Nadal) to give up his heroin operation. When asked if his wife requested this of him in real life, Frank Lucas said, "Very much so. . That was true." -HOT 97 FM

Was Detective Richie Roberts really in a custody battle with his first wife?

No. The movie American Gangster shows Richie Roberts and his first wife in a custody battle that ends with Richie admitting that he is a failure as a father. In reality, Richie Roberts and his first wife did not have a child together. Richie told the New York Post that the movie's depiction of his relationship with his first wife is offensive.

Did Richie Roberts really sleep with as many women as the movie implies?

"During that period of time I was not always married," Richie said. "I was divorced and single. And there was still a lot of leftover from the crazy sixties. You know, sexual freedom. And I didn't do anything differently than anybody else did at that time." -HOT 97 FM

Was Frank really connected to famous people?

Yes. In the movie, we see American gangster Frank Lucas (Denzel Washington) connecting with celebrities at a boxing match. In real life, Frank was especially good friends with the heavyweight champ Joe Louis. Frank once paid off a $50,000 tax lien for the champ, who would later appear almost every day at Frank's various trials. -New York Magazine

I heard that Frank was friends with Puff Daddy's father. Is that true?

Was Puff Daddy's father a gangster like Frank?

Did corrupt cops really try to extort Frank?

Yes. In an interview, Frank Lucas said that he was extorted by corrupt cops who took over $200,000 a week (HOT 97 FM). These officers were part of the NYPD's Special Investigations Unit. By 1977, 52 out of the 70 officers who had been assigned to the unit were either in jail or under indictment (New York Magazine).

Did Frank Lucas really blow up a dirty cop's car?

Frank responded to this question by saying, "I'm gonna tell you right now. Yes the hell I did blow it up." -HOT 97 FM

Did a corrupt cop really find several keys of dope in Lucas' trunk?

In an interview, Frank said that this really happened, but that he did not pay the cop off in the street as shown in the movie American Gangster. Instead, the detective took Lucas to the station house, where Lucas agreed to pay the detective "30 grand and two keys." -New York Magazine

Did a crooked cop really find money that Frank buried under his pet's doghouse?

No. "I never buried no money at my house," Frank explained when asked about the scene in American Gangster. In the movie, a crooked cop finds money that is buried under a doghouse at Denzel Washington's character's home. -HOT 97 FM

Did Frank's cousin really turn informant on him?

Yes. The movie American Gangster shows a family member of Frank's turning on him and working with the police to bring him down. In an interview, Richie Roberts said that this is true. "It was a cousin. We had three detectives who really spearheaded our investigation: Jones, Spearman, and Abruzzo. . We helped them flip a cousin who was an informant. . He testified during the trial." -HOT 97 FM

Did Richie Roberts really arrest Frank Lucas as he walked out of church?

No. The real Richie Roberts called it a "wonderful scene," but admitted that it didn't go down that way (HOT 97 FM). Both Frank and his wife Julie were arrested during the raid on their Teaneck, NJ home. Julie Lucas served time in prison for throwing suitcases full of money out of their bathroom window.

Was Richie Roberts really responsible for bringing down Frank Lucas?

Ron Chepesiuk, author of Superfly: The True, Untold Story of Frank Lucas, American Gangster, said that Detective Richie Roberts, "was a minor figure in the Lucas investigation the idea that Roberts was the key official in bringing Lucas down is Hollywood's imagination" (The Chicago Syndicate). During a Charlie Rose interview, Roberts himself said, "The people who put Frank down. I'm more like a composite. We had a squad of guys that worked on him." On a radio show, Roberts admitted that some of the other detectives were upset over the lack of screen time that their counterparts received in the movie (HOT 97 FM).

These detectives included ex-New Jersey cops Ed Jones, Al Spearman and Ben Abruzzo. "We spent nearly two years risking our lives on that case, and then we see a guy who had no interest before we made the arrests take the credit. We're angry," said Jones. -United Press International

Where exactly was Frank Lucas' home in Teaneck, New Jersey?

Heroin dealer Frank Lucas' early 1970s home was located at 933 Sheffield Road in Teaneck, New Jersey. It is believed to be the house that is slightly southeast of the pointer on this map ( See Google Map).

Did the dirty cop really blow his brains out like in the movie?

Did the government really confiscate everything that Frank Lucas owned?

Yes. Following the 1975 raid on Frank's home in Teaneck, New Jersey, the government seized all of Frank's assets and properties. When Frank was released from prison in 1991, he didn't even have enough money to buy a pack of cigarettes. "The properties in Chicago, Detroit, Miami, North Carolina, Puerto Rico — they took everything," Frank said. Despite being told otherwise by his lawyer, the government was even able to seize the money in his offshore Cayman Island accounts. "Take my word for it. If you got something, hide it, 'cause they can go to any bank and take it" (MTV.com). The real Richie Roberts said that they (the government) confiscated $35 million initially after the arrest, and three or four times that much in property (HOT 97 FM).

How could the government take the money in Frank's offshore Cayman Islands accounts?

In an interview, former detective Richie Roberts explained, "There are agreements between the United States and all of these places that if the government can show them probable cause that the money comes from illegal conspiracies, then we can confiscate them." -HOT 97 FM

Did Richie really confront Frank like he does at the end of the movie American Gangster?

No. At the end of the movie, Hollywood heavyweights Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe have a memorable exchange after Frank (Washington) is in custody. During a Charlie Rose interview, Richie was asked if the scene happened that way in real life. He responded, "No. not quite that way." He agreed that it is a great scene.

Did Frank put a hit out on Richie Roberts?

Did Frank only snitch on crooked cops and not fellow dope dealers?

Frank denies snitching on anyone but dirty cops, but Richie Roberts said that is "simply not true." Roberts explained in an interview, "If Frank did not do what he did, talk about people that he talked about, there would have been a lot more people out there OD'ing on dope and a lot more people having their lives and families destroyed because of it. He should be commended for that in my opinion." Richie said that Frank snitched on dirty cops, fellow drug dealers, and even more so the mob. -HOT 97 FM

Ron Chepesiuk, author of Superfly: The True, Untold Story of Frank Lucas, American Gangster, said the idea that "Lucas turned in only corrupt cops is an effort by Tinsel Town to soften Lucas' image as a snitch. Deep down, nobody really likes or respects a snitch he was not a snitch out of any altruistic motive. He did it to save his skin, facing 70 years in prison" (The Chicago Syndicate). Frank's original sentence was reduced and changed to parole. Upon being released from prison, Frank was placed into the Federal Witness Protection Program (HOT 97 FM). His testimony has netted more than 100 convictions (BET, American Gangster series).

Did Frank's wife really go back to Puerto Rico after the trial?

Did Richie Roberts pay for one of Frank's sons to go to school?

Yes. Richie Roberts, now a New Jersey defense attorney, paid for Frank's son Ray (pictured above) to go to a private Catholic school. Frank praised his former adversary in an interview, "When I come out and everything and didn't have no money, he sent my kid to school for a long time, an expensive Catholic school too. He did that for me. He was paying like $600 a month" (HOT 97 FM). Richie is also Ray Lucas' godfather (Charlie Rose).

Did actor Benicio Del Toro really receive $5 million in 2004 after Universal executives abandoned the American Gangster project?

Yes. In the fall of 2004, just before production was about to start on the movie, Universal executives abandoned the project due to an escalating budget that had swelled to over $100 million. As a result of the terms of his pay-or-play contract, actor Benicio Del Toro, who had signed on to play Richie Roberts, received $5 million. Denzel Washington's similar pay-or-play guarantee left him with $20 million (EW.com). Antoine Fuqua had been set to direct the project, originally titled Tru Blu (Variety). The title refers to one of the many "brands" of dope circulating in Harlem during the 1970s (New York Magazine).

Did rapper Jay-Z release an album inspired by the movie?

What is Frank Lucas doing today?

At age 77 (2007), Frank is working with his daughter Francine, and together they're trying to get some finances lined up to build what Frank describes as "a facility where kids can go play ball or whatever. I want to be remembered for helping these kids," Frank told MTV.

I heard that Denzel Washington bought Frank Lucas a house and a Rolls Royce. Is that true?

"He [Denzel Washington] did give me the money for a Rolls Royce," Frank said, "and my wife wanted a house. She said don't get no Rolls. " -HOT 97 FM

Learn more about the American Gangster true story by watching the interview and biography listed below featuring Frank Lucas and former detective Richie Roberts. The interview was conducted on HOT 97 FM's morning show, Miss Jones in the Morning.

The real Frank Lucas sits down in the studio with Miss Jones, who asks the former gangster about the movie and his life as a former drug kingpin. Near the end of the segment, Frank is asked if he has any regrets. He responds by saying that he'll regret what he did until the day he dies.

Through photos and archival footage, The Biography Channel tells the story of Frank Lucas' life in five minutes or less, from his childhood in North Carolina to his position as a Harlem drug lord and his eventual takedown.

American Gangster movie trailer - Directed by Ridley Scott and starring Russell Crowe and Denzel Washington, the movie tells the story of a drug lord's rise to power in Harlem during the 1970s, in part due to the innovative ways that he ran his business, which included smuggling heroin into the country by hiding the stash inside the coffins of American soldiers returning from Vietnam.


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The murders of Tupac and The Notorious B.I.G.

Tupac and The Notorious B.I.G. were two pillars of the East Coast vs. West Coast hip-hop rivalry. Things turned deadly when Tupac was shot and killed in 1996 on his way home from a Mike Tyson fight. This was the second time the rapper was shot. The first time he pointed the finger at Biggie and Sean Combs aka Diddy, Time reported. Six months after Tupac's murder, Biggie was also shot and killed.

Many people believe that their deaths are connected. Orlando Anderson, one of the main suspects in Tupac's murder, reportedly fought with Tupac at the Mike Tyson fight that same night. Anderson died in a gunfight in 1998 . Other people believe Suge Knight, the CEO of Death Row Records who has since been imprisoned, was involved.

As for Biggie's death, some think Diddy orchestrated his murder to boost sales for Biggie's upcoming album "Life After Death. " Still others believe that the FBI and or the LAPD played a role in the murders in an effort to end "violent rap culture" in the heat of the East Coast vs. West Coast hip-hop battle.

Chicago's Historic Gangster Sites

Unsurprisingly, Chicago isn’t big on selling its corrupt past as a tourist attraction, so don’t expect to find any gangster tours being advertised to the hordes on Michigan Avenue. But, for history fans with a penchant for organized crime, it’s not too difficult to string together a number of locations into a pretty fascinating day out.

Begin in River North at the Holy Name Cathedral. Two notorious murders happened here in the ’20s, one of which left bullet marks in the church’s cornerstone that can still be seen today. Opposite the church once stood Schofield’s, a flower shops and legitimate front of North Side boss Dean O’Banion. It became the headquarters for the North Side Gang (and mob funerals ensured business was always good). In November 1924, O’Banion was gunned down inside Schofield’s after an argument with rival Angelo Genna. Two years later, O’Banion’s lieutenant, Hymie Weiss, and several associates on their way to Schofield’s were sprayed with bullets stray bullets from the attack left the on the church.