The allure of famous mobsters will probably never fade; our collective pop culture mindset has enabled master criminals like Capone, Gotti, Bulger and Frank Lucas to become household names. And of course this year will see it’s share of gangster-themed movies, biopics and books. But… what if there was a gangster more powerful, more suave and more mysterious than any true or fictional story has really explored? One such character whose name can even make a true crime enthusiast stare blankly. Ready to shock and awe your know-it-all friends? Well here it is, just for you – the five most important things you need to know about the guy street legend has dubbed “Black Caesar” and why the world doesn’t know a damn thing about him!
1. Poultry Beginnings
Frank Matthews was born in 1944, Durham NC. His first recorded brush with the law – chicken thievery while still a youngster. Such a humble starting point, yet Frank would soon move into the big leagues of organized crime. First stop – Philly. Another brush with the law while numbers running prompted another move. Final stop – the Big Apple. The numbers games wasn’t going to suffice for the business-savvy Matthews though, and during the 1960′s under the tutelage of a mafioso with heroin expertise, Frank found what would be the most lucrative of all.
2. Snubbing Mob Snobs
Matthews soon discovered he could strike out on his own, and boy did he ever! Setting up shop as a ‘legitimate’ real estate investor, he actually did well, but the magic of narcotics potential led to his involvement with traffickers and suppliers on a direct route, i.e. he bypassed the mafia and engaged in the infamous French Connection. And no… the Italian gangsters were never fond of the bold action. Adding insult to injury, Matthews – a black man – moved into the posh Todt Hill section of New York where his neighbors included none other than “Big Paul” Castellano. Yep, they really hated that.
3. Underworld, or Just Under the Radar
Ron Chepesiuk, true crime author & co-producer of the recent documentary “The Frank Matthews Story,” says the reason Matthews name isn’t very publicly recognizable has to do with the lack of information law enforcement had on him. “Matthews story is much more interesting than those of Lucas and Barnes, ” he contends. ” Matthews was also a bigger dealer. Matthews became a legend without anybody knowing much about him. There is no good answer to that question. For some reason Matthews got lucky and slipped under the radar Lucky for Matthews.”
4. Permanent Vacation
Following a partying Vegas retreat in late 1972, authorities finally caught up with Peewee (the affectionate name friends called him). He was promptly placed on an outrageous bail of 5 million bucks! But, the lucky cocaine and heroin kingpin’s bail was drastically reduced to $325,000 when he was returned to New York. This is where the story really gets good.
Street lore has it that Matthews was tipped off in 1973, perhaps inadvertently, to prosecution plans of dealing a life sentence down the road. That incident would be the last time Matthews entered the Brooklyn courthouse. So what’s a gangster to do when he’s got millions of dollars in drug money, a hot mistress and perhaps the most tight-lipped loyalists a criminal could ask for? Take what little you need and disappear off the map. Matthews allegedly along with his girlfriend – Cheryl Denise Brown, possibly one bodyguard, and around fifteen million dollars – fled to parts unknown.
5. Most (Un)Wanted Fugitive
To this day, law enforcement, friends and family (his wife included) have never conclusively seen or heard from Black Caesar since 1973. Well, everybody’s sticking to the story. So what happened to Frank? And how bad do authorities want him – thirty plus years later?
Unlike the search that ensued for over a decade in the case of Boston mobster Whitey Bulger – the cops aren’t exactly hot on this topic. Chepesiuk says most any law enforcement entity would gladly take Matthews if he popped up somewhere, but as for actively searching?
“We don’t think anybody is really looking for Matthews,” he explains. “The reward they offered in 1973 for his capture–$20,000 is the same this offered today. Compare that to the $2 million reward offered for Whitey Bulger that led to his capture. Authorities told us they are not actively looking for him but if someone came to them with info they would follow up on it.”
Legend also claims Matthews, since childhood, had wanted to someday visit Brazil.Theories of his whereabouts also lean towards a mafia hit, but most experts seem to believe the mob was just happy he was out of their hair and wouldn’t bother hunting him down. If Matthews is still alive – and Chepesiuk for one thinks (on most days he ponders the idea) he is – the fugitive would have turned 68 as of February.
In conclusion, there isn’t much material available, written or otherwise, on Matthews. However, here’s a few places to learn more of this master criminal: Seth Ferranti’s Street Legends Volume 2, Straight From the Hood by Chepesiuk and Scott Wilson, and of course the Frank Matthews Story by producers Chepesiuk and Al Profit.
Christian Cipollini is a freelance journalist and writer, and the co-found/designer of mob-themed tee shirt line Knokaround and author of Diary of a Motor City Hit Man: The Chester Wheeler Campbell Story