Harlem Drug Kingpin Frank Lucas Dies at 88

Illustration for article titled Harlem Drug Kingpin Frank Lucas Dies at 88
Photo: Associated Press

Harlem kingpin Frank Lucas, who inspired the 2007 feature film American Gangster with Denzel Washington, has died.


According to CBS News, Lucas passed Thursday in New Jersey. He was 88.

Raised in North Carolina, Lucas found his way to New York in the 1960s, eventually becoming a major drug trafficker based out of Harlem, known for supplying especially formidable packages of heroin.

Lucas, who mugged drunks as a boy, moved to Harlem after witnessing the Ku Klux Klan murder his cousin, an incident that Lucas claims began his life of crime in earnest. Lucas would soon find himself under the tutelage of Harlem kingpin Bumpy Johnson before a heart attack ended that crime figure’s life. After murdering a prominent local drug dealer, Lucas would pick up where Johnson left off, earning more than $1 million a day by his own calculation.

The one-time owner of office buildings in Detroit and a cattle ranch in North Carolina, he regularly rubbed elbows with Muhammad Ali and James Brown.

Lucas is credited with the creation of the infamous “Golden Triangle” of the 1970s. Lucas claimed he imported heroin from Southeast Asia in the coffins of American soldiers killed in Vietnam.

“Who the hell is gonna look in a dead soldier’s coffin,” Lucas told New York Magazine in 2000. “We had him make up 28 copies of the government coffins, except we fixed them up with false bottoms, big enough to load up with six, maybe eight kilos.”


According to the Associated Press, Lucas associate Leslie Atkinson, an on-again, off-again supplier for the operation, arranged for the drugs to be shipped in furniture, not caskets.

When it all came crashing down in 1975, Lucas was convicted of federal drug charges and sentenced to 70 years in prison. He served seven after providing information that led to the convictions of his associates and peers. He was released in 1982, convicted in 1984 on a fresh set of drug charges, and released again in 1991.


Lucas is survived by four daughters, Francine Lucas-Sinclair and Ruby, Betty and Candace Lucas; two sons, Frank Jr. and Tony Walters; along with many grandchildren and great-grandchildren; two sisters, Mattie Lassiter and Emma Moye; and three brothers, Ezell, Lawrence and LeVon Lucas.

His wife, Julie, and another son, Ray, died before him.

Contributing Editor. When he's not pullin' up, he's usually jumpin' out. You can find him in the cut.



Hmm. Well, blessings to his extended family. Hopefully they’re living a life that’s not “in the life”...

I had never heard of this fellow until the movie was announced. I didn’t grow up in New York, so I don’t know how far his “legend” traveled.

With all of these “hustling legends”, (e.g., Nicky Barnes, Freeway Ricky Ross, etc.) the harm they caused by virtue of the vice they were involved in facilitating needs to be contextualized. For sure, we can point out the gangsters/racketeers of the mainstream culture, both government affiliated and not, for their history of oppression and unconscionable acts. But when these various characters from our community pass on, and the reaction is just to uncritically give props for their swagger, hustle and “high achievements”, living it big, etc., without giving proper consideration for the toxicity and mayhem that went along with it, something is missing.

Yes, many of these folks helped out their families (financially), employed local people, bought holiday dinners, paid utility bills, sponsored youth sports teams, etc.  But a dope dealer with scruples is still... Well, anyway.. God bless..