What happened to Drug Lord Frank Matthews?

Frank Matthews was born February 13, 1944 in North Carolina, US, and was raised by an aunt after his mother passed away when he was just four years old. He was described as ‘bright’ from a young age, however he dropped out of school in seventh grade and went on to serve a year in a reformatory for juveniles in Raleigh, Durham, on a charge of assault.

Upon his release, Matthews moved almost 400 miles northeast to Philadelphia, where he started work on a numbers game (a type of illegal lottery) – for which he was arrested in 1963, but after agreeing to leave Philadelphia, he avoided conviction for this.

Frank Matthews NY mugshot

Next stop was Brooklyn, NY, where he again started collecting numbers, as he had in Philadelphia. Only now he was earning more, working as both a collector and an enforcer, through which he gained invaluable experience – along with the extra cash – to move up the criminal ladder and begin dealing in illegal drugs.

Frank Matthews, Las Vegas arrest

It started to dawn on Matthews that the money he was making from the numbers racket was small fry compared to what he could be making in the illegal drug trade, more specifically, heroin. He knew that the transition into this business could take some time, as during that era (the early 60s), most of the heroin supply was controlled by the Italian Mafia families in New York. Matthews decided to approach two of the families – Bonanno and Gambino – but they refused to grant his request and he was turned down. Refusing to give up, Matthews then contacted a guy who ran the numbers racket in Harlem, Raymond Marquez (‘Spanish Raymond’). Marquez set up a meeting between Matthews and Rolando Gonzalez Nuñez, who was ‘godfather’ of the Cuban Mafia in New York – and also a major player in the wholesale cocaine business.

Raymond Marquez in 2008

The working relationship flourished between Matthews and ‘El Padrino’, and the business soon expanded. Eventually, Gonzalez was supplying Matthews with massive amounts of cocaine and heroine, and within a short time he became one of the major dealers in New York. And Matthews was always willing to do business with anyone, as long as the product was of sufficient quality.

Come the 1970s, Frank Matthews was at the top of his game. The Matthews organization controlled the retail sale of the drugs, and also supplied large shipments to major dealers on the East Coast. In 1971, Matthews – or ‘Black Caesar’ as he came to be known – held a meeting in Atlanta, Georgia, inviting all the major African-American/Latin-American traffickers to discuss, amongst other things, ways of importing heroin without using the Italian Mafia. This type of summit was repeated the following year in Las Vegas.

Frank Matthews ‘Wanted’

In January, 1973, Frank Matthews and his girlfriend were preparing to board a flight from Las Vegas to Los Angeles at McCarran International Airport when drug enforcement agents placed them both under arrest. At the end of 1972, US prosecutors had issued an arrest warrant for Matthews, with a charge of attempting to sell approximately 40 pounds of cocaine in Miami during the summer of 1972. Also, they were certain that he had stashed millions of dollars away in Las Vegas, possibly in safety deposit boxes. The agents needed to get him extradited back to Brooklyn, NY, and in the meantime, bail was set for $5m. As he left the court, he was also informed he owed back taxes on $100 million for 1971 alone.

Las Vegas mugshot

In April, 1973, he was back in New York and had served a few months in jail. He was then released on bail and was to attend a Brooklyn hearing in July of that year. When he failed to show, and couldn’t be located, it was soon discovered that his girlfriend Cheryl Brown had also vanished. Authorities believe that they could have left with around $15m – $20m in cash that they had hidden. Frank Matthews left behind his common-law wife, Barbara Hinton, along with three children.

Frank Matthews and Barbara Hinton, 1971 Photo credit: Antwan Black, Pinterest

Since the day they went missing in July 1973, there have been no confirmed sightings of either Frank Matthews or Cheryl Brown. Nor has there been any contact with family members. There have been no leads or fingerprints, or anything that might give a clue as to their whereabouts. The mystery is still wide open to this day. ”It’s like they disappeared off the face of the earth” said Ron Chepesiuk, in his book Black Caesar: The Rise and Disappearance of Frank Matthews, Kingpin.

Were they killed by rivals? Did they flee to another country? Is either one still alive? What did happen to Frank Matthews?

The Frank Matthews Story: The Rise and Disappearance of America’s Biggest Kingpin

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