In 1973, the movie, “Magnum Force,” came out. It was a huge hit with the public. It featured Clint Eastwood as the iconic San Francisco cop, “Dirty Harry.”
The flick’s theme dealt with “vigilante justice.” It involved a group of renegade traffic police who had decided on their own, using extra legal methods, to take out society’s bad guys. This included, of course–drug kingpins. To say the least, even the indomitable “Dirty Harry,” had his hands full trying to bring a secret “death squad” of cops to justice.
Closer to home, on July 13, 1973, James “Turk” Scott, an African-American, was shot to death inside a garage used by residents of his hi-rise apartment, k/a “Sutton Place.” It’s located in the swanky Bolton Hill area of the Baltimore City.
The grisly crime shocked the populace and created banner headlines in the “Baltimore Sun” and the “Baltimore News-American” newspapers. A dozen bullets had ripped into Scott’s body. It was pure and simple–a cold-blooded execution.
A shadowy group, “Black October,” claimed responsibility for the vicious hit. The assassin or assassins’ left flyers, 8-by 11-inch in size, spread by Scott’s body. The hand-written message proclaimed that the state delegate was taken out because: “Selling drugs is an act of treason. The penalty for treason is death.” Was “Vigilante Justice” to be Baltimore’s latest curse?
Scott, 43, was a member of the House of Delegates in Maryland. He was a bail bondsman, a political and courthouse insider who knew all the players from Baltimore City to the halls of Annapolis. Scott was also an accused drug dealer. He was under a federal indictment on charges of conspiracy to transport 40 pounds of heroin from New York to Baltimore.
Executions are something that happen in Mob-ridden New York City, not in Baltimore, most locals thought back in 1973. The lead homicide investigator on this notorious case, Lt. Stephen Tabeling, gives the readers the details on how the drug wars were beginning to transform our communities. Tabeling and investigative reporter Stephen Janis put together a compelling book called Black October: The Case Files of Homicide Investigator Stephen Tabeling and The Murder of Turk Scott.
Tabeling wasn’t in “Dirty Harry” Callahan’s league as a cop, but he was a top-notch professional. He knew his tough crime beats better than most.
Two years earlier, in 1971, Tabeling had been assigned to a special “Task Force on Narcotics.” It was conceived by the then-State’s Attorney for the city, Milton Allen.
Allen, in own right, had been a legendary criminal defense lawyer, prior to becoming the State’s Attorney. He was the first African-American to hold that prestigious post. The purpose of the task force was to try to get a grip on this growing organized-drugs crime problem. Even back in the 70s, Tabeling reveals, “Baltimore was a major market for heroin.”
Thanks to some solid police work by Tabeling, and his team, which reads like an “Investigative Discovery” TV program, fingerprints and all, an arrest for the murder was quickly made. The accused was a twenty-year-old African American from a prominent family in the community. He strongly denied any wrongdoing. Did this prime suspect have accomplices or was he acting alone?
Tabeling does a terrific job setting up the contentious criminal trial that followed in Baltimore City, with all of its racial overtones. The police department was mostly white at that time.
You will learn a lot of about search warrants and of their importance in criminal proceedings from Tabeling’s account. He gives a blow-by-blow description, too, of all the legal maneuverings at the bitterly contested trial. The outcome of this controversial case may cause you to ask: “Was Justice done in the matter of the murder of Turk Scott?”
Tabeling was a Lieutenant on the force during the Turk Scott trial in the early 70s. Now, as Sergeant, he shifts gears and takes the readers back to the year 1966, and what he labels, “The Gambling Case on Pennsylvania Avenue.”
Some background is required at this point. Before the state-sponsored “Lottery,” if you wanted to place a daily bet on a number and win a cash prize, you did it with a “numbers’ writer.” It was all illegal and rampant. If you grew-up in the city, as I did, in South Baltimore, you couldn’t help but know who the number writers were. It was an open secret! And if we knew, then the cops had to know also. It was all part of the culture in working class areas.
Most folks, who were tuned into the numbers racket at a police level, like Tabeling was, looked to Baltimore’s “Block” area as a prime source of financial backing for the gambling enterprise. Beside the smoked-filled strip joints, a major gambling kingpin, Julius “The Lord” Salisbury, made one of the clubs his headquarters. Salisbury fled town in August, 1970, when he was out on bail in a federal gambling case. He hasn’t been heard from since!
Back to Pennsylvania Avenue. It is located in West Baltimore, in an African-American neighborhood. The then-State’s Attorney, Charles Moylan, via a Baltimore Criminal Justice Commission, decided to bust up the numbers’ racket and to focus first on Pennsylvania Ave. Supposedly, there were witnesses tying members of the police department to bribes by the boy-ohs running the numbers’ racket. Surveillance, including the use of film cameras, was set up in key locations on and around Pennsylvania Ave.
Tabeling was in charge of the operation. Well, it got complicated real fast. Cops in on the raids of the gambling dens may have been also “bad cops,” who were either taking bribes and/or knew cops who were. A search warrant went mysteriously missing.
Also, according to Tabeling, a “Baltimore Sun” reporter, who was working on the story, was observed by the police in a “sex act” with a woman who was a potential witness in the case. He was spotted in an automobile under the JFX, near the Sun’s office on Calvert Street.
What a shocker!
Suffice it to say, there is much more in the book on this gambling scandal and the efforts of Tabeling, and others, to jail the lawbreakers.
Finally, Stephen Tabeling and his writing partner, Stephen Janis, have put together an ebook that is not only a good read, but an eye-opener as well. It shows how investigative police work really comes together in cases that are both challenging and controversial.
The book is available on Kindle ebook.