In the late 1980s and early ’90s, the Soundview housing projects in the Bronx saw the rise of one of the city’s most notorious gangs, Sex Money Murder (also known as SMM) and its charismatic leader, Pistol Pete. At the time, the gang was responsible for much of the crack-cocaine dealing within the city and up and down the East Coast, as well as much of the violence and murders that were an inevitable part of the drug trade.
In his new book, “Sex Money Murder: A Story of Crack, Blood, and Betrayal,” author Jonathan Green chronicles the rise and fall of SMM—which eventually became part of the United Blood Nation (or the East Coast Bloods), and the city’s dedicated detectives and prosecutors who worked to stop the violence.
In this excerpt from the book, used with permission of the publisher, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., we are introduced to Suge, one of SMM’s top lieutenants.
Prologue: The Roof
Up high on the pebbled-tar roof overlooking the projects, Suge took another hit from his blunt. He held the smoke in his lungs, welcoming the rush in his limbs, the warmth over his skin, and finally the numbing of his mind. It would help deaden his conscience for the murder he was about to commit.
When Suge allowed the purplish smoke to escape his mouth, it hung briefly like a gossamer in front of the Manhattan skyline before gusting winds snatched it away. It was Thanksgiving Day 1997. Suge gripped the heavy Colt .45 pistol in his hoodie pocket, warm now after resting in his hand for so long, its weight reassuring him. He let himself stare over the smokestacks and flat roofs of the Bronx to the skyscrapers two miles southwest in midtown, the Empire State, the chrome spine of the Chrysler Building, before turning his gaze to the Upper East Side, the most expensive real estate in the United States, a world created by rich white men and the dynasties that had built America.
Seven stories below, at 1704 Randall Avenue, where crack vials littered the ground, he could see the bleak open squares of concrete hemmed in by blank red walls and row upon row of dark, empty windows. Everyone here knew to stay away from the windows.
The kids in Soundview called the roof that Suge was on Pebble Beach. A decade earlier, when he was a boy and Manhattan felt like a faraway kingdom, Suge had brought girls up here on dates, looked out with them at the metropolis, and told them one day he would be a millionaire.
The brackish air off Long Island Sound was getting cooler. Suge’s right lung ached as he held the smoke in. A scar ten inches below his armpit marked where a bullet had entered, burst his lung, and dragged him down into a coma. Now, he stamped his feet and rasped a couple of times to help his breathing.
Suge was five foot six, a lean stack of knotted muscle. His broad mouth and upper jaw revealed two front teeth with a slight gap set above a defiant, jutting chin. Hyperkinetic, never fully at rest, he passed the blunt back and forth to a tough, sinewy kid called MAC- 11, who had earned his name for his skill with a submachine gun.
Outside the stairwell, someone had sprayed a familiar tag: SMM, short for Sex Money Murder. SMM was one of the most feared “sets”—like battalions in an army—of the United Blood Nation. Suge was a general and head of security, and this was his territory, the Soundview Houses.
To outsiders, Soundview was a jungle—gang-run, crack-blighted, its residents held prisoner by fear and violence. To Suge, it was a place of safety from the police and rival gangs, a fortress and a powerful state within a state. Randall Avenue was the only way into Soundview, and the only way out, as if urban planners had built the place with defense in mind. Inside these walls, Suge’s authority was unquestioned. Soundview lived by rules laid down by him and his brethren. Beneath the grid of dark rooftops was a vast market for the crack his crew supplied.
The orders that had brought Suge to the rooftop came down from SMM’s godfather and Suge’s childhood friend, Pistol Pete. Where Suge was raw and forthright, Pete flashed a thousand- watt grin and then slipped behind you to shoot you in the back of the skull. He was only five-seven, but he ruled the black underworld through fear and a Robin Hood reputation that made him a hero among young dealers throughout the projects.
Pete came from an American drug dynasty. His father had worked with drug kingpin Nicky Barnes in the 1970s and then helped to establish another syndicate in the early 1980s to bring high- grade heroin to Harlem and the Bronx with the Mafia. But by the mid-1990s, Pete’s crack empire had made him more powerful and respected in the underworld than his father ever was. And while the Mafia had Sinatra and the Rat Pack, Pistol Pete had New York rappers like Lord Tariq and Peter Gunz, who rhymed about his life and crimes. Pete was a celebrity, spending time in clubs with Tyra Banks, Sean Combs (Puff Daddy, later P. Diddy), and the Ralph Lauren model Tyson Beckford.
The Pistol was incarcerated on federal drug and weapons charges in the Charlotte- Mecklenburg County Central Jail in North Carolina. But he could dictate life or death in Soundview anytime. The week before, he had phoned Suge from jail and said that David “Twin” Mullins, their friend and fellow gang member, was a snitch. “Twin gots to go,” Pete told him. Although it was never explicitly stated, committing the murder would give Suge OG, or Original Gangster, status. This might mean he’d get his own autonomous subset under the aegis of Sex Money Murder.
At first Suge didn’t wholly believe that Twin had ratted. For a start, Twin had higher status than Suge in SMM; he was Pistol Pete’s partner. He and his twin brother, Damon Mullins, were well liked in Soundview. And not only was Twin a wealthy drug dealer, but he, too, had murdered for SMM out of loyalty, killing those who had planned to murder Pete. But then Suge stopped himself. You never analyzed, fed your conscience with doubts before a murder, asking why you would kill one friend to remain loyal to another. That would almost certainly get you killed. And in Soundview, you never went back on a job like this. Faking moves got you killed, too. If Suge failed to murder him, Twin’s retaliation would be swift. He would almost certainly kill Suge, and Suge asssumed they might come for his grandmother, who also lived in Soundview.
Over several weeks Pete had convinced Suge that eliminating Twin was the only way to get Pete out of prison. Twin was cooperating with prosecutors on his case, he claimed, and his evidence and testimony would put Pete away for life.
On the roof, Suge pushed away any doubts. He never evaluated the consequences—it simply wasn’t in his DNA. The perfect gang member, ruthless, unquestioning to a fault. Twin had to die today.
Under his hoodie Suge wore a bulletproof vest, a Kevlar plate strapped over his chest. He had loaded the .45 with alternating hollow points and full metal jacket bullets. The hollow points would spin irregularly through the body cavity, shredding organs as they went. But if his mark wore a bulletproof vest, the solid bullets had a chance of puncturing the Kevlar without fragmenting first.
Below him, on the large patch of grass between 1704 and 1680 Randall, he could see thirty football players in bright colors warming up, getting ready for the annual Turkey Bowl between the Soundview and neighboring Castle Hill projects that had been a tradition for five years. Supposedly this was the one day when guns and animosities between rival drug dealers would be set aside or expressed only through football. Even so, many players wore bulletproof vests.
MAC- 11 peered over the edge and relayed that Suge’s target wore a white Dallas Cowboys jersey with the number 21 in royal blue. Suge tracked several of his SMM allies in on the murder scheme down below. Several of Twin’s men, he suspected, were armed and ready to protect him, so some of the SMM men had discreetly positioned themselves directly behind them. When Suge started shooting, a man called Total Package would pass a .38 revolver under his puffy jacket to Green Eyes, another SMM gangster standing next to him. Green Eyes would kill Twin’s bodyguard and any of his retinue who might attempt to shoot back. Other SMM members were armed and stationed at strategic exits from the projects, blocking anyone from escaping. The three talked easily with Twin before the game, “rocking him to sleep.” This was a familiar SMM move—they lulled their victims into a false sense of security with friendliness, masking their deadly intentions, before murdering them.
On the roof, the wind clawed at Suge, and a thick scar on his head throbbed in the cold. The pain was the legacy of a pistol-whipping he had suffered seven years earlier. Pistol Pete had orchestrated the murder of the culprit who had hurt Suge, so now Suge was going to repay the favor by killing for Pete.
Excerpted from Sex Money Murder: A Story of Crack, Blood, and Betrayal by Jonathan Green. © 2018 by Jonathan Green. Used with permission of the publisher, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. All rights reserved.