Inside the Drug-Dealing Empire That Ruled West Philly
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because he brought death and drugs to the City of Brotherly Love.
By Seth Ferranti
Junior Black Mafia lieutenant Leroy “Bucky” Davis, a 22-year-old former amateur boxer, was murdered at 2:30 a.m. on May 14, 1989, while attempting to enter a row house on Creighton Street in West Philadelphia. He was coming home from a party with a girl he hoped to bed but got aired out before he could pull his gun out of his ostrich-skin boots. The hand-picked successor of JBM street boss Aaron Jones, who was locked up and facing a litany of charges, Bucky had been tasked with running Southwest Philly while Jones fought the cases against him.
Although no one could have predicted it, Bucky’s murder would set off a chain of events that upended the organization that had ruled Philadelphia’s inner-city neighborhoods since the mid-1980s with a terrifying ultimatum: Get down or lay down. Which basically meant buy cocaine from the JBM or deal with the consequences. It was a slogan that the federal government claimed epitomized the ruthlessness of Aaron Jones.
With a combination of brawn and business acumen, Jones ascended the criminal hierarchy.
Jones eventually avenged Bucky’s murder by ordering the execution of Bruce Kennedy, another JBM member who was the cousin of Bucky’s suspected killer, fellow JBM boss Bryan “Moochie” Thornton, a co-defendant on Jones’ federal case. Kennedy was dating Neisha Witherspoon — Jones’ baby mama — and the incarcerated Jones was not pleased. Someone had to pay for Bucky’s death, and it might as well be the man who was nailing Jones’ girl. Street justice, some might call it. On Aug. 18, 1990, Jones’ men carried out the hit.
“It was Aaron Jones’ flash, dash and penchant for violence that earned him the respected moniker of the Black John Gotti,” says Cavario H., author of Raised by Wolves: Inside the Life & Mind of a Guerrilla Hustler. “Like the famed Mafia boss, Jones enjoyed the best of everything and spared no expense on his custom accoutrements. He even had vehicles whose interiors and exteriors were wrapped in designer brands such as Louis Vuitton, Gucci and … Michael Cromer, more popularly known as MCM.”
By some accounts, Jones was a kid who could have gone a different route. He attended Temple University, but he became a prominent figure in one of the city’s most notorious organized crime groups — a violent enterprise that made tens of millions of dollars from the sale of drugs from 1985 to 1991. The JBM sold 200 to 300 kilos of cocaine per month; had 50 members and 300 associates, some of whom wore diamond-encrusted JBM rings; owned 33 legitimate businesses; and wasn’t shy about killing those who crossed them.
“Aaron Jones was the founder and boss of the Junior Black Mafia,” confirms Scott Burnstein, author of The Detroit True Crime Chronicles: Tales of Murder & Mayhem in the Motor City. “He’d been a teenage errand boy for original Philly Black Mafia lieutenant Robert ‘Nudie’ Mims and took counsel from Mims via phone calls and visits” after Mims was imprisoned in the 1980s. With a combination of brawn and business acumen, Jones ascended the criminal hierarchy, acquiring vast swaths of turf to control at the height of the crack era. His decision to work with the Italian mob paid dividends too, providing protection and a steady supply of product.
A 1989 Pennsylvania Crime Commission report alleged that the JBM was in the cocaine business with members of the Philadelphia Mafia, including Joseph “Skinny Joey” Merlino. Aaron’s connections with the city’s Italian mob came by way of his friend and JBM lieutenant Benny Goff, who owned Rims Plus, Philadelphia Auto Works, Automobile Bank and a used luxury car dealership in Manayunk. Through these businesses Goff established relationships with Italian gangsters, who in turn developed bonds with Goff’s JBM network.
“By the late ’80s, the JBM was making the news for murder and narcotics across the region,” says Christian Cipollini, author of Diary of a Motor City Hit Man: The Chester Wheeler Campbell Story. “Authorities blamed the organization for 25 murders by 1989.” In the early ’90s, law enforcement agencies had a cache of intelligence gathered, which included wiretaps, surveillance and more than a few witnesses. Jones and two fellow bosses in the JBM were indicted on federal narcotics and conspiracy charges. Jones also faced murder charges from the Bucky revenge killing.
Jones was convicted, along with Sam “Black Sam” Brown and James “Jaymo” Anderson, and sentenced to death for his role in the slaying of Bruce Kennedy. Jones’ legal team appealed, and to this day Jones is still on death row fighting his case, contending that he was framed by informants and unethical agents. In the wake of the JBM’s downfall from infighting, external competition and numerous indictments and convictions, Jones remains a contentious figure and memorable name from one of the bloodiest eras in Philadelphia’s underworld history.
- Seth FerrantiContact Seth Ferranti