The Equals Club was an organization in Milwaukee (and elsewhere) during the 1970s. Ostensibly, its purpose was to organize inner city folks who felt they had been marginalized — the group worked hard to register more voters. The Milwaukee chapter, lead by ex-con Orlando Corday McMurry, more commonly called O.C. McMurry or “Mack the Knife”, came under the suspicion of the FBI because of their political activities, as well as their affiliation with drug dealers and street gangs (notably the Black P Stone Rangers).
Another organization, known as the “Black Family” was a loosely-knit group of black pimps, bank robbers and drug pushers who saw themselves as the next generation of Mafia (replacing the Italians). Using the Equals Club as a hangout, it made the group very much overlapped with those who wanted to legitimately improve the lives of those in the Inner City. This caused a great deal of confusion for authorities, who tended to lump everyone together (negatively).
McMurry moved with his parents Ernest McMurry and Rosetta Molton to Milwaukee from Pine Bluff, Arkansas in 1946, when he was 11 years old. He graduated from Lincoln High School in 1953 at the top of his class. Despite this achievement, he was arrested dozens of times and served sentences at the State Reformatory in Green Bay and the state prison in Waupun (for two counts of forgery). His rap sheet was long, beginning in 1957 for abandonment, and including a variety of offenses from gambling (several counts), to disorderly conduct, to obstructing an officer, to taking another man’s driving exam. McMurry was also married the same year he graduated, but separated within three years and leaving his children behind. His parents had also split up and his mother re-married to Thomas Roaf.
The Equals Club was formed in July 1969 through the work of McMurry and Vietnam veteran Andrew Reed. The first meeting was at the Top Hat Lounge (2933 West North Avenue), and 160 members were signed up on the first night. The organization offered counseling and job opportunities for parolees and drug abusers, though its bylaws explicitly stated no current addicts could be admitted. Reflecting later, McMurry explained to the press the need for a black political organization. he said, “I have formed certain conclusions that there is no justice in Milwaukee for the black man for he is arrested by a white policeman, warrants are issued by a white district attorney, you are tried by a white judge and sent to institutions that have only white supervisors.”
Though the Equals Club was created ostensibly to provide the black community with ways out of crime, McMurry did not seem to practice what he he preached. Between July 1969 and February 1971, he was picked up for gambling three times and was once found inside a brothel. Within the next year, he was caught gambling twice more and for possessing stolen goods in Rockford, Illinois.
June 29, 1971: 25 angry members of the black community, including members of the Equals, surrounded Officer Robert Dahlke at the McGovern park pool after allegations that he twisted the arm of 10-year old Donna Bost, who had been fighting with a white girl. Dahlke denied twisting the girl’s arm. Bost’s mother told the press, “He did let her loose, but then we were surrounded by police.” LeRoy Allen said the police had forced his son up against a wall at the pool and complained, “Why in the hell would they arrest a 10 year old girl? How can you have faith in a police department like that?” Bost admitted to reporters that she fought with the girl, but only after she was told, “You’re not supposed to be in this park, you little black nigger.” O.C. McMurry told the press, “The police are telling blacks to stay out of the park. If it had been your daughter, you would have been here, too.”
Later that same evening, a fight broke out at the Community Action Program (CAP) meeting, held at 2235 North 3rd. Around 40 members of the Equals were there protesting, and had physically restrained Organization of Organizations (OOO) executive director Lawrence Harwell from speaking. CAP president Boby G. Rouse asked two of them to be removed. This further aggravated protestors, and police were called. Sgt. Louis Enos was attacked by a piece of aluminum siding and had his head cut in multiple places. The protestors were tearing off the siding and smashing windows. One protestor stole a .38 revolver from an officer on the scene. One man was arrested for battery.
The purpose of CAP was to elect eight residents from poverty-stricken areas to sit as commissioners on the Social Development Commission (SDC).
June 30, 1971: Members of the Black P Stone Nation marched in Milwaukee around the 5th District police station at 4th and Locust to protest police brutality, and then returned to their “base” at Hephatha Lutheran Church. The media was unsure if these members were local or came in from Chicago. Chief Harold Breier claimed the 100 or so protesters had no “formal organization” and no connection to the Chicago gang. A spokesman for the group, who identified himself as “Chief”, said the protestors did not “want any trouble with the police. We just want to stop the brutal beatings of our brothers and sisters.”
On July 1, 1971, McMurry was elected the chairman of the Community Action Program (CAP) Residents Council. The previous chairman, Boby Rouse, resigned via a June 21 memo, and McMurry was picked as his successor. As part of the Equals, McMurry said his top concern was monitoring antipoverty organizations to ensure that their fund-raising actually reached the poor. At this same meeting, McMurry announced that the Equals had formed an alliance with the Black P Stone Nation and Concerned Veterans for Peace to help combat police brutality.
Members of the Equals vowed to confront Rev. Kenneth Bowen at the Mount Moriah Baptist Church concerning the issue of brutality. Bowen was serving as the “community relations specialist” for the Police and Fire Commission. Jeanetta Robinson said, “Since he won’t come to the people, we’ll take the people to him. People have a right to worship, but just our presence will show him that we are serious and concerned about the alarmingly increased rate of police brutality.”
The FBI opened a “White Slavery” file on O.C. McMurry on June 29, 1973. They suspected that given his background connection to prostitution, he might be involved in interstate offenses. They were especially interested in one case where he was believed to have transported a prostitute across state lines in 1967, but the woman involved denied it and no further investigation was pursued. Although the FBI’s case agent described the Equals as “an organization of ex-convicts and thieves who are exploiting the racial discrimination on the North Side for their own profit”, no evidence was found for McMurry’s involvement in actively transporting women, and his case file was closed on October 29.
Patrolman Michael Carlson of the Milwaukee Police Department testified that at approximately 4:15 A.M. on the morning of October 20, 1973, he responded to a dispatcher’s request for investigation of a shooting at 2939 North 24th Street. Officer Carlson was admitted to the residence through the front door by Patrolman Frederick Tice, a member of the ambulance squad, who was already on the scene. Carlson stated that, upon entrance, he observed Julius James Nash lying on the floor between the kitchen and the living room with a gunshot wound to his left leg. Carlson inquired as to what had occurred and was informed by Nash that he had shot himself while cleaning his gun and that the gun could be located in the bedroom. Officer Carlson then proceeded to the bedroom where he observed the gun in question lying on the floor adjacent to the bed and observed as well an open manila envelope which contained a “crushed greenish brown weed” that Carlson suspected to be marijuana. Having recovered both the weapon and the envelope, Carlson returned to the living room.
From his position in the living room, as he had also upon his entrance to the residence, Officer Carlson observed several marijuana roaches in the ash trays. He further observed other manila envelopes of the same type discovered in the bedroom as well as an open canister containing a “crushed greenish brown weed” on top of the bar. Moreover, on the wall behind the bar Carlson observed a rack on which were hung three rifles. Officer Carlson proceeded to the bar for the purpose of collecting the suspected marijuana. In so doing he stepped behind the bar, whereupon he observed one revolver lying on the floor and two additional revolvers lying on a shelf behind the bar. Officer Carlson testified that his purpose in proceeding behind the bar was to recover the suspected marijuana and marijuana paraphernalia that was on top of the bar but that it would not have been necessary for him to go behind the bar to recover such items. He further stated that he could not have observed the three revolvers from a position in front of the bar.
Subsequent to his confiscation of the suspected marijuana and defendant’s conveyance from the residence, Officer Carlson, together with his partner Patrolman Mark Koch, removed all discovered weapons from the premises. Officer Carlson stated that the latter action was prompted by the inability of himself and his partner to lock the front door and secure the premises as well as their judgment that the weapons should be removed for safekeeping. Carlson further testified that he acted in conformity with police department rules and regulations which required him to secure the premises in the best fashion available and to insure the safety of any valuables. In addition, as Carlson was aware at the time and as counsel stipulated during the course of the hearing, defendant’s residence was situated in an area subject to a high rate of crime. Carlson then gave to defendant’s mother, who did not intend to remain at the residence but who intended to post two guard dogs, a list of the items taken.
The body of Thomas West (better known as “Tom Slick”) was discovered at about 12:30 p.m., on February 20, 1975, on the floor of his apartment at 1921-B North 24th Place in Milwaukee by an off-duty police officer who owned the building and had stopped to collect his rent. West had been shot three times with a shotgun at close range.
Jerry Lee Robinson told police that on the night of the murder he was looking out the window of his apartment when he saw four men get out of a car and walk up to the porch of the building. One of the men returned to the car and removed a rifle or shotgun. Robinson stated that this man then went back to the porch and handed the gun to ??? Marshall. The four men then entered the door of the building and disappeared from Robinson’s view. A short time later, Robinson stated, he heard three shots coming from the downstairs apartment followed by a rumbling noise. He then watched as all four men exited the building, got back into the car and drove away. Robinson’s claims would later be called into question when he failed a polygraph exam.
Roosevelt Cummings occupied the cottage directly to the rear of the building in which West’s and Robinson’s apartments were located. On the night of the murder he had been watching television when he was interrupted by a knock at his front door. He answered the door and was asked by a person whom he had not seen before if a Tom Slick lived there. Realizing that this person was looking for Thomas West, Cummings directed him to the forward building and told him he would find the man he was looking for there.
As the person was leaving, Cummings observed a car, which had been parked on the street during the conversation, turn into the alleyway adjacent to the two buildings. The car stopped next to West’s apartment. Cummings, who had remained at the door, watched as the person he had spoken with walked towards the car where he was asked by an occupant on the passenger side what he had learned. He responded that West lived in the rear apartment of the front building and continued walking until he reached the rear door to that building. Cummings then observed two men get out of the car and join the other person on the porch outside of the apartment building. He watched until he saw these men knock on the door of the building and, at that point, he closed his own door and resumed watching television.
Shortly thereafter, Cummings heard loud voices and arguing coming from West’s apartment. After about five to six minutes he heard a car start and back out of the alley. He then heard more loud noises and suddenly, three quick noises that sounded like muzzled gunshots. He immediately jumped up from his couch and turned off his light, but did not call the police because, as he later testified, he feared for his own safety. When Cummings was eventually shown photos by police, he did not pick out Marshall but rather one David Darnell Hardy.
On August 18, 1975, as Cummings was sitting in the rear of the courtroom, he saw Marshall sitting a few rows in front of him and immediately recognized him as the man he had seen that night. He reported this to a police officer, and several days later a line-up was held at which Cummings again identified Marshall as the man who had come to his door the night of the murder. As a result of his identification of Marshall and Robinson’s refusal to testify, Cummings became the State’s key witness at Marshall’s trial. On the basis of his testimony the jury found Marshall guilty as charged. A judgment of conviction was entered on April 21, 1976, and Marshall was sentenced to life imprisonment in the State Reformatory at Green Bay.
“Black Family” member Eugene Terrell and ?? Cobbs were acquaintances, but on the evening of November 8, 1975, they argued about a small amount of money which Terrell borrowed from Cobbs’ wife. The altercation commenced at Jeannie’s Place and continued at an apartment used as an “after-hours” tavern. Cobbs and Terrell went to a front room of the apartment, where they were alone. According to Terrell’s statements, Cobbs said he did not like what was going on between his wife and Terrell. Cobbs hit Terrell and knocked him down, and then came at him with his arms extended. Terrell, who was then on the floor, pulled a .25 caliber pistol from his pocket and shot at a distance of two feet. Terrell said he did not know how many cartridges were in the weapon or how many shots he fired. He said that his mind “was like a total blank.” Cobbs was shot in widely separate parts of his body, a fact which could reasonably demonstrate that Terrell did not aim at vital portions of Cobbs’ body with the specific intent to kill. The evidence of the police officer who investigated at the scene also indicates that some shots struck the wall and did not hit Cobbs. Cobbs died a short time later. Terrell fled Milwaukee and was arrested in Hattiesburg, Mississippi.
On December 11 or 12, 1975, Felix Winters and two other men robbed Isaac “Little Ike” Haskins at his apartment. After the robbery, Haskins attempted to locate Winters. He and nine other men, including Robert Neely, went to the house of Winters’ girlfriend, Kathleen Lessard. Lessard testified that, when she arrived sometime later, a gun was put to her head, and she was directed into the dining room. Haskins told her that her boyfriend, Winters, had just robbed him, and he wanted to know where he was. He told her she had better help find Winters or she would never see Winters again. Neely injected heroin into both of Lessard’s arms, stating that it was pure and that she would probably die from it, but that it would probably make her talk and reveal the whereabouts of Winters. One of Haskins’ and Neely’s companions held a gun to Lessard’s son’s head, and her house was ransacked. Lessard agreed to take the men to the home of Helen Wright where she had just seen Winters distributing the proceeds of the robbery.
Wright was the girlfriend of one of Winters’ accomplices. Accompanied by Lessard and another man, Neely forced his way into Wright’s home. Wright testified Neely put a pistol to her face and demanded to know the whereabouts of her boyfriend. Wright informed him that Winters was in Chicago. After retrieving from Wright some of the money Winters had taken from Haskins, Neely made a phone call. Isaac Haskins arrived and told Wright he had been robbed and wanted his money back. Wright was then told to let Haskins know if her boyfriend contacted her. Several days later Winters phoned Haskins to apologize and to offer restitution.
Several days after the robbery, Haskins confronted Neely with Winters’ statement that Neely had set up Haskins for the robbery. Neely said it was a “damn lie.” Haskins asked Neely if there was “anything that he was going to do about it.” Neely responded that he was going to kill Winters. Haskins then told Neely the plan for killing Winters, which was subsequently followed.
Neely and the three other men started out with Winters for Indiana for the ostensible purpose of finding the other two robbers. As an excuse for getting off the freeway at Highway 158, they told Winters they were going to Kenosha to get some guns. About half a mile east of the interstate, the men faked a flat tire. The driver pulled over and everyone got out of the car. At that point Neely was supposed to shoot Winters, but Winters realized what was about to happen, ran across the road, and disappeared down an embankment with Neely in pursuit, firing at him. When the first shot was fired, Winters stumbled but kept running. Neely went down the embankment and followed Winters across a field. Another man joined in the chase. Eventually, Winters turned and ran back toward Neely. Another shot was fired and Winters fell. Neely then returned to the car, and the four men drove back to Milwaukee, telling Haskins, upon arrival, that the job had been completed. Nash received some heroin and $45 for his part in the incident.
Winters’ body was found on December 27, 1975. An autopsy revealed that the cause of death was a bullet wound to the left side of the body.
Officers went to Nash’s home based upon an unnamed informant’s tip that Nash “knew about the Felix Winters murder.” The officers conceded that, upon their arrival, they did not have probable cause to arrest Nash. After informing Nash that they were police officers and wanted to talk to him, Nash suggested they get into the squad car. Nash was with a male companion at the time and indicated he did not want to talk to the police in front of his companion. Before he got into the car, one of the officers patted him down and read him his Miranda rights. He was never handcuffed. Once inside the car, Nash asked the officers to drive around the block so he would not be seen talking to them. After he completed his statement (and on the basis of that statement), the officers arrested Nash and took him to the police administration building.
On August 24, 1976, Nash withdrew his not guilty plea to a charge of first degree murder and entered a plea of guilty to the charge pursuant to a plea agreement with the state. His plea was accepted and he was sentenced on the same day to a life term. (Because he testified against his friends, the prosecutor recommended that the governor reduce his sentence to 25 years, but the governor denied this request.)
Neely was then charged with first degree murder and a five day jury trial was held commencing on October 11, 1976. At Neely’s trial for the murder of Winters, Neely testified on direct examination that he was a drug dealer who bought drugs from Haskins, but who worked primarily on his own. He related his activities on the day of Winters’ death, describing how he went to Haskins’ apartment to buy drugs. Neely testified that he had no knowledge of any plan to kill Winters, and he portrayed Haskins as having no anger toward Winters. According to Neely’s testimony, Haskins asked Neely to accompany Winters and the other men to Gary to retrieve the possessions that Winters had stolen from Haskins, and Neely grudgingly agreed. Neely testified that Haskins wanted Neely to guard the safety of both Haskins’ possessions and Felix Winters. Neely depicted the shooting of Winters as taking place while he (Neely) was an unsuspecting passenger in the car, and he flatly denied any involvement in the shooting.
During cross-examination, the prosecutor asked Neely about the Lessard-Wright incidents. Neely refused to answer on the grounds that his answer might incriminate him. Although the court ordered him to respond, Neely persisted in his refusal, asserting his fifth amendment privilege seven times in the presence of the jury. Neely was convicted of first-degree murder, and the conviction was affirmed by both the Wisconsin Appellate Court and the Wisconsin Supreme Court.
Haskins was charged with first-degree murder, and a jury trial was held commencing January 10, 1977. Prior to trial, Haskins filed a motion in limine requesting an order “prohibiting the prosecution from introducing any testimony or evidence upon the trial of this cause concerning any alleged crimes other than the crime charged and for which the defendant is on trial.” Defense counsel made clear that the motion was directed to the incidents which occurred at the Wright and Lessard residences on the night of the robbery of Haskins and sought to have evidence of those incidents declared inadmissible as improper “other crimes” evidence and as having prejudicial effect which outweighed its probative value. The trial court denied the motion, deferring consideration of the issue until the evidence was actually proffered. At trial, the evidence was admitted.
Although off their radar for two decades, O.C. McMurry came back to the FBI’s attention on October 12, 1995, when he was caught up in their “controlled buy” program. An undercover officer approached McMurry at 1:33pm and said to him, “What’s up, Mac? Let me get four.” The officer was directed to go in a house, but the officer said he wouldn’t because they “trip” in there. McMurry then went inside and had a second man come out, who traded four small plastic bags of crack for $40. A test back at the lab came back positive, determining the samples to be .48 grams of crack cocaine.
On the afternoon of November 29, McMurry was brought into a room at the police department to speak with a vice detective and an FBI special agent. McMurry was very forthcoming with them, giving an overview of his history, and his current medical issue. He saw a doctor on occasion for arthritis and high blood pressure, and was taking a prescription medication for a depressed nerve on his face. McMurry freely admitted that he occasionally smoked “weed” and “rock” and lived in an attic of a crack house, where he had been since January 1995. His downstairs neighbor sold crack cocaine and was a heroin addict. McMurry did not specifically recall the day he helped an undercover officer buy crack, but said that such a transaction would be normal and common — he pointed customers to his housemate all the time. For his role in the transaction, McMurry was charged with delivery and placed on a year of probation.