Busting The Hill

Cops broke up Martinsburg, W.Va., drug 'supermarket' 20 years ago

Cops broke up Martinsburg, W.Va., drug 'supermarket' 20 years ago

October 15, 2006|by CANDICE BOSELY

Ted Anderson spent the night of Oct. 15, 1986, crammed into a room with seven other cops in an out-of-the-way Virginia hotel. One officer spent the night in a bathtub and several lay on the floor.

Anderson didn't sleep at all.

Early the next morning, a Thursday, a caravan of about 100 police vehicles - including Anderson's - made its way up Interstate 81 into Martinsburg, where the largest drug bust in the town's history took place as most of the dealers were still sleeping.

Known as "The Hill" drug bust, the Oct. 16, 1986, roundup of drug dealers brought to an end open-market crack cocaine, marijuana and powder cocaine deals taking place in what today is a quiet residential area, said Anderson, who was a patrol sergeant at the time and is now chief of the Martinsburg Police Department.

Residents who were fed up with the drug activity were so grateful they sent flowers to the police department and loudly applauded two Martinsburg Police Department cars that led an annual town parade a couple of days later, Anderson said.


The bust was the culmination of a nearly two-year investigation that involved cooperation between local, area and national law enforcement agencies. Officers and agents with the FBI, DEA, Martinsburg Police Department, West Virginia State Police and several other agencies were actively involved.

Open-air drug deals

To truly understand the magnitude of the bust, one first has to grapple with how bad the drug problem was.

A main hub of activity was the intersection of Burke Street and what, at the time, was named Samuel Street. It since has been renamed Elijah Street.

These days the intersection is quiet. Children walk by and cars slowly ease past stop signs.

It was a different atmosphere 20 years ago, Anderson and Assistant U.S. Attorney Tom Mucklow, of Martinsburg, said.

When a car would pull up, dealers would push each other out of the way to try to sell drugs. Sometimes they would get into people's cars.

Customers came from throughout the region, at all hours of the day and night, and were of all ages and races. They were men and women and from all socioeconomic levels.

"It was just so overwhelming and so unlike what we're even dealing with today. It was supermarket-type drug dealing," Anderson said.

"You didn't have to drive half a block or walk half a block before you were approached by someone asking if you wanted to buy crack," he said. "It was enveloping this community like nothing we'd ever seen."

Even children were involved. Mucklow said he recently spoke to a woman who told him she was a "runner" - a liaison between a customer and a dealer - when she was 12 or 13 years old.

Many of the dealers were from the Caribbean area, including Jamaica and Haiti. They came to the area legitimately to work in fruit orchards, but then stayed and others joined them, Mucklow said.

Marijuana and powder cocaine were initially the drugs of choice, until crack cocaine took over in popularity.

In 1983 and 1984, crack cocaine - which resembles an off-white pebble or a macadamia nut - came in large quantities to Martinsburg.

"That was the new thing, so to speak, at the time and we were just infested," Anderson said.

Mucklow compared the The Hill intersection to a fast-food restaurant.

"There were just packs of drug traffickers out on the street corner dealing to anyone that would drive by," Mucklow said.

He recalled one time a Ford Crown Victoria with antennas and blackwall tires drove past - an obvious police vehicle being driven by a U.S. Marshal.

"They even stopped him," Mucklow said. "It was flagrant, it was open, it was notorious, it was bad."

"Essentially we had an inner-city drug problem in a small town," he said.

Residents were irate

That drug problem was obvious to more than the police.

City Council meeting after City Council meeting, people would come in and complain that the city was not taking action to eradicate the drug problem.

What then-Mayor Edward "Pat" Dockeney and the city manager at the time knew, but could not reveal, was that an investigation was under way.

"Virtually every City Council meeting was just a total rundown of how the posses ... were affecting their lives, their businesses, their homes, their children and so forth," said Dockeney, who was Martinsburg's mayor from 1984 to 1990.

"It was a terrifically emotional time in the city," he said.

He remembers business owners saying they were losing money. People were sad. People were angry.

"The part that really tore me up was the fact that people were talking about selling their homes and moving away," he said.

Sometimes even drug dealers attended City Council meetings, Dockeney said.

"They wanted to see where the investigation was," he said. "They wanted to glean as much information as they could."

While other city officials knew that some sort of police investigation was under way, only Dockeney and then-City Manager Janice Zachman knew the magnitude of the investigation and the date the raid was planned.

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