Ike Atkinson

American Gangster (film) Goldsboro, North Carolina Roger Guenveur Smith
Leslie Atkinson
BornNovember 19, 1925
DiedNovember 11, 2014(2014-11-11) (aged 88)
Goldsboro, North Carolina
Other namesIke
Sergeant Smack[1]
OccupationFormer drug smuggler
Criminal chargeDrug trafficking

Leslie "Ike" Atkinson (November 19, 1925 – November 11, 2014) was a US Army master sergeant and convicted drug trafficker, believed to have been a major figure in smuggling heroin into the United States from Southeast Asia from about 1968 to 1975.[1]

Criminal career

Atkinson moved to Bangkok, Thailand in the mid-1960s and became a partner in Jack's American Star Bar. In 1968, he entered into the drug trade from the Golden Triangle through a Chinese Thai man named Luchai Rubiwat, who was a business partner in Atkinson's bar.[citation needed] Atkinson and his organization bought heroin at about US$4000 a kilogram before being cut four ways and transporting it to the United States by military personnel. Flown on US Air Force aircraft, the heroin would eventually arrive at Fort Bragg, North Carolina and other military bases and be sold to American distributors for US$100,000 a kilo, netting a profit of about US$96,000 per kilo.

Atkinson's downfall came in 1975. A shipment of heroin was due to arrive at two addresses in Fayetteville, North Carolina, each belonging to elderly black women.[1] An Army serviceman would come to pick up the shipments, saying it had been accidentally mailed to the wrong address. The plan had worked before, but this time one woman contacted the postal authorities; the other, fearing she had been sent a bomb, contacted the police. The police found Atkinson's palm prints on one of the heroin bags, and he was arrested on January 19, 1975 in his home in Goldsboro. He was convicted the following year and was sentenced to 31 years in prison. Atkinson was released in 2007.[2]

Relationship to Frank Lucas

According to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Atkinson was in fact the main supplier of heroin to Harlem drug lord Frank Lucas after the two met in Bangkok around 1974. Atkinson takes issue with the most famous aspect of Lucas' operation, the so-called "Cadaver Connection" in which heroin was smuggled in the coffins of dead American soldiers coming back from Vietnam, instead claiming he smuggled the drugs inside furniture.

In the film American Gangster (2007), Atkinson is represented by the character Nate, played by Roger Guenveur Smith. The film depicts Nate as being Lucas' cousin (Actually the film confirms that Ike was once married to one of Frank's cousins. Frank just calls him cousin, but at one of the scenes, Ike says to a contact in Bangkok "I'm his cousin" and then adds "I was married to his cousin"): However, Frank Lucas claimed that Ike is married to one of his cousins, which made him akin to family.[3]

Cadaver Connection

The "Cadaver Connection" was a supposed heroin smuggling operation involving hiding heroin in the American serviceman's coffins. Frank Lucas, one of Ike's partners in the US, claims that this is how Ike smuggled the narcotic out of Thailand:

Ike flew a country-boy North Carolina carpenter over to Bangkok. We had him make up 28 copies of the government coffins... except we fixed them up with false bottoms, big enough to load up with six, maybe eight kilos... It had to be snug. You couldn't have shit sliding around. Ike was very smart, because he made sure we used heavy guys' coffins. He didn't put them in no skinny guys'....

— Frank Lucas [3]

But Atkinson who used his lifelong friend Leon as the carpenter claims he never used coffins to smuggle the heroin, "It is a total lie that's fueled by Frank Lucas for personal gain. I never had anything to do with transporting heroin in coffins or cadavers."[4]

He (Leon) never had any association with constructing coffins for transporting heroin or drugs...[O]n the contrary, Leon was in Bangkok hollowing out teak furniture...One time, when I was in Bangkok, Frank came to visit. We used teak furniture to smuggle the heroin and we were getting a shipment ready. Frank barged in and went right to the back. 'What are you doing?' Frank asked me. I was caught off guard, and didn’t want him to know how I was moving drugs. The only thing I could think of to say was: 'We are making coffins.'

— Ike Atkinson [1]

Prison and release

Atkinson was charged in 1987, while in prison, for his part in another heroin smuggling operation which he was allegedly running from prison.[5] He was charged following a 15-month investigation where an undercover agent, posing as a corrupt German diplomat bought five pounds of heroin on Atkinson's behalf in Thailand.[5] Six other inmates and a correctional officer were also charged. The CO, Samuel Arrante, 36, was charged because he was smuggling the letters out of prison to prevent the authorities from reading the letters.[5] Also charged was Mr. Atkinson's nephew, Philip Wade Atkinson, 40, who bought the heroin from the undercover German diplomat at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, where he was immediately arrested.[5] Atkinson was released from prison in 2007,[4] and died in November 2014 at the age of 88.[6]

In popular culture


  1. ^ a b c d v (2008-01-17). "Frank Lucas, "American Gangster," and the Truth Behind the Asian Connection". New Criminologist Special. Retrieved 2008-03-20. Who is Ike Atkinson? He was a former master sergeant from Goldsboro, North Carolina, whom the DEA dubbed Sergeant Smack for his ability to traffic heroin. He operated out of Bangkok from about 1968 to 1975
  2. ^ Chepesiuk, Ron (January 17, 2008). "Frank Lucas, "American Gangster," and the Truth Behind the Asian Connection". New Criminologist.
  3. ^ a b Mark Jacobson (August 7, 2000). "The Return of Superfly". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-03-20.
  4. ^ a b "Is 'American Gangster' really all that 'true'?". CNN. January 22, 2008. Archived from the original on January 29, 2013. Retrieved 2008-02-24.
  5. ^ a b c d "Eight Seized in Scheme To Bring Heroin to U.S." New York Times. March 19, 1987. Retrieved 2008-03-20.
  6. ^ http://goldsborodailynews.com/blog/2014/11/12/mr-leslie-ike-atkinson/