Legendary gangster-cum-author Linwood ‘Rudy’ Williams is ready to talk after nearly a quarter-century in prison

By Van Smith

Published in City Paper, Jan. 20, 2015

The rumor mill, said 60-year-old Linwood Rudolph Williams, has it that “I killed like 200 people with my wife” over the years. The imprisoned-for-life Baltimore gangster denies it, of course, as he does the six murders that David Simon suggested he was responsible for in a 1992 Baltimore Sun article that compared “Rudy” to King Richard III of England, whose two-year reign in the 1400s was a bloodbath. Williams has to deny it, of course; there’s no statute of limitations on murder. But dwelling on the suspiciously violent deaths that litter his life’s path serves a purpose: It perpetuates his legend, which, in turn, helps sell the first of what promises to be his many gangster-fiction books to be published: “Power Moves,” which hit the streets in 2012.

The book is a name-dropping crime epic of Baltimore, starring protagonist Michael Jones, a straight-A high school student who reluctantly enters the game, only to take it over. Williams says he has seven or eight more novels in the Michael Jones series yet to be published, and this first one was picked up by Gangster Chronicles, a publishing house that aims to dissuade readers from entering a life of crime by printing what comes out of the minds of those who did, and came to regret it. Count Williams among the regretful.

Simon’s King Richard III piece was published shortly after Williams, who in the 1980s had beaten numerous serious charges arising from Baltimore police investigations—including one that was prosecuted personally by then-State’s Attorney Stuart Simms—was finally brought down by an intensive federal investigation. He was sentenced to life in prison without parole for sitting atop a violent drug-dealing and money-laundering conspiracy whose supply lines spanned Africa, the Middle East, Latin America, and Europe. Despite the rap and the rumors, even though Williams was convicted of manslaughter as a youngster, he has never suffered the ignominy of a murder conviction.

“I love David Simon,” says Williams, who’s approaching his 25-year mark in the Federal Bureau of Prisons. In “The Wire,” Simon confirms, a story about Williams was the inspiration for the plotline in which Marlo Stanfield, having been caught stealing a lollipop at a store, has the security guard who confronted him about it assassinated. The King Richard III piece includes a brief description of what Williams may have done: “a security guard at a North Avenue grocery was murdered after he had quarreled with Linwood William’s wife.”

“I liked that piece,” says Williams. “But it wasn’t about reality. It was like theatrical, a lot of rumor and stuff.” Rumors abound, Williams says, including one that “I lost my mind” and another that “I got killed a couple years ago myself.”

Williams’ legendary status was further cemented by what his federal judge, the late Frank Kaufman, had to say about him from the bench. “The pity of it all,” Kaufman said, is that Williams “has tremendous ability. He has tremendous brain power, organizational ability, and he has charisma. But he has used it, unfortunately, all in the wrong way.”

During the trial, according to Simon’s reportage, Williams repeatedly mouthed off at Kaufman, saying “fuck you again, judge.” In Williams’ final courtroom speech, he called Kaufman “your lordship of this great star chamber of injustice,” and told him that “by no stretch of anyone’s imagination did I receive a fair trial, nor an honest or decent one. Because God has given me the sense, dignity, and courage to decline the government’s perverted plea bargain of 35 years and the strength to stand up to this persecution, your end has been from the very beginning to put me in prison for life.”

Williams still maintains he was railroaded, though he now says he “sold out” by becoming a drug dealer and can’t quibble with Kaufman’s contention that he misused his talents. In a series of three- to 15-minute recent phone interviews with City Paper, he tries to explain himself.

in a 1992 Baltimore Sun article, David Simon compared “Rudy” to King Richard III of England, whose two-year reign in the 1400s was a bloodbath.

City Paper: If you were 10 years old and could start again, what would you do?

Linwood Rudolph Williams: I would go to Harvard, shake a lot of hands, rub elbows, and be the first black president.

CP: What neighborhood did you grow up in?

LRW: Early on, East Baltimore, and then, about 13 years old, my family moved to West Baltimore. But I went away when I was 13, right after the riots in ’68, for truancy. I wouldn’t go to school, so they sent me up to Boys Village, and it’s a pecking order according to your crime. They go around and ask you, “Whatchu in for?” “Oh, I stole a car” or “I broke into a house.” When they got to me, I had to lie. I couldn’t tell them I was in there for hooking school.

CP: So what did you say?

LRW: I told them I robbed somebody. But when they sent me in there, the die was cast. They should have had a better way, because it was like crime school. So now, when I come home, I’m stealing cars and robbing and all. So that way when I go back next time I don’t have to lie. Do you remember in King Richard III, the judge was talking about how I had all this talent and organizational ability and leadership. I mean, where was you at when I was 13? They said I could have been a CEO and all that. So I look at that kind of cynical. You’re hypocritical, you didn’t care back then.

CP: That King Richard III piece also put all sorts of bodies on you.

LRW: Yeah, accusations and all. They accused me of everything. Every unsolved murder I used to get accused of. Their excuse for not being able to solve the cases was like, “Well, Rudy did it.” So they blamed me for everything. People still dying out there, probably more so.

CP: Then Simon put in “The Wire” that scene with the security guard that was inspired by a guy getting into an argument with your wife, and you had the guy killed. 

LRW: No, no. I didn’t do that. I ain’t never did that. But, it’s funny, they don’t know how many lives I’ve saved. I saved a lot of lives.

CP: How did you save lives? 

LRW: Squashing beefs. People have disagreements and they can’t settle it and they get the guns out. Somebody have to talk to them, somebody with respect can do it. The police can’t do that. They’re not going to listen to the police. The police can only, after they’re dead, try to find who did it. Yeah, I settled a lot of beefs, because of the respect thing.

CP: That reminds of when [former mayor] Tommy D’Alesandro asked Little Melvin [Williams, another legendary Baltimore gangster] to help with the riots in ’68, right?

LRW: Yeah, yeah. You got two mayors. You got the official mayor and the unofficial mayor. You always did have that, you know, with the Italian gangs, the Jewish gangs, Irish—they was the first gang, and they became the police.

CP: What about your mom and dad?

LRW: My father passed when I was home in ’87, my mom’s still living. She worked at the city jail for years, a correctional officer over there, retired from there, well respected. She got her house, nice cars, all that. She did wonderful. My father, he worked on soda trucks, manual labor, things like that. They was together for mostly all my childhood years. We was a good family, in the way poor people was back in the day. We wasn’t really dirt poor, I never lived in the projects, but we was close. There was eight of us children, eventually, so you know that’s fun right there. You don’t need a Playstation with that. When I came home from Boys Village, they was divorced, my father was gone. You know, big family, he couldn’t take care, he couldn’t be the man he wanted to be. We was real tight when he passed, though.

CP: What happened when the federal case came down on you?

LPW: They thought that they’d grab us and put us in a jar like you do bees when you’re a kid, shake it up. So what they did, they grabbed a bunch of people, people they see me talking to, and they didn’t get anything. But they the feds, right, the feds can’t look bad, nobody can beat the feds. They got the biggest ego in the world. They’re going to spend $10 million investigating you, so they’re going to make it stick. They intimidate lawyers and they don’t even fight. The judge got in on it too, because they tried to run over us and I wasn’t going to let them run over me. The judge was a bully.

CP: They tried to put bodies on you, too, right?

LPW: That’s what it was all about anyway, really. The city, [former Baltimore police detective and “The Wire” co-creator Ed] Burns and them, they was doggin’ me for years. They didn’t have the resources or the manpower to exclusively go at me, so they went over to the feds and made out like I was a big crack dealer, which I wasn’t. The feds had a priority on cocaine and crack, so they was like, “Alright, we’ll make him look like a crack dealer, under the policy, so we go after him.” They wanted me so bad, you could’ve killed people and they’d have made a deal with you and let you go. For real, man. They went over to city jail to the guy that, back in a murder trial, he was a juror and hung a jury. They held him, they couldn’t do anything with him, and they let him go. Then he was over [at] the jail for killing his girlfriend and they told him, “Look man, we’ll make this go away if you tell us that Rudy bribed you back in the day when you was on the jury.” You know what the dude told them? “You got to kill me before I tell you some bullshit like that.” They gave him 18 years.

CP: So you weren’t overseeing any crack sales, you were strictly heroin?

LPW: Yeah. A dude told me in ’80s, he was a significant drug dealer, semiretired, he was like, “Look, I got to tell you about something, it’s big in New York, it hasn’t hit Baltimore yet. We can take it down.” He told me how it was, and morally it ain’t sound. I was like, “No, if it do that type of thing to people, no, I don’t want it.”

CP: So crack seemed to take such a toll on people in the streets, but heroin was less of a problem.

LPW: No, it wasn’t that. With the heroin, they’re already addicts anyway, you know? What he was talking about was making new addicts. You got to draw a line somewhere.

CP: Did you encounter any police corruption?

LPW: When I was out there, no, not really. They’ll try to get you the right way, and they might be frustrated, but they didn’t cheat too much. The one time they pulled me over in ’87, they found a machine gun, a bulletproof vest, and they say they found a gram of heroin. I don’t know where that come from. I had maybe $1,300 on me, and they counted it like three or four times, before they were going to give it back to me. The last time they counted it, it was, “He don’t get that back, we found heroin.” That was fishy. I don’t know where that come from.

CP: Right. But generally, it sounds like they played fair with you. You dealt with Ed Burns on your big case?

LPW: Yeah, Ed Burns and them. They cheat, man, they cheat a little bit. Especially when they went over to the feds. The feds are dirty. They aren’t going to let anybody out-lie to them, out-law them, none of that. They’re the biggest outlaws, the biggest gang out there. They’re going to get the judge, they use intimidation, whatever they got to do. They do it smooth though.

CP: During the trial you were quite a spectacle.

LPW: Outspoken, yeah. Because the judge was up there cheating and lying, telling them I was scum. It was all a show. I’m fighting for my life, man, I’m a fighter. You can’t intimidate me. You got to kick my ass. So he was trying to intimidate me, old man, sitting up there. A robe don’t make a man, it’s balls that make a man. And they was cheating—they had nothing on me. They’d been making the case up all along.

CP: What was your bail-bond business?

LPW: L&L up on Whitelock Street. Lisa and Linwood. I mean, we was like the biggest other than Arthur London and Fred Frank. As far as the black bail bondsmen, we were the biggest overnight, when we opened up. We wrote $10 million worth of bails in two years, and we profited $470,000. They had to concede that when we went to court. I knew everybody from jail, the streets, so we got all the major dudes. That was their way of cutting it to me. If they didn’t know me, they get out on bail, they get a chance to talk to me, do business with me. They had to have a reason. Other than that, you know, you couldn’t come up to me in the street and just start a conversation unless you knew me.

CP: The guy who has Bare Feet Shoes, he was in your case?

LPW: Meir Duke and his brother, yeah, they was friends of mine. One time, I had one of the stores, but it didn’t last long because I didn’t have the time, so I took a cash-out. But they used to do little favors. They had a clothes store, and a dude needs a job to get out of jail or something like that and I’ll ask them to give this guy a job. Things like that, man. I had a lot of friends with businesses.

CP: So he ended up doing pretty well. He got convicted, but he didn’t really do much time, and he had [former State’s Attorney] Gregg Bernstein as his post-conviction attorney. 

LPW: Yeah, they gave him his money back and everything. He cooperated with the government, you know. He made a deal with them.

CP: And then your wife Lisa was acquitted.

LPW: All charges. She didn’t do anything. They were just holding her hostage. They was like, we grab him, he going to get sentimental and all that. But I don’t do that. You got to kick my ass, I don’t cop out. I come up under George Jackson. When I was young I didn’t care about going to jail. We fought, we was fighters. We don’t do shit ass-backwards.

CP: You mentioned George Jackson. In Baltimore, you’ve heard about what’s going on with the Black Guerrilla Family [BGF].

LPW: Yeah, I’ve heard about it. There’s a lot of them in here, too.

CP: There’s this political, ideological component of it, from George Jackson, but now it’s just a gang doing gang stuff, it’s not the dignity that George Jackson had envisioned. 

LPW: All the gangs do that. The Crips and the Bloods, they started out as political, protect the neighborhoods and all that. Then the criminal element takes over. It’s the same thing with the Italians and the Jewish ones. It’s opportunism. Even in here, I know a lot of them and they are not serious. It’s something to do. It’s the leaders that they follow. If the leader’s not serious, then they not serious. They become opportunists and parasites. The people they claim they are going to protect, well, they’re preying on them.

CP: So you’re saying it’s no different than the Italian mafia or the Jewish mafia?

LPW: Yeah, it’s the same. They used to prey on their own. The bootleggers sell that rot-gut, take rubbing alcohol when they couldn’t get their rum from out of Canada. And you know Joseph Kennedy was a bootlegger and all, they made their fortune and got out, became part of the establishment, a political dynasty. They’re all a bunch of crooks, though, how they started out.

CP: How was George Jackson important to you?

LPW: When I was young, he was the single most influential person in my life. He inspired me to read. I was a reader, but I was reading junk before. His books were like the Holy Quran to me, I knew them backwards and forwards. I still do. I’m probably the only person who understands his theory on fascism, which was unique. He was way ahead of his time, a genius. I read it again a few years back and was still blown away by his fire, the brainpower he had. A lot of kids out there reading about George Jackson, talking about George Jackson, BGF, they don’t have a clue. They don’t know the lessons, they’re not really serious. It’s a fraternity club, and they just want to belong. People don’t want to be alone, they join it just to belong to something.

CP: Did you ever join the BGF?

LPW: No. I considered myself a Black Panther. I was a revolutionary. But it was over with by the time I found out about what was really going on. The whole time I was doing that state bit for 11 years [for manslaughter], by the time I got close to the door, I was pissed off. I went home and sold out, basically, a fraud. Because I was conscious, I knew what I was doing. I was young and angry, and when you’re young and angry you make bad mistakes. That’s why it’s not good to get angry, I learned, no matter what.

CP: So do you regret becoming a heroin dealer?

LPW: Yeah, I sold out, man. A lot of dudes get in there thinking it’s something exciting, but I was pissed off, man. I came out to get the American Dream, to get the things I wanted in life whatever way. I worked when I came home. I worked at Burger King, I worked at a construction company, delivered pizzas and all that. But you can’t get the American Dream doing that.

CP: I invoked your name in articles a few times over the years. There was this one case involving Eugene Petasky, who got caught twice for laundering money through his jewelry store, Metro Brokers, and he bragged about knowing you to the undercover. 

LPW: Oh, you talking about Gene. Yeah, how’s he doing? I hear he got himself in some trouble by, you know, name-dropping and all.

CP: So it wasn’t just bullshit, he actually knew you?

LPW: Yeah, we go way back. I been knowing him for years, but I didn’t know he was just talking reckless like that, about stuff that he don’t know what he’s talking about. That’s how people get in trouble and all that. I’ve been knowing Gene for years, all those guys down at Metro, Bernard Hill [a clothing store]. They’re kind of like family. They all spread the money around, you know. Me and him were pretty cool. But you got these gangster groupies, they like to know everything. I wouldn’t expect him to be going around talking about stuff like that. I know what lawyers were smoking dope at the parties, who was screwing whose wife, stealing money and whatever, but I don’t talk about other people like that.

CP: In Baltimore, there’s no awareness that there is any organized crime. In your day, people could point to you for a minute, or to Robert Dowdy for a minute, or, earlier, Peanut King or Melvin Williams for a minute. There are these passing gangsters, but no sense of continuity or organization. 

LPW: It’s true. With gangs, it’s more like peer pressure and clubs and all that, they don’t have no financial goals, they just hang out. You see one, you see 50 of them, they move together. With organized crime, they are more like businessmen. They self-sustain. The little boys in the gangs, you got to hold their hands.

CP: Used to be there was Julius Salsbury, there was Little Willie Adams [both of whom controlled aspects of the city’s rackets in the past], but that seems to have passed.

LPW: Everything gets watered down in time. I think the TV has a lot of influence. You watching what’s on TV, you can understand pretty much why people are the way they are. This hip-hop reality-TV stuff—everybody is just silly.

CP: Did you know any politicians in your day in Baltimore? 

LPW: Yeah, I knew [former mayor Clarence] “Du” Burns. We used to have lunch down at the Palmer House. I campaigned a little for Kurt Schmoke, Nathaniel Oaks [a state delegate]. I used to donate money to Nathaniel Oaks.

CP: You would have lunch with “Du” Burns when he was mayor?

LPW: Yeah, “Du” Burns, he was my man. But no, after he was retired. I tried to get him to run again, but he wouldn’t run. He was like, “Youngblood, I’ve been in politics for 50 years, I’m tired now.”

CP: You helped political campaigns?

LPW: Yeah, we helped campaign for Kurt Schmoke. Then I was friends with the East Baltimore Murphy family, they ran a political machine in East Baltimore. They the ones that renovated my house for me on Linden Avenue. Security, it had cameras. It had everything: Jacuzzi and chandeliers, carpet, marble, brass. It was nice and comfortable. Down at the Sheraton downtown, we gave a party and all the politicians and judges came out. There was a picture in my house, when they raided my house, but that one disappeared, the picture of the party we gave for politicians down there. I was at the funeral for Henry Parks [the founder of Parks Sausage]. It was crowded, but I got into the chapel, got to see the royal family, Willie Adams and that circle. And I was at Willie Adams’ birthday party up in Martin’s West. The lieutenant governor and all were there, and Stuart Simms. That was right after that big case of mine against Stuart Simms, the only case he took as state’s attorney.

CP: And you beat it.

LPW: Yeah, I beat it. They underestimated me. They was Rhodes scholars. I’m thorough when it comes to my homework. I don’t let nobody know more than me about it. They look at you a certain way, but they don’t know who you really are. So I know more about them than they know about me. I got to know my town. I could talk about Mencken, whatever, Julius the Lord, the numbers runner. You got to know your history. So I knew a lot of them guys.

CP: The flavor has definitely changed. At some point it seems like the city just exploded with violence.

LPW: It’s the economy. To understand anything, it’s the economy. We’re social creatures. We need each other and all that. The one’s that made it, they turned their backs on us. The hip-hop movement came directly after the Black Power movement and the civil-rights struggle. The ones that made it got through the door. Jesse Jackson and a lot of them, they sold out. So the kids had to raise themselves, and that’s what they came up with. They don’t care.

CP: How did you come to start writing?

LPW: I kept a diary in prison, and during my trial and everything, and did it for years. I stopped doing it after a while, but I still got it. And then I expanded from there, and let people see my stuff, writing short stories, and then short stories became novels. I handwrite everything.

CP: When did come up with the Michael Jones character and what was the inspiration?

LPW: It evolved on me. It started out like it was a short story, and then it just kept on spreading. Michael Jones is like a composite of a lot of people, and he’s like my alter ego. I want to be like him. He’s a smart character, he reads a lot, he studies, even though he’s a criminal. He seems like he’s a drug dealer, but he’s really not a drug dealer. He’s a little businessman.

CP: Right, it just happens to be drugs.

LPW: Yeah. So when the young dudes out there dealing drugs read it, it’s like they don’t have no exit plan, they’re not going anywhere. They read it, you know, at least they be smarter, they read books. And ultimately, they get out from in there, because it’s a dead end.

CP: Seems like that message never takes hold. There’s no chance of long-term success, yet people keep doing it.

LPW: I think it’s because it’s a struggle to survive, that’s the only outlet that they have. It’s the only way for a young black dude to have a chance at the American Dream, not just working at McDonald’s, coming home, and popping some popcorn in the microwave and sit there and watch other people enjoy life, live vicariously. People, especially at a young age, they want to live their life. The American Dream, they over-sold it. Nobody wants a white picket fence and a two-car garage anymore, they want the mansion, they want the Mercedes-Benz. If society don’t create no outlet for that, they going to keep doing it, no matter what. We had “New Jack City,” we had “Scarface,” we had “The King of New York,” we had all these movies showing a dead-end thing, right, where you’re going to end up dead or in jail, but it doesn’t stop them.

CP: In the book, I noticed you used a lot of names and places that are real.

LPW: Because it’s a way of recognizing people, and then there’s people who know that their name is in there, they’re going to talk about it, telling other people. It’s like a promotion thing, too. They got to run out and get it. People live off gossip, you know.

CP: You’re 60 now.

LPW: Yeah, I’m 60 years young. I’m about 155. I play a lot of basketball. I surprise them, I beat all the young kids.

CP: You stayed in shape.

LPW: Depends on what you eat. I try to eat out of the dining room. Some of that stuff’s not bad, the rice and beans, potatoes and all that, it’s not bad.

CP: And you spend a lot of time in the library.

LPW: Yeah, I be in library. I jog, I listen to my MP3, I got like 2,000 songs on there. That’s the key to it, Van, you got to stay busy. If you’re busy, working and all that, then you don’t really know where you are. It don’t matter where you are, because you are into your work.

CP: What music are you listening to?

LPW: I got everything. I got rappers, I got R&B, I got pop. I got Rod Stewart, Bruce Springsteen, I got “Rapture,” Blondie, Herbie Hancock, Average White Band. I like to mix it up. You listen to everybody’s music, you see America through everybody’s eyes, you know. It’s more enriching.

CP: What do you know about prison life, after all those years?

LPW: It’s a university, man, you know. I don’t waste no time. I learn everything I can, like a sponge. I don’t care what it is—quantum physics, relativity, religion and everything, economics, history—I love it.

CP: You got to negotiate the powers that be.

LPW: Yeah, it’s saturated with gangs. When I first come in, it was just individuals, but now you got these gangs and they got their own little rules they play by. They’re not the old-school rules anymore, it’s little kiddie rules. There’s no trust. They stab you in the back, they think small. The goals, it’s not to be successful or the money, but it’s just to be known. We’re living in the age of celebrities. But they’re all like sons to me, man, like one big family, so they listen and respect.

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