In the annals of African American organized crime, no one’s shadow looms larger than Frank “Black Caesar” Matthews. His story bears an uncanny resemblance to that of the fictional character Keyser Söze from the film The Usual Suspects. In the early 1970’s, he lorded over a heroin empire that stretched out over 21 states. His fearsome reputation preceded him, to the extent that even the Italian Mafia considered him a threat. He sought to organize Black and Spanish gangsters into a nationwide network that would eventually push La Cosa Nostra completely out of the drug trade. His dream was not to be, as he was apprehended before it could come to fruition. U.S. authorities had him in their grasp, yet still he managed to disappear with nary a trace. According to legend, he skipped the country in 1973 with 15 million dollars in tow. He hasn’t been seen or heard from since.
Though the basics of Matthew’s story have been covered in a handful of books, relatively little is known about him. Details of his personal life remain rather scarce. Of course, the scarcity of such information has only added to his already considerable mystique. In recent years, various colleagues of mine have made great strides in uncovering the man behind the myth. Chief among them has been noted true crime author Ron Chepesiuk. Chepesiuk has studied the Matthews phenomenon for a number of years and covered it in his literature. In 2007, he and director Anthony Gonzalez set out to make a documentary entitled Black Caesar: The rise and disappearance of Frank Matthews. A trailer was released in December of thatyear, but the project was never completed.
Thankfully, Ron Chepesiuk has recently developed a rather fruitful working relationship with another colleague of mine, documentary and feature filmmaker Al Profit. Profit is the best there is at street documentaries, and he has taken it upon himself to help Ron Chepesiuk finish the journey he started in 2007. The Frank Matthews Story: The Rise and Disappearance of America's Biggest Kingpin will finally see the light of day. From the looks of the new trailer which Profit recently posted on YouTube, it will indeed be as epic as the life of its subject. Profit’s artistic fingerprints are clearly visible. Interviews and testimonials are spliced together with Stock footage and set to music of the period. Previously unseen photographs of Matthews are briefly glimpsed. What’s amazing is that the trailer manages to give a through outline of the Matthews story while enticing viewers to find out more.
The story of Frank Matthews is easily the most epic of its kind, and I can think of no one more qualified to tell it than Ron Chepesiuk and Al Profit. They’ve done the field work, and attempted to fill in the many blanks. The Frank Matthews Story: The Rise and Disappearance of America's Biggest Kingpin will hopefully answer many long standing questions, and may even go a long way in finally solving this little mystery. The only perceivable downside is that such an amazing tale may ultimately prove impossible to top. This isn’t a rags-to-riches story chronicling the rise and fall of an organized criminal. It’s a large scale portrait of a bad guy who somehow managed to actually get away with it. That’s something that that audiences rarely ever get to see. It also has the added distinction of being based in truth. That's about as good as such stories get.