Legend has it that the Best Friends “murder-for-hire” gang in Detroit, Michigan not only terrorised their own communities but rival drug dealers’ too, in a brutal dog-eat-dog orgy of violence that epitomised the worst extremes of America’s crack era. Law enforcement officials said that the gang murdered as many as 80 people between the late 1980s and early 1990s, resulting in comparisons to Murder Inc, the legendary Prohibition-era Mafioso death squad. In the chaos of the crack frenzy that gripped inner-city Detroit, the Best Friends were recognised as stone-cold killers who took what they wanted and murdered anyone who got in their way.
The crew, led by brothers Reginald “Rocking Reg,” Terrance “Boogaloo,” Gregory “Ghost” and Ezra “Wizard” Brown, started out as enforcers and contract killers, but it didn’t take long for them to flip the script and start knocking off the drug dealers they were protecting, assuming control of their business operations and morphing into drug traffickers themselves.
Nate “Boone” Craft, who confessed to 30 murders, was the Best Friends’ number one head hitter – a man who was as feared as he was lethal. Boone grew up on the Eastside of Detroit, learning to fight and fend for himself at an early age, before embarking on a career as one of the underworld’s elite hitmen.
“From nine turning to 10, me and my friends, we was the fighters in the neighbourhood,” Nate “Boone” Craft tells Penthouse. “Everybody knew us, and they knew that, well, if you messed with Little Boone he’s gonna come at you with something. He don’t come with his fists. He’s gonna come at you with a knife or a gun.”
At this tender age, Boone met Charlie, the man who introduced him to his life of crime. A mentor of sorts, Charlie gave Boone packs of heroin to sell. Boone was happy with the two dollars he made from each pack, but he found that his true calling was in the enforcement field. Busting heads was what Boone did naturally, and even back then, he wasn’t averse to putting in work and doing the dirty deeds in the drug trade that others shied away from.
If a person was in the drug business or criminal underworld then they had it coming in Boone’s mind
“At nine and 10 we were small, but we was very rough,” Boone says menacingly. “Everybody knew it. They still even talk about it today. They’d say, ‘Yeah, man, I remember you back when you were young, dog. Yeah, okay, we were there, you want a lollipop? You knew me – that don’t mean that you truly know of me.”
Boone ended up locked up in a boys’ home as a teen, where it became a daily ritual to prove himself. Survival of the fittest was the MO in juvenile hall and Boone found himself in conflict with others from the jump. He was smaller than most of the other boys, but that would soon change. Boone would eventually become a giant of a man, but he used his time in the boys’ home to learn everything he could about being a criminal, while continuing to cement his reputation in the underworld as someone who wasn’t afraid to do what needed to be done, no matter the circumstances.
“He’s not scared of stabbing or shooting a person. He ain’t afraid. He never say anything after he do it. He’d try to catch you by yourself, so there won’t be no witnesses. That’s the reputation I earned in the boys’ home,” Boone says.
“I don’t need nobody telling on me or watching me do it. Then they got something over my head to blackmail me. That’s what I learned inside. I finally got released, got back to the street. Still didn’t understand what was going on out there because a lot of things changed during the five years I was locked up in the boys’ home.”
The drug game in the city of Detroit was on fire. It was the mid-’80s and the crack epidemic was raging in inner-city communities across the country. Trafficking organisation’s with colourful names like Young Boys Incorporated (YBI), Pony Down, Chambers Brothers and the Curry Boys ruled the streets and dealers like Maserati Rick, D. Holloway, White Boy Rick and Big Ed moved weight. Flashy drug dealers cruised around the inner-city and were the epitome of ghetto royalty in high-end, luxury vehicles like BMWs, Mercedes and Maseratis. They were the talk of the town. Sporting brand name clothes, dime pieces on their arm, rolls of cash in their pockets and armed to the teeth, they represented the capitalistic manifestation of the Black Panther legacy.
“When I came home from prison I had all that tension and anger in me, so I went and fought in a tough man contest,” Boone tells Penthouse. “Boogaloo, Reg and all them saw me fight and Maserati Rick saw it too. After the fight, Reg said he wanted to talk business. He told me there’s money to be made. He gave me five hundred. ‘Let’s talk privately, just me and you,’ Reg said. ‘If we gave you 10 thousand more, will you kill a motherfucker?’”
If somebody had money on their head, then Boone was coming for them. He was a straight contract killer, and money talked
Boone was looking for a gig and didn’t have any qualms about whacking someone out for money. If a person was in the drug business or criminal underworld then they had it coming in Boone’s mind. Justifiable homicide. There was no honour among thieves in the crack era. It was a vicious landscape of betrayals, double crosses, and duplicity. Snitches get stitches was the street code, but other than that it was anything goes and Best Friends were in the thick of the drama.
“I didn’t know Reg had so many enemies,” Boone says. “I told them to give me a hit list and don’t worry about it. When you see that they disappeared, then you know I was on my job, but I don’t need you to be there watching me do it. I don’t even want anybody to ride with me.”
Boone’s approach to taking contracts was similar to the assassin in The Professional. He was singular and focused. He didn’t want any witnesses. He wanted it clean and precise. But he discovered that his new partners were like gunslingers in the Old West: Best Friends took the Scarface mentality to heart.
“Scowling and brutish, Best Friends cut imposing figures, all standing at least six-foot-two and weighing over 230 pounds,” Scott Bernstein, author of The Detroit True Crime Chronicles, tells Penthouse. “While predecessors like YBI and Pony Down murdered in the name of profit and greed, the Best Friends did it for pure fun. They were burly and intimidating and took pleasure in hurting people.”
Best Friends didn’t have a problem busting off in shopping centres, at a car wash or in the middle of the street during the day. Boone tried to teach them a better way to resolve their beefs, but old habits die hard. Boone knew death was always around the corner and being a survivor was his main objective. He knew it was only a matter of time before a bullet caught him in the head.
Illustration by Elsa McGrath
“Most of the time when I rode with them I didn’t know if they were going to do anything or not. They’d pull up and everybody would be jumping out. Them fools done took me on a shootout, what they called a drive-by, but these niggas don’t drive-by, they jump out and chase people,” Boone says. “Instead of shooting the fool from the car, they’ll jump out and run over there – blam, blam, blam, blam – they’d hit him or anybody else. That’s why I told them: You all accidentally shooting people that ain’t got nothing to do with it, or you’re shooting people that you shouldn’t be shooting at. The person that you want is that person. I can show you how to get that person without interfering with no-one else. You get them from a distance or up close.”
With Best Friends taking on all comers, knocking rival dealers off, robbing and killing their connections and taking contracts out on anyone, Detroit’s underworld became pure pandemonium. In the chaos, two of the Brown brothers, Ghost and Ezra, got murdered. With bullets flying from so many different directions, Best Friends didn’t know who was gunning for them, so they just put everybody in Detroit’s drug game on the hit list and Boone was happy to oblige. If somebody had money on their head, then Boone was coming for them. He was a straight contract killer, and money talked.
“At first we all wanted money. Then it turned into power. They wanted to knock off all the other drug dealers so they could take over their territory. They wanted to knock off as many as they could,” Boone says. “But the word was out, and a bunch of rival dealers had a meeting about taking out Best Friends. That’s when they went after the Brown Brothers. After that, we went after the Curry Boys, White Boy Rick, and the Chambers Brothers. They started putting people on the list, saying, ‘These are all the other people we need to knock off.’ ”
Boone choked Boogaloo and told him that he’d cut him into little pieces in the bathtub and flush him down the toilet
Best Friends had little or no regard for human life and they would kill anyone for the right price. “If their goal was to take somebody out, they’d kill everybody and anybody around. Their reign of terror put the entire community – criminals and innocent people alike – in constant fear.” DEA agent turned federal prosecutor F. James King said Best Friends would “pull up in cars in broad daylight” and let loose with an Uzi. They had no fear. Under Boone’s tutelage, they were on Grand Theft Auto-type missions.
“Three days out of the week we’d go riding, spot people, follow them to where they’re going and try to find out what they do, how many times they do it and where their safe house is, where they park their car and where they lay their head,” Boone tells Penthouse. “Once we find out that info then we’ll go there again and do basically the same thing. They do it a third time and we’re at that spot. That’s their ass.”
With all the murders Rocking Reg kept catching cases. He did his work out in the open and had complete confidence that Boone would take care of any witnesses that dared to take the stand against him. When he went to prison, Boogaloo was in charge. One time Boone and the youngest Brown brother got into a dispute. Boone choked Boogaloo and told him that he’d cut him into little pieces in the bathtub and flush him down the toilet. But it never came to that. Boone talked to Rocking Reg, and out of respect for him, he let it lie.
There was a lot of money for everyone. Even though Rocking Reg was locked up, Best Friends was knee-deep in the drug game, making millions fromm selling cocaine. Boogaloo kept his circle small, and his associates close, but with the feds circling and his dislike of Boogaloo intensifying, Boone was making plans to get out. He knew other drug barons like D. Holloway were scheming to make Best Friends obsolete.
“D. Holloway didn’t want any dealings with Best Friends even though he knew us,” Boone says. “But behind our backs, he talked about us and said to Maserati Rick, ‘What the fuck you with those fools for man? Those fools are gonna fuck around and try to take everybody down – they doing crazy shit.’”
Best Friends eventually had Maserati Rick shot, and when he didn’t die, they paid a visit to his hospital room and finished the job. D. Holloway was eventually murdered as well, while shopping at this favourite store, Broadway, for designer socks, thousands of dollars and a gun in his pocket. That was Detroit in the 1980s – money and violence.
Boone was in damage control mode and instead of facing life in prison for his crimes, he was looking to make a deal with the feds
“We had the money count machine sitting there in my house. Boogaloo brought a van, and we unloaded it all in my house while he was sitting there running the money through the machine. When he got to $1.6 million he said, ‘Okay, bag it up.’ Then he’d meet up with some Colombian and get more shit. I was like, damn,” Boone tells Penthouse. “I want to know if I shoot all these niggas would anybody miss ’em, ’cause money was power to me and I knew that they would do it to somebody else anyway. He bagged it up in duffle bags and bounced. I think after that he got kind of nervous of me. I think he might have peeked a move on how I was looking at him.”’
Despite his own scheming, Boone stayed above the fray and kept tabs on what was going on through law enforcement’s go-to guy for drug dealers, corrupt homicide detective Gil Hill. A major figure in Detroit’s criminal underworld scene and on the political front, Hill not only appeared in Eddie Murphy’s Beverly Hill’s Cops movies, he also effectively called the shots in the city’s drug game. With a cadre of corrupt cops, and allegedly reporting straight to the mayor, Hill was a powerful figure in the Detroit underworld.
“If you made our list, you was going to be killed. But Gil was like, ‘Nah, don’t mess with this one, I’m working a deal with him,’” Boone tells Penthouse. “I can’t ask no more questions because that’s not my job. My job is only to do what they ask if they’ve got the money. I would leave, but the other drug lords would tell everybody, ‘Hey, don’t mess with this person, Gil don’t want us to fuck with ’em. Gil got something up on him, or he’s gonna do a favour for Gil, or Gil gonna do a favour for him. So he made the Don’t Touch list.”
The homicide detective put money on people’s heads, approved hit lists, arranged protection for dealers, made cases disappear and got dealers to help set up rival dealers. Amazingly, even though Hill was a suspect in the FBI’s investigation, he didn’t go down in the early ’90s police corruption probe in Detroit. He manipulated the criminal justice system to suit himself. He was the real untouchable in Detroit’s underworld.
I gave them up. They killed my little brother and then they tried to kill me
“He would tell us to put a gun in somebody’s car, one of our enemies,” Boone says. “Then he’d have the police pull up on ’em and ask, “Wait, is that a gun on your seat? ’Cause the people don’t know we just sneaked a gun into their car. We did the same thing with drugs. He used to tell us to set people up with drugs. We’d go put some drugs in the motherfucker’s car. We’d go throw a half a brick in there or something, then we’d tell the cops.”
But eventually, the gig was up. The empire the Brown Brothers created was floundering. Ghost and Wizard were dead. Rocking Reg was serving life in prison for allegedly murdering one of White Boy Rick’s partners. Boogaloo was on the run, a fugitive from justice. Boone knew his number was up. It was all coming back on Best Friends and karma was a bitch. Boone was ready to go down, but then he found out Boogaloo had something to do with his little brother getting killed.
“If somebody killed one of your family members you are going to try to get them, or you’re going to tell the law,” Boone tells Penthouse. “Unless you don’t give a damn about your family being killed. Some people will do that, but I couldn’t. I already knew that Boogaloo was behind the killing of my little brother. I couldn’t get to him, so I went to the DEA and told them I can help you get this motherfucker. I figure if we get him, then we send him to prison and my friends in there are gonna butcher his ass. He had a contract on his ass in prison.”
Boone was in damage control mode and instead of facing life in prison for his crimes, he was looking to make a deal with the feds and do a Sammy the Bull. In his mind, it was justified because he wanted Boogaloo dead. But Boogaloo was trying to tie up loose ends and have Boone shot dead.
“To give up Boogaloo and Best Friends the feds gave me immunity across the table for any of my own crimes. I admitted that I was involved with 30 murders,” Boone says. “They said, ‘Okay, but we’re going to find you guilty for these two. You have to tell us who they were, where you did them and who helped you. I gave them the detail on all that. The judge asked, ‘Can’t you find somebody else to make the deal with?’ But the papers were signed and they knew I was the only one who was willing to give them Best Friends. I gave them up. They killed my little brother and then they tried to kill me.
When you become a gangster or hitman, you get shot up. You get tore up. There is no such thing as retirement
“They gave me immunity. Everybody was like how the hell can they do that? But they wanted Boogaloo more than me. They wanted these people that I was gonna give them more than me, and they figured they’d get them to flip on somebody even bigger. That’s what they were planning on doing – eat up the chain. I was just giving them these people, that’s all. The rest of the people I know about, I wouldn’t have given them up. They didn’t have nothing to do with me going to prison or me getting shot or killing my little brother, so I kept my mouth shut.”
The feds wouldn’t get Boogaloo, though. He was killed by one of his own guys. A long-time crew member murdered Boogaloo and stole the ‘buy’ money for a 100-kilo load of cocaine. The remaining Best Friends were tracked down and charged for that murder as well.
Boone didn’t have to testify against anyone. He was shipped off to do his time in the federal Witsec program, a secret program in the federal Bureau of Prisons where high-profile witnesses can do their time safely.
“The state gave me 12 to 20. The feds gave me 17,” Boone says. “The state and the feds came up with an agreement that they’ll run the sentences together. I wouldn’t do no more than 12 and a half years and then I’d be released.”
In 2008 Boone was released from prison and moved back to his old Detroit neighbourhood where he still resides today. Unafraid of anyone connected to Best Friends or Detroit’s police force trying to kill him, Boone moves around the Eastside of Detroit freely.
“We were young fools then,” he says. “I wish I could turn back the hands of time and just stay straight and start a small business. When you become a gangster or hitman, you get shot up. You get tore up. There is no such thing as retirement. Prison, death or getting crippled is your future. I’ve been to prison. I’m crippled. I can’t even move my hands. My leg is torn up. I have to walk with a cane. But yet this is me. I’m free.”