Crackup on Lex Street

It was the biggest mass killing in the city's history. But that doesn't begin to tell the story of what happened that night in West Philadelphia.

By Solomon Jones
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 15 | Posted Feb. 14, 2001

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"One day he came in here and he was high," his mother says. "Smoking blunts, smoking weed. And then he tried to tell me that he wasn't. I would notice little things. He was coming home late, and then I couldn't keep him off that corner--the deli near Lex Street."

Once, in an effort to rescue her son, Watson rode to the corner of 44th and Brown, forced him into her car and took him home. But she couldn't keep him from going back.

When he was caught with drugs in front of the deli last July, he was put on probation and given 60 hours of community service. But he didn't complete it.

Instead, he began sneaking out of the house, skipping school and hanging out with a crowd that included Hezekiah "Griz" Thomas, one of the men who would later be charged in connection with the Lex Street shootings.

"Guy would always say, 'My mans Griz,'" his mother remembers. "I would be like, 'Who are you talking about? I don't know nicknames like that.' And Guy said, 'Griz, Griz, Hez, you don't know Hez?'"

But more than hanging in the streets, Long loved to rap about them.

"Guy, he really rapped about a lot of real shit," says his friend, Randolph Henry. "When I heard him rap, his shit stood out. I was like, damn. You could hear the pain. He was real, you know what I mean? The realest person I heard that wasn't on a record with a deal."

In October, Guy Long and a friend stole his mother's car. She called the police and had them locked up. And then she put Guy out. He moved in with his older sister and got a job at Target.

When he lost the job, he returned to the streets.

For CJ Helton, whose dimpled smile dominates so many of his pictures, the trouble was minor, says Carlos Heath, a man who had been like a father to him since he was 12.

"These guys went and jacked some guy for his car," Heath says, "and he was just with them. The guy was actually trying to put the blame on CJ, and then they find out that he wasn't the one who did these things."

CJ Helton was on probation for the car theft when he got into a fight at school and was sent to the VisionQuest program for juvenile offenders. In May 1998, while he was there, he wrote this essay:

"... I got into a fight in school over someone threatening my life. I let my temper take control of my actions, and when the school security guard came to break up the fight, I snapped even more. As he was pulling me away from the other person, we made a mistake and fell down the steps. At the time I was in handcuffs and pushing back from his grip, and neither of us saw the steps and we just fell down two steps. Neither of us was hurt in the process. I was arrested, expelled from school, and the school security guard pressed charges. So I'm here for simple assault and assault."

When he came home, CJ Helton focused on his education and graduated from high school. He was the only one of 17 grandchildren on his mother's side of the family to graduate.

He contemplated joining the Navy, says Heath, his surrogate father. Then he got a job. But when he got hurt on the job, he turned to his friends in Mill Creek.

And trouble was waiting.

Trouble began in earnest last summer, when the drug-dealing hierarchy in Mill Creek began to shift. Dealers operated from the intersection of Parrish and Markoe--an open-air drug market framed by vacant lots and a burned-out Chinese restaurant. They also dealt from June and Brown, where the dealers congregated before the Lex Street shootings; 46th and Brown, near another Chinese takeout; and 44th and Brown, near the deli.

Police say Willie Davis, known in the neighborhood as Maynard, had previously operated as a sort of kingpin in Mill Creek. He had just come home from prison and told George Porter, a former pizza deliveryman who was trying to break into the neighborhood drug scene, to find another game.

Porter--whose friends say he planned to sell drugs until he could graduate from high school and join the Marines--ignored him and assembled his own crew. They were all from the immediate neighborhood, except for Jermel Lewis.

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COMMENTS

Comments 1 - 15 of 15
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1. kimmi64 said... on Sep 3, 2008 at 12:22PM

“i could have been there too. i just happen to be at kirkbride rehab center in west philly at the time, not too far from the bottoms. i was that caught out, crack addict,hiv having prostitute that hung out at crack houses like that across the city. to think yhat i could have been laid out on that floor with the rest of them makes me feel unimagineably wonderful, being saved from that horrible death. whew”

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2. adeena said... on Dec 16, 2008 at 07:58AM

“as salaamu alaikum! masha'allah 4 the lives that weren't taken. Alhamdulillah”

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3. none yah said... on Feb 18, 2009 at 09:34AM

“yall dont know nothing about nothing...... ”

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4. Anonymous said... on Apr 28, 2009 at 02:19AM

“It is a damn shame those people lost their lives. I grew up playing ball at the Creek, playing football across from Sorrows and Sis Clara Mohammed, eating at Dwights and it makes me wanna cry for the families that lost loved ones. I've been to Iraq and Korea twice and its a damn shame that my neighborhood is still is disarray.”

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5. Anonymous said... on Jul 13, 2009 at 10:45PM

“There will be a movie about this compelling story sometime next year, and I guarantee the City of Philadelphia is gonna have a question or two to answer. It was indeed a shame that four young men were wrongfully accused, which leads me to believe they just strong-armed and chose those who allegedly "confessed" to the killings.

Tragic.”

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6. kishia hanible said... on Aug 18, 2010 at 01:43AM

“i have read the book watch the dvd listen to the case the youngest one that got killed was my cuzin sam i don't know what went down that night but who ever did the shit will pay rather it be in life or death they will pay and i tell you their is no system that can do what god won't do and beleave me they will suffer....r.i.p to all of them.”

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7. Steve Wright said... on Jul 24, 2011 at 10:42PM

“I left Philly in 1979 for the service to get far away from the violents in the Mill Creek section of town. I returned for a visit to family and friends in June 2011 and in hope to see that this city has improved over the years. Philly is basically the same as I left it which is a shame, When I was growing up there it was alot of shooting and killing like it is now. Growing up on June Street between Parrish and Brown I feelsf or those who lost there life on Lex St. Rest in peace Petey I remember many games of basketball we played at the courts of Mill Creek playground. R.I.P. Petey”

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8. Anonymous said... on Sep 11, 2011 at 04:39PM

“IT SADINS ME TO KNOW I WENT TO SCHOOL WITH A LOT OF THE PPL OF LEX ST... PPL PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE STOP THE VILOENCE THE ELDERLY ARE OUT LIVING THE YOUNG. IT MAKES NO SENSE AT ALL.......SIMPLY CRAZY!!! WHATS HAPPEN TO LETS SHAKE & MAKE UP!!!!”

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9. Anonymous said... on Jan 17, 2012 at 04:06PM

“SOMETHING JUST TOLD ME TO LOOK UP THIS CRIME.. AND ITS CRAZY HOW IT HAS BEEN TEN YRS AND THINGS HAVENT GOTTEN ANY BETTER..... LIKE SERIOUSLY THE YOUNGEST PERSON WOULD HAVE ONLY BEEN 25 LIKE MYSELF. WE WENT TO JAMES RHODES TOGETHER... PPL STOP KILLING OUR FUTURE OFF.. YALL DONT UNDERSTAND THAT, THAT IS WHAT IS GOING ON....”

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10. sexylady46 said... on Jan 21, 2012 at 08:43PM

“This sad that these seven ppl was killed over a fucking car”

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11. DownthewayJ said... on May 24, 2012 at 09:09PM

“Grew up in west Philly. Lived on Lancaster Ave. Shame how we continue to kill each other. When will we learn? As-salaamu-alaikum”

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12. mike war said... on Jul 20, 2012 at 07:51AM

“R.I.P JIG

46 street for life! all was senseless

r.i.p buzzy”

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13. ryan said... on Aug 31, 2012 at 12:25PM

“He said, 'This is a press conference, not a community meeting,'" Long recalls. "How can you say that as the mayor. you elected that clown and look where it got you. black people dont get the big picture thats why when you walk into a prison its made up of 65percent blacks. i recall abraham lincoln freed the slaves and yet you vote for democrats the blacks. because they want free money!”

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14. Anonymous said... on Dec 4, 2013 at 06:34PM

“this story needs to be updated. at least 4 other men were charged. the 1st 4 were aquitted.”

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15. Chuck said... on Oct 22, 2014 at 07:48PM

“This is a crazy senseless world we live in.I knew all of them the were my yong boys may god bless them and bless those who don't know no better.LOVE AND PEACE.46FOREVER.”

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