An elite homicide investigation unit takes on one of the most savage and destructive gangs in New York City history in this gritty true-crime narrative.
The investigation into the late-night murder of a college student on the West Side Highway leads to the Wild Cowboys, a group of young men who for years terrorized Upper Manhattan and the Bronx while running a $30,000-a-day drug business. What follows is a tale of dogged pursuit that offers a fascinating inside look at the workings of a complex police investigation, and a satisfying account of how a city took back its streets.
Stone, a contributor to New York magazine, offers an efficient, intimate look back at the urban crack wars, recounting the bloody reign and difficult takedown of a vicious Dominican drug gang operating in upper Manhattan and the Bronx. He realistically evokes a time when NYC homicide investigators were swamped with murder cases. To target gang leaders, rather than making street-level arrests (which created good statistics but had little lasting effect on crime), Manhattan's Homicide Investigation Unit was formed. The unit became aware of "Lenny's Boys" (a gang also known as the Wild Cowboys or Red-Top) committing such atrocities as the machine-gunning of a suburban kid driving on the West Side Highway and the brutal killing of four customers and dealers at a rival crack spot. The investigation, which Stone traces in detail (he was given special access to the HIU), took years, revealing a battered urban neighborhood enslaved by arrogant, trigger-happy dealers who had created byzantine gang structures and assembly-line distribution methods meant to foil efforts at prosecution. Ultimately, however, eight defendants received lengthy sentences; many collaborators (including the gang's leaders, Lenny and Nelson Sepulveda) testified for plea bargains. Stone has a good grasp of the urban milieu and he captures the human qualities of dedicated cops as well as remorseless thugs. Robert Jackall's 1997 Wild Cowboys offers a more thoughtful if scholarly take than does Stone's account, with its movie-ready excitement and fuller character portraits. But overall, Stone presents a solid retelling of a frightening, significant era in New York's recent history.