Marbury Plaza, built in 1965 on a Southeast Washington hillside, once held a natural attraction for the city's young, up-and-coming, black middle class. The apartments are spacious, with those on the upper floors commanding panoramic views of the Capitol, the Washington Monument, or the busy freeways that become arteries of light at nightfall.
Moreover, this elegant complex where the lobbies are lit with grand chandeliers is on Good Hope Road, east of the Anacostia River, not in the suburbs or in a more traditionally middle-class area. It was an important distinction, a political statement, for a lot of Marbury tenants. Singer Isaac Hayes kept an apartment there. School board member John Warren lived there for four years.
Over the years, say law enforcement officials, Marbury Plaza came to attract luxury-seekers of a different kind: those involved in the sale and distribution of illegal drugs. This new element, small though it reportedly is, has soured the dream for many of Marbury's tenants, leaving them confused, frightened and embarrassed.
Last month two men, Bernard Proctor, 31, a commercial airline attendant, and Lewis Gant, age and occcupation not reported by police, were stabbed to death in a third-floor apartment. Police sources said a quantity of drugs and about $10,000 in cash were found in the apartment.
Also last month, a man believed to have been wounded in a drug-related shooting in Northwest Washington, 38-year-old Clifton Carey, was driven by friends to a Marbury apartment, where he died from his wounds. And over the past two years, four Marbury residents have been arrested on drug possession charges and two others have died of heroin overdoses.
"It's an entirely different world now," said Bernice Brown, a 10-year resident who currently serves as president of the Marbury Plaza Tenant Association. "People don't seem to care about the place like they used to."
Brown said that whereas the Marbury once attracted family-oriented professionals, many of the original tenants have moved out to become homeowners and a new breed has replaced them: young people rooming together to save money. Rents at the Marbury range from about $350 to about $500.
Roscoe Alexander, 69, a retired manager for a commercial vending machine manufacturer and a resident at the Marbury for more than 10 years, said that he and his wife Dorothy are extremely cautious now, explaining: "I just park my car and run through the garage and get upstairs in a hurry."
One woman who lives at Marbury with her mother said: "It's kind of frightening and embarrassing to live in here, with all the crime that's going on. But my mother just loves it over here. For her, it's the nicest place she can afford. She likes to sit on the balcony and overlook the pool, and she goes about her church business and doesn't come into any contact with any criminal activity."
Management of the complex provides security, but most of the activity being investigated allegedly takes place inside the apartments.
Located in the 2300 block of Good Hope Road SE, Marbury Plaza consists of several garden apartments and two giant, red-brick, high-rise buildings--one 11 stories high and the other 12 stories. About 2,000 people live in Marbury Plaza, which is owned by Charles E. Smith, Co., widely known for its development of Crystal City in Arlington.
In addition to the three recent drug-related deaths at the Marbury, District police currently also are investigating about half a dozen tenants who are suspected of being major drug offenders, according to a D.C. narcotics detective who asked not to be named.
A 7th District police sergeant said these residents are suspected of supplying smaller drug pushers throughout Southeast and Northwest with large quantities of "class one" drugs: heroin, cocaine, Dilaudid, and Preludin ("Bam"), as well as marijuana, "Angel Dust," and chemically treated marijuana called "Lovely."
Inspector Wilfred Coligan, director of the D.C. Police Morals Division, said only: "I cannot comment on whether we are or whether we are not investigating suspected drug dealers at the Marbury Plaza. We've had a number of occasions to serve search warrants there . . . . If you've hit a place in the past, you'll probably be hitting it in the future, too."
Lt. Bill Merrit of the federal Drug Enforcement Administration also declined to discuss any ongoing investigations, but acknowledged: "Individuals who frequent or live at Marbury Plaza have been investigated. We know that certain individuals who live there or frequent there have been involved in trafficking drugs."
But Roy Brendle, property manager at Marbury Plaza, declared: "I'm not aware of any police raids or investigations. They keep that pretty secretive. I'm not aware of any drug use at the complex. There is a certain amount of police activity out there. We give them free access to the building."
And Charles Pilzer, general counsel for the Smith, Co., added: "I personally do not know anything about it. I would think that if anybody in the company knew that a very substantial investigation was in process. . . I would be informed about it. The company has no knowledge that any employe is involved in any drug-related activities at the property."
Police stressed that no Marbury Plaza employes are under suspicion or investigation.
Little is known about Proctor and Gant, the two men recently stabbed to death. Apparently neither had a police record. But a maintenance worker at the complex, who asked not to be named, said that the apartment where the bodies were found was known as a "major drug connection" for heroin, cocaine and marijuana users and dealers.
The man who died of gunshot wounds there on Feb. 16, Clifton Carey, was a suspect in a fatal shooting that had occurred about 30 minutes earlier at 9th and U streets NW. He evidently had been wounded in the exchange of gunfire. Police said the shooting was a part of many drug-related incidents in what they call an "ongoing" drug war in Washington.
According to D.C. police records, Carey had been charged with drug possession and drug distribution charges on five separate occasions since 1978. Police said he was a user and distributor of heroin and marijuana.
There have been previous drug investigations at the Marbury, most within the past three years.
In May, 1979, Robert Lee Stuckey, 43, was arrested and charged with more than two dozen offenses. Stuckey was one of several suspects arrested in a case that centered around the reputed leader of a drug ring, Linwood Gray, and Stuckey was accused in an affidavit of being a part of an international heroin smuggling ring that law enforcement sources at the time described as the largest ever uncovered in the Washington metropolitan area. Stuckey was observed for about a year by undercover DEA agents. He subsequently was convicted on heroin smuggling and conspiracy charges.
In January of that year, a 34-year-old man who lived in the complex was arrested for posession of cocaine with intent to distribute. In November of that year, a practical nurse who lived in the complex was arrested for posession of marijuana. And in July of 1981, a secretary who lived in the complex was charged with posession of cocaine.
Police records also state that there was a heroin overdose at Marbury Plaza in December 1980, and another one in November 1981.
Police said that they have reason to believe that several people currently living at the Marbury are involved in the drug traffic plaguing the city, through information volunteered by apprehended drug suspects who have sought to negotiate with the police in exchange for lighter sentences.
The 7th District sergeant said, "Suspects whom we have apprehended in raids and street arrests tell us over and over the same story: 'If you give me a break, I'll tell you where people are cutting dope.' They always mention Marbury Plaza as one of the places."
"But the hardest part is how do you get these people to follow through and testify in court," he added. "That's when they get scared. It's so difficult to convict these major drug dealers. And some of these people are so brutal when it comes to revenge."
Jerry Dorsey, 46, a Superior Court clerk who has lived at the Marbury for 13 years, said, "When the Plaza was first built, it was the best thing around for blacks at the time."
He said that then the complex was filled with aspiring young people, and "all of my friends were proud that they lived in a decent place among other blacks. They could've moved to integrated neighborhoods in Southwest, upper Northwest or to the suburbs. But this was right here in town, and people loved it."
The grounds and buildings still are kept clean and appear in excellent condition. But Dorsey says some things are not the same.
He said that when he moved in, "There was a lot of comaraderie as far as neighbors were concerened. People used to come in Friday nights after work and never go back out until Monday morning. We did a lot of visiting. People are wary of each other now. I seldom visit in the building at all. Most of my friends have moved out and bought houses."
Said Dorsey: "There have been several tenant meetings to encourage people to look out for their neighbors and to watch out for any type of criminal activity. These people involved in drug trade don't usually keep a base a long time. Once it gets hot, they move out. Then they filter back in again."