Stealing and Dealing
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Although the Wallace and Moore boys were together a great deal on Buena Vista Terrace, none realized that a romance was developing between their mothers. In 1983, Carolyn Wallace unexpectedly kissed Harris, and the two began a discreet affair.
The next summer, both mothers were called by a store manager at Iverson Mall in suburban Maryland. Russell and Steve Moore, both 7, had walked two miles to the mall, and according to their mothers, they were caught shoplifting. Russell remembers his mother whipped him so hard with a strap that he couldn't sit down the rest of the day.
About the same time, and at the same mall, Tyrone, then 8, was caught stealing clothes. The lure of material possessions was particularly keen for Tyrone. Even as a child, he admired drug dealers' fancy clothes, the money they flashed and the girls they attracted. In the spring of 1984, Tyrone confided to a teenage drug dealer that he wanted to go to the Ring ling Bros. circus at the D.C. Armory but needed ticket money. The dealer gave him two small bags of loveboat. Tyrone said he peddled the drugs for $20 at the bottom of the hill, across from the pretty white frame house where his aunt lived.
The aunt took him to the circus, believing Tyrone's story that his mother had provided the money. He even treated himself to a toy with a rotating light and a big blue and pink tuft of cotton candy.
The darker side of drug usage played out at home a year later when Rufus Denny passed out in the bathroom one afternoon from a heroin overdose. When Tyrone and Carolyn managed to force the door open, Rufus was sprawled out "butterball naked" – Tyrone's phrase – with a tourniquet around his left arm and a syringe on the floor. Paramedics took Rufus to the hospital. He was home before dark.
Rufus Denny said that his heroin dependence lessened after the overdose but that his wine drinking increased. Domestic battles on Buena Vista Terrace intensified. Once, according to Renee and Tyrone, Rufus pushed Ben's head into a wall, marring the plaster.
In another fight, recounted by four family members, Carolyn stabbed Rufus in the head with a knife after he swung a shovel at Tyrone. Rufus was so drunk he seemed not to notice the knife in his skull.
Shortly before Christmas 1987, with the family facing eviction, Carolyn packed up her four younger children and moved back to South Carolina – without Rufus. Also without Ben, who at 16 had fathered a child, dropped out of the ninth grade and was at a Job Corps training center in Virginia. Carolyn and her children moved in with an old family friend, known to the children as "Miss Cat," in Lincoln Shire, a suburb of Columbia.
Renee, Tyrone and Russell recall the year as idyllic. Their school classes were smaller, the teachers more attentive. Their classmates didn't "Jone' " on them about clothes. There were no fights.
Friction developed soon enough with Miss Cat, who threatened to evict them. Ben had dropped out of the Job Corps and, by his own account, was back in Washington selling crack around Christmas 1988, when he ran into Patricia Harris. Harris had moved from Buena Vista Terrace into a row house at 1010 11th St. NE, convinced that the new neighborhood would prove safer for her sons.
Now, hearing of the Wallaces' plight, she arranged for Carolyn and her children to move back to Washington to live with her. From then on, the couple's lesbian relationship was out in the open.
The Wallace children were confused by Miss Pat's new role in their lives, despite Carolyn's efforts to explain. Renee remembers Russell, who was 11, crying bitterly, "What about my daddy?" Around the neighborhood, the Wallace children became the brunt of a different kind of "Jone'in" – about their mother's openly gay lifestyle.
Years later, Russell would simply say, "I was embarrassed."
A Cash-Greased Slide
Within days of moving into the row house, Tyrone began accompanying Miss Pat's youngest son, Steven Moore, to a sidewalk drug market in the 1200 block of Wylie Street NE. Both boys were 12 years old.
Tyrone remembers Steve hanging out on Wylie Street almost every day. Steve declined to be interviewed. Although neither boy was hustling drugs yet, Tyrone was anxious to explore the possibilities. He needed money to buy clothes and look sharp.
One Saturday, an 18-year-old hustler wanted to go to a rap music concert at the Capital Centre. He asked Steve to hold a bag containing 80 rocks of crack, each worth $20. Other dealers also had gone to the concert, leaving the street untended.
"Wasn't nobody out there because all of the older dudes were gone to the rap show," Tyrone recalled. Pipeheads showed up, looking for crack. Steve and Tyrone briefly debated what to do, then agreed to try their hand at selling. When the hustler returned a few hours later, Steve told him all 80 rocks had been sold. As the hustler began to berate them for lying, Tyrone reached into his pocket and handed him a fistful of cash. The dealer methodically counted the stack of small bills, warning what he would do to them if the tally was short. He was shocked when he reached $1,600.
"We weren't short a penny," Tyrone recalled with a smile. "I ain't never going to forget it."
Each boy collected $100 – a nice bit of change for a pair of 12-year-olds. For Tyrone, that Saturday marked the beginning of his long, cash-greased slide into prison.
Into the Battle Zone
Carolyn Wallace did not notice Tyrone's drug dealing or the clothes he was buying with his profits until police called to say he had been arrested for peddling crack near Ninth and I streets NE in March 1989.
"That's when she found out I was dealing drugs," Tyrone said. "I told her and Miss Pat I found the drugs, but they didn't believe me." A family court judge gave him probation.
A month later, Steve Moore was arrested at the same corner drug market with 19 rocks of crack and $160. He also said he had found the drugs; no one believed him either, and he was sentenced to three months at the Oak Hill juvenile detention center, according to his mother.
By July, cars with pipeheads eager to buy crack would line up in the alley behind the 11th Street row house as if at a drive-through restaurant. The boys sold rocks from the basement door. After neighbors complained, the rental agency raised Patricia Harris's monthly rent from $650 to $1,150.
Furious at the boys, Harris turned the basement upside down and found $680 in cash. "I spent the money on the household," she said. "Bought food, paid a bill." A few days later, Harris recalled, she found a bag filled with crack rocks and flushed it down the toilet, despite wails from Ben and Steve that "you're destroying money!" Harris issued an ultimatum: Ben and Steve must stop dealing or get out. The two boys stayed away overnight but returned the next day. Steve was arrested again for crack dealing a few months later and was sentenced to three months in a juvenile facility, his mother said.
The rent increase forced the two women to look for a cheaper apartment. Harris had been hired in March as a corrections officer at the D.C. jail. Carolyn was still on welfare. In October 1989, they moved into the one-bedroom apartment at 1104 21st St. NE in the complex known as Carver Terrace. The monthly rent was $415.
The neighborhood seemed to inspire nicknames, most with a combat motif: In addition to Little Vietnam, the area sometimes was called Porkchop Hill or Little Beirut. The sound of guns "busting off" was routine on the narrow streets, where a weapon could be had for as little as $50. On the day they moved in, Russell saw the body of a boy being carried out of 1108 21st St.; he had been shot.
By Christmas, Ben and Tyrone were boldly dealing drugs in front of the building. Carolyn and Harris would confront them, demanding that they move out. They would decamp for a while, then move back home. Another confrontation would simply start the cycle anew.
In April 1990, Tyrone and Ben were arrested for dealing at Ninth and I streets NE. Ben, 18, eventually pleaded guilty to drug charges, received a five-year sentence under the Youth Rehabilitation Act and served 21 months at Lorton Correctional Complex's Youth Center.
Tyrone, 14, was charged as a juvenile. On the day of his arrest, a court-appointed lawyer called Carolyn Wallace and asked her to come get him. She refused. The lawyer insisted, but she was weary of trying to reform her sons.
"I don't have to do anything but stay black and die," she recalled telling the lawyer. "I'm not coming to get him."
Six hours later, Tyrone strolled into the apartment, released on personal recognizance, according to Carolyn Wallace. Eventually convicted of dealing, he was put on probation.
Patricia Harris also was tired of the incessant battles with her boys. She had expelled Nick from the household in 1987, when he was a 17-year-old 11th-grader at Anacostia High School. Nick moved into his own apartment nearby without complaint, she recalled, and dropped out of high school in 1989. He declined requests for an interview.
About the time Nick moved out, his brother Paul moved in. Paul had lived with his father in New York, but after his sophomore year in high school, he decided he wanted to graduate from Dunbar High School in the District, his maternal grandmother's alma mater.
Paul was different. He didn't care about name-brand clothes and adamantly opposed drugs. He didn't own a car or a gun, and he didn't hang out on 21st Street. He graduated from Dunbar in June 1990 with a B average and took a summer job as an usher at the AMC theater in Union Station, hoping to go to college in the fall.
About 8 p.m. July 12, 1990, a day after Ben was sentenced to Lorton for dealing crack, Nick Moore, then 20, pulled up in front of his girlfriend's apartment in the 2100 block of I Street NE, according to D.C. Superior Court records. He saw two men, Robert Harris Jr., 18, and Calvin V. "Redtop" Johnson Jr., 19, snatch a woman's purse.
Nick got out of the car and told the two men to return the purse. Harris and Johnson squared off to fight. When Johnson passed a pistol to Harris, Nick fled into his girlfriend's building with Harris in pursuit. Once inside, Nick telephoned his family's apartment, two blocks away.
Paul answered. He listened calmly, put down the receiver and said simply, "I'll be back," Tyrone recalled. Patricia Harris asked where he was going. Paul, evidently not wanting to alarm her, told her he was going to the store to buy a honeybun.
Paul saw Redtop Johnson waiting on I Street outside the building into which Nick had fled. An argument flared into a fistfight. Paul had some karate skills and was more than holding his own, according to subsequent accounts, but when Robert Harris joined the fray, Paul was overmatched.
As Johnson held Paul, Harris shot him in the chest, a police report said. The two assailants then stomped and kicked him.
Paul was pronounced dead at D.C. General Hospital. He was 19. Patricia Harris identified her son's body.
"I never had any problem with Paul," she recalled. "None! Just one out of three comprehended and tried to make something of himself. You wouldn't believe they were brothers."
Robert Harris and Johnson surrendered to police that night, apparently fearing retaliation.
In 1991, Harris was convicted of second-degree murder and gun charges. He is in prison, serving 14 to 42 years. Johnson was convicted of carrying an unlicensed pistol and was sentenced to a year.
On Feb. 6, 1992, seven months after his release, Johnson tried to rob two men he took to be crack dealers on 21st Street NE. They were undercover cops. He shot and wounded both officers before being shot and killed by 19 bullets fired by other police officers staking out the street.
Nick Moore, according to his mother, feels responsible for Paul's death. He knows that if he had not interfered in a robbery, Paul would not have been killed. In retrospect, his mother said, Nick believes it was ill-advised to call Paul – who was never armed – into the street. Virtue provided scant protection in Little Vietnam.
When Patricia Harris came home from the hospital after identifying Paul, she found 13-year-old Steve crying. Paul had tried to convince his younger brother that there was no future in drug dealing. Steve drew a different lesson from Paul's death.
"No man is ever going to walk up on me and shoot me like that," Steve told his mother.
"That's when Steve started carrying a gun," Patricia Harris said. "He used to be a fighter. He would fight with his fists, but he said, 'Momma, they don't fight any more. I'm never going to be caught without a gun.' ... "
Three years later, on May 10, 1993, Steve Moore, then 16, allegedly shot and killed Michael Oliver, 28, an alleged crack thief, 100 feet from the Wallace-Harris apartment at 21st and Vietnam. Steve has pleaded not guilty. Oliver, known for trying to "rough off" dealers by stealing part of their stash, was found face down on the sidewalk with seven bullets in him, his Walkman still playing and an unopened beer can in his pocket.
Russell Wallace would subsequently testify that he watched Steve Moore gun down Oliver. But Steve had yet to be arrested six weeks later, when Russell murdered Anthony Davis.
© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company