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True crime. Casually done.

The Rise and Fall of Wayne ‘Silk’ Perry: DC’s Most Feared Triggerman

“Sound boy burial, this my Wayne Perry flow

Y’all know nothing ’bout Wayne Perry though

District of Columbia, guns on y’all Tumblrs”

No, this isn’t an experimental spoken-word episode — we’re kicking off today with a quote from rapper Jay-Z. Fans might recognize these as lines from his 2013 track Tom Ford — but, as the lyrics say, there’s a solid chance you have no idea who the person they’re referencing is. 

By the time we’re done with today’s Casual Criminalist short, you will. Today we’re heading to the drug-ravaged streets of 1980s Washington DC, to take a look at the legend of one of the most prolific hitmen and gangsters in the city’s history: Wayne ‘Silk’ Perry.

So how exactly did Wayne become notorious enough to receive a name drop from one of the biggest rap artists in the world? Basically, it was down to barrel-loads of brutality, a betrayal worthy of Shakespeare, and most of all, a pair of brass balls…

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Picking a Fight With the Wrong Man

One afternoon in 1984, a group of young guys, new to southwest DC’s projects, kept watch on a street corner. Walking down the way came a tall, fairly skinny man in his early 20s — a safe enough target, they thought.

As the guy walked by, the gang jumped him, starting a brawl that spilled out onto the road. Their victim wasn’t going down easy. He held his own against the group, so one of them grabbed a chain, and rapped him around the head. But the guy just kept fighting.

He kept fighting right up until the police sirens started blaring down the road, then took off down an alleyway. The police arrived to find some of the thugs still lingering around, but hadn’t quite got a grasp on who was involved, who was just a bystander. They were about to get a pretty clear clue.

Their attempted victim reappeared, leaping through a window with a baseball bat in hand. He ran for the guy that smacked him with the chain; one swing to the skull knocked him down, a flurry more hits in the head ended his life. All of this happened right in full view of two Washington DC officers. But before the cops could react, the man had disappeared again…

That story has been repeated thousands of times in the underworld of DC over the past four decades. How accurate it might be is up for debate (some versions have it that he shot the guy instead, purely in self-defence). These things tend to grow arms and legs as they leave the pages of court documents and become semi-legendary rumors.

It’s only one of hundreds of similar stories that together form the reputation of a gangster so fearless, so ruthless, that for years he seemed utterly untouchable. The killer that those unfortunate young ones crossed was our man, Wayne ‘Silk’ Perry …

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‘The Michael Jordan of the Murder Game’

Batman Begins

Born on November 14, 1962, Perry’s fondness for baseball bats began at an early age. No, he wasn’t cracking skulls in kindergarten for a milk money racket —the fearsome gangster’s first passion was sports, playing baseball for the school team. But like many kids growing up in gang-controlled inner cities, he was exposed to crime from a young age, and got directly involved as young as 12.

Throughout his early teens in the mid seventies, he made his pocket money by hustling gamblers, using sets of rigged dice and cards. The old hands were oblivious to his con, and used to take young Silk around town to gambling meets as a good luck totem. Just a few years later, he graduated from swindling to robbery, riding shotgun on bank jobs and drug den stick-ups.

High school baseball just can’t have had the same rush after all that, so when he was 17 Wayne politely quit the team… by beating his coach unconscious with a bat. He was barred from all DC schools, so had to transfer to one far from his home. There Wayne claims to have killed another student who threatened to steal his chain necklace. 

So his academic career was coming to an interesting conclusion. But who needs an education when you’re already turning over thousands of dollars as an armed robber? That’s why I never even bothered with primary 7. As Wayne himself once explained:

“They knew I’d shoot anybody. Police, killers, […]. I used to go on robberies with some hella gangsters, but they always took the bullets out of my gun ’cause they said I was trigger happy.” 

A gunman so famously mental, his mates don’t even let him have bullets. Who knows how many murders he had under his belt before he’d even finished his teens. He claims to have shot police officers during that time too. 

He was just 22 years old when he used the head of that young hoodlum for batting practice, as we saw earlier on, adding one more mark to the tally. After a short while on the run for that deadly beatdown, Wayne’s mother encouraged him to turn himself over to the police. 

His compliance, and the fact that he was attacked first, meant that his charges only amounted to manslaughter. He walked free after just a few years behind bars.

Making a Name for Himself

When the daylight killer returned to the streets, he leveraged his ballsy reputation to gather a loyal gang of stick-up kids and robbers around him. Drawn to his fearlessness and lighthearted charisma, they followed him on a campaign of robbery, kidnapping, and extortion that spread his name far and wide throughout the DC underworld. 

Now, a bit of forewarning: some of the anecdotes about Wayne’s crimes come to us via a street true crime website called Gangster Report. And a certain racially charged word is used pretty liberally in some of their articles. In the interest of not totally torpedoing Simon’s career, I’ve taken the precaution of swapping those out for “chap”. One of Wayne’s crew members later recounted to the site:

“He put me on a [chap] one time, he wanted me to lean on the [chap]. I put the squeeze on the [chap], told him I wanted 50 grand. […] Then Silk acted like he found out I was squeezing the [chap] and told the [chap] that he would get me to leave him alone for 50 G’s. […] It was like taking candy from a baby for Silk.”

Okay, I know my edit makes it sound a bit too much like a Charles Dickens novel, but you get the point. That kind of con was the gang’s bread and butter for a while; they even expanded their scope to target wealthy white lawyers and Italian mobsters too. However, Silk soon discovered that there were even easier ways to turn a major profit in the DC gangland.

Silk never had any qualms about killing those who got in his way, but eventually he turned his talent for murder into the core part of his gang’s business. When that happened, even some of the toughest gangsters in the city started sleeping with the lights on.

The untimely death rate among DC drug lords and their goons started violently spiking in 1987, leading some to believe an out-of-town gang head sent a contract killer to clear the playing field. But really, this was when Wayne ‘Silk’ Perry started officially accepting contract killings. 

The identity of the target didn’t matter much, so long as the price was right. And as we’ve already seen, the presence of witnesses didn’t really bother Silk much either. It was said that he made a habit out of sleeping in his target’s back gardens, waiting for the perfect time to strike. When he found his chance to strike, his methods were… thorough: 

“I don’t play that across the street shit. I walk right up and put seven in the head like it ain’t shit.”

Seven seems a bit excessive Wayne, I have to say. With each killing, his John Wick-style ‘Baba Yaga’ reputation grew stronger. So much so that, even when people figured out he was behind the killings, most were too terrified to go seeking revenge. So Silk enjoyed an unprecedented level of hood immunity.

Even though his moral compass was a tad faulty, DC’s murder GOAT did hold one value extremely dear: loyalty. As one of his gang put it: 

“Wayne only respected men. If a dude was a rat, he wasn’t supposed to breathe, let alone come out his hole. No matter how much money the rat had, spent or flashed or how hard he flossed, that shit meant nothing to Wayne. […] Only integrity and heart counted to Silk.”

Living according to this slightly twisted criminal code, Wayne did right by his own, and would never turn a weapon on his friends or followers unless they crossed him. The drug dealers of the city knew this, and started bringing tributes to Wayne and his crew in the hope of buying safety. 

These included some of the biggest players of the 1980s DC underworld. Towards the height of his fame, they would even avoid driving around in their fanciest cars, just in case Wayne realized they might have a bit more cash on hand than they were admitting. Writer for DC Crime Stories Scott McCabe summed it up best in the quote:

“His reputation is the Michael Jordan of the murder game. Basically, if you were in D.C. and were in the drug business, gang business, you knew Perry and you knew not to mess with him.”

At the end of the decade, that reputation brought a big name gangster knocking on his door…

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Alberto “Alpo” Martinez

Alberto ”Alpo” Martinez started his drug dealing career at the tender age of 13, in Harlem, NYC. He managed to claw his way right up to the top of the Big Apple’s underworld, becoming one of the biggest kingpins on the East Coast. In 1989, he decided to expand his operation to DC, since the city’s resident drug lord Rayful Edmond was recently locked up. So Alpo sent his men to scout out the best muscle the city had to offer.

That’s how he came into contact with the Michael Jordan of murder. He claims they met when he bailed the killer out of jail, but Wayne’s version is a little more interesting: he was on his way to kill Alpo at a nightclub after hearing the drug lord was putting a hit out on him, but when he go there, his friends convinced him i was all a lie, and the two became friends.

From 89 onwards, Wayne Perry was Alpo’s go-to hitman in the district, and eventually worked as his bodyguard and enforcer for the Martinez Organization. In exchange, Wayne received huge wads of cash, or bricks of crack cocaine for him and his gang to sell off. 

First, they blitzed the DC underworld, killing off rivals in droves. Some dealers ran in fear to the police, willing to testify against the duo in exchange for their own safety. But not even that put them beyond the reach of Silk; he was well known for offing anyone who snitched to the police. It was even alleged that one of the witnesses he killed was his ex-girlfriend, stabbed in the face then shot down outside Constitution Hall after a concert.

Well Wayne, maybe if you weren’t so fond of blasting people right in front of crowds there wouldn’t be as many witnesses in the first place. Just a bit of constructive criticism. One of his underlings from those days gave some insight into how they dealt with rival dealers working their turf:

“I had a few young dudes hustling for me. [A] New York dude around the corner told him that he couldn’t hustle until he was finished with his shit. […] Wayne told shorty to go back outside and stand on the corner […]. As soon as the New York dude bent around the corner […] Wayne […] hit his ass in the head with everything he had in the clip.” 

Silk then returned to the scene just after the police and ambulance arrived, to see if he needed to add any snitches to his hit list. This was how Alpo and Silk took over hundreds of street corners in DC, and rode the crack epidemic to massive wealth. Together they shipped 500kg of product within two years of working together. According to UN figures, the street value of that would have been around $65.5 million at the time…

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The Height of His Powers

With the patronage of one of the biggest drug dealers in US history, Wayne ‘Silk’ Perry was now a brand name among the American criminal underworld. He claimed to have committed well over 100 murders throughout his career. If we were treating this as a regular serial killer episode, then that would potentially put him ahead of the worst ones in US history. 

For comparison, even the total combined victims of John Wayne Gacy, Ted Bundy, and Gary Ridgway don’t quite touch triple digits. Wayne might have been more prolific than that unholy trinity. But, when their killings are contained within the criminal underworld, murderers apparently get a free pass, and mentions in the Billboard Hot 100. 

Part of the reason Wayne Perry is so romanticized is his fierce loyalty to his nearest and dearest. By 1990, he was basically a hood superstar, rich beyond his wildest dreams. And he made a habit of sharing his newfound wealth with his community and crew. One of his gang named Manny, explained how Wayne used his terrifying influence to get him back on his feet after a long prison stint:

“ We pull up in front of a well known spot that’s owned by some dudes that supposed to be major in the city. Wayne looked at me and said, ‘Go in there and tell such and such to send a bag of that money out here […]. ’So I went in […] and with no problem the dude gave me a bag full of money. Wayne had [chaps] scared to death.” 

Once you’ve robbed and killed enough people, you can just bypass all the unpleasantness of a stick-up and skip to the ending. That kind of power turned Wayne into a god in the eyes of his crew of young contract killers, and a demon to almost everyone else. He was able to outfit his gang with heavy weaponry, including grenades and sticks of dynamite.

By this point, basically everyone and their gran knew that Wayne and his gang were behind dozens of killings, but for years the authorities couldn’t find anyone willing to speak out against him. Until one day, they did. 

The career of this murderous Michael Jordan was cut tragically short not long after his 30th birthday…

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Wayne’s Downfall

Throughout the first few years of the nineties, the FBI had been tracking Wayne’s movements, trying to build a case against him. I wasn’t until 1991 that they finally found someone willing to flip on the notorious murder MVP. They made sure to keep this star witness alive long enough for them to issue a warrant for the gunman’s arrest in 1992. The following year, they managed to catch him.

The 27-point indictment against Wayne included charges of kidnapping, racketeering, conspiracy to deal crack, witness retaliation, robbery, and murder for the furtherance of a criminal enterprise. A total of eight shootings were attributed to him in the court case, all of which occurred from 1989 to 1991. 

By the end of that period, Washington DC had become the murder capital of America, with 80.6 deaths per 100,000 residents. Wayne played a pretty big part in winning that dubious accolade for the city. Two of his lieutenants, Michael Anthony Jackson and Tyrone LaSalle Price, were also his co-defendants. 

Prosecutors were looking for the death penalty, but Silk managed to dodge it by pleading guilty on all counts. Instead, he was sentenced to five consecutive life sentences, without the possibility of parole. The only question remaining is, who sold him out?

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Et tu, Alpo?

I’d imagine Wayne is still deeply bitter about the answer to that question. This gangster, so obsessed with loyalty, was eventually undone by one of his closest allies. It all started in July 1990, when Wayne’s employer found himself on the wrong end of his own FBI indictment. 

Alpo Martinez was slapped with federal drug trafficking charges. One of his accomplices, Nathaniel Watkins, testified to the FBI that Martinez had been moving huge amounts of cash between New York and DC since the late 80s. Once the news broke, Alpo went on the run.

The cops never caught up with him until 17 months later. By then, they had built up a mammoth case against him, including over a dozen counts of murder during his hostile takeover of DC. And who do you think was the main instrument of all that death dealing?

To dodge a big chunk of his charges, and slash his prison sentence down to a measly 35 years, Alpo flipped on Wayne ‘Silk’ Perry, along with many more accomplices. In a world where snitching is the ultimate mortal sin, this was unforgivable. But unfortunately for all his associates, the feds placed Alpo far beyond the reach of Silk and his crew. This was one problem that a few bullets to the head couldn’t fix.

Just like that, the empire came crumbling down, and Wayne ‘Silk’ Perry’s life as a free man came to an end…

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Wrap-up

Wayne ‘Silk’ Perry is now living out the rest of his days at a maximum security prison in Washington State. After converting to Islam, he now goes by the name Nkosi Shaka Zulu-El. As for the guy who sold him out, he’s the only one to get anything like a happy ending here. Alpo was released from federal prison in 2015, and is now living under a new identity 

To call Alpo the villain of the story might be a bit of a stretch, because really, if mass murdering gangster Silk is the hero, then something has gone really, really wrong. Some online idolize Wayne Perry as a street hero, ‘doing what he had to do to survive’. But I’m also pretty sure plenty of others also managed to survive, without murdering 100+ people with baseball bats, guns, and explosives. Hardly the sort of life person that should be put on a pedestal.

Still, at least the next time he gets a name check in a top 40 rap song, you’ll know exactly what murderous, cold-blooded maniac they’re talking about.

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Dismembered Appendices

1. In the early nineties, Wayne and his gang were driving around with an associate who tried to start trouble. Wayne pulled into a parking lot and challenged him to a fight. When the guy refused, Silk forced him to strip naked, then shot him in the backside, making him waddle off in agony. As one of the crew said,” Everybody was laughing. […] it was all a big joke to Silk.” Oh yeah, good one… classic prank.

2. Alpo Martinez has himself also been memorialized in song. Far less favorably than his bodyguard, of course: few artists have anything good to say about snitches. He boasts namechecks in tracks by Jay-Z, The Game, Nas, Drake, Future, 50 Cent and many more. Must be tough listening to the radio for this iconic East Coast Judas. 

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