There’s no outward indication that the alleyway off of Orleans Place NE is different from any other in Washington D.C. Economic development in the surrounding Atlas District neighborhood has forced out most of the human evidence of the era 25 years ago when newscasters dubbed D.C. the “murder capital” of the country, and when this 400-foot long stretch was the center of it all.
Crack cocaine and the violence that followed were unleashed on the city by a legendary drug kingpin named Rayful Edmond III in the late 1980s. Though his name now draws little recognition, Edmond was so notorious at the time of his capture that a judge confined him at Marine Corps Base Quantico and flew him into court every day on a military helicopter.
In his early twenties, Edmond lived with his mother at 407 M Street and ran an open air drug market a block away that took in an estimated $300 million dollars a year. The alleyway between Orleans and Morton Place was ideal. The layout resembles a flattened “H” shape, where the enclosed middle section is only accessible by the two parallel interblock alleys. This offered a degree of protection that was enhanced with vehicle barricades, walkie-talkie toting lookouts, and rooftop snipers.
During Rayful Edmond’s roughly five years leading the District drug trade, this alley, known as “the Strip”, was packed around the clock with lines of customers seeking powder and crack cocaine. Friends compared Rayful’s business acumen to that of a CEO, and he set up a well-organized crew of 150 who worked on three rotating shifts and received $1,000 weekly paychecks.
Antonio Jones, an Edmond ally, later recalled in an interview how “demand on the Strip was so intense during that period that sellers sold out their supplies within minutes. Selling 25 grand worth of coke very rapidly was the norm.” Traffic jams regularly clogged the blocks around the Strip, and an associate explained in the Rayful Edmond Story Pt. II that sometimes the lines would get so chaotic that enforcers would shoot prospective customers in the leg to restore order.
On April 15th, 1989 D.C. police arrested Edmond, his mother, top lieutenant, and others following a two-year investigation. All of them were hit with charges of conspiracy to distribute cocaine. According to a Washington Post report “more than 100 agents and officers from the DEA, the FBI, and other local police departments participated” across the city. The trial unfolded for the next year and a half under unprecedented security and captivated the local media. The jury viewed the case from behind bulletproof glass at the Federal Courthouse on Judiciary Square.
In December 1990, Edmond was sentenced to life imprisonment, and he is still behind bars today, though his location is unknown. The gunfire and overt drug market on the Strip are long gone and all that’s left of the Rayful Edmond days is the legend. The alleyways around Orleans Place are now quiet and safe to explore at night.