S2 E06: The Mayor, the Barber, and the Babysitter
November 12, 2018
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Coleman Young has more underworld connections than you might expect of a big-city mayor. Sometimes those connections come in handy. But when his favorite niece starts dating an infamous drug dealer, Mayor Young must choose between keeping her out of trouble and keeping his hands clean.
JOHN WHITE: Were you for Coleman? How did you feel about him?
IKE MCKINNON: I was somewhat ambivalent... because there were so many rumors about Coleman.
JOHN: Like what?
MCKINNON: In terms of what he was doing, or what his family was doing...
JOHN: In the mid-70s, Ike McKinnon was an Internal Affairs sergeant in the Detroit Police Department. One day, an old colleague came to him with some information about the mayor, Coleman Young.
MCKINNON: And he said an informant of his purchased some drugs in Coleman Young’s bar. And I went “Oh, God. God.”
DREW NELLES: Coleman owned a bar?
MCKINNON: He owned the bar or his family owned the bar. It was called Coleman Young's Bar. They sold beer and barbecue and stuff like that. And someone in the bar, maybe it was his brother in law, Willie Volsan, had sold drugs to this informant.
MCKINNON: When I got that information I turned it over to my boss, And at that point my supervisor says to me, “I want you to handle this investigation.” And I said "ok sir, I'm a little Sergeant you know and that's--" “Just you. You’ll be the person who works on this case.” That scared the hell out of me.
JOHN: Ike got to work. He surveilled the bar. He surveilled Willie Volsan, the mayor's brother-in-law. And he spoke to the informant, who confirmed that she had bought drugs at Coleman Young's Lounge and Bar-B-Q.
MCKINNON: So I started doing reports and my supervisor said, “I want all the reports to come directly to me.”
JOHN: Did that worry you?
MCKINNON: Oh, hell yeah. God.
DREW: So it was a sensitive matter.
MCKINNON: Oh yeah, it was extremely sensitive because you’ve got the mayor and you have uh… uh
JOHN: Well, how does that link to the mayor? I mean, it’s his brother-in-law. I mean we-
MCKINNON: Well it says “Coleman Young’s Bar.” So if it’s his bar, you know.
JOHN: Ike followed Willie Volsan's drug sales from Coleman Young's bar to a series of dope houses. So he applied for a warrant.
MCKINNON: This culminated for us...where we're getting ready to raid a number of places.
JOHN: But the warrant was mysteriously delayed...and then something strange happened.
MCKINNON: And they said everybody to go to lunch. Well you never do that. Well we went out to lunch. And came back and we did our raids and came up dry at every place. Every place was dry. So there was no question in my mind and in the minds of the other people that were there that somebody had leaked this information to them.
MCKINNON: What I can tell you is this: that… My file, 7318. The Deputy Chief that assigned the case to me. He was seen with that file walking into the mayor’s office. This is supposed to be a secret investigation.
JOHN: Last episode, we told you how Mayor Coleman Young pushed back against drug gangs like YBI that were seizing control of Detroit.
But the mayor had more connections to the underworld than he let on.
Today on the show...Coleman Young makes a few compromises...to protect his family.
I’m John White… Welcome to Crimetown.
JOHN: How long have y'all been married?
LARRY MONGO: 50 years. We was born together.
JOHN: I mean It sounds like there's a lot of love between you two, and trust... and ...
MONGO: No, I'm afraid of her, man.
JOHN: This is Larry Mongo, who you met last episode. He's talking about his wife, Dianne. One of the reasons he's afraid of her? Dianne was a barber... to many of Detroit's most powerful men.
JOHN: Who used to come in there?
DIANNE MONGO: We had everyone that came in there. The top of whatever they’re in. If they're executive they came in. Dennis Edward of the Temptations and Leonard Woodcock came in of the UAW.
JOHN: Jack’s Barber Lounge was neutral ground in Detroit...a place where anyone could come for a shape-up and lively conversation.
JOHN: Were there people from...
DIANNE: The underworld? The drug...oh man. We had them all. Let me just say this. Everyone received the same service from me and if they were criminals I did not know it. If someone was wanted by the law and if they came in my shop, you cannot arrest them because that's a safe haven. This is my house.
JOHN: And one day, a new client walked into the barbershop.
DIANNE: So when the mayor walked in and just sat down, I had just finished a client and so I said, I hope you don't mind me cutting your hair. And I was saying that referring to myself as a woman he said oh, he says, some of my best haircuts have been by women. I said yes, and some of my best friends are black. (Laughter) So he laughed.
DREW: Were you nervous about cutting the Mayor's hair?
DIANNE: No. Because he was just like everyone else that came into my chair. I wasn't nervous with anyone else and I was used to celebrities. So no, I wasn’t nervous. However...
JOHN: Dianne’s husband, Larry, was there… and he wasn’t so confident.
LARRY: I’m looking, I’m scared to death. Then he said, "Well girl, do you know how to shave?" "Yeah, I can shave." Then she started stropping that razor, and I'm like, "Man, she's really gonna shave him!" The whole shop ... a shop full of men, we all got quiet. Now I don't go to God much because I don't want God to remember I'm here. I'm like, "Oh Lord, God please. Please, don't blow it!" Man, she went to shaving him. Every stroke, we felt... until she got underneath there...
DIANNE: No. No.
LARRY: Where were you?
DIANNE: No, no. I had no problem shaving him. But he has a mole right under his nose and there's one little hair that sticks out, grow ... was growing of it, you know, I couldn't go under it. I had to go on top of the mole to get it, but because I am a professional and I know my limitations, I went to Jack, who was the master barber at that time. And Jack came over and got the mole and then I finished it.
LARRY: And I swear to God the whole shop, we clapped. And the word spread. from that moment on, she wasn't my wife anymore.
JOHN: What do you mean by that?
LARRY: My wife got balls. From that day on, so help me God. Ain't no punkin’ my wife.
JOHN: Dianne became Mayor Young’s favorite barber. As she cut his hair, they grew close, and he began to open up to her about his past.
DIANNE: He just sat down. He just wanted to talk to me and he told me how his grandparents, they did numbers, and his father was a barber.
JOHN: But Coleman told Dianne his father wasn't just a barber....
COLEMAN YOUNG ARCHIVAL: This is during the period of Prohibition. He knew where to get all the good booze. We were right by the river -- he could get good Canadian booze. And he supplied the judges, the federal judges, with whiskey. For a price of course. And made a little money. But more importantly he made friends.
DIANNE: I mean he told me a lot of really, very personal things.
YOUNG ARCHIVAL: The people that I knew best were hustlers. These guys who ran the crap game, who were cutting the blackjack game, old gamblers. You know, I’ve never accused of being immoral but I never been accused of being too moral either.
JOHN: And as Mayor Young opened up to Dianne, she opened up to him too.
DIANNE: I have five brothers, and my brothers, I learned, was part of the Wrecking Crew, with the Young Boys Incorporated.
JOHN: And did he have a reaction or say anything when you shared that your brothers were in YBI ?
DIANNE: Well guess what. They lived on 8 mile, so guess what. He didn't have to tell them hit 8 mile. They were already on the other side of the 8 mile. Do you understand what I'm saying. They didn't live in the city of Detroit. And that, you know I felt that was what he needed to know. I mean that was a moment that I think and I felt that we had become a little closer. We had become friends, okay? Truly friends. And I was happy because I felt that I was like a confidante.
LARRY: The most powerful person for the 20 years Coleman Young was in this city was my wife. Because she had every politician, every judge, every wannabe person, everybody came to her.
JOHN: Jack's became a place where the mayor could talk to people... away from city hall.
DIANNE: Certain things… if you want to talk to someone privately, you can take 'em and here in the shampoo room. So if President Carter came in to the shop and you guys want to talk, I'll leave. If he wanted me to stay, he'll ask me to stay.
JOHN: Soon enough, Dianne was asked to stay more and more. And as Mayor Young’s trust in her grew, so did Dianne’s power.
DIANNE: People come to me and they knew talking to me was like talking to the mayor. If I said something they had.. on behalf of the mayor it was, I was... it was on behalf of the mayor. You don't have to ask the mayor about it or anything. You come, I would answer for him.
JOHN: And there was one more thing Dianne could do for Coleman. She could reach out to the streets....
LARRY: Coleman would whisper in my wife ear. When I get in bed she whisper in my ear what Coleman said, and that’s how we communicate.
DREW: And what kind of things was he telling your wife?
LARRY: Oh well, let's just say this. When Aretha Franklin father got shot, no one knew who did it.
JOHN: Aretha Franklin’s father, C.L. Franklin, was a famous Detroit preacher, known for his fiery sermons.
C.L. FRANKLIN ARCHIVAL: These twins in us...one represent evil, one represent sin...
JOHN: On June 10th, 1979, C.L. Franklin was shot in his home trying a stop a robbery. He later died.
JOHN: After a citywide manhunt, the cops came up empty-handed. It wasn’t just a tragedy—it was also a scandal. Detroit couldn’t even keep its wealthiest and most famous residents safe. So Mayor Young whispered in Dianne's ear...and that night, Dianne whispered in Larry's ear.
LARRY: Coleman Young could tell the police to do one thing and Coleman Young could tell a person like me to go to the street and say, “No dope gonna be sold, no prostitution, all drug houses, everything will be raided until they find out who shot Aretha Franklin father.”
JOHN: It didn't take long for Larry to find out what the Detroit police could not..
LARRY: Then one night I get a call. Saying that they had three people, three guys. I call Deputy Chief Younger. Next thing you know made the paper that the Detroit police found the three boys who shot Aretha Franklin father.
NEWS ARCHIVAL: In Detroit today thousands of people attended a funeral for a man who, when he died last week was called a preacher’s preacher ...
JOHN: Mayor Coleman Young spoke at Reverend Franklin’s funeral.
COLEMAN YOUNG ARCHIVAL: We may never, in our lifetime, see his likes again.
LARRY: Then everybody go back to business.
JOHN: The Mayor called on his connections in the underworld to help solve the city’s problems. But those connections went deeper than the Mongos. And soon enough...the underworld would be calling on him.
JIMMY HARRIS: I had always been a street cop and I knew a lot of people in Detroit. Most of them I knew growing up on the East Side.
JOHN: This is Sergeant Jimmy Harris. And one of the people he knew from the East Side?
HARRIS: Willie Volsan who was a good friend of mine and I’d been knowing him since I was a kid. And they had a barbecue place over on Livernois I believe it was. Young's barbecue over on Livernois. So we used to go there a lot.
JOHN: Like you heard about at the top of the show, Willie Volsan was Mayor Coleman Young's brother-in-law, and he was allegedly selling dope out of Young’s Lounge and Bar B Q.
HARRIS: He was what I would consider a likeable scoundrel. You knew what he was doing. But you had to look past it because he was so funny and nice. And he was Cathy’s father.
JOHN: Cathy. Mayor Young had several nieces, but Cathy Volsan was his favorite.
HARRIS: Cathy was always getting in trouble. She was always getting involved in something.
JOHN: And even though Jimmy Harris was a homicide sergeant...he’d been given an unusual assignment: follow Cathy around and deal with any problems that arose.
DREW: You’re not technically doing anything wrong...
DREW: ... but it’s little weird to be working overtime to look after the mayor’s family. Were you thinking about that at the time?
HARRIS: Well, well. I didn’t think about it being… I knew it was out of the ordinary but the mayor was the chief executive of the city, and if I got an assignment from the mayor I carried it out.
DREW: Did it feel like, kind of, babysitting?
HARRIS: Yes, She liked that night that life with the drug dealers and the money and she was the mayor's niece. So she played on that ticket a lot I get called, 1 o'clock in the morning. All wee hours of the morning.
JOHN: One night, Sergeant Harris says he got a call. Cathy was holed up in a dope house and needed some help.
HARRIS: They took her in there, took her fur coat. I went over there about 3:00 in the morning alone. I knocked on the door and told the guy who I was, I said ‘I want to talk to somebody, this is not a raid. It's not nothing to do with police work. I just want to talk’ He said, ‘You know I know who you are. He says, ‘You get this bitch out of here.’ He says and I said, ‘What about the coat?’ So he had somebody go back and get the coat. I took Cathy all she had on was panties and a bra, put the coat on her took her back to her mother's house. That was just one of many stories that I had, you know, dealing with the mayor’s family. I think what really hit the nail on the head was when Cathy got involved with Johnny. She brought a lot of notoriety to everybody then.
JOHNNY CURRY: I made some millions. Some millions. I made a lot of money. I’ll put it like I spent I spent a half a million dollars buying furs, the condo and the hall...
JOHN: This is Johnny Curry. After Mayor Young's war against YBI, The Curry Brothers stepped in as some of Detroit’s biggest drug dealers.
CURRY: My name was big, the Curry brothers, my name was real big.
JOHN: And one day, Johnny Curry crossed paths with Cathy Volsan.
CURRY: I met Cathy at the gas station that we was running up on Warren. She was beautiful. Cathy was beautiful then. Wore her hair short. She was slim, nice body. And so she was coming through, girls was coming through and you know how guys be, man let me get her gas right there. So I said, “I got your gas, baby, don't worry about nothing, you don’t have to pay for it, let me fill you up.” That's how I met her. Being honest about it, when I found out her uncle was the mayor? It pushed me more towards her then. And I got her, and then we got real tight.
ARCHIVAL COLEMAN EVENT: Hi, how are you...Give her my love...we’re working for you.
HARRIS: Mayor Young had an affair down at the Veterans Memorial Building.
JOHN: Again, Sergeant Jimmy Harris.
HARRIS: I was sitting next to Aretha Franklin's brother and at that table the mayor was on the other side of the table and in walks Cathy and Johnny Curry in matching fur hats and coats. And I remember the mayor looking over at me- and he had a knack of looking at you with one eyebrow raised. When he looked at me with that look, I knew to get them out of there. I took them out into the hall and told them I wanted to talk to them and I gave them some kind of story about you know, and Cathy, ‘This is my my uncle, I can this’-- I said ‘you’re uncle’s kind of, he doesn't--I don’t think he wants you here right now. I think it's best you leave, you know.’
HARRIS: And I didn’t know Johnny Curry -- I found out later who Johnny, was I knew what he was into but I found out later on that he was trying to ingratiate himself into the mayor’s family.
CURRY: I said this is my foot in the door now, there’s certain things I might want.
JOHN: Through Cathy, Johnny Curry got to know the mayor.
CURRY: Coleman, he has a little gangster in him, he wasn’t no, just push over. But I’ll put it like this here. He loved his niece and whatever she basically kind of said he went along with it. I'll put it like that. He loved her deeply.
JOHN: Eventually, Johnny and Cathy got married. And Johnny started to invest in legitimate businesses…like a nightclub.
CURRY: When I went for the liquor license and the gun permit, uh, when they shot me down the first time. You know how you go through the board and they shot me down.
JOHN: According to Johnny Curry, being married to the mayor's niece came with some perks...
CURRY: She just said something like, Johnny hold on a minute and then talked to him and next thing I know... I was granted my liquor license and I filed for the gun permit and I got it. It wasn’t a week. I didn’t even go through a federal background check.
JOHN: And when Cathy got pregnant, Mayor Young threw his favorite niece a baby shower at his official residence...
DREW: They apparently had a baby shower in the Manoogian Mansion when their first child was born, Cathy and Johnny. Were you there?
HARRIS: Yeah, I was there--there was a baby shower, now that you remind me.
JOHN: Again, Sergeant Jimmy Harris.
DREW: What was that like?
HARRIS: Nothing remarkable that I can recall.
DREW: I mean but it is a little out of the ordinary to have a drug dealer at the official residence of the mayor of Detroit, right?
HARRIS: Oh yeah.
DREW: That’s a little strange.
HARRIS: Oh yeah.
DREW: Did anybody--did that seem to raise concerns in anybody?
HARRIS: It did. There was small talk I guess, you know, whispers I guess but I wasn’t involved in any of that.
JOHN: By the mid-80s, the Curry Brothers had risen to the top of the drug game in Detroit. And with their success came increased scrutiny from law enforcement...
CURRY: And I was informed that they was watching me, I was informed that they had my stuff bugged. I was definitely informed. So I kept everything on the down low, on the phones. And so, when they said Johnny you’re being bugged in this and that. I took the heed to it.
JOHN: Johnny Curry says that he started to receive inside information from the cops...
ROB SZYPKO: Who told you that?
CURRY: Just one of the detectives, we’ll put it like that, a high ranking person in the police department.
JOHN: Jimmy Harris?
CURRY: We’ll put it high ranking--did Jimmy yeah a lot of police officers probably that i knew said to Johnny, Johnny they are watching you questions are being answered … It could have been Jimmy.
HARRIS: I would be naive to think that I didn't know what Johnny Curry was doing because Cathy had a lifestyle that was indicative of her company.
DREW: Um, so can we talk a little bit about the Damion Lucas case? Because is seems like that’s where all this kind of started with the FBI kind of getting interested...
HARRIS: I really can’t say anything too much about the Damion Lucas case because I don’t know that much about it. I wasn’t involved. I know about it now but I wasn’t involved in that so...
DREW: There’s just a couple times when your name comes up.
JOHN: The Damion Lucas case. Sergeant Jimmy Harris doesn’t want to talk about it. And neither does Johnny Curry.
JOHN: So I know this is a sensitive subject..
CURRY: I know what you're getting to but go ahead.
JOHN: That Leon Lucas he owed you and that there was retribution for that.
CURRY: I heard that.
JOHN: And that his house got shot up, and and and as a result of that you know he wasn’t there. But his nephews.
CURRY: Were there.
JOHN: Damion Lucas.
CURRY: Was there.
JOHN: Was the guy who got killed by accident.
CURRY: I heard that.
JOHN: So what’s--what what happened what’s the--
CURRY: What’s my take?
JOHN: What’s the truth?
JOHN: That’s next time...on Crimetown.
JOHN: Crimetown is Marc Smerling and Zac Stuart-Pontier. This season is made in partnership with Gimlet Media and Spotify.
It’s produced by Soraya Shockley, Rob Szypko, Samantha Lee, and me, John White.
The senior producer is Drew Nelles.
Editing by Zac Stuart-Pontier and Marc Smerling.
Fact-checking by Jennifer Blackman.
This episode was mixed and sound designed by Robin Shore and Sam Bair.
Original music this season composed by Homer Steinweiss.
We recorded some original music at Rustbelt Studios in Detroit, in partnership with Detroit Sound Conservancy. Special thanks to Carleton Gholz and Maurice “Pirahnahead” Herd.
Additional music by John Kusiak, Kenny Kusiak, Jon Ivans, and additional mixing by Bobby Lord.
Our theme song is “Politicians In My Eyes” by Death.
Our credit music this week is “Wacky World” written, produced and performed by Detroit Soul Ambassador Melvin Davis.
Archival research by Brennan Rees.
Archival footage courtesy of the Charles H. Wright Museum of African-American History and Kirk Cheyfitz.
Show art and design by James Cabrera and Elise Harven.
We’ve got a great website with bonus content for each episode like photos, videos, newspaper clippings, as well as a full list of credits and a transcript. Check it out at crimetownshow.com.
Thanks to the Detroit Free Press, Peter Bhatia, Jim Schaeffer, Mary Schroeder, Junfu Han, the Walter P. Reuther Library at Wayne State University, Mary Wallace, Melissa Samson, the Detroit Historical Society, Brendan Roney, Martin Torgler, Vince Wade, Bob Berg, Rashard Cardon, Charlie LeDuff, and everyone who shared their stories with us. Detroit is an amazing place, and we’re honored to tell a small part of its story.
Alex Blumberg is the podfather. Whenever he comes to our edits, we all get quiet. Now I don't go to God much because I don't want God to remember I'm here. I'm like, "Oh Lord, God please. Please, don't blow it!"
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