Even though we love watching the hard-boiled gangster types on shows like "The Sopranos," it's hard to imagine the Mafia running crime in Little Rock. Chicago, New York, Miami, maybe.
But li'l ol' Little Rock?
Truth, they say, is sometimes stranger than fiction. In the December 1977 issue of the Arkansas Times, editor Bill Terry broke a story that sounded like a cross between "The Godfather" and "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" It was full of Mafiosi, hitmen and police officials dipping into the criminal underworld for assistance. The hardest thing for modern Arkansas readers to imagine about this story might just be that it was true.
The Times reported that December that two years earlier, on Feb. 24, 1975, then-Little Rock Police Chief Gale Weeks and police intelligence officer Forrest Parkman had taken a mysterious trip to New Orleans, ostensibly to attend what they billed as an "Organized Crime Conference."
What Weeks and Parkman had really done, the Times found out from U.S. Attorney W.H. "Sonny" Dillahunty, was go to the Big Easy to basically beg for their lives.
It turned out that organized crime figures in Little Rock - some of whom Parkman described as legitimate businessmen - weren't happy with the success of the Organized Crime Intelligence Unit. Set up on Weeks' watch and run by Parkman, the unit had been busily making inroads into Arkansas's prostitution and drug rackets for years, which didn't sit well with Little Rock's crime bosses. Finally, it was enough that one of them had arranged with the New Orleans mob to put a $100,000 hit on Parkman, and a $50,000 hit on Chief Weeks. After the OCIU learned that a known mob hit man had been spotted in Little Rock, the pair high-tailed it to New Orleans to try and talk the city's underworld boss, Carlos Marcello, into rescinding the hit.
As Parkman told the Arkansas Times, "I knew the hit man, the man who was going to kill me, and he was good. The contract went down in early 1975, and well, it was like this: There were local yokels running around telling people they had $50,000 in a suitcase saying it was for killing Parkman and Weeks."
Though Weeks and Parkman wouldn't talk much about what was said in their meeting with Marcello, their trip to the dark side of New Orleans apparently paid off. Shortly after the trip, in 1976, Parkman had a heart attack and left the Little Rock Police Department on a medical disability soon after. In March 1977, months before the Times article came out and after seven-and-a-half often-stormy years as chief of the LRPD, Gale Weeks was forced to retire under pressure from the Little Rock city board of directors.
Neither, however, caught the case of lead poisoning they had feared.
The Little Rock native is the first cartoonist to win the National Book Award. His graphic novel 'March,' the memoir of U.S. Rep. John Lewis, may well be the mother text for a new era of nonviolent resistance.