World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article

Ike Atkinson

Leslie Atkinson
Born 1925
Goldsboro, North Carolina
Died November 11, 2014
Goldsboro, North Carolina
Other names Ike
Sergeant Smack[1]
Occupation Former drug smuggler
Criminal charge Drug Trafficking

Leslie "Ike" Atkinson was a US Army master sergeant and convicted drug trafficker, believed to have been a major figure in smuggling heroin into the United States from Southeast Asia from about 1968 to 1975.[1]


  • Criminal career 1
  • Relationship to Frank Lucas 2
  • Cadaver Connection 3
  • Prison 4
  • In popular culture 5
  • References 6

Criminal career

Atkinson moved to US Air Force aircraft, the heroin would eventually arrive at Fort Bragg, North Carolina and other military bases and be sold to American distributors for US$25,000 a quarter kilo, netting a profit of about US$96,000 per kilo.

Atkinson's downfall came in 1975. A shipment of heroin was due to arrive at two addresses in Fayetteville, North Carolina, each belonging to elderly black women.[1] An Army serviceman would come to pick up the shipments, saying it had been accidentally mailed to the wrong address. The plan had worked before, but this time one woman contacted the postal authorities; the other, fearing she had been sent a bomb, contacted the police. The police found Atkinson's palm prints on one of the heroin bags, and he was arrested on January 19, 1975 in his home in Goldsboro. He was convicted the following year and was sentenced to 31 years in prison. Atkinson was finally released in 2007.[2]

Relationship to Frank Lucas

According to the DEA Atkinson was in fact the main supplier of heroin to Harlem drug lord Frank Lucas after the two met in Bangkok around 1974. Atkinson takes issue with the most famous aspect of Lucas' operation, the so-called "Cadaver Connection" in which heroin was smuggled in the coffins of dead American soldiers coming back from Vietnam, instead claiming he smuggled the drugs inside furniture.

In the 2007 film American Gangster, Atkinson is represented by the character Nate, played by Roger Guenveur Smith. The film depicts Nate as being Lucas' cousin: However, Frank Lucas claims that Ike is married to one of his cousins, which made him akin to family.[3]

Cadaver Connection

The Cadaver Connection was a supposed heroin smuggling operation involving hiding heroin in the American serviceman's coffins. Frank Lucas, one of Ike's partners in the US, claims that this is how Ike smuggled the narcotic out of Thailand:

Ike flew a country-boy North Carolina carpenter over to Bangkok. We had him make up 28 copies of the government coffins... except we fixed them up with false bottoms, big enough to load up with six, maybe eight kilos... It had to be snug. You couldn't have shit sliding around. Ike was very smart, because he made sure we used heavy guys' coffins. He didn't put them in no skinny guys'....
— Frank Lucas [3]

But Atkinson who used his lifelong friend Leon as the carpenter claims he never used coffins to smuggle the heroin, "It is a total lie that's fueled by Frank Lucas for personal gain. I never had anything to do with transporting heroin in coffins or cadavers."[4]

He (Leon) never had any association with constructing coffins for transporting heroin or drugs, On the contrary, Leon was in Bangkok hollowing out teak furniture.” [The coffin rumor was probably a misunderstanding] “One time, when I was in Bangkok, Frank came to visit. We used teak furniture to smuggle the heroin and we were getting a shipment ready. Frank barged in and went right to the back. ‘What are you doing?’ Frank asked me. I was caught off guard, and didn’t want him to know how I was moving drugs. The only thing I could think of to say was: ‘We are making coffins.’
— Ike Atkinson [1]


Atkinson was charged in 1987, while in prison, for his part in yet another heroin smuggling operation which he was allegedly running from prison.[5] He was charged following a 15-month investigation where an undercover agent, posing as a corrupt German diplomat bought five pounds of heroin on Atkinson's behalf in Thailand.[5] Six other inmates and a correctional officer were also charged. The CO, Samuel Arrante, 36, was charged because he was smuggling the letters out of prison to prevent the authorities from reading the letters.[5] Also charged was Mr. Atkinson's nephew, Philip Wade Atkinson, 40, who bought the heroin from the undercover German diplomat at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, where he was immediately arrested.[5] Atkinson has recently been released from prison.[4]

In popular culture

  • The concept of smuggling drugs from Vietnam via dead soldiers is referenced in Tom Clancy's book Without Remorse.
  • A similar plot was used in the 1980s television show Miami Vice in the episode titled "Back In The World" (first aired December 6, 1985). Vietnam war correspondent Ira Stone (Bob Balaban), who is investigating a series of drug-related deaths involving methanol poisoning, the byproduct of a decomposing drug stash that had been brought back to Miami more than 10 years earlier in the bodies of dead GIs. The investigation leads to a character known as "The Sargeant," who turns out to be a rogue CIA agent named Col. Maynard. The lethal drug stash is uncovered, but Maynard escapes, only to re-appear later in the series in the episode "Stone's War" (first aired October 3, 1986) running an illegal mercenary operation in support of the Contras in Nicaragua.
  • In the movie American Gangster (which is based on the life and times of Frank Lucas), his on-screen counterpart "Nate" is played by Roger Guenveur Smith.


  1. ^ a b c d
  2. ^
  3. ^ a b
  4. ^ a b
  5. ^ a b c d
This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from Project Gutenberg are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.