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Story Publication logo June 27, 2010

Blood Trade — Memphis and the Mexican drug war: A violent venture hits home

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A hardened criminal from the streets of Memphis. One of the biggest drug cartels in Mexico. The...


They found Marcus Turner in a ditch in Olive Branch, naked and shot to death.

It was the end of a young man's life and a grim reminder of a larger truth: The Mexican drug war isn't as far away as you might think.

The order that led to Turner's death was phoned in from Mexico, prosecutors say. They say the man on the other end of the line was Craig Petties, alleged to be one of the most powerful and violent drug entrepreneurs the area has ever seen.

The charges against Petties have not been proven, but what is clear is that he made an improbable journey from South Memphis to central Mexico and finally to a federal prison in Florida.

His story shows that the drug business is much like any other. The difference is that it's illegal, which makes violence one of the few ways to resolve business disputes.

Like any other business, it requires a distribution infrastructure -- Memphis has a good one.

It requires suppliers. Today, most drugs that arrive here come through Mexico, though they may originate in places like Colombia, law-enforcement officials say.

And like any business, it needs customers.

"(Colombians) say to me all the time, 'We don't think we have a drug problem. We think you have a drug problem,'" said Michael LaRosa, a Colombia expert at Rhodes College.

In the meantime, the lust for drug profits often leads to death.

A federal indictment accuses Petties and others of many crimes, including six killings in the Memphis area.

Petties allegedly ordered Turner's kidnapping because he believed Turner knew the location of a man who had stolen a big shipment of cocaine from his organization.

Petties' associates lured Turner into a meeting and kidnapped him at gunpoint around Sept. 19, 2006, the indictment says. On Sept. 27, a public works crew found the 30-year-old's body.

His mother was at her job at the West Memphis police and fire dispatch center when she got the call.

Someone from the Olive Branch police asked if she knew Marc Turner.

"Yes, that's my son," Lucy Turner recalled saying. "What's wrong with my son? Is he in the hospital. Or you got him in jail or is he dead?

"And he goes, 'I'm sorry.'"

Marcus Turner was an unlikely candidate to get involved in drug trafficking. His father, Robert Lloyd Turner, was a strict Baptist minister, said his mother, who has worked for years as an emergency services dispatcher.

But the minister died of a lung disease in 1985. Marcus was 9 at the time and his brother, Robert Lloyd Turner Jr., was 10.

"Robert would have fits," said Lucy Turner, a soft-spoken 59-year-old. "He was so hurt over it."

Over the years, she saw her boys drift into drugs and leave school. She worked long hours, which gave the boys time alone to get in trouble.

Her whippings seemed to make no difference, and she wishes a man had been around to help raise them.

Robert recently finished a six-year sentence for drug trafficking in an Ohio prison.

Marcus was involved in the same trade, and when he made his frequent visits home, his mother begged him to change...

Read the full story at The Commercial Appeal.

This article was also featured by The Tennessean and the Hattiesburg American.


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