Melvin Williams Biography

Drug Dealer, Actor (1941–)
Melvin Williams is best known for becoming Baltimore's biggest drug dealer throughout the 1970's and 1980's.


Melvin Williams was born in 1941 in Baltimore, Maryland. Known by the nickname, Little Melvin, Williams started gambling at a young age and transitioned to full time criminal life under the support of the Jewish gangster Juilus Salisbury. He decided to become the most successful drug dealer in Baltimore, which he did for about a decade, until being sent to prison.

Early Life

Known as "Little Melvin," Melvin Williams was born in 1941 in Baltimore, Maryland, and went on to become one of the top drug dealers in Baltimore during the 1970s and '80s. He was a bright child who had no interest in school. Instead, he focused on ways to use his smarts to earn money.

By the age of 15, Williams was a "world-class gambler." He first learned about gambling from his mother, who liked to play the numbers. After much practice, Williams taught himself how to work the dice in a craps game to his benefit. He also was adept at hustling pool games. With lots of money rolling in from his efforts, Williams dropped out of high school his junior year.

Mob Connections

With his skill for outwitting any opponent and any game, Williams was eventually taken under the wing of a local Jewish crime boss Julius "the Lord" Salisbury. The two met after Williams won the two different numbers games in the same week. Salisbury was connected to crime boss Meyer Lansky, and he helped advance Williams's criminal career.

In West Baltimore, Williams established himself as a powerful figure. People went to him for loans and to resolve issues. In March 1967, Williams was arrested for drug possession. He was later convicted, but he claimed that he was framed by the police officer. He was out on bail pending his appeal of the drug case when Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in April 1968. Riots broke out in West Baltimore, and the authorities could not quell the violence. They asked Williams for help. He told the crowds to stop, and the people soon left the streets.

Drug Crimes

In 1969, Williams began serving his 12-year sentence at the Maryland Penitentiary for the drug possession charge. He was released in 1974, and he emerged from prison with a new aspiration—"to be the world's best drug dealer."

According to some reports, Williams began selling 40 to 50 kilos of heroin a month, each with a street value of approximately $75,000. He was able to escape criminal prosecution for years by abiding to a set of rules, which included believing that every phone conversation was being listened to and every stranger was working for law enforcement.

After two of his dealers turned on him, Williams ended up being convicted of drug-related conspiracy charges in 1975. He was given a 15-year sentence and served several years before he was released. As soon as he was released in 1979, Williams returned to his life of crime and branched out into selling cocaine.

In 1984, Williams was arrested on conspiracy to distribute cocaine charges. He was convicted the following year and sentenced to 24 years in prison and 10 years of parole.

Paroled in 1996, Williams became a bail bondsman. He was arrested on a gun-possession charge in March 1999 for assaulting a man with a pistol and a stun gun during a dispute over a bail bond debt. After the first trial ended in a hung jury, Williams was convicted on the charge in October 1999.

In 2000, Williams received a 22-year sentence for his crime. The stiff penalty was the result of his status as a career criminal. "Melvin Williams was one of the biggest drug dealers in Baltimore for 20 years and is as responsible for the drug culture that is dragging this city down as anyone. He doesn't deserve a break. He doesn't deserve leniency," assistant U.S. attorney James M. Webster told the Baltimore Sun.

New Direction

Williams was released in January 2003 after a judge reduced his sentence to time served. After 38 months in prison, he claimed that he was going to take his life in a new direction. He had found religion and planned to do good works for the community. "Sometime in my 50s, I became aware that there was a God in charge, and not a Melvin," he told the court.

Serving as the inspiration for the character of Avon Barksdale, some of Williams's criminal exploits were featured in the HBO drama The Wire, which debuted in 2002. He also had a recurring role on the series, playing a church deacon. Former Baltimore police investigator Ed Burns and former Baltimore Sun reporter David Simon, both well acquainted with Williams, served as creators, producers and writers on the critically acclaimed series.

In 2006, Williams filed incorporation papers for a vocational training organization called Correct Choices Inc. He is also an active member of his church. Despite whatever amends he makes, Williams still helped build Baltimore's heroin and cocaine trade, which has left the city to struggle with the associated problems of drug-related violence and the social costs of addiction.

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