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Leslie "Ike" Atkinson is a former US Army sergeant and convicted drug trafficker, thought to have been a major figure in smuggling heroin into the United Statesmarker from about 1968 to 1975.

Criminal career

Ike Atkinson moved to Bangkokmarker, Thailandmarker in the mid-1960s and in 1968 moved into the drugs trade. Ike had a contact with the Golden Trianglemarker in the form of a Chinese Thai man named Luetchi Rubiwat, who worked and was a business partner in Jack's American bar, Atkinson's bar in Bangkok. Atkinson and his organization bought heroin at around US$4000 a kilogram before being cut four ways and transported to the United States using military personnel. After being flown over on US Air Force aircraft and going through various Army post offices, the heroin would arrive at Fort Bragg, North Carolinamarker and other military destinations before being sold to American distributors for US$25,000 a quarter kilo, for a profit of US$96,000.

Atkinson's downfall came in 1975. A shipment of heroin was due to arrive at two addresses in Fayetteville, North Carolinamarker, each belonging to elderly black women. An army serviceman would then come to pick up the shipments, saying it had been accidentally mailed to the wrong address. Although the plan had worked before, on this occasion one woman contacted the postal authorities while the other, believing she had been sent a bomb, contacted the police. The police found the heroin as well as Atkinson's palm prints on one of the bags, and he was promptly arrested on January 19, 1975 in his home in Goldsboromarker. He was convicted the following year, and sentenced to 31 years in prison. He was released in 2007.

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, but Atkinson's family deny there are any blood ties between the two. However, Frank Lucas claims that Ike is married to one of his cousins, which made him akin to family.

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:

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."

Retired police officer, Prince Everett Beasley, who served on the Fayetteville, N.C. Police Department from 1953 to 1973 has a different take on Ike's heroin smuggling ring. While on the force Beasley worked with one Helena Stoeckley, who was a drug informant (and suspect in the Dr. Jeffrey MacDonald murder case at Fort Bragg) from approximately 1968 until 1972. It was from Stoeckley that Beasley first heard about Ike Atkinson. Stoeckley claimed that Atkinson was a ring leader of a heroin smuggling ring located in Goldsboro, N.C., supposedly working out of Seymour Johnson Air Force Basemarker. Stoeckley went on to claim that people working for Atkinson were smuggling heroin in "the body cavities of the dead soldiers being returned by air from Viet Nam to the United States."


Atkinson was charged in 1987, while in prison, for his part in yet another heroin smuggling operation which he was allegedly running from prison. 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. 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. 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. Atkinson has recently been released from prison.

References in popular culture


  1. Ron Chepesiuk. "New Criminologist Special - Frank Lucas, “American Gangster,” and the Truth Behind the Asian Connection" New Criminologist January 17, 2008

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