Rude boys—to those who didn’t live among them, myself included, it’s easy to think of these gangsters as the stylized suave icons we see in illustrations with sunglasses and suits. Or we might think they were like Johnny Too Bad, looting and shooting, but still the stuff of legend, the stuff of myth, the Rhygings or Ivanhoes. Rude boys were real, and many of them were real bad, not as in bad/cool but as in bad/murderers. Rude boys were known align themselves with a sound system operator and defend his turf from opposing rude boys, which is how they came to be associated with the music. Plus, they became part of the music itself by becoming the topic of numerous songs, which I will address in a moment before I share an article about a real rude boy crime.
But first, Historian Garth White wrote in 1967 that a rude boy is a “person, native, who is totally disenchanted with the ruling system; who generally is descended from the ‘African’ elements in the lower class and who is now armed with ratchets (German made knives), other cutting instruments and with increasing frequency nowadays with guns and explosives.” White noted that rude boys had similar characteristics, such as similar shoes, hats, music, and stripped motorbikes which served to bind the rude boys together in a community. Rude boys committed minor crimes, such as jumping on the back of a streetcar for a free ride, but other times they were much more violent and committed severe crimes such as murder of fellow rude boys or innocent schoolgirls. Well-known rude boy gangs were the Charles Street Spanglers, Phoenix, Skull, and Vikings.
Now, to the music—perhaps the most well-known rude boy songs were made between Derrick Morgan and Prince Buster who shared a rivalry, a musical stick fight. Derrick Morgan’s “Tougher Than Tough” addresses rude boys directly with a judge speaking at the beginning of the song to the gangsters brought in for using ratchets and throwing bombs. Their reply to the judge that “rudies don’t fear” inspired the marginalized youth in Jamaica who turned to crime, and egged on Prince Buster who responded with his Judge Dread songs. Judge Dread was a character in Prince Buster’s songs who sentenced the rude boys, regardless of their pleas for mercy and even crying, to such unreasonable sentences as 400 years behind bars.
While Morgan and Prince Buster had their share of back-and-forth songs referencing rude boys and Judge Dread, there were plenty of rude boy songs that either supported the rude boy culture, or denounced it. They reflected the violence of the times, asking the youth to simmer down and put away their ratchets, or they glorified gangsters and stylized criminals with songs like Prince Buster’s “Al Capone and “007 (Shanty Town),” “Rude Boy Train,” and “Rudy Got Soul” by Desmond Dekker, but there were many more that warned of the rude boy lifestyle. “Cry Tough” and “Dance Crasher” by Alton Ellis, “No Good Rudie” by Justin Hinds, “Cool Off Rudies” by Derrick Morgan, “Don’t Be a Rude Boy” by the Rulers, and dozens of others.
Without further ado, I would like to share an article from the Daily Gleaner, December 10, 1968, that tells of a real rude boy crime—a murder, which began at a sound system dance. Alton Ellis’s “Dance Crasher” apparently fell on deaf ears when it came to these two brothers, Eddie and George Fraser and their rude boy friends.
Inquiry begins into shooting of coconut vendor
A preliminary inquiry began in the No. 3 Sutton Street on Tuesday before Mrs. Myrtle Mason, Resident Magistrate, into the fatal shooting of a coconut vendor, Artell Brown, 29, of a Stephen Street address, in August of this year.
Before the Court were, Eddie Fraser, Aston Young, George Fraser, John Graham and Harvey Reid, charged with murder and robbery with aggravation.
Joscelyn Coot of Tivoli Gardens gave evidence that he went to a dance on King Street on Friday, August 23, where he saw Aston Young and the two Frasers–Eddie Fraser had a gun in his hand and George Fraser said that no one could harm them. Eddie and George Fraser, and Aston Young left the dance and the witness said he left with them too.
Coot said that they went down to King Street and on to Heywood Street where Eddie Fraser said that he wanted a coconut and bought it while he, witness, and Aston Young stood at the corner. The man asked for his money and witness said that the man moved towards Eddie Fraser and he was shot by Fraser.
Cross-examined by Mr. Maurice Tenn, counsel for Eddie Fraser, witness said that he too was arrested and taken to the Denham Town police station, but was released.
A domestic servant, Nonna Smith, said that she was going to buy cigarettes when she heard an explosion. She went to where she thought the sound came from and saw a crowd there. Someone whom she knew as Artell was lying on the ground, she said. Smith said she saw two men running up Rose Lane, but could not recognize any of them. Smith said she later attended an identification parade and picked out Harvey Reid as one of the men who she saw walking along Heywood Street.
Carlton McBridge told the court that he was the man who operated the sound system at the dance at 145 King Street on August 23. He saw Eddie Fraser and George Fraser there that night. Eddie Fraser had a gun in his hand in front of a girl. Fraser spoke to her and she ran. Both Frasers then went outside. Witness said, when cross-examined by Mr. Tenn, that he did not see Coot there that night. Re-examined by Mrs. Shirley Playfair Clerk of the Courts he said that if Coot was there he would most naturally have seen him.
Dr. Noel March, pathologist who performed the post mortem examination deposed as to the injuries he found on the deceased.
Iona Eldermire, office maid of 26 Stephen Street, Kingston, told the court that it was she who identified the dead body of Artell Brown.
Julius Vassell, a coconut vendor, told the court that both he and Artell were buying coconuts when a man came up to Artell and told him to give him what he had. He heard a voice saying to “bum the man” and Artell was shot. Vassell identified Eddie Fraser as the man who shot Artell.
Continuing, Vassell said that Artell fell to the ground after being shot and both he and Artell were robbed. Cross-examined, Vassell said that no one ordered nor drank a coconut.
Raymond Boucher deposed that George Fraser, whom he knew as Danny, slept at his house three nights. On a Friday morning Danny got up and sat at the doorway with a gun. He pulled “a thing” from the gun and put four “little things” in it. Danny then left the house.
The next day, Boucher said, Danny called him and told him that he knew about the shooting; that it was not he who had done it but Eddie. Harold Williams also gave a deposition. The hearing will continue December 30.
Counsel who appeared at the inquiry were Mr. Tenn, who appeared for Eddie Fraser, Mr. Anthony Spaulding for Aston Young, Miss Gloria Thompson for George Fraser, Mr. W. K. Chin See for John Graham, and Mr. Ian Ramsay, Q.C., for Harvey Reid.
Incidentally, the counsel for Aston Young, Mr. Anthony Spaulding, is the very same defense attorney, along with P.J. Patterson, who represented Don Drummond in July, 1966 in his murder trial. And Pathologist Noel March who is cited above is the very same Noel March that the defense, Anthony Spaulding and P.J. Patterson, used in Don Drummond’s murder trial to present testimony on the examination of Anita Mahfood’s wounds.
Eddie Fraser was found guilty of the murder and was sentenced to death, hanged on January 19, 1971. George Fraser, his younger brother, was sentenced to 12 years hard labor. Mr. Justice Parnell, the judge in No. 1 Home Circuit Court, made comments in sentencing George Fraser might remind one of Judge Dread issuing his sentences of 400 years to Lord Grab and Flee, although it is a bit more based in reality rather than fantasy.
“What we are lacking in Jamaica today is strong discipline. I may be old fashioned but that is what I have been brought up on but the young boys and girls of today decide to take charge of the country and do it their way. They get their guns and knives and walk about and terrorize people, shooting and killing, and when they come before the court and are convicted, their youth is urged as strong ground for dealing leniently with them. As far as this case is concerned, I can see no ground why I should not pass a salutary sentence on you. This man’s life was snuffed out in a jiffy while you and the other man were pursuing your wrong,” said Judge Parnell in the Daily Gleaner, June 4, 1969.