Fort Worth was the center of a heroin network called Green Dragon.

In November 1950, many years after the Green Dragon Gang’s heyday, Nelson Harris was killed in a car bombing. He was suspected of bribing police officers. The underworld had a far-reaching reach.

Fort Worth Star-Telegram Collection, Special Collections, University of Texas at Arlington Libraries

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Who knows? The “lumber for sale” signs of the late 1930s might have been code for “buy your heroin here,” or they might have just been a front for the $3 million (nearly $64 million in 2024 dollars) narcotics ring that operated out of a modest farmhouse on Randol Mill Road between Fort Worth and Arlington.

In any case, this was a fledgling operation aimed at taking over the business of a New York drug ring known for its “quality” heroin. The New York operators used a green dragon logo on the packaging of their products, indicating their quality. The Fort Worth ring mixed its heroin with more filler (producing a lower-quality product), but still used the green dragon logo.

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The Tarrant County Green Dragon network began in November 1937 with foreign heroin arriving through ports in Texas as well as New York, San Francisco and New Orleans. Many of the people involved had ties to organized crime in Chicago.

Not content with a slow delivery system, members of the Green Dragon team sometimes transported the product on air flights, carrying heroin in their briefcases and briefcases. Needless to say, airport security was almost non-existent in those days.

Green Dragon was essentially a distribution operation: it purchased large quantities of heroin and morphine, processed them for street sale, and then sold that product to street-level drug dealers.

Who were the actors in drug trafficking?

Phil Chadwick, who used at least 23 aliases, including “Pete Sheridan,” was the local boss of the gang. As Sheridan, he played the role of a farmer who bought cattle for the Randol Mill property. As Chadwick, he ran the drug ring’s operations and provided safe haven for his staff who were too close to capture.

Chadwick and his wife, May (or perhaps Thelma, it’s hard to determine), also rented a house at 5113 Pershing Ave. on the West Side, where Indigo Yoga is now located.

Nelson Harris, a local gambler, bouncer and restaurant and club manager, worked as Chadwick’s bodyguard, paid $25 a week, but was also responsible for delivering drug orders. He also had connections with the entertainers who worked at Casa Mañana in the late 1930s and invited them to frequent his establishments.

Club owner Nelson Harris was convicted of being Phil Chadwick’s bodyguard. Other defendants testified that he supplied them with heroin to distribute. Courtesy Fort Worth Star-Telegram Collection, Special Collections, University of Texas at Arlington Libraries

Another local couple involved in the operations was Marie and Dewey Ross. Marie Ross was addicted to heroin, which may have prompted the couple’s involvement. Chadwick reportedly contacted Dewey Ross by way of a torn dollar bill. Ross took a shopping trip to New York, where he saw his contact tear a dollar bill in half. The contact gave Ross half of the bill and told him that someone would contact him in Fort Worth.

Chadwick contacted Ross on June 20, 1938, and arranged a meeting at Seventh and Houston. When Ross arrived, Chadwick showed him the other half of the one-dollar bill. The two halves matched, allowing the Rosses to join Chadwick’s operation. The couple sometimes stayed at one of Randol Mill’s farms.

Also essential to Green Dragon operations was B.H. Schaffer, a Dallas-based federal narcotics agent. Schaffer offered Chadwick “protection and information” in exchange for payment.

BH Schaffer, a former federal narcotics agent who became a protection agent for the Green Dragon narcotics ring, was charged along with 28 others in the nationwide drug bust. Courtesy Fort Worth Star-Telegram Collection, Special Collections, University of Texas at Arlington Libraries

Accusations and trial

Phil Chadwick was taken in by a true-crime magazine. Jim S. Tomlin, an Arlington car salesman, saw Chadwick’s photo in an issue of Inside Detective magazine and recognized him as the “gentleman farmer” from Randol Mill that he knew as Pete Sheridan. The charade was over.

In May 1940, the feds filed an indictment naming 29 people, including the Chadwicks, the Rosses, and the Schaffers. One of the defendants was Jerry Siegel, who lived in Chicago. He was arrested and testified, but never went to trial. Siegel was shot to death at 2 a.m. on June 23, 1940, outside a Chicago hotel. These people didn’t beat around the bush.

Those named in the indictment were arrested in New York, Chicago, Dallas and Fort Worth.

Sensing danger, the Chadwicks fled to Chicago. May Chadwick, who was arrested at the couple’s apartment, was found to be carrying narcotics worth $75,000 (about $1.7 million today).

The trial was held in Fort Worth’s beautiful U.S. Courthouse, built in 1934 and overlooking Burnett Square. Both the Star-Telegram and the Fort Worth Press covered the trial in detail. A Star-Telegram photographer walked the hallway outside the courtroom, collecting photos of the defendants, who were accustomed to operating in the shadows.

Phil Chadwick and the other defendants faced 42 counts of violating the Harrison Drug Enforcement Act. Not all 29 defendants were present. Three remained at large, three were fighting extradition, and Siegel was dead. Still, it was one of the largest groups of defendants tried in the Northern District of Texas.

Phil and May Chadwick turn their backs to the camera during a break in their federal narcotics trial at the U.S. Courthouse in Fort Worth, June 1940. Courtesy Fort Worth Star-Telegram Collection, Special Collections, University of Texas at Arlington Libraries

May Chadwick testified that if the plane she was traveling on during a trip had crashed on the way back to Fort Worth, it would have “spread drugs all over Oklahoma.”

Marie Ross pleaded guilty and became a witness for the prosecution. Reporters adored the attractive young woman and hung on her every word. Ross spoke so quietly that the court had to install a sound system so she could be heard. Her testimony – like that of her husband – was detailed and damning to the other defendants.

The government’s case was successful. With the exception of one defendant who had simply rented the Pershing Avenue house to the Chadwicks, all were convicted. Thirteen were soon sent to Leavenworth. Six of the 21 convicted appealed, including May and Phil Chadwick, who had been sentenced to two and twelve years, respectively.

After exhausting all their appeals and facing federal prison sentences, the Chadwicks did what many career criminals have done: they disappeared.

The couple remained at large for nearly two years before being recaptured in Tacoma, Washington. Phil Chadwick was sent to McNeil Island Federal Prison in Washington State, while May Chadwick was sent across the country to a federal prison in West Virginia. There, she disappears from view.

Phil Chadwick served time in Washington, but apparently did not learn his lesson. In 1949 he was convicted of stealing narcotics from the Tacoma Drug Company and sentenced to three years in prison. After serving that sentence, he too disappeared.

Phil Chadwick looked a little worse for wear while serving time for robbing the Tacoma Drug Company in Washington State. He was paroled in 1951. Courtesy Washington State Penitentiary Records

Nelson Harris was not so lucky. After serving his sentence for Green Dragon activities in Leavenworth, Harris returned to Fort Worth and resumed his nightclub work. He was not arrested again. Harris and his wife were killed on November 22, 1950, by a dynamite car bomb.

His personal papers, which turned up in a lawyer’s office, suggested Harris may have been bribing police officers. The case was never solved, but it is clear that the underworld continued to monitor and did not approve of his activities.

Carol Roark is an archivist, historian, and author with a special interest in architectural history and photography who has written several books on the history of Fort Worth.