Leslie "Ike" Atkinson (November 19, 1925 - November 11, 2014) was a US Army master sergeant and convicted drug trafficker. He is believed to have been a major figure in smuggling heroin into the United States from Southeast Asia from about 1968 to 1975.
Atkinson's downfall came in 1975. A shipment of heroin was due to arrive at two addresses in Fayetteville, North Carolina, each belonging to elderly black women. An Army serviceman would come to pick up the shipments, saying it had been accidentally mailed to the wrong address. The plan had worked before, but this time one woman contacted the postal authorities; the other, fearing she had been sent a bomb, contacted the police. The police found Atkinson's palm prints on one of the heroin bags, and he was arrested on January 19, 1975, in his home in Goldsboro. He was convicted the following year and was sentenced to 31 years in prison. Atkinson was released in 2007.
The "Cadaver Connection" was a supposed heroin smuggling operation involving hiding heroin in the American serviceman's coffins. Frank Lucas, one of Atkinson's partners in the US, stated that this was how Ike smuggled the narcotic out of Thailand:
Ike flew a country-boy North Carolina carpenter over to Bangkok. We had him make up 28 copies of the government coffins... except we fixed them up with false bottoms, big enough to load up with six, maybe eight kilos... It had to be snug. You couldn't have shit sliding around. Ike was very smart, because he made sure we used heavy guys' coffins. He didn't put them in no skinny guys'....
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."
He (Leon) never had any association with constructing coffins for transporting heroin or drugs...[O]n the contrary, Leon was in Bangkok hollowing out teak furniture...One time, when I was in Bangkok, Frank came to visit. We used teak furniture to smuggle the heroin and we were getting a shipment ready. Frank barged in and went right to the back. 'What are you doing?' Frank asked me. I was caught off guard, and didn't want him to know how I was moving drugs. The only thing I could think of to say was: 'We are making coffins.'
Atkinson was charged in 1987, while in prison, for his part in 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 correctional officer, 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 Atkinson's nephew, Philip Wade Atkinson, 40, who bought the heroin from the undercover German diplomat at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, where he was arrested. Atkinson was released from prison in 2007, and died in November 2014 at the age of 88.
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