After a lucrative career as a thief, Charles Kennedy has an important realization: the real money is in drugs. He rises to become one of the East Coast’s biggest traffickers, throwing coke-fuelled parties and amassing a strange menagerie of pets. But his success attracts the wrong kind of attention.
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MICHELLE: At a very young age in my early 20, I was struggling financially. And I started working at the Foxy Lady in Rhode Island.
ZAC STUART-PONTIER: In the early 80s, Michelle was exotic dancer at a strip club in Providence.
MICHELLE: As I got to be comfortable in that exotic dancing world, I started little by little meeting the regulars there. You know, celebrities, high profile brokers, attorneys, slash, Rhode Island mob. They would always be sitting in the VIP. And then on occasions, they would bring in Charles Kennedy.
ZAC: Charles Kennedy was one of the thieves you met in a previous episode. They called him the Ghost, because he was so hard to catch.
MICHELLE: My first impression impression of Charles was that he was a cross between an illegal James Bond and Dracula.
He was very mysterious to me. He was very calm and collected, he didn’t say much when he was in the Foxy Lady, but a girl told me, “Well, do you know what he does? He has parties.”
ZAC: So, one night, after work, Michelle and her friend went to one of these parties.
MICHELLE: I have to tell you, I was a little terrified at first. Gargoyles at his front door, having wolves surrounding my car. I would go in the house.
There would be girls, naked, walking around, and I was like, “Okay.” The drugs were everywhere. Yes. Wherever you wanted them to be, they were there.
Oh, the dungeon too, that basement of his, wow. He had a beautiful gold Jacuzzi, black silk wallpaper with gold trim.
You know, it was a fantasy for me, it was exciting for me. I was young, I wanted to have fun, and it was like something out of Scarface.
MARC SMERLING: In the early 1980s, drugs were the hottest new criminal enterprise in Providence.
And Charles Kennedy was at the forefront..
CHARLES: Charles “the Ghost” Kennedy. Burglar, drug dealer, drug smuggler.
MARC: But his newfound power and wealth… would attract some unwanted attention… not only from the cops but from the old-school mobster who’d given him his start.
ZAC: Today’s episode: The rise of Charles Kennedy…..Drugs, parties, and a pack of wolves. I’m Zac Stuart-Pontier.
MARC: And I’m Marc Smerling. Welcome to Crimetown.
CHARLES: Early on, I developed quite a talent for shoplifting and being able to steal just about anything that was locked up.
ZAC: By the time Charles was 18, he had already developed a reputation as a clever young thief. And one day, he was summoned to the Adult Correctional Institutions… to meet one of the most powerful figures in the New England mob, Gerard Ouimette. The man who ran the prison for Raymond Patriarca.
CHARLES: And Gerard came walking out. He had this fierceness about his eyes and his demeanor. Very intimidating. And he introduced himself to me. I heard a lot of good things about you, and I got a good feeling about you. So he romanced me and said, I think we can make some money. This is what we gotta do.
MARC: You used to provide him, in prison, with things that he needed? Contraband.
CHARLES: I was smuggling in cases of scotch. I would go to the supermarket and I would buy cases of Hi-C fruit drink. And I had a way where I could pump out all the Hi-C, empty the can. So, now I got an empty the can, now I gotta steam off the labels, I gotta make ‘em look nice, look like they weren’t breached. From there, I would take a little drill and a pump and I’d put the tube down and I would transfer the liquor into the Hi-C can. And It was tedious work. It took hours. Now I gotta go to maximum security where nothing is supposed to get through there, no contraband at all. And I had no problems, the cops there, okay, they’d just bring it through.
ZAC: Charles gained Ouimette’s trust. And eventually, Ouimette started to give Charles more responsibility.
CHARLES: Ouimette had his own bookmaking operation, which I took over in the ‘70s. I worked for him. And a bookmaking operation would be small bars, taverns, and they would take sporting good bets. My job was, on a Saturday afternoon, to collect all the money. My job also was to make payoffs to who won the various bets. It was a lot of responsibility and it also drew a lot of heat from law enforcement, it was risky, it was risky, but I always was very good at what I did.
ZAC: Charles did well working for Ouimette. But, like any good wiseguy, he was always looking for his next opportunity.
MARC: So… why drugs? When did that come into your life?
CHARLES: Good. Excellent, excellent. The money’s just too good. It’s too irresistible.
ZAC: Charles was introduced to the drug business from someone in his old burglary crew: the bug man, Bucky Barrett.
CHARLES: Bucky had said to me, he goes, “I got marijuana.” He goes, “You know, if you could move some, ask your friends. Real casual. No pressure. Ask around.” This was in ‘78 or so. I didn’t know anything about drugs, wasn’t my thing.
Okay, so what do you do? You go to your friend who smokes weed. And in this case it was a guy named Jimmy Rabbit. Childhood friend, grew up with him. I go to Jimmy, I go, hey Rab, can you use any stuff? He says yeah, bring it down. Okay, I got the five pounds, I go to Rabbit’s house.
He said, “This stuff is beautiful.” he goes. And it was green, it was Colombian, it smelled fresh. And the price I gave him, he never had a price like that. It took off. I got that quickly involved in marijuana just by that one move.
And out of that period, while we’re doing the marijuana, Bucky says, “Well, you got any friends that want some cocaine?” He gave me either gave me a half ounce or an ounce. But he did tell me, if you get some powder, you cut it up, you can increase your profits. Next thing I know I’m buying a scale.
And I’m gonna buy my first kilo of cocaine. My first key was 62,500. It was all the money in the world. And I made over 22,000 profit on it. It was that easy? Like that? There was no stopping. No stopping.
ZAC: And Charles realized he’d need someone to help with his growing drug business. Someone to deal with customers who didn’t pay on time. And he found the perfect candidate.
AL BLAMIRES: Once I went into the police station, they took my jacket off, I had a fuckin’ meat hook in this pocket, an ice pick in this pocket, a fuckin black jack in this pocket. The cop looked at me, he says, What the fuck are you?!
ZAC: Meet…Big Al Blamires. Al is six foot two, 285 pounds. And he looks like a walking refrigerator. He was Charles’s enforcer and a street dealer for over a decade.
AL: When I met Charles he was gold around his neck, he made Mr. T look like a fuckin’ dope the stuff he had on.
ZAC: Charles and Al hit it off right away. They even gave each other nicknames.
AL: Cuz. He called me Cuz. So I started to call him Uncle, like my Uncle Gary.
He says, Cuz, he says here, see if you could earn a little with this. I was never involved with the drugs but just try it. See what happens.
ZAC: Charles gave Al an ounce of cocaine.
AL: I told a few people Friday night, the fucking thing was gone in 15 minutes. My pockets were full of money. I said, I can’t believe this!
I started off at 1 oz., then I went up to maybe 10-12 oz., then he’d give me the bags. I was making like 10, 15 thousand a week. It was unbelievable, it was flying off the — I couldn’t keep up with it.
ZAC: And after all these years, Charles and Al are still friends.
CHARLES: Look who’s here!
AL: Jesus Christ, Uncle. What’s up? UNCLE!!! They ain’t get us yet, and they ain’t gonna get us.
ZAC: Charles and Al take us on a tour of their old stomping grounds — Oakland Beach.
AL: Warm weather’s all done, after today, ain’t it uncle?
ZAC: This is where Charles developed his first network of dealers. They point out vacant lots and rundown buildings.
CHARLES: There was a bar here that’s no longer there, there was a bar here, that was a bar, the one across the street was a bar. Everywhere I could throw a stone in any direction, and all of these guys were buying my merchandise and selling.
AL: ‘Cause it was the best merchandise, uncle, that’s why.
CHARLES: If you were buying coke in the ‘80s, there’s a good chance it went through my hands.
ZAC: And when someone stepped out of line, there was always Big Al…
AL: There was some guy in Warwick, they used to, what was his name…
CHARLES: Oh, Krusty.
AL: Krusty! Krusty the Klown. I guess he was delinquent with the payment or there were some problems with him and the Ghost, so I had to go talk to him. So I pulled up, I got out, I walk in, bang on the fuckin’ door, Krusty comes to the door, I grab him, I start slapping him in the face, I throw him down, and all of a sudden, his wife…there must have been six people in there! They’re jumping all over me, I threw one through the fucking screen, they were all screaming. I grabbed Krusty and I dragged him down the porch steps. And it was a sunny day and this truck was brand new right off the lot. I said, Uncle, can I buff out the brand new fender with his head? I’m rubbing him on the side of the truck. I couldn’t stop! Then I just threw Krusty down and we left.
CHARLES: And he went into the crab position and tried… Oh, that was a memorable day.
AL: What a day that was, ain’t it, Uncle? What a day.
ZAC: With his network of local dealers, and Big Al’s muscle, Charles started making a lot of money.
But by the mid-80s, he saw an even bigger opportunity… Moving from drug dealing in Rhode Island to drug smuggling across state and international borders.
And it was this move… that would put him head to head with his old bosses in the Patriarca crime family.
That’s coming up after the break.
ZAC: Welcome back.
Charles Kennedy had started out selling a few pounds of marijuana. Then he moved to kilos of cocaine and eventually built a network of dealers across Rhode Island. Now he wanted to expand the operation… and become a drug smuggler.
CHARLES: The first thing is, you have to establish relations with a good contact. And there’s that element of trust. You just can’t go to a source country or state with conversation. You need money. You need a couple hundred thousand dollars.
ZAC: So Charles headed south . . . with a suitcase full of money.
CHARLES: I went with this kid Rodrigo. And first we had to go speak in Panama. He had a relative that was in high-ranking military there. They were tied in, they were huge. From there we went over to Colombia, in Medellin, and we went into this fish market and they had brought me into a walk-in freezer. “Carlito, we want to show you something.” “Oh, sure.” Open the freezer doors, about the size of this room, 20 by 20 room here, from the floor to the ceiling was just kilos of cocaine. It was just like incredible.
ZAC: Once Charles trusted his supplier, he’d send the money through couriers. And to dupe airport security, he often recruited beautiful women for the job.
CHARLES: The cash couriers, the girls, I would strategically place on their bodies, either a hundred or a hundred and fifty thousand, in different denominations. I had waistbands and rubber workout bands and velcro strips and I would buy them like a very expensive leisure jogging suit, I guess you would call it. Off they go the airport. And that is primarily the couriers for my money.
ZAC: After the money was paid, there was the small detail of getting the drugs back to Providence.
CHARLES: That’s a nightmare. Because you’re relinquishing control.
ZAC: Charles transported drugs on planes and in shipping containers, but most of the time… he hired drivers.
CHARLES: I’m not driving that truck, I’m not driving that automobile, that RV. It’s your driver. So you’ve got to be like the coach. You gotta say, look, you drive from 8 in the morning till 4 in the afternoon, you go to the motel. You never speed. You don’t draw attention to yourself. You don’t drink. You don’t do anything. And I had some pretty good people working for me. And it worked.
ZAC: By the late 1980s…. Charles had grown his operation into a multi-million dollar empire. Every month, he was bringing in large shipments of marijuana and cocaine.
And his lifestyle started to get more extravagant. He bought cars, suits, jewelry. And….the fancy house you heard about at the top of the show.
MARC: Can you give a description of your house in East Greenwich?
CHARLES: Castle Dracula?
I remember the first time I pulled into this house and it was to me the coolest house I’d ever seen. I was eight years old.
ZAC: When Charles was a kid a family friend used to take him fishing on the property.
CHARLES: It was beautiful, it was set in the woods. And it had a long driveway and the privacy and it was surrounded by hundreds of acres and the place had stone work and it had its own little pond.
I remember saying, I’m gonna buy this house someday.
And you talk about fate? 20 years later, I’m looking to buy my own house. And I didn’t want to live, to have next door neighbors. The realtor says, there just came up a listing, you might be interested in it, it’s a little secluded. I said, let’s go. And I look at the place, I go, I was here when I was a kid. I had completely forgot about this place. I bought it. I bought that house.
ZAC: And the house was the perfect place for an extremely cautious drug trafficker. Since it was surrounded by trees and protected by a long driveway, it was nearly impossible to surveil.
And …there was a lot of room…for some pets.
MARC: Why wolves?
CHARLES: Ah, the wolves.
Since I was a kid I associated with them, I just loved the animal. What a magnificent creature, how independent they were, so free, so wild. And I said when I get money, I’m gonna get some wolves. And I see a guy up in Maine who’s selling hybrids. So, I call the guy. And I said, “Jeez, I’m interested. Not so much in hybrids but a pure wolf.” And he says, “Well, I have them but I really can’t sell them. It’s against the law.” Long story is, money talks. I got my wolves off him.
And it was great. You know, you’d listen to them at night. I loved to hear them song, I love to be up close with them, I like bonding with them. I’d go in there and I’d feed them and I’d let them out and I’d run with them at night. The bond was unbreakable. It was really special.
ZAC: The wolves became another part.. of Charles’s mystique. And so did something else he had at his house.
CHARLES: Mmm. Hedonism.
Lot of music. Lot of drugs. Lot of alcohol. No inhibitions. Wall to wall naked girls. Strippers. Beautiful girls. I don’t drink. I don’t do drugs. But I do fuck. I do love my girls.
We’d get all dressed up, just coming from the club, we’re running around, having fun, doing coke.
ZAC: Again, Michelle, the exotic dancer from the Foxy Lady.
MICHELLE: I have to say even though in Charles’ house there was a lot of sex going on, a lot of stuff like that, I didn’t put myself into that.
I did walk around topless, I did you know have fun partying.
It kind of pulled you in, you know you didn’t want to leave.
ZAC: And these parties were popular. Charles has shown us photos of guys who would go on to become prominent Rhode Island politicians and high-profile criminal lawyers…all partying at his house. Some of them are still in office today.
MICHELLE: They all partied, they all were there, they wanted to be around pretty girls obviously, they wanted to, naked girls walking around who wouldn’t? That’s why they were there.
ZAC: But becoming the state’s largest drug supplier had an obvious downside.
CHARLES: Wasn’t easy being the top dog. In Rhode Island, this little fishbowl we live in, there’s so much jealousy, especially organized crime factions. They know you’re doing well, word gets around. Lawyers tell them, people tell them, strippers tell them, party girls tell them. They all want a piece.
ZAC: One of the guys who wanted a piece? Charles’s old mob boss. Gerard Ouimette.
Ouimette was out of prison, and he learned that Charles had moved way beyond sneaking Scotch into the ACI. That he was making big money. And Ouimette wanted a share.
CHARLES: One night, I’m driving him home, he lived in Swansea, Mass. So, 2 o’clock in the morning and he’s drunk, and he says to me, You are going to kick in. Fuck you. I’m not paying tribute to anyone. He says, You know, all I need is a car to follow us. You pull over to the side of the road, and I blow your fucking brains out. And I get in the other car. He goes, That’s how easy it is for me. This is the type of guy. This is what he was. He never had friends, he killed all his friends.
BRIAN ANDREWS: We got some information that Gerard wanted to dump him.
ZAC: This is Brian Andrews, former detective commander for the Rhode Island state police. He heard through an informant that Ouimette had put a contract out on Charles.
BRIAN: And with that information I went out looking for Kennedy, got him on the go. So I stopped him. And I told him we had information that Gerard was gonna kill him.
CHARLES: Brian Andrews, Detective Commander, he pulled me over. He says “They are gonna kill you. I gotta tell you, they will kill you.” I’m like “Okay, Brian. I can take care of this.”
BRIAN: Charles would never tell you anything, he was kind of a smart ass. I told him I wanted to take a picture of his hand so when we found his body, we’d be able to identify him by the rings he had on.
CHARLES: Brian actually took a picture of my hand with the jewelry. He says “That’s so we can identify your fucking dead body. Your hand. Your jewelry.” Thanks, Brian!
ZAC: Charles was feeling the pressure.
MARC: You must have been looking over your shoulder the whole time.
CHARLES: I was. It was not a good feeling. You’re not only worried about the police, the state police, the local police, the Feds, the DEA. You gotta worry about your friends saying the wrong thing. You gotta worry about your enemies, powerful enemies, killing you. It was a lot of stress.
ZAC: And as Michelle learned one night, even Charles’s beloved wolves weren’t safe.
MICHELLE: I will never forget this moment when I went over to his house. I was by myself and the door was open, he didn’t even come to the door. I saw some tissues around and it was very dark and I said to him, “What’s going on?” One of the cops killed his prize possession female wolf.
CHARLES: One of my favorites, I have a picture of her somewhere. Tatiana, it was a female wolf, and she had disappeared. And boy, I got an uneasy feeling, I’m out in the kennel. And I heard two gunshots…they got her. And I was real upset over that one cause that animal was very special to me.
MICHELLE: And he said, “Would you believe that they made a gloating comment to me and said, ‘I have a lead bullet for your wolves and a silver bullet for you.'” And my heart broke.
ZAC: For people like Michelle, the glamour was fading.
MARC: When did you know it was too much?
MICHELLE: When I wouldn’t leave his house. When I would have to call my ex-husband up because I couldn’t make it to pick up my son. Your head’s so full of cocaine and alcohol. Even if you’re not drinking for a week, you’re still like, what am I gonna do with my life now, being a young mother? I was one of the ones that just lingered around. There were so many people coming in and out. If it wasn’t me it was another girl. If it wasn’t another girl, it’d be another girl. But always the same faces. And…feeling like shit. Feeling hopeless, helpless. Alone. When you’re living in that type of world, you’re gonna crumble. I don’t care who you are. I don’t care who you are. You’re gonna crumble. Nothing like that will last forever.
ZAC: Charles was growing more and more isolated. His old friends in the mob wanted him dead. The cops wanted him behind bars. He retreated to the safety of his secluded house.
CHARLES: I recall this particular day, it was in the summer. I would spend a lot of time in the kennel with the wolves.
And this blackhawk helicopter, unusually low altitude off the deck, I’d say about 150 feet. And I look in it and I see a face that I thought I recognized and he’s looking back at me. I froze and I froze in that stare. I said I know that face and I got a bad feeling about it instantly. It was a DEA agent and I said this is trouble. They were thorough and they were intense and they were gonna stop me.
MARC: They were on you.
CHARLES: They were on me big time.
MARC: Charles will be back in future episodes… But next time on Crimetown, prosecutors build a case against mob boss Raymond Patriarca. And they come up against some stiff resistance… his doctor.
BARBARA: I said to him at one point, Raymond, you’ll go to trial over my dead body. He got a big kick out of that.
ZAC: Crimetown is me, Zac Stuart-Pontier and Marc Smerling,
We are produced by Drew Nelles, Austin Mitchell, Kaitlin Roberts and Mike Plunkett. Our associate producer is Laura Sim.
We’re edited by Alex Blumberg and Caitlin Kenney.
Fact-checking by Mick Rouse.
This episode of Crimetown was mixed, sound designed, and scored by Matthew Boll.
Additional mixing by Kenny Kusiak, Martin Peralta and Enoch Kim.
Additional sound design by Ted Robinson at Silver Sound.
Our title track is “Run To Your Mama” by Goat.
The opera track is “Un ballo in maschera” composed by Giuseppe Verdi Performed by Melanie Henley Heyn & the Slovak National Opera Orchestra.
The credit music is “Full Blown Addict” by Marty King.
Original music by John Kusiak, Kenny Kusiak, Jon Ivans, Edwin and Bienart.
Our ad music is by Matthew Boll.
Our digital editor is Kate Parkinson-Morgan. Our design director is Ale Lariu.
Alex Blumberg is The Podfather. He doesn’t drink, he doesn’t do drugs, but he does like to, well…
This season of Crimetown is dedicated to the memory of Bill Malinowski.
Thanks to the Providence Journal, Julia Heymans, Emily Wiedemann, Lisa Newby, Mary Murphy, and everyone who shared their stories with us.
For a full list of credits, and for bonus content from this episode, visit our website at crimetownshow.com.
You can find us on Twitter @crimetown, and on Facebook and Instagram @crimetownshow.
And if you’re enjoying Crimetown, leave us a rating and review on iTunes. It really helps others find out about the show. Thanks.
Providence is a special place, and we’re honored to tell a part of its story.
CHARLES: Cuz and I one time, we’re gonna show you, the guy, the Captain. Guy lives in this house right here, and he was buying…there he is right there! There’s the Captain!
AL: There’s the Captain! There’s the fucking Captain! I thought I recognized the face! He hasn’t changed in the head area, ain’t it, Uncle? Just a little white hair. Let me go hug him, pick him up, Uncle. Sure! Capitan!
CHARLES: No, he’s really scared.
AL: He wasn’t scared when he was riding around with four kilos. He wasn’t scared then. Fucking riding around for hours.