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THE TRIALS OF WHITE BOY RICK (The Atavist, published Sep. 2014)

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It was the spring of 1987, and crack cocaine had turned whole swaths of Detroit into veritable combat zones. The city thought it had seen everything—until one evening that May, when the police arrested a 17-year-old kid named Rick Wershe.

They called him White Boy Rick. In a city known for its fraught racial divide, Wershe had somehow joined the ranks of the drug kingpins on the predominantly black East Side before he was old enough to shave. He flew in kilos of cocaine from Miami and drove a white Jeep with THE SNOWMAN emblazoned across the back. An incredulous judge once compared him to the gangster “Baby Face” Nelson. He seemed more an urban legend than a real person—and then his story got even stranger. Years later, while he was in prison for cocaine possession, Wershe claimed he had been working with the FBI since he was 14. Was one of Detroit’s most notorious criminals also one of the feds’ most valuable informants in the city?

Journalist Evan Hughes set out to untangle fact from fiction in Wershe’s improbable story, tracking down the dealers, cops, and federal agents who shared the streets with him and eventually meeting Wershe himself at the rural Michigan prison where he remains incarcerated.
The Trials of White Boy Rick is a gripping true-crime saga of hidden motives and betrayed trust—and reveals never-before-reported information suggesting why Wershe is still behind bars.

September 2014

“For anyone who lived in Detroit in the ’80s, the drug dealer known as White Boy Rick remains legend. But the true story of Rick’s epic rise and fall, as exhaustively reported by Evan Hughes, reads like a lost Elmore Leonard story. Essential, infuriating, wildly entertaining. Free Richard Wershe now!” —Mark Binelli, Rolling Stone staff writer and author of Detroit City Is the Place to Be: The Afterlife of an American Metropolis

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