Were Drugs Really Smuggled In Soldiers' Coffins During The Vietnam War?

An aspiring drug lord looking for an honest heroin salesman to do business with in 1970s Harlem would have had rotten luck trying to find one in the Big Apple, according to Frank Lucas. "City boys ain't like that," Lucas explained to New York Magazine. "A city boy will take your last dime, look you in the face, and swear he ain't got it." Maybe he has a point. After all, Nicky Barnes, one of the era's boldest heroin barons, helped put former associates behind bars after they associated with his wife in bed and screwed with his business.

Lucas placed his trust in the "Country Boys," a group of blood relatives and other residents from his hometown in rural North Carolina. He painted them as true blue smack traffickers who'd rather let their own wives and children go hungry than steal from him. Together, they peddled "Blue Magic" heroin and formed what former narcotics prosecutor turned federal judge Sterling Johnson described as "one of the most outrageous international dope-smuggling gangs ever."

Per HistoryNet, the most outlandish exploit attributed to Lucas was depicted in the biopic American Gangster, which starred Denzel Washington as at the drug lord. Based on Lucas's version of events, the movie includes a stunning sequence, wherein heroin was smuggled into the U.S. inside the coffins of fallen soldiers returning from the Vietnam War. Did he pull off that preposterous operation or was Lucas telling a shameless lie, like some city boy might?

Friends in high places

It was certainly no lie that Frank Lucas had an obscenely long reach. He kept money in Cayman Island banks, had offices and apartments in Puerto Rico, Los Angeles, Harlem, and Miami. He kept hundreds of Black Angus cows on a sprawling North Carolina property dubbed "Frank Lucas' Paradise Valley." He proudly recounted having a "big-balled" bull valued at $125,000. And as Business Insider describes, two servicemen who fought in the Vietnam War not only smuggled drugs for Lucas but enlisted other soldiers pack narcotics in their luggage as a way of paying off gambling debts. But did he hide heroin in G.I.'s coffins?

Lucas boastfully told New York Magazine, "We did it, all right ... ha, ha, ha ... Who the hell is gonna look in a dead soldier's coffin? Ha ha ha." According to him, heroin was buried in the false bottoms of 28 copies of government-issued coffins, specifically those which would hold heavy soldiers. He also gloated that he hid drugs on the plane of Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. But maybe Lucas was high on his own supply because federal investigator Charles Lutz claimed the coffin smuggling was just that — a story. "I should know," he writes. "I was one of the criminal investigators who helped end the so-called Asian Connection." However, he did say that Lucas' operation involved "cleverly [concealing heroin] in the false bottoms of black leather 'AWOL' overnight bags purchased at the PX in Bangkok."