Surely one of only a few prizefighters to inspire a hopscotch rhyme, Tyrone “The Butterfly” Everett seemed on the verge of stardom when he stepped into the Spectrum on November 30, 1976, to challenge Alfredo Escalera for the WBC super featherweight title. Undefeated, talented, handsome, controversial—Everett was twenty-three years old and seemingly destined for glory. In less than six months, on May 26, 1977, he would be dead, murdered under mysterious circumstances. Carolyn McKendrick, the woman who confessed to fatally shooting Everett in her bedroom, claimed she had blasted him with a .30 Carbine Ruger Blackhawk in preemptive self-defense after enduring months of physical abuse.
That much, at least, is public record. So is the presence of thirty-nine packets of heroin at the crime scene and, in one of the most startling twists of all, an eyewitness named Tyrone “Terry” Price, a crossdressing drug runner who may or may not have been caught in flagrante with Everett on the day of the shooting.
What is less known is how the shadow of the Philadelphia underworld obscured the death of Everett and may have even altered its aftermath. In Murder on Federal Street, Sean Nam delves into the murky Philadelphia drug scene of the 1970s to reveal, for the first time, the events behind one of the most lurid crimes of its day.
Murder on Federal Street highlights how boxing is rotted from the inside (the ubiquitous corruption typical of unregulated industries) and beyond (the street culture that leads so many underprivileged men to fight for a living). Everett suffered from both ends of this crooked overlap as well as the severe judgment of the ornery Philadelphia fight crowd. “A southpaw who preferred to box his way to a decision, Tyrone Everett ignored the stylistic shibboleths of his day,” Nam writes. “This made him persona non grata to many fans, especially among the oldsters of the previous generation, whose hearts were naturally aligned with homegrown sluggers such as Bennie Briscoe, the archetype of the style Philadelphia was famous for: come-forward, brain-bashing bravado.”
In his only title shot, Everett dropped a bewildering split decision to Alfredo Escalera that triggered chiaroscuro images of the boys in the backroom of an earlier era. Yet even in the 1970s, years after its sporting kingpins had been sentenced to long stretches in prison, organized crime still had a presence in boxing. Indeed, some of the shady figures that appear in Murder on Federal Street are holdovers from the mafioso heyday of the 1940s and 1950s: Frank “Blinky” Palermo, pop-eyed ex-sidekick of fight-racket capo Frankie Carbo, and “Honest” Bill Daly, for years a moving target of athletic commissioners and congressional committees. To escape the criminal dragnet that eventually ensnared Carbo and Palermo in the early 1960s, Daly conveniently relocated to Puerto Rico.
Although Everett seemed to dominate Escalera for fifteen rounds, the final scorecards—including one submitted by a local judge named Lou Tress—seemed to undermine reality, as boxing often does. “Never in our wildest dreams did we think that we were going to get screwed by the guy from Philly,” J Russell Peltz, who promoted the fight, tells Nam. “If I had just done a little bit of homework I would have been aware that he had been involved in a lot of bullshit decisions over the years.”
Tress fled ringside before the scores were read. Escalera–Everett remains one of the most infamous results in boxing history—almost certainly a fix—and one of the last frame-ups attributable to the mafia old guard.
But as treacherous as boxing was to Everett, the urban chaos of Philadelphia was even worse. A Casanova in pigtails, Everett was irresistible to women—even if stories of his alleged bisexuality multiplied in the wake of his death—and yet he chose the estranged wife of a homicidal drug dealer named Ricardo McKendrick for his steady. “That’s like messing with Scarface’s girl or the Godfather’s wife,” Eddie Everett tells Nam. “You’re between two mafia families. They were vicious families.”
Carolyn McKendrick, née Swint, came from a family driven (and riven) by the drug trade. Several of her brothers had either been imprisoned or slain as a result of their hustling. Even so, the Swints were small-time compared to Ricardo McKendrick, who had ties to bloodthirsty royalty: the Black Mafia, a ruthless organization that not only controlled heroin trafficking in Philadelphia but also participated in several other acts of bloody mayhem. With a criminal record that went back to his teens, McKendrick was also suspected of participating in one of the most gruesome gangland slayings of the early 1970s. “The victim in this case was fellow Black Mafia member George ‘Bo’ Abney,” writes Nam, “whose body was found on a highway, but his head was discovered swaddled in a pillowcase on the footsteps of a downtown Philadelphia bar.”
According to Eddie Everett, Tyrone had been nervous for days leading up to his death, right after a sit-down with Ricardo McKendrick. Did McKendrick have something to do with the murder of Tyrone Everett? Were the rumors of hitmen nothing more than idle street talk? Where did all the heroin at the crime scene come from, and how did it factor into the shooting? Did Carolyn McKendrick take the fall for her husband, Ricardo?
A downtown courtroom would eventually expose a shocking tale of drugs, jealousy, cross-dressing, sex, betrayal, and domestic abuse, with Carolyn mounting a defense based on the nascent battered woman syndrome. Of the Black Mafia and the possibility that Ricardo McKendrick was somehow involved—hardly a word.
To shed light on the labyrinthine career and death of Everett, Nam tracked down several key figures involved, including his manager, Frank Gelb; his promoter J Russell Peltz; his brother Eddie Everett; and several other significant players. For months, Carolyn McKendrick, who served five years in prison on a third-degree murder conviction, remained elusive. Eventually, Nam caught up with McKendrick, receiving a phone call from her that can only be considered inscrutable.
Sean Nam has written for The Cruelest Sport, Hannibal Boxing, The Sweet Science, Boxing News, USA Today, and Boxing Scene, but he has also been a contributor to the Dublin Review of Books, Cineaste, the Brooklyn Rail, and Atlas Obscura. These broad cultural interests underscore his vivid portrait of a complex time. Murder on Federal Street is a panoramic view of urban decay, organized crime, race relations, and boxing history. At its heart is the lost promise of a young man named Tyrone Everett, who understood just how fleeting his chances of fortune in boxing were. “I figured I’d win the title by the time I was 22 or 23,” Everett told a sportswriter the day before he died. “But now I’m 24 and I’m still not there. It worries me. After a while your legs don’t move like you want them to. You have so many disappointments you begin to lose the desire to succeed. You don’t want to go to the gym that much anymore. In this game, a 25 or 26-year-old man can be old when he’s fighting a kid of nineteen.”
In the end, Tyrone Everett never reached the grand old age of twenty-six. And the girls on the Philadelphia streets with their “Ty, Ty, Butterfly” rhyme? How long did they chant his name?
New York City
Sean Nam’s Murder on Federal Street: Tyrone Everett, the Black Mafia, Fixed Fights, and the Last Golden Age of Philadelphia Boxing is now available from Rushcutters Bay Books wherever books are sold.