After days of furious searching for Marcus "Chip" Lesane, missing and presumed dead, Baltimore homicide detectives brought his childhood friend -- the last person to see him alive -- into an interrogation room. They spent eight hours questioning him, but Dawnta Baskerville wasn't talking.
There was another option left. They opened the door to the chilly, brightly lit room and let in Lesane's older brother, then stepped back as he took a seat across from Baskerville.
Robert Lesane was no cop, and the 29-year-old shuttle bus driver's law enforcement experience consisted of watching "The First 48," the reality series about detective work. But he also knew the uncomfortable truth about his brother and Baskerville: They made their living by robbing drug dealers.
"Stick-up boys," as they're known in the criminal lexicon, represent a niche in particularly chaotic and thriving drug markets in cities like Baltimore. Their dangerous schemes promise a quick buck, but also the possibility of a sudden death.
The detectives' unorthodox maneuver would pay off, with Baskerville agreeing to take Robert Lesane and the officers to the area where he said he had left Marcus Lesane stranded after a robbery went awry.
The pieces of the investigation were coming together, but one thing was still missing: Marcus Lesane.
Stick-up boys "keep the street scene at a boil," said David Kennedy, a criminologist who has run anti-violence initiatives around the country.
They heighten the need for drug dealers to be armed and complicate things for police officers. When the door gets kicked-in on a stash house before sunup, the targets don't know whether the intruders are undercover cops on a raid or someone looking to shoot everyone with a sawed-off shotgun, he said.
After helping engineer the "Boston Miracle" crime turnaround in the mid-1990s, Kennedy came to Baltimore to set up a program and was confronted with the phenomenon for the first time. Though he's since seen such behavior elsewhere in places like Detroit and Oakland, Calif., he said it remains a feature of "the worst kind of out-of-control drug markets."
The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has recently been trying to crack into this world through a series of Baltimore stings in which undercover officers propose the operations to suspected criminals, then arrest them when they show up armed. City police say the stick-up crews drive a considerable number of homicides and shootings.
"It's really almost the most extreme part of the street crime culture that you can find," Kennedy said. "There's nothing more intense than what goes on around these guys."
And when a stick-up boy ends up dead, the pool of potential suspects grows beyond that of a typical investigation to include just about every low-level dope slinger on every burned-out corner in the city. Court documents, police files and interviews in Lesane's disappearance tell the story of how one such case played out.
Getting a lead
Homicide detective Gordon Carew had a tough case. In his 15-year career investigating murders as a Baltimore "murder police," he has seen plenty of kidnappings and home invasions. Still, each case carries its own imperatives: a victim and a family that deserves closure.
Marcus Lesane was a new father -- a 27-year-old grocery store employee who called his mother every day and was extremely popular among those who knew him, despite his reputation on the streets.
Concerned that Marcus Lesane was already dead, officers began marshaling resources around the city to search for his body, including flyovers from the Foxtrot helicopter unit and neighborhood canvasses -- "no stone-unturned" kind of stuff.
Robert Lesane had hit the streets, too, checking vacant homes and wooded areas. He knew his brother risked ending up in jail over the robberies, but he hadn't anticipated having to scour the city for his body.
They had grown up in a middle-class family in Southwest Baltimore. Marcus always had a roof over his head and a supportive family, Robert Lesane thought. They had cars in high school. Robbing drug dealers? Why would his brother do that?
"I know people say this a lot, but he wasn't that person," Robert Lesane told a reporter at the time. "To me, ever since he was younger, he always wanted to follow the crowd."
Though people were speculating that Baskerville was responsible for Marcus Lesane's disappearance, his brother thought otherwise. "We grew up with him," Robert Lesane said of Baskerville. "It doesn't seem like he woulda did something. ... Everybody's a suspect to me at this point."