The Cornbread Mafia: A Homegrown Syndicate's Code of Silence and the Biggest Marijuana Bust in American History

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Overview

In the summer of 1987, Johnny Boone set out to grow and harvest one of the greatest outdoor marijuana crops in modern times. In doing so, he set into motion a series of events that defined him and his associates as the largest homegrown marijuana syndicate in American history, also known as the Cornbread Mafia.

Author James Higdon—whose relationship with Johnny Boone,
currently a federal fugitive, made him the first journalist subpoenaed ...

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The Cornbread Mafia: A Homegrown Syndicate's Code of Silence and the Biggest Marijuana Bust in American History

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Overview

In the summer of 1987, Johnny Boone set out to grow and harvest one of the greatest outdoor marijuana crops in modern times. In doing so, he set into motion a series of events that defined him and his associates as the largest homegrown marijuana syndicate in American history, also known as the Cornbread Mafia.

Author James Higdon—whose relationship with Johnny Boone,
currently a federal fugitive, made him the first journalist subpoenaed under the Obama administration—takes listeners back to the 1970s and '80s and the clash between federal and local law enforcement and a band of Kentucky farmers with moonshine and pride in their bloodlines. By 1989 the task force assigned to take down men like Johnny Boone had arrested sixty-nine men and one woman from busts on twenty-nine farms in ten states, and seized two hundred tons of pot.
Of the seventy individuals arrested, zero talked. How it all went down is a tale of Mafia-style storylines emanating from the Bluegrass State, and populated by Vietnam veterans and weed-loving characters caught up in
Tarantino-level violence and heart-breaking altruism.

Accompanied by a backdrop of rock-and-roll and rhythm-and-blues, this work of dogged investigative journalism and history is told by Higdon in action-packed, colorful and riveting detail.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“[A] lucidly spun tale…. Think Tarantino on Kentucky bluegrass, scored with Creedence and vigorously reported.”

           —GQ

“A boggling and wacky history that illuminates the shadowy area between the good guys and the bad guys, and vividly documents how far the temptations of one plant can take men—from the jungles of Belize, the hills of Afghanistan, and into the very soul kitchen of the American heartland.”

—Geoffrey Gray, author of The New York Times bestseller SKYJACK: The Hunt

for D. B. Cooper

“In The Cornbread Mafia James Higdon takes readers into a sub-culture that will surprise many—Catholic hill people of Kentucky. The area was renowned for distilling whiskey, legal and otherwise, and after exposure to the war in Vietnam, many locals turned to the cultivation of marijuana and thrived. The characters Higdon reveals to us are not notably different from Protestant thugs of the hills, but not one has ever snitched. The history of the region, the details of the crimes and way of life, make for a strangely compelling book and an insight from another angle into our own recent past and present.”

—Daniel Woodrell, author of Winter’s Bone and The Outlaw Album

“James Higdon has written a compelling, fast-moving saga about how a backwoods band of outlaws, begat by Kentucky moonshiners of the 1920s, took over the marijuana business in the Midwest and led the Feds on the biggest pot chase in American history.”

            —Bruce Porter, author of BLOW: How a Small-Town Boy Made $100 Million

with the Medellin Cocaine Cartel and Lost It All

 

“Juicy storytelling—provocative, detailed and brilliantly documented....”

            —The Good Men Project

“The state of Kentucky should declare itself the storytelling capital of the nation. The place is brimming with remarkable, colorful stories and some of the most natural storytellers you’ll ever meet.  James Higdon and his new book, The Cornbread Mafia, are the latest proof of that. This is a tale that is so rich and utterly startling that it’s honestly hard to believe in parts. But Higdon’s research is smart, and his writing is smooth. He’s especially good on the history of this American saga, which may have fallen through the cracks of time without his hard work.”

—Ann Hagedorn, author of Wild Ride: The Rise and Tragic Fall of Calumet Farm Inc.:

America’s Premier Racing Dynasty

 

“Part much-needed history lesson, part hillbilly noir, The Cornbread Mafia is the perfect bookend to Ken Burns’s Prohibition, and far more timely. It unflinchingly details the damage done by both those who flout our nation’s drug laws and those who enforce them. Authoritative, thrilling, and sobering.”

—Pinckney Benedict, author of Miracle Boy and Other Stories and Dogs of God

“From Boardwalk Empire to Breaking Bad, we as a nation are fascinated by the interplay of crime, character, and controlled substances. And if anyone doubts that fact is more amazing than fiction, then read this book. In The Cornbread Mafia, James Higdon traces the rise and fall of a marijuana industry tucked in Middle America, and the saga stretches from Prohibition to the crack era. With exceptional reporting and infectious storytelling, he takes readers for one unforgettable ride.”

—Samuel G. Freedman, author of Jew vs. Jew: The Struggle for the Soul of

American Jewry and The Inheritance: How Three Families and the American Political Majority Moved from Left to Right

“Who knew Kentuckians take marijuana as seriously as they do bourbon? James Higdon digs deep to document American pot pioneers and their extralegal escapades. Thoroughly researched, The Cornbread Mafia is chock-full of fascinating homegrown history, not to mention a plethora of entertaining anecdotes of illegality. Higdon provides an intimate look at an exceedingly wild bunch of outlaws. Most impressively, he gains exclusive access to Johnny Boone, an eccentric, pot-farming legend and longtime fugitive from the law.”

—Jason Ryan, author of Jackpot: High Times, High Seas, and the Sting That

Launched the War on Drugs

“I knew of course that decades ago, Prohibition pushed moonshiners further into the hollows of Appalachia; now in Jim Higdon’s pulsating true thriller I’ve discovered that crackdowns on pot are propelling today’s newly minted desperadoes deeper into the wilds of rural America, determined to harvest their crop and supply millions of Americans with the bud they crave. Higdon has written a speeding bullet of a book that turns grower Johnny Boone into one of the most fascinating characters I’ve encountered in years. If Hunter S. Thompson were still with us I believe he’d be praising The Cornbread Mafia and telling his pals to read it. But since Dr. Gonzo is gone, I’ll do the job myself: ‘Read The Cornbread Mafia for a hit of real-life excitement. This is a true-crime drama that will keep you hugging the edge of your chair.’”

—Philip S. Turner, bookseller, publisher, and blogger at “The Great Gray Bridge”

“Whether you are interested in learning more about a unique chapter of Kentucky’s and our nation’s history or just want to be entertained, you should read this book. More importantly, though, The Cornbread Mafia is a case study of the effects upon a single tight-knit community of the drug laws put in place by successive administrations. Whether you support these laws or oppose them, this book provides a window into how those laws affect real families and their communities. Higdon’s book is especially timely, coming on the heels of the Ken Burns documentary, Prohibition, and Ron Paul’s presidential campaign.”

            —Trey Grayson, Director of the Institute of Politics (IOP) at Harvard University

 

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780762788439
  • Publisher: Lyons Press, The
  • Publication date: 9/3/2013
  • Pages: 400
  • Sales rank: 224,204
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 7.90 (h) x 1.40 (d)

Meet the Author


James Higdon has worked for the Courier-Journal in Louisville and the New York Times and is currently a contributing editor with PBS Frontline's Tehran Bureau.

Paul Boehmer, who has appeared on Broadway, on television, and in films, narrated an award-winning unabridged recording of Moby Dick.

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Table of Contents

Preface: Tina Tells Ike: "It's Gonna Work Out Fine" vii

Part I

Chapter 1 A County Is Born: Catholic Migration, the Civil War, Prohibition and John Dillinger 3

Chapter 2 The Hot Air-Conditioner Incident, the Lebanese Mayor of Lebanon and the Killing of Charlie Stiles 32

Chapter 3 The Dark Side of Cornbread, Starring Garland Russell 63

Chapter 4 "This Is Some Absolutely Dynamite Pot Here," the Police Said 89

Chapter 5 Cornbread in the Tropics, the Cops Don't Trust the DEA and Jimmy Bickett Sees Johnny Boone on Television 130

Chapter 6 Growers versus the Drought of 1983, a Rash of Raywick Killings and a Drug Investigation Gone Wrong 150

Part II

Chapter 7 How the Jesuit College at St. Mary's Became the First Private Prison in America 166

Chapter 8 Johnny Boone Becomes "Mr. Grass" 200

Chapter 9 The DEA Wants to Know, "Where Did You Get This Lion?" 239

Chapter 10 The "Combread" Press Conference 265

Chapter 11 "Welcome to the Gladiator Arena" 274

Chapter 12 The US Marshals versus James Higdon 304

Notes and Sources 345

Index 366

Acknowledgments and About the Author 376

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 11 )
Rating Distribution

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(7)

4 Star

(1)

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Sort by: Showing all of 11 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 6, 2012

    Cornbread Mafia proves that the truth can be more exciting than

    Cornbread Mafia proves that the truth can be more exciting than fiction. There are no slow or dull parts in this book. It is amazing that such a small group of people could have run such a hugh and complicated drug traffic.The book is exceptionally well written and difficult to put down until you finish it.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 15, 2012

    You've heard the rumors...so here's the facts.

    This is a great history of the area that gave birth to the Cornbread Mafia. It is also a detailed account of what happened, taken from the headlines and court records of the day. Higdon has gone far to humanize the men in the story. With several states de-criminalizing pot, one can hope this book will be useful to people to decide where they want to stand.

    It just doesn't seem right to put nonviolent offenders into the overcrowded prison system. Surely there is a better way?

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 22, 2012

    Very Interesting!

    This book was very interesting since I knew most of the places involved. Was hard to put down once I got started!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 6, 2012

    Good story

    Gotta love the outlaw hillbillies.
    100 years from now, our children and grandchildren will read about these outlaws and shake their head, wondering how people in "authority" thought they could ever make ingesting a harmless plant, illegal.
    Props James Higdon.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 2, 2013

    Not for me

    Plodding storytelling left me unable to finishthis

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 15, 2012

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    Posted August 2, 2013

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 27, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

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    Posted June 17, 2012

    No text was provided for this review.

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    Posted August 1, 2013

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    Posted July 20, 2012

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