Texas Narcotics Agents called him “Mr. Z”.
Talk among informants was that “Mr. Z” was the man. The big shot. The kingpin of methamphetamine operations in North and East Texas.
Mr. Z. provided the formula, know-how, and muscle for meth labs across a wide swath of the state in the early 1980s.
A true-life version of Walt in Breaking Bad But with extreme paranoia and an arsenal of stolen military weapons
Mr. Z’s nickname came from the Datsun 280z sports car that he drove back in 1982.
The 280Z’s sleek European styling took American by storm in the late 1970s and early 280z. Nissan produced the three-door, two-seat coupe.
His real name was Richard Larry Rusk, a 41-year-old meth kingpin from Athens in east Texas.
But in the meth underworld, Mr. Z was only known as the name of his car.
Law enforcement only knew as the elusive Mr. Z.
I crossed his path when I arrived in Dallas from New York in 1981. Meth was an epidemic.
Our TV crew with WFAA Channel 8 News rode along on raids with the DEA and state narcotics officers to remote farmhouses where meth cooks would temporarily set up to hide their labs.
Sometimes the location was given away when neighbors downwind sniffed the foul odor that was a byproduct of cooking meth.
The houses and makeshift labs were not the glittery chemical wonderlands called “super labs” in Breaking Bad.
It was pure filth. The impurities in meth marked habitual users with ugly sores covered with scabs.
I first learned about the hunt for Mr. Z when agents raided a storage unit near downtown Dallas.
It held one of Mr. Z’s many arsenals.
Inside, agents found cases of hand grenades. As a former congressional investigator for the Joint Committee on Defense Production, I was taken aback by what I saw.
Mr. Z stockpiled 2.75-inch air to ground rockets used on Huey helicopter gunships in Vietnam.
And he stored the Army’s M72 LAWS rocket launchers that I had been trained to fire at Fort Jackson. A disposable Vietnam era shoulder-fired light anti-tank weapons that could penetrate armor as thick as seven inches.
It suddenly dawned on everyone we had ventured inside a powder keg.
We backed out. Agents called Dallas Fire-Rescue and bomb disposal units, fearful that an explosion could destroy a wide area along a busy Interstate 30 on the northeast side of Dallas.
Taking down Mr. Z could set off a small war.
Officers from the DEA, ATF, Texas Department of Public Safety Narcotics, and The Dallas Area Organized Crime Task Force surprised him at 2:30 AM on Friday, March 20th, 1982, at a campground at Lake Dallas located north of the city.
As the meth kingpin stepped out of a travel trailer, they confronted him with a state arrest warrant for manufacturing amphetamines and federal warrants for unlawful flight and possession and distribution of narcotics.
Mr. Z drew a 9mm semiautomatic pistol and opened fire.
Three officers returned fire.
Mr. Z died from a bullet wound to the chest. Shotgun pellets peppered one arm.
He clutched a grenade in one hand and held another grenade in his pocket. The element of surprise kept Mr. Z from pulling the pin.
In this episode of Justice Facts, investigative reporter Robert Riggs and former federal prosecutor Bill Johnston reveal the dark drama behind real-life criminal cases from their careers.
Johnston picks up where Riggs left off with the story of “Mr. Z”.
It’s a case of Murder, Mayhem, and Methamphetamines from 1987.
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