The Baltimore Sun carried an obituary yesterday for Michael E. Marr, famous in the city as the defense attorney for “Little Melvin” Williams, who won the convicted heroin kingpin the opportunity to be an anti-drug speaker and prestige-television actor later in life by reducing his prison sentence on appeal. The obituary—by Jacques Kelly, the unstoppable local newswriter who also wrote the obituary for Williams—brought up an earlier chapter of Marr’s career, as a prosecutor on the other side of the war on heroin:
He handled the prosecution of Thomas E. Southerland, who posed as a member of the Army and was accused of hiding heroin inside the body bags of American soldiers who died in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War.
A New York Times story from 1973, after Southerland’s conviction, had more specifics of the case:
Mr. Marr, in asking for the maximum sentence, said that Southerland had used an Army sergeant’s disguise and false military papers as a “functionary” in the heroin rings He said Southerland had gone to Southeast Asia as a sergeant to make heroin contacts in Thailand. Mr. Marr said that heroin was smuggled into this country stitched in the bodies of American war dead…
A search of the bodies and the aircraft found no drugs, but officials said the bodies had fresh incisions where heroin may have been carried.
Mr. Marr said it was believed the drug had been removed during a stop‐over at Honolulu, while the bodies were unattended.
In the absence of anyone finding any heroin in the bodies or body bags, Southerland was convicted of impersonating an Army member and using falsified paperwork. One of his fellow passengers on the flight, Leslie “Ike” Atkinson, was later convicted of being a leader of a ring that had smuggled heroin from Thailand to the United States in shipments of up to 100 pounds. None of those shipments were in anything as sensational as a dead body, however.