In today's episode, we take a look at the Houseboat Mafia as it reaches the heights of its power. How could a ragtag bunch of pirates become a powerful organized crime syndicate? How could said crime syndicate lay the foundations for its own destruction? Find out here, only on Liminal Criminals
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CONTENT WARNING: Liminal Criminals is a fictional crime/comedy podcast, and contains elements which may not be suitable for all audiences. Listener discretion is advised.
Previously on Liminal Criminals: Ben and Mary Clarkson, a down on their luck Missouri couple, fled their spiraling life, leaving their debt, daughter, and a trail of murder behind them as they fled to the Gulf of Mexico. There, driven further into desperation and violence, the two stumbled into a new life of theft and brutality. With the aid of their two new friends, Dockside Dick and Cynthia Hawke, their actions would forever leave their mark on the history of maritime crime. On today’s episode, we watch the Houseboat Mafia as they reach the height of their power, and we witness them sew the seeds of their own destruction.
I’m Sam Putnam. And you’re listening...to Liminal Criminals.
Richard Dox, known to his friends as Dockside Dick, was not born in Los Borrachos, and had only appeared there sometime in 1979. He adopted his community as much as it had adopted him. Dockside was known for his generosity, often giving what little he had to his fellow citizens of the washed-out town. Even during his tenure as a pirate king, he did his level best to care for the area. Today, the newly-revitalized town of Los Borrachos likely owes its newfound stability to Dockside Dick’s overly-magnanimous money-laundering policies.
We know little else about Dockside Dick’s career before his rise to power. While Ben and Mary Clarkson have accepted interviews from several journalists and biographers following their arrest, and while Cynthia Hawke was known to gleefully recount tales of her exploits to her fellow inmates, Dockside Dick was notoriously reticent about his background and deeds. In the podcast, Terror of the Deep, popular true-crime raconteur Hunter Fletcher contends that Dockside was born in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, citing the pirate’s apparent Yooper accent. Leonard Reynolds, author of the book Monarchs of the Sea, has disputed this claim, pointing out records of a man named Richard Dox in Port Gelid, a suburb of Hamilton, Canada. While this man would be of an age similar to the notorious criminal, Fletcher has in turn dismissed this theory, noting that the corpse of the Canadian Richard Dox had washed up on the shores of Lake Ontario in 1976. Fletcher has further supported his argument by calling Reynolds a “candy-ass nerd.”
Further complicating matters was Dockside Dick’s fondness for inaccuracies, inconsistencies, and bald-faced lies. The pirate king’s tales of his life were often known to contradict themselves within the same sentence. Of the stories that Dockside told, only two were consistent. First was his claim of being a boat mechanic prior to moving to Los Borrachos. Second was his insistence that the first boat he ever took was the Tiny Fish, a private yacht belonging to Ontario canning tycoon Michael St-Pierre. If this is true, it is unusual, as the typically-gentle Dockside Dick’s proudest haul was also his most vicious.
In the wee hours of a late April morning in 1988, Michael St-Pierre set out from his private dock in Monaco Beach, Florida on a fishing expedition. That same day Dockside Dick assembled a small crew aboard the Coked-Up Seagull. They had taken a small armory’s worth of firearms, a radio jammer, and several lengths of rope.
What happened next is unclear, as the only witnesses to the taking of the Tiny Fish were the few members of Dockside Dick’s crew who were willing to give interviews in the years following the fall of the Houseboat Mafia. The general consensus among the ranks was that as they drew near to the Tiny Fish, they were met with a deafening roar of amplified sitar music, blasting over the yacht’s supersized sound system. As the crew boarded the vessel, they saw Michael St-Pierre sitting on a pillow in the middle of the forward deck, surrounded by sticks of incense. He was hunched over, a pained look on his face, grunting with determination. While none of the crew knew what Michael St-Pierre was doing, crime scholars have speculated that the fishing mogul was attempting to perform tantric autofellatio, a practice that business magazine Seventh Sigma had recently advocated as a replacement for friendship and love.
Dockside Dick’s takeover of the ship was straightforward. “Well, Dockside just went up to the guy and cracked him over the back of the head with a tire iron,” recalls Houseboat Mafia foot soldier George McIntosh, “When St-Pierre tried to stand up, well, Dockside just hit him again. I think eventually they formed a bit of an understanding though, because eventually, the poor bastard stopped struggling and let us hog-tie him.” Standing over his trussed victim, Dockside wordlessly tied one end of a rope to the rail at the stern of the ship, one end to St-Pierre’s ankles, and hurled him over the edge. At the helm of his new ship, its keelhauled former owner dangling behind, Richard Dox steamed his way north, back to Los Borrachos. At dock, he and his crew dismantled the ship, sandblasting its insignia from the hull.
The thefts of the Samurai and the Tiny Fish were the first steps of the Houseboat Mafia’s rise to power. Stolen ship by stolen ship, the fledgling crime syndicate built their armada. As they continued to accrue boats, they perfected their lightning-fast tactics, stealing vessels both in harbor and at sea. During their peak, the Houseboat Mafia were able to steal ships on a near weekly basis, either to be re-purposed for piracy, sold to a local fence, or stripped for parts. Through a combination of speed, strategy, and ferocity, the forces of Hawke, Dockside and the Clarksons were able to wreak havoc while avoiding the attention of the authorities. From Tampa to Pascagoula, they instigated a rash of robberies, murders, and disappearances that struck fear into the hearts of all who dared set foot off of dry land.
This came to an end in December of 1989, when one of the Houseboat Mafia’s raids turned uglier than usual. Chet Folsom, one of Cynthia Hawke’s lieutenants, had set his sights on the Soon Parted. The Soon Parted was a houseboat owned by Phil Rollins, proprietor of Cash-4-Now, a payday loan chain in Southern Mississippi. Unbeknownst to Folsom, the justifiably paranoid Rollins had spotted the pirates through a spyglass, and immediately radioed a distress signal to local law enforcement. While the raiding party were able to board their prize and subdue Rollins, they were too slow to make their escape. Three craft from the Mississippi Maritime patrol surrounded the Soon Parted, as well as Chet Folsom’s ill-gotten catamaran, the Crotch Crab. Outnumbered, unused to stiff resistance, and high from the fumes of the homemade varnish Folsom insisted on painting his boat with, the crew panicked. They charged forth from the cabin, firing wildly at their assailants. Of the four people aboard the Soon Parted, three were gunned down immediately. A fourth, blind with rage and aromatic maritime inhalants, fell overboard, and was immediately shot. Folsom, still on board the Crotch Crab, attempted to take cover behind a wall of the vessel’s cabin and return fire. The Maritime Patrol responded by unleashing a hail of bullets at the pirate vessel. The gunfire ripped through the walls of the Crotch Crab, severely-but-non-fatally injuring Folsom, who hopefully learned a lesson about the difference between concealment and cover.
Back in Los Borrachos, the leadership of the Houseboat Mafia awaited Folsom’s return. They knew something was amiss. A news bulletin two days later would confirm their worst fears. In the police blotter of the Gulf Coast Gazette, a byline announced that the Mississippi Maritime Patrol had taken would-be pirate Chet Folsom into custody. While a combination of loyalty and a criminal career marked by frequent blackouts prevented Folsom from ratting on his brethren, the Houseboat Mafia assumed the worst and made the decision to go to ground. For the ensuing weeks, the rank and file of the Houseboat Mafia hid, either with friends in the Los Borrachos region, or with their superiors as they fled their base of operations. Dockside Dick and a handful of his accomplices set a course west to a safe house in Apalachicola, while the Clarksons and their lieutenants holed up at an algae-farming co-op in Cabana Creek. Cynthia Hawke’s followers sought refuge at a family friend’s marina in Saint Petersburg, claiming that the gang of hardened criminals aboard her ship were engaged in a bit of roleplaying as part of a week-long swinger’s party. It is unclear as to whether this cover story bore any kernel of truth.
While the footsoldiers of the Houseboat Mafia were able to remain inconspicuous in the tense weeks following the taking of the Crotch Crab, their leaders were less successful. In the case of Dockside Dick, this was to be expected; the risk of public intoxication and low-level disorderly conduct followed him as closely as his constant stench of hard liquor and uncooked shrimp. However, Dockside’s lifetime of only-occasionally-horrifying debauchery had also gave him the experience to evade the fuzz.
The Clarksons took matters a bit further. After spending half a week with the humble algae farmers of Cabana Creek Florida, they quickly realized that nobody would willingly spend their lives in such a way without some form of chemical aid. Neither Ben nor Mary Clarkson would tell interviewers where, precisely, they had gotten three kilograms of cocaine; Ben insisted that it must have come with the boat and that they had just never found it. Regardless of the source, they were able to move it within a handful of days, thus securing a foothold in the Western Florida narcotics market for the Houseboat Mafia.
Unlike her compatriots, Cynthia Hawke grew restless almost immediately. Prior to joining the Houseboat Mafia, her life had been defined by the whims of others, be they her parents, her husband, or the cops. These past few months had been freeing; they had given Hawke a taste of blood, chaos, and 151-proof rum, and regrettably, she was now hooked on all three. This normally would not be a problem. Normally, when forced to lie low, a person will stew in their restlessness, accepting their low-grade cabin fever. Normally, when placed in a cage, even a ravenous beast will, after snarling and pacing, succumb to its new lot in life.
Cynthia Hawke burned down a Garlic Pit franchise twelve hours after dropping anchor.
“They had it coming,” said Hawke in an interview with author Leonard Reynolds, “Those bastards tried to cut me off after my seventh daquiricotta, and I know for a fact that they were giving me weak sh[bleep]t after my fourth. So I left the place, still leaving a tip may I add. Then I waited for the f[bleep]ckers to close, kicked open a back door, and threw a Molotov into their kitchen. Who wouldn’t do the same in my position? I mean, honestly, the manager should be glad I didn’t to the same to his house that night.”
Ironically, Cynthia Hawke’s rash behavior may have been the catalyst for a new phase of the Houseboat Mafia’s history. While the identity of the Garlic Pit arsonist was unknown to polite Saint Petersburg society, Cynthia Hawke, and her underlings projected enough of an aura of quasi-restrained mania to let all but the densest of shopkeeps, restaurateurs, and businessfolk read between the lines. In the coming weeks, Hawke and company barely needed to open their mouths in order to receive protection money.
After a few weeks, it had become readily apparent to Hawke and the Clarksons that if the authorities had known who was behind the goings-on in Los Borrachos, they would have been able to trace these actions to the chaos along the Florida coastline. Within two days of each other, both parties made a call to Dockside Dick’s safehouse, suggesting that it was time to go home.
The reunion of the Houseboat Mafia’s leaders was a tense one; at first, Dockside Dick’s frustration with his fellow crime bosses was palpable. “I mean, I could understand Cynthia going off the damn rails,” he later recalled in a rare interview, “But I thought Benny and the Jet were smarter than that. Normally, ‘lying low’ and ‘hiding from the cops,’ tends to mean that, y’know, you don’t sell enough cocaine to fuel half of Wall Street for six hours. I was about to fly off the handle at those two. But then I started to think about what this meant for our little family and, well, things started to fall into place.”
The Houseboat Mafia, still practically in its infancy, was to undergo a paradigm shift. Its future lay not in the wake of Edward Teach, but rather in the footsteps of John Gotti.
The syndicate’s engine of extortion, racketeering, and drug trafficking roared into life like a speedboat. Dockside Dick’s well-maintained armada ensured that illicit trade across the ports of the Gulf and the occasional rash of piracy went off without a hitch. The Clarksons’ reputation, coupled with their seemingly-easygoing manner and generic, white-bread appearance, allowed them to rub shoulders with most aspects of Gulf-Coast society, trafficking contraband to high-society galas, street-level dealers, and the more adventurous of Florida’s retirement communities. Cynthia Hawke’s rash temperament and nigh-demonic lust for violence served as a deterrent against resistance, keeping all but the bravest or most foolhardy of Gulf Coast society from standing up to America’s newest crime family.
Those that did resist were addressed with extreme prejudice. In Mobile Alabama, the owner of a Cash-4-Now refused to pay protection money to the Houseboat Mafia. The next day, the strip mall where he operated was burned to the ground. In Biloxi, the owner of a local hotel refused to let his establishment be used as a safehouse. Within a week, his collection of prized topical fish had been kidnapped, filleted, and placed in his bed, served with a tasteful spinach salad. In Saint Clyde, Florida, the proprietor of Glitterworld, a pornography-themed amusement park, ejected several members of the Houseboat Mafia for excessive drunkenness. The next day, the nozzles on the park’s “lube flume” were tampered with, causing them to release high-pressure torrents of silicone lubricant that propelled riders at hazardous speeds through the slide, launching one unfortunate park visitor out of the end with enough force to send them smashing through a novelty popsicle stand.
The Houseboat Mafia’s empire along the Gulf Coast prospered during these years, with the organization having an estimated income in the tens of millions of dollars. The pirate royalty of the Gulf enjoyed lives of subdued luxury, purchasing plots of land in the Florida Keys and dining on seafood by choice, rather than necessity.
Despite their material success, by 1991, a sense of restlessness began to brew within the Houseboat Mafia.. While the Clarksons were more than happy to view their new life of crime as a job, their fellow leaders were frustrated by the comparatively-pedestrian direction that their new lives had taken. According to interviews taken with arrested members of the Houseboat Mafia, Dockside Dick had ethical doubts. “Dockside wanted to be Robin Hood,” said Houseboat Mafia lieutenant Daquiri Dan, “He didn’t want to be Don Corleone.” While his compatriots in the crime syndicate and the town of Los Borrachos were prospering, Dockside couldn’t shake the feeling that he had become yet another bigwig, stomping down on the faces of the unfortunate.
Cynthia Hawke, in the meantime, had simpler motives. “I was so fucking bored,” lamented Hawke in an interview following her arrest. “It had been six months since I got to shank somebody. Seven since I last shot somebody. And it had been a whole-ass year since I strategically barricaded every door and window to some prick’s home except for one, lit the building on fire, and fired wildly at whatever came out of the one available exit. I’m only flesh and blood, you know. I don’t think I was asking for that much.”
This clash of personalities was contentious, but not insurmountable, and all four leaders of the Houseboat Mafia agreed that they could have come to a compromise. The conflict that drove the syndicate bosses to instigate their own demise was not over matters of ethics, gang policy, or cabin fever. Arrested members of the Houseboat Mafia insisted that the fateful argument, somehow, was instead about what the official drink of the Houseboat Mafia should be.
Dockside wanted the official gang drink to be a Bluebottle, a drink of his own creation consisting of two shots of blue curacao, two shots of white rum, and a shot of tequila. Cynthia Hawke wanted the drink to be a Hairy Palmer, a popular beverage in Florida high society consisting of champagne, crème de menthe, and Kahlua. Ben and Mary Clarkson insisted that the truest symbol of the Houseboat Mafia would consist of red wine, diluted with a few chips of ice, claiming that “otherwise it would give people a headache.”
To settle this argument, the leaders of the Houseboat Mafia apparently agreed to a competition of sorts. Each member of the gang would plan a heist, extortion campaign, or business venture to bring in as much revenue as possible. Whoever brought in the most would be considered the winner and allowed to determine the...official drink… of the Houseboat Mafia.
The first plan to be put into effect was by Dockside Dick. Dockside had managed to place a tracker on board an armored truck belonging to Zephyr Holdings, a storage and courier firm used by the ultra-wealthy in the Southeastern United States. While the exact contents of any truck are unknown, Zephyr has been used to transfer highly valuable cargo, including rare vintage wine, historical artifacts, and, on one occasion, a piece of macaroni art created by the daughter of telecom billionaire Rafael Ortiz. [complete]
The plan was simple: Dockside and Crew had determined that the truck and its protective convoy would be passing through the town of Gator Depression, Florida, where their route would lead them to pass over a bridge. All Dockside Dick would have to do was rig the supports of the bridge with enough explosives to collapse the bridge, enabling a small team of the Houseboat Mafia’s most trustworthy goons to move in, eliminate any resistance, and relieve the truck of its valuables.
Not only did this plan fail, it was barely able to begin. On May 8th, 1991, a team of officers from the county sheriff’s office were tipped off to the Houseboat Mafia’s plan. They swarmed the bridge where Dockside Dick and his crew were hard at work, fatally shooting one gang member and arresting the remaining seven.
Dockside Dick was held in the Moss Pie County jail for the duration of his trial. On July 4th, 1992, he was convicted on all charges, including three counts of murder, fifteen counts of vehicular theft, and one count of impersonating a grouper. He was sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole.
Richard Dox, known as Dockside Dick to his friends, died of lung cancer in 2019, in the Fort Baculum Federal Penitentiary in Fort Baculum Georgia. He was estimated to have been 75 years old.
` The first leader of the Houseboat Mafia had fallen, but the gang’s exploits had only begun to reach the Pinnacle of their ambition. How did Cynthia Hawke and the Clarksons respond to their comrade’s arrest? We’ll find out on the next episode.
This has been Liminal Criminals. I’m Sam Putnam. I’ll see you next time, and remember: they felt what happened.
Liminal Criminals was originally a true crime podcast by Liminal Studios. It was originally researched, written and created by Sam Putnam. It is edited for broadcast and distribution with the generous support of the Chthonic Riviera government and Deeps Self-Preservation League. Up next, I’ll be bringing you the news with the evening edition of Studio Community Worldwide Radio.
Also, Krysta, if you’re hearing this right now, can you come back to the apartment? I need to bounce some ideas off of you.
Liminal Criminals is a fictional podcast by SCWR productions. It is written and edited by Sam Putnam. It is cowritten by Krysta Golden. Our theme song is Chthonic Riviera by Cornu Ammonis.
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