Murder on Federal Street: Tyrone Everett, the Black Mafia, Fixed Fights, and the Last Golden Age of Philadelphia Boxing Review
Sean Nam is a boxing writer I enjoy reading. That list isn’t very long. I think highly of the reporter, because he treats the beat in old school fashion. Nam is about principles of journalism, and that puts him in a really small niche.
So, when I heard he was writing a book, it was a no brainer. I’d be buying it and reading it, no matter the subject.
Murder on Federal Street: Tyrone Everett, the Black Mafia, Fixed Fights, and the Last Golden Age of Philadelphia Boxing is the story of hard luck Philly pugilism legend, Tyrone Everett, who was gunned down by his girlfriend at age 24, while on the cusp of career-defining fights with significant purses.
I reached out to Sean, and asked if he’d answer a few questions about the book, which I endorse fully. He said ok.
Q n A with author Sean Nam
Michael Woods: So, lemme ask, of all the topics/subjects you could’ve chosen to devote yourself, why Tyrone Everett?
Sean Nam: I wish I had a more compelling backstory to share with you, but the truth is far more mundane.
The writer Carlos Acevedo, a close friend of mine, suggested Everett to me one day as a topic worthy of a book-length account.
And it’s easy to see why he did. While it’s often the case that boxers lead topsy-turvy lives marked by misfortune, Everett was screwed over in a major way not once but twice in his brief career.
He was murdered by his girlfriend at a heart wrenchingly young age, and he was involved in one of the worst scoring scandals in boxing history, his lightweight title shot against Alfredo Escalera. Both events were marked by an element of murkiness and irresolution.
Carolyn McKendrick, Everett’s girlfriend, served time, but there were a lot of salacious bits that turned up during the trial, including the role of a cross-dressing male drug dealer who was alleged to have been sexually involved with Everett—you can imagine the optics of that in an unabashedly macho subculture like boxing in Philadelphia in 1977.
I also clear up a lot of misconceptions about Tyrone’s death that linger on today, some of which are based on legal arguments put forward by McKendrick’s defense.
As for the Escalera fight, there was never really a proper investigation of what went down that night. (No surprise there.) Not for nothing the late Harold Lederman was at that fight and he called it maybe the worst robbery he had ever seen.
It was only as I dug deeper in my reporting that I realized how much more insidious the forces of boxing and the underworld were that conspired against Everett.
The other motivation behind my decision to write about Everett is the same one that I assume governs the thinking for most other writers: dearth.
Few have written about Everett in an extensive way, and there is very little footage of his fights on the Internet.
Recently, however, I saw that someone had uploaded the Escalera-Everett fight on YouTube.
Casual boxing fans have no idea who he is, much less heard of him.
Even among aficionados, he seems to be nothing more than a passing footnote.
Not every obscure figure deserves to be chronicled at length, but Everett’s promise combined with this incredible concatenation of misfortunes seemed to me deserving of an in-depth appraisal.
Oftentimes, a premature death can produce an immortalizing effect. Think Sylvia Plath or Jim Morrison.
But Everett’s name only became hazier as the years went by—to the point of distortion. On the other hand, that is not particularly surprising. Everett left behind a relatively scant body of work, devoid of a truly significant accomplishment; he never had a chance to make the equivalent of Ariel or “Light My Fire” inside the ring.
That he was right on the cusp of potentially fighting the likes of Alexis Arguello or Roberto Duran before his death is what makes his untimely demise all the more regrettable. Apart from the reporting in Murder of Federal Street, I hope readers will appreciate what I feel to be a vivid portrait of Everett.
MW: I enjoy hearing about process. Were you thinking, I’m going to write a boxing book… and then heard from publishing types that there’s a perception existing that boxing books are a hard sell to the masses? Whereas “true crime” is enjoying a moment?
SN: I should probably start by saying that this book is entirely self-published, and that was the intention from the start.
The perception to which you refer about the publishing industry is true: There is not much of a market for boxing books outside of heavyweights like Jack Dempsey, Muhammad Ali, and Mike Tyson. In that sense, Everett is a niche of a niche. But the opportunity to present Everett—even within the limited confines of the boxing world—on a greater scale than what had been done previously held a great deal of interest to me.
True crime is all the rage today, or so they say, so from that standpoint, Murder on Federal Street probably benefits from that association.
MW: I’m a sucker for blurbs. I cracked up when I saw Mark Kriegel’s for the book. He called your reporting “obsessional.” That ring true?
SN: Obviously, I took that as a compliment. I think any reporter worth his or her salt should be driven to address their chosen topic to the utmost extent of their abilities.
I am grateful to Mark and others, such as Harvey Araton and Steve Farhood, for their kind endorsements.
MW: Readers get to go back in time, and spend time in the later 60/early-middle 70s. Did your research match up with your preconceived notions about that scene, around that time?
SN: One of the difficulties of writing about an obscure figure for a general readership is figuring out how to animate his life.
From a dramatic sense, it helped that Everett lived in a period of perpetual tumult. The 1970s was an angry, downbeat time—civil rights, Vietnam, Nixon/Watergate, the oil crisis—and I wanted that reflected in the book, especially since Philadelphia was the site of so much unrest.
For Everett, a poor Black boy from the slums of South Philadelphia who was given a seemingly rotten hand, his life should have been unremarkable.
That he became, at least for a short spell, a neighborhood celebrity and one of the top fighters on the East Coast—in short, a man of distinction—is an achievement.
MW: Here’s another reason to buy the book: you found a fight which can be presented as THE WORST decision of all-time, the Tyrone Everett “loss” to Alfredo Escelera on Nov 30, 1976. This sort of thing happens in boxing on the regular—did you find yourself thinking that while times have changed, such perversions of justice are still disturbingly common?
SN: Sure. The skullduggery may not be as blatant, organized, or obscene as in the past but it is hard to be an observer of this sport—and witness to the myriad bad decisions, PED scandals, etc.—and not think it remains crooked on some deep, inherent level.
Then again, you’d expect that from an industry that is fiercely fragmented and unregulated.