The Jamaican drug cartel the Shower Posse has gone down in history as one of the most dangerous, violent, and — for several decades at least — successful criminal drug-trafficking gangs in living memory. Central to the Shower Posse’s stranglehold on the American drug trade in the 1970s was their leader, Lester Lloyd Coke, who along with fellow gangster Vivian Blake founded the group in the Tivoli Gardens district of Kingston, Jamaica, following the deaths of several local gang leaders.
Born into poverty, in his youth Coke was reportedly an upstanding citizen who worked as an apprentice locksmith, according to the Jamaica Gleaner. But in the political upheaval that began to consume the island in the 1960s, his life irreversibly changed. Amid rising political violence, Coke was shot multiple times and left for dead. He somehow recovered but returned to the streets a changed, more cynical and angry man. Amid the chaos, Coke and his associates sought to raise themselves out of the slums by any means possible — and taking control of Jamaica’s drug trade seemed as good a way as any.
“Lords of the Mafia” claims that Coke was responsible for thousands of drug crime-related deaths in the course of his time as kingpin of the Shower Posse. And though he was arrested in 1990 after being indicted in the United States on drug charges, he too met a shocking end while behind bars, with debate still ongoing as to whether his death was an accident or murder.
The Shower Posse’s reign of terror
The Shower Posse’s unusual name reportedly stems from their involvement in Jamaica’s violent political battles, denoting their support for the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP). As reported by the Jamaica Observer, the party was backed by the U.S. and led by Edward Seaga, who campaigned on the promise of delivering a “shower” of wealth and opportunities on the island. Seaga’s party was involved in a deadly struggle with its left-leaning rivals the People’s National Party, who at the time were purportedly affiliated with American enemy Fidel Castro. Lester Lloyd Coke allegedly assisted the JLP in meeting the party’s political enemies with deadly violence. Al Jazeera claims that the name “Shower Posse” is a reference to the gang’s willingness to shower their enemies with gunfire.
Coke and Vivian Blake began ramping up their drug operations after Seaga came to power in 1980. Seaga pushed for an end to the growing of cannabis on the island and employed pesticides to kill existing crops. In its absence, trafficking cocaine became a bigger industry, with the Shower Posse using Jamaica as a distribution center from which to transport the drug to several major cities in the U.S. — investigative reporter Frank Owen says the gang began in Miami and soon spread up the East Coast and into the Midwest. But with The Shower Posse implicated in countless murders related to the drug trade in both Jamaica and the U.S., they soon attracted the attention of the authorities.
The gruesome death of Lester Lloyd Coke
In 1990, Lester Lloyd Coke found himself behind bars, having been indicted in a U.S. court. After an extradition request, the leader of Tivoli Gardens’ Shower Posse was arrested by Jamaican law enforcement. While in prison in 1992, Coke’s son and heir, Mark — known as Jah T — was murdered, triggering violence in West Kingston and even Florida.
Weeks later, a blaze broke out at Kingston’s General Penitentiary — today known as Tower Street Adult Correctional Centre — where Coke was being held for extradition. He was unable to flee from his locked cell and burned to death. According to the Jamaica Observer, Coke died on the same day as Jah T’s funeral in an incident that many of his supporters claimed was an intentional arson killing to prevent the gang leader from spilling details of the Jamaican government’s links to organized crime while under oath.
Nevertheless, the Coke dynasty lived on, with another son, Christopher Coke, taking the reigns of the Shower Posse. In 2011, Christopher Coke was incarcerated after pleading guilty to racketeering conspiracy charges in Manhattan, New York.