The Last Voyage of the Mighty Viking
In the clubs and restaurants of Miami's Jamaican community, they still tell stories about the Mighty Viking. Stories, mostly, about his death:
"He'd just been with a lady, you know, and he went to take a shower. That's where they got him."
"The Mighty Viking -- that was something the drug posses did. They left him to rot for a month."
"I heard they cut off his genitals and stuck them in his mouth."
None of the tales is true, of course, and yet all somehow reflect the macabre mythology that has clung to the popular disc jockey's legacy like the stubborn stench of formaldehyde.
Cecil Clark, known to the thousands who tuned in to his radio show as the Mighty Viking, was murdered in July 1988. Police now insist the slaying was nothing more than a robbery-turned-homicide. But more than four years since his body was discovered, bullet-riddled and bound, in his truck in a North Dade parking lot, local Jamaicans still regard the killing as an unsolved crime, the dark reminder of an era when drug posses struck anywhere, anytime, and anyone.
"That's the crazy part about this whole thing," says Clint O'Neil, who replaced Clark as South Florida's pre-eminent reggae DJ. "People are still scared to talk about the Viking. Even now people are intimidated. It's really creepy. You mention the Mighty Viking and everybody falls silent."
Affable and hard-working, Clark was considered the pioneering voice of Jamaican radio in South Florida, and something of a Horatio Alger story. Despite little formal education, he left his boyhood home of Westmoreland, Jamaica, for Miami in the early Seventies. Here, he quickly recast himself as the Mighty Viking -- a sobriquet borrowed from a Sixties Jamaican group -- and spun records in local clubs. Despite a minor speech impediment and a thick Island patois, he built a loyal following for his radio show. The dapper, goateed Clark also built a reputation as an insatiable ladies' man, a flashy dresser whose gold-ringed fingers always seemed to be clutching the phone number of his next romantic conquest.
News of his murder spread quickly through the gossipy Jamaican community, and within hours callers jammed the lines at WKAT-AM (1360), where Clark broadcast his reggae show six days a week. Dozens phoned in tips to the police. Three different women called claiming to be Clark's fiancee. Others lodged murky allegations of drug dealing. Devoted listeners noted that Clark had issued an on-the-air challenge to unknown enemies days before his death.
While whispered motives abounded, hard facts did not. It took police more than two years to crack the case. They now attribute the homicide to a loose-knit band of thugs who robbed Clark, kidnapped him, then shot him in cold blood. Yet, even as state prosecutors prepare to try one of his alleged abductors, the Mighty Viking's demise remains shrouded in rumors.
No one knows that better than Metro-Dade Police Det. Ramesh Nyberg. For months Nyberg chased down leads, massaging usually vague clues out of invariably reluctant sources. As the tips that had poured in following Clark's death dwindled, Nyberg's investigation sprawled. For a time he pursued, then discarded, the theory that Clark's killing was the result of his womanizing.
Despite the testimony of friends who portrayed Clark as a veritable teetotaler, the brutal fashion in which he was dispatched also led to speculation that drugs triggered his downfall. At one point Nyberg flew down to Kingston to interview an informant who linked Clark to a marijuana and counterfeit money smuggling venture. "He spoke in such detail that for a while we thought we had a suspect," Nyberg says. "But we were never able to prove anything he said."
In the spring of 1990 another informant came forward. This time the lead panned out. The source, a federal prisoner, knew details of Clark's murder that had not been released to the media. "Stuff," Nyberg observes, "that only somebody in the know would be able to tell us."
Gradually Nyberg pieced together a version of Clark's last night, a version that rang true to most who knew him. He spent the early portion of the evening with a young woman -- "a very temporary-type girlfriend," Nyberg explains -- before receiving a call on his digital beeper. The call came from a second woman, whom he arranged to meet. He called a cab for the first woman. She was the last person who admits to having seen him alive.
Beyond that, the specifics are speculation. "All we know is that he was targeted by a local group who went out looking for individuals that they thought had money. We have good information that they've killed before," Nyberg says. "They seemed to have been loosely affiliated with the Spangler posse." In fact, Clark's death came amid the heyday of the Jamaican drug posses, criminal enterprises that grew out of the island's corrupt political parties and coordinated the large-scale importation of drugs and violence to South Florida beginning in the late Seventies.
But by the time Nyberg began drawing up arrest warrants a year ago, the informal syndicate had self-destructed. Two of the suspects, Sandra Earle and Patrick Smickle, had been murdered. Cecil Hart, a notorious hit man and the gang's purported leader, was on the lam, fleeing not only Metro-Dade police, but the Broward Sheriff's Office, and the FBI. The woman who lured Clark into the web of death remained unidentified.
Only one of the five suspects, Franklin Passley, could be found. He was in Leavenworth federal penitentiary on an arms possession charge. This past June, Passley was returned to Miami to face six felony charges, including kidnapping and first-degree murder. His trial is set for December 7, and Nyberg says he is optimistic that a jury will convict Passley if he does not agree to a plea bargain. But privately, prosecutors admit the case may not be open and shut, especially considering that the state's star witnesses are federal prisoners who did not see the murder, but heard about it second-hand.
None of these developments, however, has made much of an impression around the Mighty Viking's old stomping grounds, where people still brush off the notion that a routine robbery led to his liquidation. "Oh no, the Viking was killed 'cause he opened his mouth one too many times," says a Carol City businesswoman who asked not to be named. "That was a warning, what the posses did."
Even Clark's few close friends seem surprised, almost unsettled, to hear that the mystery of the Mighty Viking may be drawing to a close. "I had no idea they got the guys," says Albert Lee, proprietor of the popular Pepper Pot Restaurant and Grocery. "I didn't expect they'd ever find out who did it. There may be a hundred people who know what happened, but who would ever say?"
Clark used to visit Lee's shop, at 10817 NW 27th Avenue, almost daily, often leaving flyers to publicize the dances that he promoted at clubs such as Big Daddy's 8600 Club and Luther Campbell's Strawberries Restaurant and Lounge. "He was a hustler, a guy who was always on the go," Lee recalls. "When he first went on the radio, we all said, `Now, how is he going to get the advertising for this?' But he did it. He was the one who opened the door. A lot of these younger guys on the air owe it to the Mighty Viking. He used to pack the clubs, too."
As evidence, Lee ducks into his tiny office and retrieves a trophy. The dusty inscription, printed beneath a golden figure of a bowler, reads "Big Daddy's Reggay Award."
"On the night he gave me this, I showed up at the club at 9:00 p.m. There was no one there," Lee remembers. "I said, `Hey Viking, where are all the people?' He looked at me and said -- I'll never forget -- `Just wait, man.' By ten the place was so crowded you couldn't even buy a drink. The Viking was a guy who always liked the limelight."
The kind of guy, Lee imagines, who would have adored the title "living legend."
It comes as little consolation that in death, he became one.
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