First of five parts
Stacie Happel moved into her newly purchased three-bedroom Milwaukee home in August 2005 with a list of projects.
First order of business: Get rid of those two unsightly concrete slabs in the backyard. So she put her boyfriend to work.
After smashing through 14 inches of concrete, he came across a blue tarp and underneath that, bones.
The previous owner of the W. Fiebrantz Ave. home had placed pit bull kennels on those slabs, but these were no dog bones.
Detectives called to the scene found a partially decomposed body bound in duct tape and kitchen wrap, the hands and feet tied with rope. They also found something puzzling in the grave: a tattered camisole.
DNA tests would reveal the corpse was an Illinois drug dealer who had disappeared six years earlier. He was last seen on his way to make a big drug score with the owner of the house on Fiebrantz, Michael Lock.
Under the next slab, detectives found another dead drug dealer, who also had done business with the owner of that house.
Just who was Michael Lock?
It turned out police knew him – but not well enough.
Over 10 years, Lock had emerged as one of the leading criminal operators in the city, while authorities failed to connect the dots. Police amassed files that showed he built a diverse crime network around drug dealing, mortgage fraud, armed robbery and prostitution.
At least four separate law enforcement agencies had investigated Lock – with little idea what the others were doing.
Sheriff’s commanders shut down a two-year investigation into Lock with no charges filed. A top prosecutor who would go on to become district attorney let Lock go after cops found a loaded Glock in his car. And the FBI allowed Lock to earn his freedom as an informant who fed them competitors and lesser crime figures.
Authorities only began to understand the full extent of Lock’s criminal empire once Happel’s boyfriend took a sledgehammer to those ugly concrete slabs.
Until then, Lock lived a double life. He served as a preacher and deacon at his grandfather’s church, bringing prostitutes with him to services and stopping there to pray before robberies. He ran legitimate-looking businesses, such as a home-repair company and a barbershop.
Lock, now 38, admits dealing drugs but said he is no killer, pimp or crime boss – just a very good businessman
“I wasn’t made to do manual labor. I was made to think. That’s what I did, and it paid off,” Lock said in a pair of extensive jailhouse interviews. “I made enough money to where I would be a fool to do what they said I did.”
Lock’s associates say he combined charm and business savvy with a discipline and viciousness that made him an effective crime boss.
“There was nothing we couldn’t do,” said Louis Jackson, one of Lock’s top lieutenants. “We felt we could be as strong as Al Capone. Why? Because we had Michael Lock, and Michael Lock knew every (expletive) thing.”
Lock still faces charges that he orchestrated a major prostitution ring, and investigators are trying to determine whether the two victims unearthed on Fiebrantz represented the start of his murderous ways.
“We think there are more bodies out there,” Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm said.
At 8, Lock delivered his first sermon at his grandfather’s Unity Gospel House of Prayer. He preached about how people sin but God always forgives.
Those in the pews saw in him the same gift they saw in his grandfather, Elbridge Lock.
The boy moved them – and would again and again as he rose to preach before the growing congregation.
Armed with deepening knowledge of Scripture, Lock felt at ease in the pulpit, even as a boy. He believed he was born to lead.
Lock became the man of the house early on, despite having an older brother. His father, a garbage hauler and tannery worker, was hooked on drugs and in prison when his son gave that first sermon in 1979.
In 1987, when Lock was 16, his father died of an overdose.
He grew closer to his grandfather, who rose from uneducated, rural Arkansas roots and founded the black church in Milwaukee where Lock preached.
The young Lock believed he, too, would accomplish great things.
Spread charm around
Lock went to work soon after his father’s death. He became the first black employee at Bagley’s Men’s Wear, where his grandfather shopped.
At first he worked as a security guard. But Lock began chatting about clothes with customers waiting for a salesman. His initiative caught the owner’s attention. Lock soon was learning the clothing business – how to chalk suit pants, suggest colors and close a sale.
In his spare time, on the basketball courts around the family home on N. 19th St., he played shooting guard and developed a lethal jump shot.
He was lights-out with the girls, too.
Lock mesmerized them at school, in church and at the mall. He whispered in their ears, brought them flowers, held the door and respected their parents. He had sex for the first time in the seventh grade.
At Madison High School, Lock sang in the choirand was elected to the homecoming court. But basketball trumped everything. Throwing around his 5-foot, 11-inch frame, he was known to dish out more than a few tough fouls.
At age 17, he got his own place and married his girlfriend – four months before graduating from high school in 1989. The wedding was in the family church with his grandfather presiding. The marriage wouldn’t last.
A son was born nine months later. Michael Jr. would be the first of five children – by four different women. Two others also are named after him, a daughter, Michael Sedan, and another son, Sir Michael.
In business for himself
After graduating from high school, Lock took cosmetology classes and started to deal drugs.
He didn’t get a degree, but by 1994 he had a four-chair barbershop, the Fresh Look, on N. Teutonia Ave. He built a clientele of police officers and churchgoers.
He wasn’t satisfied being a popular barber and small-time dealer.
Lock figured he could make a lot of money focusing on bigger drug deals. But he needed a partner to launch the new operation.
Louis Jackson learned the drug trade working for Jerry Walker, boss of the ruthless 2-7 gang that used shootings, beatings and intimidation to control the crack cocaine trade on Milwaukee’s north side.
By the mid-1990s, Walker was locked up for life. Jackson, a machine-shop foreman, began arranging his own drug deals.
Jackson knew of Lock from high school basketball games.
Later, the pair of drug dealers saw each other at a bar. Lock invited Jackson to his barbershop for a cut. Jackson stopped in several times. They didn’t talk drugs, not right away.
Jackson happened to be at Fresh Look the day a guy barged in and accused Lock of having sex with his girlfriend. The two men started fighting. Jackson jumped in to help Lock. They beat the guy unconscious, cementing their friendship.
Jackson was attracted to Lock’s methodical planning and focus. That meant no booze, no late nights and no drug use for themselves.
He took note of how Lock thought two or more moves ahead and never told anyone everything he was doing.
“That way, if somebody broke into our organization, such as the police or other informant, Michael Lock knew who said what,” Jackson said. “He never would forget what he told you.”
Lock owned and bred dozens of pit bulls. Jackson built pens for Lock’s basement dogfights. Five of those dogs were kept at the Fiebrantz house. One neighbor described them as looking like Satan’s dogs
Jackson and Lock went fishing together, and Jackson attended Lock’s church.
Lock came to trust Jackson enough to plug him into other parts of the criminal enterprise.
From dealing to stealing
Lock made tens of thousands of dollars in individual drug deals, but he wanted more. He began to plot ways to rip off other drug dealers.
He arranged meetings on his turf with dealers. Once there, Lock’s men would strip them of their drugs and cash. Few drug dealers would even attempt such bold, risky work. But Lock was confident he could get away with it. And it meant a much bigger profit.
Lock began to branch out into other areas. He formed his own home-repair business and started buying up houses. He funneled thousands in cash from his drug and robbery operations through those businesses.
If that weren’t enough, Lock’s prostitution operation was stretching across the Midwest, prosecution files show.
The prostitutes lived with Lock and his girlfriend, Shalanda Mason, his top earner who went by the nickname “Pleasure.” Lock reportedly dispatched his girls to strip clubs in Illinois, Nebraska, Indiana and Minnesota.
Lock’s girls were under orders to earn at least $10,000 each trip by selling sex at nearby hotels.
In addition to being his most prolific prostitute, Shalanda was a business-savvy leader in Lock’s machine, according to prosecution filings and testimony. One client alone paid her $150,000 for sex over a five-year period, records show. She is charged with 10 felony prostitution counts and has pleaded not guilty. Lock married Shalanda, his third wife, in 2006.
Sad-eyed and quiet, Shalanda often visits her husband in jail, always with a Bible. They read it together, separated by glass.
Lock denies he would ever pimp her.
The evidence shows he did that – and worse.
It shows he used her as bait to take a man’s money, his drugs and his life.
Felipe Melendez-Rivas, the Illinois drug dealer who disappeared in 1999, met Lock through a friend.
At 6-feet-6, he was called Mondo by associates.
Lock did several big drug deals with Mondo, 27. Shalanda was present a couple times, and Mondo couldn’t keep his eyes off her. Lock saw an opening, a chance to exploit weakness.
He plotted to rob Mondo. But it wouldn’t end there.
Lock ordered his uncle, Carl “Uncle Ed” Davis, and another in his crew, Frisco Richardson, to dig a hole behind the house on Fiebrantz Ave. at N. 49th St.
Richardson was told the hole was for a dog kennel slab. That didn’t make sense; it was too deep.
Richardson got in the hole.
“I hope I am not digging my own grave,” he joked.
Lock and Uncle Ed laughed. Then Lock ordered them to make the hole bigger.
Lock set up a transaction with Mondo. He would pay $750,000 for 110 pounds of cocaine. Lock promised that after the deal, Mondo could have sex with Shalanda.
Mondo met Lock at the Cracker Barrel just off I-94 in Kenosha. The Illinois dealer showed up with the cocaine in a box and a bouquet for Shalanda. He kissed her hand.
Afterward, Mondo and Shalanda rode together up to Milwaukee. They went straight to Lock’s house on Fiebrantz.
Lock and the muscle of his group, Donald “Killer Coop” Cooper, secretly followed in another car.
Shalanda had stripped down to her underwear, and Mondo was half-dressed when Lock and Cooper crashed through the front and back doors.
They tackled Mondo. Cooper bashed him in the head with a gun. They tied the dealer up with duct tape. And then they suffocated him.
They took back their cash and wrapped the body in kitchen plastic wrap. The corpse went into a closet.
A couple of days later, Lock and his uncle dumped Mondo’s body in the backyard grave.
Before they threw on the dirt, Lock tossed in Shalanda’s camisole.
“It was sort of like the knife sticking in the body,” said Assistant District Attorney Mark Williams. “ ’You like Shalanda? Well, here, take her to your grave.’ ”
Then Davis sealed the tomb in more than a foot of concrete.
Mondo was buried in August 1999. By that time, Lock already had been under investigation for six months. But his criminal operations wouldn’t end anytime soon. A second murder and a second concrete slab would follow.