A short life in the Cape’s underside

The brutal death of 16-year-old closes a grim family cycle

The Boston Globe

January 12, 2009

By Keith O’Brien
Globe Staff

HYANNIS – Long before he was shot, stabbed, dumped into a shallow hole, and set afire last month in Hyannis, Jordan Mendes, an alleged drug dealer at 16 years old, was just a boy, watching police storm into his grandmother’s home.

It was April 21, 2000, just before 10 p.m. Barnstable Police, along with other agencies, had spent a year investigating a cocaine distribution ring organized by Jordan’s father, Manuel Mendes, and now they were moving in, entering through an unlocked door, guns drawn.

Inside, police seized cocaine, marijuana, and bundles of cash, including $70,000 stashed away in the attic and another $10,000 in a closet. The drug ring – considered to be one of the largest on the Cape at the time – was busted. Manuel Mendes was sitting handcuffed on the couch, bound for prison, while his son, Jordan, then just 8, made a simple request of investigators combing the house for evidence.

“I remember him yelling, `Don’t mess up my room,”’ said Barnstable Police Detective Lieutenant Sean Balcom, who investigated Manuel Mendes for years. “This kid grew up in this environment.”

Cape Cod, with its pristine beaches and ocean views, is known as a summertime playground for the masses, and a haven for the rich and famous. Yachts and second homes are commonplace here – and so are big names. Jordan Mendes grew up just 2 miles from the Kennedy compound in Hyannis Port.

But Mendes’s gruesome killing Dec. 15 – which police say was carried out by his 13-year-old half-brother, Mykel Mendes, another 13-year-old, and 20-year-old Robert B. Vacher – pulled back the curtain on a dark corner of paradise, revealing a world of drugs, violence, and crime handed down from father to son.

For the Mendes family, it wasn’t supposed to be this way. Tyianne Mendes, the family’s matriarch, said the family left Mattapan for the Cape 24 years ago in search of a better life. The Cape, with its soft sea breezes, had always comforted Tyianne Mendes when she vacationed here.

But the reality was far tougher than the postcard. Manuel Mendes, Tyianne’s oldest son, became a career criminal on the Cape and, with the 2000 drug bust, landed in prison. Two years later, his brother Danuel – also an alleged drug dealer -was killed. And Jordan took up the family business of drug dealing, according to Cape and Islands District Attorney Michael O’Keefe.

The alleged motive was no surprise: greed. Jordan Mendes had $10,000 in cash on him, police say, the day he was lured to Mykel’s home in Hyannis, shot in the back, stabbed in the neck, rolled into a rug, and dumped in the woods. According to the police report, two of the alleged assailants, including Vacher, returned to the next day to set the body on fire.

It was a shocking crime, especially given the age of the alleged attackers. But some say the crime revealed what they already knew to be true: Hyannis, just like many other communities, has a drug problem.

“Maybe we do a good job of hiding it because we’re a tourism economy, or maybe because of people’s perceptions, people aren’t looking at it,” said state Representative Jeff Perry of Sandwich, a former Wareham police officer. “But it’s here, and it’s real.”

In 2008, Barnstable detectives, who patrol Hyannis and several other Cape Cod villages, made 400 arrests, most of which were for drug offenses, Balcom said. That’s a lot for a town of fewer than 50,000 people, and for more than a decade, Balcom added, Mendes family members have been part of the problem.

It didn’t take long for Tyianne Mendes’s oldest son to get into trouble. According to court documents, Manuel Mendes had 28 adult arraignments and 11 juvenile arraignments on his record before his 25th birthday.

But his legal problems, including a 1994 conviction for illegally possessing a shotgun, did little to hurt his business. As a drug trafficker, according to court documents, Manuel Mendes moved large quantities of cocaine onto the Cape from Boston and New York.

Even going to jail didn’t stop the operation. After his arrest in April 2000, Mendes was convicted and sentenced to serve eight to 10 years. But in phone calls made from prison after his brother’s slaying in December 2002, Manuel Mendes continued to pull the strings on the outside. He was caught, and federal drug trafficking charges resulted in a 35-year prison sentence.

Family members – including Jordan’s grandmother, Tyianne Mendes; his mother, Paula Carberry; and his 15-year-old sister, Manisha Mendes – said in interviews last week that Jordan struggled with his uncle’s slaying and his father’s prison sentence. Even though Manuel Mendes fathered five children with three different women and was not always around, Jordan looked up to him, family members said.

The 35-year sentence meant that their father was just “another person that we loved out of our lives again,” Manisha Mendes said. Angry, Manisha said, her brother began to talk about getting out of Hyannis and making a better life for himself.

Instead, however, he courted trouble like his father once did. Jordan’s grandmother and mother deny the police’s allegation that Jordan was a drug dealer. But they admit that he was arrested on petty crimes, that he had a 6 p.m. curfew as part of his probation, and that he struggled at school.

“I don’t think he had much of a childhood,” said Mary Lyons, director of the Barnstable High School Career Academy, who mentored Jordan in a group called HYPED – Healthy Youth Promoting Educated Decisions. “When I met him at 13, he didn’t really think he’d be old. He had already been in lock-up. He wasn’t going to age. He wasn’t going to have kids.”

But in recent months – even as authorities say he was dealing drugs and carrying around as much as $10,000 – Lyons was noticing a change in Mendes. On his report card in November, he scored A’s in English and history, as well as two B’s and two C’s. Teachers noted that he was a “pleasure to have in class.”

“He was starting to believe what we were telling him about himself,” Lyons said. “He could be an adult. He could have a real job. He could make a difference in the world – and not by selling drugs.”

On Monday morning, Dec. 15, Mendes, who lived with his grandmother, got ready for school just like any other day.

“He was singing,” Tyianne Mendes said. “He was happy.”

And she expected to see him again that night. Jordan almost always made his 6 p.m. curfew.

But on that night, Tyianne Mendes said, he didn’t show. Instead, Mykel came over, she said, using Jordan’s keys. When she asked if he had seen Jordan, Mykel said no, Tyianne Mendes recalled.

The family began to worry. Tyianne Mendes said she hoped that Jordan was staying with his girlfriend, as he had done once before. But when he didn’t show up again Tuesday night, Tyianne Mendes said, and Mykel came over again using Jordan’s keys, family members went out in search of him.

The first place they went: the woods near a short, dead-end street, Jennifer Lane. Manisha said that it was where the young people were always hanging out, and that they hoped to find Jordan there, or someone who might know where he was. But instead they saw a flickering light amid the trees.

“You see this glow,” Tyianne said. “No flames or anything. Just this glow. And then we’re running over there. We’re thinking we’ll see kids smoking pot and maybe we’ll be able to ask them if they know where Jordan is. Or maybe Jordan’s there.”

But there were no young people there. “There was a body,” Tyianne said. “Burning.”

Family members peered down into the hole and began to scream. Two jumped in and tried to put out the fire. Others ran for help. But it was too late. Jordan Mendes was dead.

Keith O’Brien can be reached at kobrien@globe.com

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