'Boss Man' McGee
His story was the darkest side of whispered urban legends that often turn out to be nothing but myths. But in 1996, these events became a harsh and disturbing reality. He was called "Boss Man," and he roamed through the battle-scarred streets of East St. Louis, where boarded-up storefronts and burned-out cars are a common sight. Frequently at the wheel of expensive, flashy cars, the "Boss Man," whose real name was Darnell McGee, was known as a ladies' man, and rumors of his many conquests, including some very young girls, swept through the riverside slum in 1996. Though his source of income was unknown, McGee always seemed to have a lot of cash and would often take his girlfriends on shopping trips and lavish them with gifts. To a young girl from East St. Louis, the attention may have been irresistible. But that happiness was short-lived and quickly turned to horror when it was revealed that Darnell "Boss Man" McGee was not only infected with the AIDS virus, but was spreading it to all his sex partners. According to a report in the Times, at least 62 women had been exposed to the deadly virus as a result of McGee's conduct (April 19, 1997).
"Investigators say McGee preyed on girls with low-self esteem, making them feel more important with flattery and gifts, and would pick them up in front of schools, liquor stores and skating rinks," reported the Associated Press (Farrow). When authorities first learned about the story, an intensive search was conducted to locate and identify the victims. But they had to search without his help. On January 15, 1997, the "Boss Man" was shot and killed while driving through the mean streets of St. Louis with his latest girlfriend by his side. At the time, some cops speculated it may have been revenge from one of his many victims. But later, it was determined to be an ordinary street robbery. Had he lived, Darnell McGee may well have been prosecuted for his incredibly vicious conduct. Intentionally spreading the HIV virus is a felony in both Illinois and Missouri. "He was a lunatic," said one girl to the press. "He knew he was going to die. He was going to take as many people with him as he could" (Nossiter).
The idea of someone intentionally passing on a fatal disease is a plausible nightmare. "I'd characterize it as despicable," said one law enforcement official to the press. "It's horrifying" (Barron). But human carriers who spread infections are, in fact, more common than is believed. In 1999, a New York man pleaded guilty to reckless endangerment in the first degree after exposing his sex partners to the HIV virus. But "authorities believe (he) had sex with more than a dozen young women in upstate New York without telling them he had the virus" (February 27, 1999, Times).
However, one of the first and most notorious healthy carriers of a contagious disease was not either of these individuals. That distinction belongs to a rather obstinate and disagreeable female who passed on her disease to hundreds, perhaps thousands of innocent people during a period when America was much more susceptible to epidemics than it is today. Her name was Mary Mallon. But she was better known by the title bestowed on her by New York's feral tabloids: Typhoid Mary.