James Aaron Williams, 84, of Cherry Hill, a former Burlington Township police detective and retired DEA official, died Wednesday, Sept. 18, of cancer at Powerback Rehabilitation in Voorhees.
Dr. Williams had a long career in law enforcement, logged a second career as a drug-policy enforcer with the New York Yankees, and had embarked on a third as an educator at the time of his death.
“He liked to say that he had retired twice and was working on his third career when he passed,” said son James L. Williams.
Dr. Williams was a certified forensic examiner, able to testify in federal and state court as an expert witness. He also operated J.A. Williams Associates LLC, a Cherry Hill consulting firm specializing in police policies and practices.
Born and raised in Palmyra, Mo., he graduated from Douglass High School in Hannibal and attended Western Illinois College, where he competed in track. He studied at the University of Maryland and earned a doctoral degree in criminal justice from Pacific Western University in 1996.
After leaving Western Illinois, he served as an Air Force load master until joining the New Jersey State Police in 1964.
A year later, he was hired by the Burlington Township police force, serving as a detective and detective sergeant. He also worked as an instructor and later deputy director of the Burlington County Police Academy.
During that time, he began to focus on drug enforcement. “I was probably one of the first narcotics officers in the county,” he told the Burlington County Times.
Due largely to his drug-enforcement background, he was recruited in 1973 to join the federal Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs, a precursor to the Drug Enforcement Administration.
As a federal drug agent, he became a member of the Philadelphia-Region Organized Crime Strike Force and infiltrated the Black Mafia, an underground network of heroin and cocaine dealers operating in the inner city.
Information he and others developed led to convictions and long prison terms that helped put the Black Mafia out of business.
Dr. Williams was named chief of intelligence and organized crime for the DEA’s New England region. During the two-year assignment, he commuted each week from his home in Cherry Hill.
He was posted as a DEA attaché to the U.S. Embassy in Kingston, Jamaica. His job was to block the illegal flow of marijuana from Jamaica to the American mainland, which was occurring despite surveillance by U.S. officials. Much of it was coming in by boat.
“Today, a trafficker will send three boats, and if only one gets through, he’s still made enough that he hasn’t lost anything,” he told the Burlington County paper. "If two get through, he’s made a spectacular amount of money.”
Dr. Williams retired from the DEA in 1994 as deputy associate special agent in charge of the New York office.
He embarked on a second career when he was hired by George Steinbrenner, owner of the New York Yankees, as assistant director of player operations. His mission was to keep drugs out of the locker room.
He was to keep an especially sharp eye on Darryl Strawberry, a New York Mets and Los Angeles Dodgers standout who was attempting a comeback with the Yankees after run-ins with the law over drug use.
“Of all the people I’ve been in contact with who’ve used drugs, Darryl Strawberry has impressed me as a person who will overcome his problem,” Dr. Williams once said. “He’s under unbelievable disciplinary measures and will remain so.”
Later, he taught criminal justice at Rowan University. In June, he was inducted into the Rowan University Hall of Fame.
Dr. Williams enjoyed jogging, running marathons, and playing golf. He was a member of the Masons.
In addition to his son, James L., he is survived by his wife of 40 years, Marlene Roberta Williams; a daughter, Tracey Williams; stepchildren Christal and Nicholas Chacon; eight grandchildren; two great-grandchildren; a brother; and a niece and nephews. A sister died earlier.
Mr. Williams’ first wife, Rochelle, survives. His second wife, Barbara, is deceased.
A visitation at 10 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 28, will be followed by noon services at the May Funeral Home, 45 Pine St., Willingboro, N.J. Burial is private.