IT WAS 40 YEARS AGO, but the bloody rampage still reeks in the memory of Philadelphians.

Eight Black Mafia members invaded Dubrow's furniture store on South Street on Jan. 4, 1971, and unleashed a barrage of wanton terror, leaving a janitor shot to death and an employee doused with gasoline and left burning; 13 other clerks were bound and beaten and two others shot and wounded.

Then-Police Commissioner Frank Rizzo called it "the most vicious crime I have ever come across."

The gang was led by Robert "Nudie" Mims, one of the leaders of the ruthless criminal organization that came to be called the Black Mafia.

The reason for the Dubrow raid: The owner refused to pay protection to the organization. The invaders looted the store's offices and set more fires to destroy evidence before they fled.

Mims was sentenced to life without parole for the crime and in prison became the undisputed leader of black inmates through his commanding personality and his role as an imam in the Nation of Islam.

He died Monday in the Minnesota Correctional Facility-Faribault. He was 69.

At Holmesburg Prison and later at Graterford, Mims exerted undisputed control over the black prisoners, nearly all members of the Nation of Islam. He saw to it that prisoners loyal to him got women and drugs, while prison authorities turned a blind eye — for one important reason. With Mims in charge, there was peace. Vastly outnumbered by prisoners, the corrections staff relied on Mims to keep everything orderly.

However, Mims' unofficial power hierarchy — with not only its access to prostitutes and drugs, but also its influence on the criminal activities of the organization outside the walls — was too much for state officials to take indefinitely. In October 1995, 650 state troopers, with drug-sniffing dogs and metal detectors, invaded Graterford. They found 200 homemade weapons, 55 packets of cocaine, 122 assorted pills and six stashes of marijuana, and they led 21 handcuffed prisoners to buses for trips to other prisons.

Mims was taken to Minnesota. Two prison officials were forced to take early retirement.

Sean Patrick Griffin, author of Black Brothers Inc.: The Violent Rise and Fall of Philadelphia's Black Mafia, said he was speaking at a national convention of prison wardens not long ago, when during a question-and-answer session he was asked by a warden from Texas about Nudie Mims and how he exerted so much control over the prison population.

"He said they had heard in Texas stories about his influence," Griffin said.

"Nudie knew he was not getting out and he made the best of it. People lived in awe of his power. For one thing, he had an imposing physical presence at 6-foot-4 and 250 pounds. As long as he was in local prisons, he also had a hand in the street. He had a skill at organizing people."

When Mims was appealing his conviction, the leading witness against him, a greeter at Dubrow's named Louis Gruby, was murdered, along with his wife, Yetta, in 1976 in their home in the Northeast. The appeal was denied anyway. There was no evidence that Mims was involved in the murders.

It was reputed that Mims also ran a heroin ring in Northwest Philadelphia.

The Dubrow attack was the subject of the book The Witness by W.E.B. Griffin. After the crime, Mims moved to Chicago, where he was a bodyguard for Elijah Muhammad, leader of the Nation of Islam, before surrendering to answer the charges in Philadelphia.

Sean Griffin, a former Philadelphia cop who is now a criminology professor at Penn State's Abington campus, wrote in his book that Mims was one of a group of black criminals who adopted the name Black Mafia in 1968, and went out looking for recruits.

Griffin wrote that the Black Mafia was responsible for at least 40 murders and included the "most ruthless, malevolent killers ever spawned in the U.S., who became untouchable because no one dared testify against them."

There was no information about funeral services for Mims.