The Lincoln-Larimer neighborhood of Pittsburgh is defined by empty lots and boarded-up storefronts, gravestones of a vibrant community swallowed up by gangs and violence. When I was there, a man told me this neighborhood is where the first person in Pittsburgh was busted for crack.
Many of Marshall's relatives still live in the neighborhood. Marshall heard I was knocking on doors and speaking to family and old neighbors. He even tweeted about it. Now, a few feet from his hot tub and a rainbow-colored basketball court, he can't help but poke fun.
"Yeah, you must be pretty dumb if you're walking around Larimer Avenue."
'He should've been in the NFL'
By the time Marshall was 6 and playing organized football, his family's athletic prowess was legendary. One of his uncles played for the Harlem Globetrotters. Cousins, uncles, aunts in Pittsburgh — everyone seems to have been a high school star.
But no one was better than his father, Frederick "Freddie" Marshall. He starred at Westinghouse, a predominantly black football powerhouse. "To this day, his name around here is real big; it's proper," said Dwayne Crawley, 40, who lives next door to Marshall's childhood home.
Freddie was popular, captain of the football team. "As far as quarterbacks go, he was right at the front of the pack," said George Webb, who coached the Bulldogs for three decades.
As a senior Freddie threw for more than 1,000 yards, was named the city's top quarterback and led Westinghouse to the city title. Thirty years later, former teammates still speak in admiration. "Freddie was awesome," Robert Rose said. "He should've been in the NFL."
He never got there. He enrolled at West Virginia State University, didn't play a down of football and two years later returned to Pittsburgh, where he had a growing family with his high school sweetheart, Diane Bolden. Brandon, the second of three children, arrived in March 1984.
Out of college, Freddie tried a variety of businesses, opening a car-detailing shop and a clothing store. He moved his family into his dad's two-story house on Mayflower Street, installing a pool table upstairs and carefully tending the lawn. He and Diane would cheer on their two sons at games and practices.
"His father put a lot of emphasis on them being successful," said Robert Poston, who oversaw the football league in Marshall's neighborhood for almost three decades. "His father, he was on top of them every day. They were not late once; they always participated."
In midget football, Marshall played running back and soon showed he had inherited his father's gifts. One year he scored 26 touchdowns in 10 games. "Even at that age, he was the one guy who stood out," said Davon Allensworth, a childhood friend who remains close to Marshall.
While Marshall's parents were supportive — neighbors and friends recall the couple's house as the only one on the street with two parents — there was trouble at home. Marshall was not yet 2 when his dad went to jail for nine months in 1986 after he smashed a woman's face with a beer bottle in a nightclub, upset she declined to be "a whore for him," court and police reports state.
Freddie's conflicts with his wife led to a series of protection orders. Those records allege that the day after the car incident in 1987, Freddie tried to choke Diane after she swung a knife and cut him because he threatened to kill her.
At a convenience store in 1989, Freddie allegedly grabbed a 2-liter bottle of Pepsi and hit Diane in the face with it, causing her to fall. Freddie continued to assault her, according to court records. She was hospitalized for two days.
Four years later, she was granted another protection order after Freddie didn't let her inside their house without being hit. He allegedly told employees at her hair salon "they would find her body in a gutter."
Freddie's encounters with law enforcement also include arrests for allegedly selling drugs. Sometimes a lawyer got charges dismissed, such as when cops found bags of heroin, a notebook and a calculator in a car he was driving.
The most bizarre incident involving Freddie and detailed in court records took place in the early hours of Christmas Eve in 1989. Responding to a call, police arrived at the Marshalls' house and found Diane lying on the floor. Her sister said Diane had been beaten up. Paramedics took her to a hospital. Police began searching for Freddie.
Meanwhile, the phone rang at the house and Diane's mother answered. It was Freddie. He asked if police found a box. She told him they did and hung up. The box was on the second-floor landing. Inside were 11 bags of cocaine.
While the officers pieced together the evening, a large object — left unidentified in police reports — came crashing through the dining room window, hitting one officer in the head and Diane's sister in the back. Freddie was heard yelling, "I got you!" and scurried away into the darkness.