Before you get to the article…
On February 23, 2018, my book on the Mau Maus and Sand Street Angels, who were two Brooklyn youth gangs from the 1950s, has been completed. It took 15 years of research and writing to complete Brooklyn Rumble: Mau Maus, Sand Street Angels, and the End of an Era. This book is roughly 6″x9″ and has 370 pages and includes a look at the characters in the Mau Maus and the details of a gang killing that happened in February 1959 in front of the iconic Brooklyn Paramount Theater (now Long Island University). If you want to buy a copy, click here and this link will take you to an online ordering page.
The Halsey Bops were a white gang that had a small, 5-block turf in Bushwick, Brooklyn. Putnam Avenue to Halsey Street and Knickerbocker Avenue to Wilson Avenue was their turf lines and they also liked to hang out in Putnam and Halsey Parks. Not too far from Halsey Park was the Elhambra Theatre. Closed in 1951, the building was unused, but the Halsey Bops would climb the fire escape and hang out inside the spooky building.
Split into two groups ranging from 12-19 years of age, there were the Halsey Bops who were the older guys, 16 years of age and up and then the Halsey Tots who were members 12-15. Although the groups were of different ages, it was still one gang with a total between the Bops and Tots of about 40 members. The Halsey Bops were mostly Italian and Irish with a few Spanish guys, and despite the small size of their gang they made their presence felt from fights and rumbles to their graffiti that could be found on the cements supports of the Cypress Avenue LIRR and connecting line trestle.
The Halsey Bops had a President (Tommy), Vice President (Ray) and War Counselor (Frankie) and fought mostly the Saints who were from nearby Queens. The Bops didn’t use knives much, but did like their guns, and would make home made zip guns for their rumbles. They sometimes fought the Ellery Bops, a nearby White gang that hung out on Grove Street, a few streets from their turf and not to be confused with the Puerto Rican Ellery Bops from Williamsburg area.
Even though the Halsey Bops fought the Ellery Bops, they would sometimes team up with them against the Black Chaplains gang that was in nearby Bedford-Stuyvesant. Halsey Street was a neighborhood of mostly Jewish and Italian families, and as the 1950s moved along, Black families started to move into Bushwick, causing racial tension between the two groups. The Halsey Bops and Ellery Bops wanted to protect their turf from the new families moving into the neighborhood. A period report from May 1960 described the racial tension between Bushwick and Beford-Stuyvesant gangs as beginning in the spring of 1959:
“There has been a past history of extremely poor and provocative racial relations in this area for the last year. It is an area in which Negroes have just recently moved in and there have been gang wars in the schools and in the immediate areas surrounding it. All three of the co-defendants state (from a case that I will hopefully explain in the future) that they have personally been exposed to such situations where members of the Halsey Bops armed with rifles, pistols and riding cars have turned the corners where they congregated on Jefferson Avenue in the night time and have fired shots at them. This is more or less confirmed by the owner of the candy store at 776 Jefferson Avenue stating that in the last six months, he has had to replace the plate glass window in his store nine times as the result of white youths firing shots into the store where some of the Negro kids tend to congregate.”
Below is a picture of some Halsey Bops mugging for the camera, one of them with a pistol in his hand, and stogie clenched in his mouth, circa 1959. Perhaps it was some of these Bops who were the ones that shot at the plate glass window at 776 Jefferson Avenue.
For a fascinating look at a letter written by Ellery and Halsey Bops in the spring of 1958, click on this link. It was written to the Daily News during the height of the trial against the killers of Michael Farmer.