Sometime in December 1958, at 125th and Lexington, in the heart of Harlem, a fight over a girl between two gangs erupted. Fighting over girls was probably the biggest reason for gang fights, besides the struggle over turf. The assailants in this case were McNeil Robertson and Nelson Harrison, the Prime Minister and War Counselor of the Scotchmen, a “down” club, known for its jitterbugging reputation to use the vernacular of youth gangs in the 1950s. (See this page for more information on the Scotchmen).
The victim in this attack was Ernest Herbert, who was either an Assassin (enemies with the Scotchmen) or the “Zircons,” a gang I have no other information on besides the name. McNeil and Nelson attacked not only Herbert, but others in the fight over the unnamed girl. Hurling gasoline bombs at Herbert and his companions, Herbert suffered injuries affecting his school work and he failed several of his tests.
Six months later, tension between the Assassins and the Scotchmen was still smouldering. On June 9, 1959, 22 members of the Scotchmen went hunting for some Assassins. The reason was because some Assassins found and beat up a Scotchman. It’s not clear if that was because of the December 1958 gasoline bomb attack or not, but in the gang world of revenge, it is sometimes difficult to ferret out the truth of who did what and when.
The war party of Scotchmen split up into two groups of 11 in order to escape the attention of the police from the 25th Precinct. But despite the clandestine nature of the boys’ skulking about, vigilant radio patrol cars (some NYPD cars had radios in them allowing them to call for help quicker than those who had no radio-equipped cars where the police had to use a call box) intercepted the gang, breaking up the impending attack.
The Scotchmen, not deterred by the police, reassembled later that evening. About 18 of them went looking for revenge again, their thirst for revenge as strong as ever. Armed with baseball bats, car aerials, knives and even swords, they entered a park on East 128th Street and third Avenue (Harlem River Park) at 11 p.m. There, the Scotchmen spotted William Bailey and Ernest Herbert sitting on a park bench. Supposedly they were Assassins.
Surrounding Bailey and Herbert, the Scotchmen engaged them in conversation when all of a sudden, Nelson punched Herbert, who fell to the ground. Herbert sprang to his feet and began to run. Screaming to his friends, Nelson yelled, “Don’t let him get away. Cut him!” In the confusion, Herbert unfortunately ran directly towards Robertson who took out his pen knife and promptly stabbed Herbert in the thigh. Herbert was supremely unlucky, this was the second time he was attacked in less than a year.
Robertson wasn’t finished his deadly work. While three Scotchmen seized and held William Bailey against a fence, Robertson stabbed him in the stomach. Their mission complete, the gang scattered, fleeing from the violent scene, leaving the victims in their wake. Bailey and Herbert were both taken to Harlem Hospital to be treated for their wounds. There they told a detective who their attackers were.
Herbert had two sutures inserted into his thigh wound, but Bailey’s injuries were much worse. If not treated quickly, stomach wounds can be lethal. Bailey received 18 sutures to heal the damage and recovered in the hospital for two weeks. Even when he was released, he experienced pain whenever there was bad weather.
Because the victims were able to identify their attackers, the police were able to arrest them in their homes the next day, on June 10, 1959. Both Robertson and Nelson were found guilty for their role in the attack. The detective also arrested 11 other Scotchmen who were held on charges of Unlawful Assembly, but were eventually acquitted. Five other Scotchmen – too young to be tried in Adult Court – were arrested and sent to Children’s Court and discharged.