Sometimes when I do research on NYC youth gangs from the 1950s, I come upon dead ends; I’ve gotten used to it. But sometimes – sometimes – there are interesting discoveries waiting to happen. Like last year when I was doing research on a 19-year-old teenager who was a member of a gang from Manhattan called the “Persian Lords.” Along with some friends they came up with the idea to rob Kearns Funeral Parlor at 1461 Bushwick Avenue in south eastern Bushwick close to Stuyvesant Heights. However, this didn’t pan out, and the funeral escaped the wrath of the robbers. Instead they settled on robbing the Bushwick Avenue subway station.
Armed with a .45 caliber handgun and a 4” blade stashed in a sheath tucked in the small of the back of one of the boys’, they entered the subway station at 1:05 a.m. Announcing that it was a stick-up, they ordered the clerk operating the subway change booth to the ground. They stole $157.15 in change and tokens as well as $6.00 from the clerk’s wallet.
Although they got away with the change and tokens, it wasn’t long before the police collared them and they were arrested. The Persian Lord, whose nickname was “Bro,” was sentenced to a 5-year term in an upstate reformatory. This is where the story gets more interesting.
I have often found that inmates incarcerated in this reformatory would, not surprisingly, disobey the rules of the institution and would then be punished. When this happened, a disciplinary infraction form was filled in and the guard would write down what it was the inmate had done. I’ve seen dozens of these.
“Bro” had eight infractions while he was serving his time, but one in particular stuck out. As I flipped through the small blue pages that chronicled his disobedience, one of them had a curious metal pin attached to it. Reading the infraction, the guard wrote that “Bro” was caught for:
“Possessing a contraband key. Early this evening I received information that inmate Jones had broken into a locker. I frisked Jones and found a home made key that would fit all lockers. I informed Lt. Henbf of this find and he told me to have him locked in A-1 jail.”
After I finished reading the infraction, I realized that the attached pin was the actual home-made key! This was the first time I found physical evidence along with the corresponding disciplinary infraction. What a thrill it was to see it preserved after all these years! There was one other time (just recently) that a piece of evidence was kept with the infraction report. It was graphic material that an inmate was caught reading. It was a ghastly, 2-page letter going into great detail about some sick bestiality fantasies that was unfit to display on this website. Let’s just say presenting pictures of this key as physical evidence of contraband from 1962 was a better fit! The pictures below speak for themselves.