Michael Farmer Murder

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.

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The Crime

The following information is taken from the New York Times on August 1, 1957:

“Four youths were arrested last night in the aftermath of a teenage gang fight in Washington Heights in which one youngster was fatally stabbed and another wounded seriously.

According to the police, each of the rival gangs had white and Negro members. They said racial tensions had not been involved. The two gangs had been feuding for the last five weeks.

The trouble started when 40 members of the Egyptian Kings attacked five Jesters near George Washington Bridge. Last Saturday, a Jester was stabbed by a member of the Dragons, a gang friendly to the Egyptian Kings.

The victims in the fight Tuesday night were members of the Jesters. The dead boy was Michael Farmer, fifteen years old, of 575 West 175th Street. He had polio when he was ten years old, and he walked with a limp in his left leg. The second boy is Roger McShane, sixteen, of West 170th Street. He was in serious condition last night at Mother Cabrini Hospital.

They were stabbed near the swimming pool at Highbridge Park, West 173 D Street and Amsterdam Avenue.”

The Crime Scene

To the right is Highbridge Park in Washington Heights, Manhattan. It runs along Amsterdam Avenue between 155th and Dyckman streets, and was the site of a municipal swimming pool. This is where the Egyptian Dragons (read the note below “The Defendants” about the two gangs merging into one) fell upon Michael Farmer and his friend Roger McShane.

Apparently Michael Farmer was mistaken for a member of the Jesters (there were rumours that he was part of the Jesters, and other stories denying this) who were in a long running battle with the Egyptian Dragons over the pool. Keeping in mind that it was the middle of the summer, and the days sweltering hot, this park became a war zone of sorts between these two gangs.

Note the white “x” on the picture. This is where Michael Farmer was beaten and knifed to death. McShane was able to get away from the assailants — but not before being severely beaten. He took three months to recover from his injuries.

The Defendants

From the top left: George Melendez, Leoncio DeLeon, John McCarthy; below: Charles Horton, Richard Hills, Leroy Birch, Louis Alvarez.

Louis Alvarez is mentioned in The Cross and the Switchblade. After evangelist David Wilkerson read the article in the Life© Magazine, he travelled to New York City, actually disrupting the trial by jumping from his seat yelling to the judge to have a word with him. After getting thrown out of the court room, Wilkerson set about tracking down the boys’ parents to get permission to see their children. He found Alvarez’s parents who gave permission, but because a chaplain was already assigned to the prison, Wilkerson was not able to talk to the boys.

The boys pictured to the left were not the only participants in the Farmer murder. There were 11 other boys who were processed through Children’s Court. They were charged and sent to institutions such as Lincoln Hall and Warwick.  For more information on these juvenile defendants please go to this page.  In addition to information on these defendants, I need help in identifying two of the defendants who are pictured on this page.

Here is the exhibit sheet from the court which listed all the pieces of evidence brought up during the course of the trial.  Look at page one, where it has a simple, yet chilling notation of one red jacket.  This was the jacket that Farmer was wearing when he was stabbed and beaten to death.

The defendants were part of the Egyptian Kings and the Dragons which had merged into a single gang called the Egyptian Dragons. Note this is different from the newspaper reports from July and August of 1957, which said Farmer was stabbed by a Dragon. Because the information was so new and had just happened, information was occasionally skewed and corrections did not appear until the next year when the trial took place.

The Egyptian Dragons went up to the park armed with knives, clubs, garrison belts and one boy even brought a dog chain. Much was made of the fact that Michael Farmer was a victim of polio when he was ten years old. This inflamed New York City further, even making headlines in Time© and Life© Magazines.

The Verdict

After the trial ran for longer than three months and more than 1,600,000 words of testimony had been heard, a verdict was passed down.

Leroy Birch and Leoncio DeLeon were found guilty of second degree manslaughter; John McCarthy not guilty; Charles Horton guilty of second degree murder; Richard Hills not guilty; George Melendez not guilty; Louis Alvarez guilty of second degree murder.

For a unique, inside look at the inner workings and characters involved in the case, especially the District Attorney and defense lawyers, read The Jury is Still Out.

This book was written by the judge of the trial, Irwin D.Davidson (see picture below). He gives a fascinating glimpse into the proceedings of the trial and his thoughts and opinions on the lawyers tactics.  Although the book is out of print, it is still available at used bookstores and is worth it to take the time to read if you want more details on this case.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For an interesting expose on the Michael Farmer killing, National Public Radio did a 50 year anniversary piece, please click here to listen to the program.