Capeman & Umbrella Man

Manhattan, New York City, August 31, 1959

Front Page Newspaper “Capeman”

On August 29, 1959, in a light drizzle, twelve or thirteen Puerto Rican gang members of the Vampires, Crowns and Heart Kings piled into a taxi on their way to a small park in Hell’s Kitchen, Manhattan, a predominantly “white” neighbourhood, to avenge the beating of one of their friends. Armed with an eight inch dagger, a three-foot garrison belt and a sharpened umbrella, the boys were ready for a fight.

When arriving at the park, the boys, one of them dressed in a cape, blocked off the exits, trapping some teenagers inside. After some discussion with the kids in the park, someone punched one of the “American” kids. A fight broke out, and before long the cape-clad attacker, Salvador Agron, had stabbed Robert Young and Anthony Krzesinski. Agron also stabbed Ewald Reimer, who then broke free only to be tripped and stomped. Finally somebody said, “He has had enough.” Reimer survived but Young and Krzesinski died shortly after the stabbings.

With these two stabbings being the third and fourth gang killings in a week, it threw New York City into an uproar. The press excoriated Agron who did not help matters any when he was quoted as saying, “I don’t care if I burn; my mother can watch.”  Read more about the notoriety of the case here.

Seven youths in total were charged with the slayings. The Assistant District Attorney, Emanuel Growman, took the statements of the boys. Click here for the summary of the seven boys’ statements.

The Park

This is the park where the murders took place. The following is a superb description of the park taken from Eric C. Schneider’s work Vampires, Dragons and Egyptian Kings.

“The playground, basically a concrete slab between 45th and 46th Streets, was surrounded by five-story tenements and hidden from the traffic on Manhattan’s 9th and 10th Avenues. The unlit park was not the sort of place one stumbled upon by accident, and local youths went there to smoke marijuana, drink beer, and have sex. Two sixteen year-old prostitutes brought their customers there to be rolled by local toughs, and it was rumored that male homosexuals cruising Time Square were also lured there and beaten. On a corner nearby stood the White House Bar, headquarters of the last remnants of the West Side’s Irish organized crime groups.”

What happened to the Capeman?

Salvador Agron was sentenced to death, the youngest ever in the history of New York to sit on Death Row, while Louis Hernandez received 7-15 years, see his sentencing minutes below:

Eventually with the help of Eleanor Roosevelt, the death sentence was overturned, six days before the execution was to take place.

Agron became very involved in prison, taking courses, becoming active in prison programs and went to college. Finally Agron was released from prison in 1979 only to die in a Bronx hospital seven years later.

To this day, Salvador Agron’s name is still brought up, with many references to him peppered all over the Internet. Richard Jacoby wrote a book called Conversations with the Capeman which tells Agron’s life story in great detail.  Jacoby’s book delved into some of the very sobering and sad aspects of Agron’s upbringing.  Agron was abused as a little boy, by many different people, and had difficulty acclimating to life in New York City, which was very different from his roots in Puerto Rico.  Although the resolution on the following reports isn’t the best, it is still clear enough to get a glimpse of Agron from the perspective of a social worker from the Youth House who tried to help him, as well as a report from the Department of Welfare:

Department of Welfare:  Inter-Agency Report 1956

Department of Welfare:  Report of After-Care or Adoption Supervision 1957

Youth House Social Worker’s Report 1953

To understand the implications of The Capeman murders, Paul Simon, a New Yorker himself, made a musical on the Capeman that opened on Broadway on January 29, 1998.  For a fascinating postcript on the Capeman case, read this 1997 New York Magazine article which is an excellent read.  It has references to the other kids in the park who were injured but not killed and what happened to them.  See more information on where Sal lived in Brooklyn.  Click on this link.

Before we leave with our thoughts on the Capeman, I would like to give the last word to the victims. Too often the victims of crime are forgotten and lost in the shuffle. The anguish of the victims’ families must never be forgotten. Nor should the memories of young Anthony Krzesinski and Robert Young, whose lives were cut short with the flash of a blade.