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.
Before you start to read this page, I want to let you know up front that unfortunately I don’t have any radio or television clips to share with you about gangs from the 1950s. I wish I did, but unfortunately I have nothing to share. This isn’t because there are no clips out there — there are, they are just hard to access, much less find. The following are some clues that there are probably some very interesting tv and radio clips out there about gangs from the 1950s waiting to be discovered.
I have a lengthy page describing and explaining the different kinds of court records I have come across in my research on New York City youth gangs from the 1950s. However, as can well be imagined, there are other kinds of sources I rely on for my research on this topic. For this page, I would like to describe two other kinds of sources that don’t fall under the category of newspaper/magazine/book source. That is, radio and television.
Radio and television were both mediums that reported on juvenile delinquency, gang fights and gang murders in the 1950s. No small surprise there, after all radio was a huge medium and TV was coming into its own. However, because newspaper articles are easier to access than old TV clips, that is what is used most often for getting a flavor of the event being researched. Radio and TV excerpts are much more difficult to access because they are buried in various archives and because they are not in digital format it is difficult to access even if they are found. And if they are found, you can’t listen or view it from your city, unless it is being hosted on a website somewhere, which would be highly unusual (I haven’t seen that in a case of a 1950s clip relating to gangs or juvenile delinquency).
Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to listen to a television or radio report on juvenile delinquency, but I do have one transcript of a radio documentary on the gangs involved in the murder of Michael Farmer. I also have a short transcript of a TV interview with Frank Arroyo, a member of the Sinners gang in West Harlem that shot and killed Sergio Quinones, a member of a rival gang called the Assassins. (On a side note, sometimes gang members would call popular radio programs that allowed listeners to call in and would give secret shout-outs and codes for gang fights etc.)
When Frank Arroyo, Radislaw Blazic and Theodore Niforos — all members of a gang called the Sinners — were arrested for their role in killing Sergio Quinones, this short interview with Arroyo was done by the WRCA-TV (N.Y.) at two different times on Wednesday, July 8, 1959. The person doing the interview was Gabe Pressman (who is still alive and is currently writing his memoirs) with the local news at 6:30 p.m.:
When Michael Farmer was beat and stabbed to death in a hot summer’s day in July 1957, it was probably the most reported on and notorious gang killing of the late 1950s. It was widely reported in the newspapers in New York City as well as other mediums like Time and Life Magazine. Even CBS reported on it at length and did a radio documentary called “Who Killed Michael Farmer,” where gang members, social workers and members of Michael Farmer’s family were interviewed and put together in a commentary on the murder and the state of juvenile delinquency in New York City. “Who Killed Michael Farmer” was produced by Jay McMullen and narrated by Edward Murrow, a well-known broadcast journalist.
This was broadcasted on April 21, 1958 at 6:00 p.m. during the time of the trial, which as acrimonious as any of the trials that took place for youth gang murders in the time period I am interested in — from 1955-1959. The transcript of the broadcast is 58 pages long.
Another case from the 1950s that could be argued to be as notorious as the Michael Farmer trial in 1958, was the so-called trial of the “Capeman” and “Umbrellaman,” Salvador Agron and Luis Hernandez. In August 1959, the Capeman and Umbrellaman, along with other members of their gang “The Vampires,” entered a park in Hell’s Kitchen and stabbed and killed two boys and stabbed and serious injured another boy. When New Yorkers woke up the next morning, the city newspapers were tripping over themselves to report on these “creatures of the night.” Salvador Agron was quoted as saying that “I don’t care if I burn. My mother could watch me.” Click here for a picture of Salvador and Luis being interviewed by the press shortly after their capture. Below is a picture of two of Agron’s and Hernandez’s co-defendants being interviewed by the press while in the police station:
The following is very interesting and probably the closest I got to holding the actual media in my hand. I found this in relation to the case of four Mau Maus, a Fort Greene gang, who were imprisoned for their role in the shooting death of Anthony Lavonchino, a member of a rival gang from the Navy Yard called the Sand Street Angels. Read more about there here. While I was in a New York City archive looking into the documents for this case, this reel or spool was with the court records. Of course I had no way of watching the reel while in the archive without the proper equipment. No doubt it is video footage of the Mau Maus being interviewed for their role in the slaying of Anthony Lavonchino.
I made an email request to NBC Archives asking for a way to view what is on this tape, but received a disappointing email which you can see below. I emailed back asking them to reconsider as I believe this is a clip with historical and cultural significance.