Williamsburg was full of youth gangs in the 1950s and 1960s, and one of them was the fearsome Hellburners, a gang that hung out around on South 9th Street. The Hellburners were bitter enemies with the Phantom Lords (who hung out around South 3rd Street between Keap and Hooper) and were brother clubs with the infamous Mau Maus from nearby Fort Greene.
With that brief introduction of the Hellburners out of the way, I came across something in my research I haven’t seen before. Manuel Rodriguez, aka “Loco,” a member of the Hellburners and who lived on South 8th Street in the late 1950s and early 1960s, was caught by the police for breaking into Eastern District High School with another Hellburner between September 1959 and April 1960. They stole typewriters and adding machines, hawking them to a “junkman,” who then sold them to the owner of a gas station.
When Rodriguez was brought in front of Judge Samuel Leibowtiz, his punishment was as follows:
1. To keep an hourly diary which he is to submit to his P. not less than once a week.
2. He is to report weekly until relaxation is approved by the Court.
3. He must keep good hours (11 PM was set as his absolute curfew on weekends.)
4. He must get employment and not change jobs without the consent of his P.O.
Thankfully the diary was kept and below you can see the approximately 50 pages of Manuel’s writing.
The hand-writing is a bit difficult to decipher (but by no means impossible), so I typed out the diary in a Word document exactly as the diary appeared. For those who want to read the diary in this format, please click on the link below
Unfortunately the diary is very dry reading with a numbing repetition of activities like buying newspapers, going fishing, watching TV, looking for a job and eating dinner. There are only two points of interest, one of them is when he went to the beach with a Youth Board worker on July 24, 1960. The Youth Board was a New York City creation where they sent out young social workers to the streets to make friends with fighting gangs and to help them and encourage them to stop fighting. It appears that because he was doing an activity with the Youth Board worker, he was still affiliated with the gang.
The other point of interest is an entry from July 12 as follows: “…I went to a friends House till about 8:30 and got Home then I went to buy a newspaper and I got pick up by the police and went to court the next day got a dismissal case…” More details on this, click here.
What happened to Manuel after his brush with the law? He seemed to have eventually turned his life around and was discharged from the system on December 31, 1961. However, he died at a young age in August 1979, a mere 36 years old.