Thomas Joiner was a stocky fellow, but small. He knew this and hated this about himself. His nickname was “Little Moose,” and his anger over his small stature caused him to lash out violently against others around him. Beaten mercilessly by his father and from a large family that struggled to make ends meet, Little Moose joined the Sportsmen on the Lower Eastside, Manhattan, when he moved there with his family in 1956. Joining the Sportsmen was a perfect outlet for him to lash out at his perceived enemies.
The Sportsmen are a little bit like the Chaplains in that they had a notorious name and were very violent. They were also quite large, with Sportsmen having a turf in Harlem as well as Sportsmen in the Lower East Side. Some of the Lower East Side Sportsmen members were responsible for a gang murder in 1955. In the summer of 1956, their fights with the Dragons and Enchanters made the newspapers all summer long. A large black gang, the Lower East Side Sportsmen had their turf on Avenue D in the Lilian Wald Projects from about 5th Street to 14th Street. Near them was another branch of Sportsmen made up of mainly white members called the Top Hatters who came from 2-14th St from Avenue B over to 2nd Avenue.
One day Joiner and some of his fellow Sportsmen became involved in an unprovoked attack on two boys that made the newspaper. Although the New York Times preferred to report on governance and political news, occasionally they delved into the sordid world of youth gang wars. This was one of the times, and so Joiner’s name and the names of his fellow gang members appeared in the venerable New York Times. Here is the article with some details on the attack:
The article didn’t state it, but during the attack, Little Moose punched Brancaleone in the face and tried to knife Indelicato in the stomach, but missed. It was one of the 15 year-olds who actually did the slashing. When Joiner was arrested by the police and arraigned, his volatile temper boiled to the surface and he became vicious, hostile and argumentative. He also used foul language in front of the judge and grinned and yelled out to relatives watching the courtroom proceedings. He then fought with correction officer as he was being placed in the detention pen. Surprisingly he was out in a relatively quick time and returned to the streets with no behaviour changes. In December, 1959, he was arrested again for assault, this time for attempting to kill another boy (Roy Hall) with a sawed off .22 rifle in a suspected gang fight.