The Bronx Noble Dukes and the Mysterious Five

On November 18, 1946, on page 14 of the “PM” newspaper, a headline stared out at readers who had read this far into the Monday edition.  The headline simply stated: “Gang-Buster Note.”  In four sentences, it briefly told the story of three members of two gangs who were arrested after a shootout between them exploded on a Bronx street.

And that was that.  Nothing more than four sentences on a gang shooting.  Seems remarkable that the shooting and the events leading up to it wasn’t reported on in more details.  I know if something like that happened in my city (population of 40,000), it would cover the entire front page in red ink.  Kids would be talking about it, old men would discuss it in their afternoon visits and housewives would cluck in dismay.  I guess when the city is big enough and the gang problem so entrenched, that a shootout between teenagers could be buried on page 14 of the newspaper.  It was business as usual.  That’s not to say the immediate Bronx neighborhood where it happened didn’t talk about it, but I find that a lot in my research: shootouts barely reported on, seemingly dropping into a time worm hole, never to be discussed again.

Thankfully, 74 years later, I can say there is more information on this shootout that I was able to uncover in my general research on New York City youth gangs from the 1940s and the 1950s.  It’s not a lot of information, but it’s still a good deal more than what was reported on page 14 of the PM newspaper.

The shooting happened on a Saturday afternoon at 2:00 p.m. in front of 828 Dawson Street and the gangs involved were the Noble Dukes and the Mysterious Five.  The newspaper article listed the names of three gang members who were involved in the shooting: George McDaniels, George Clines and Samuel Stringfellow, the subject of this page.  However, upon closer inspection, there were others involved too:  Stanley Tucker, Ernest Stringfellow (brother of Samuel) and Jesse Cooper.  I know when there are lots of names thrown into the pot too quickly, it’s hard to keep track of who is who (this is especially difficult in reading books about the Mafia).  Here is the breakdown of the six according to gang affiliation.  Refer to this as often as needed:

Noble Dukes

Samuel Stringfellow

Ernest Stringfellow

Jesse Cooper

Mysterious Five

Stanley Tucker

George McDaniels

George Cline

828 Dawson Street

828 Dawson St. in the Bronx where the shooting  happened

The Noble Dukes and the Mysterious Five were two rival gangs from the East Bronx and leading up to the shooting on Saturday, November 16, there had been “many” altercations between the two gangs.  Before the Saturday afternoon shooting, the two gangs had already come head to head.  On Wednesday, November 13, Ernest fired a shot from a .45 caliber handgun, which is some serious fire power.  Nobody was hurt.  Then, on Friday night (November 15), there was another fight where George McDaniels was stabbed in the hand.

On the day of the shooting (November 16), the temperature between the two gangs was at a high boil.  Six members of both gangs that that are listed above agreed to meet at 828 Dawson Street to figure out a spot where they could duke it out (Samuel only lived a few doors down at 832 Dawson Street).  This was usually the role of the warlord to figure out a location for a gang fight.

The Noble Dukes asked the Mysterious Five meet them downtown on 16th Street near Second Avenue and that they would have their fight there.  However, the Mysterious Five weren’t familiar with the downtown and had no interest fighting there.  This was smart on their part; most likely the Noble Dukes knew that area well and would spring a trap on them.  Now is a good time to mention that both gangs were packing impressive firepower, to wit:

Samuel Stringfellow had a fully loaded .45 caliber U.S. Army pistol, Tucker had a .22 caliber Winchester rifle in a paper bag, George McDaniels had a large hunting knife in his pocket and Jesse Cooper had a five inch hunting knife.  Ernest Stringfellow also had a .22 caliber pistol, but it was unloaded.  Everyone but George Cline had a weapon.

And where would Samuel Stringfellow get a U.S. Army pistol?  From Mrs. Elizabeth Morgan who lived in the same building as he did.  When police later asked her about it, she admitted she loaned the pistol to Samuel and that he was “only going to carry the gun for protection.”  To be specific, the pistol was an M-1911 Remington-Rand.  This pistol was used by the military since 1926 and it was very likely that the one Samuel had was used in World War 2.   According to Elizabeth, Samuel never intended to shoot it.  For backup, Samuel also had a 12 gauge, double-barreled shot gun and 22 rounds of 12 gauge shells at home.

While the two gangs were arguing about where to fight, Tucker suddenly ran behind a nearby parked automobile.  This was not the smartest thing to do with a bunch of trigger happy teens in a high-stress situation.  Immediately Samuel pulled out the .45 caliber U.S. Army pistol and shot three times at Tucker, missing each time.  After shooting at him, Samuel and the other two Noble Dukes ran away and down the street.  Seeing them get away, Tucker rose up from behind the car and fired a shot at them from his .22 caliber Winchester.  He missed too.

A detective from the 41st Squad (also known as the Simpson Street station), who happened to be nearby, heard the gunfire and rushed to the scene.  By this time the Noble Dukes and Mysterious Five had run into two different houses.  Detective Rumberg and his partner were able to collar all the boys and when they arrested him, Samuel Stringfellow still had the .45 calibre U.S. Army pistol with three bullets discharged.  Why Samuel didn’t ditch the gun I’m not sure.  Perhaps he thought he got away with it and decided to keep the gun, not knowing there was a detective in the vicinity.  Or maybe the adrenaline of the shootout and escaping was too much and he wasn’t thinking clearly.

When they were arrested, both gangs were already planning what they would do when they met again.  They were certainly a bellicose bunch of boys.  It seemed that all of them lived in the same neighborhood and everyone felt that as long as they lived so close to each other, the fighting would be continual and they would use whatever object they could use for a weapon, whether it was deadly or not.  When Samuel was questioned about the shooting, he admitted that he shot at Tucker and said the reason he did so was because he felt that if he didn’t shoot first, Samuel would have shot and killed him.

Samuel Stringfellow

Samuel Stringfellow

The District Attorney indicted Mysterious Five members George McDaniels and George Cline with rioting, but this was pleaded down to a simple disorderly conduct (which always seems to happen with initial charges) on Feb.6, 1947.  McDaniels was put on probation and  Cline was sent to Elmira Reception Center where they would “classify” him and send him to an appropriate reformatory.

Samuel’s Brother Ernest was adjudged a Delinquent Child and put on probation on Jan.23, 1947.   The Children’s Court tried to arrange for Ernest to move out of the neighborhood and live with his Uncle Isaac Duffie in Baltimore, Maryland.  He was a minister, but unfortunately he wasn’t able to take on the financial responsibility of caring for Ernest.

Jesse Cooper, the Noble Duke who had the five inch hunting knife, and Mysterious Five member Stanley Tucker (who shot the .22 caliber Winchester rifle) were both adjudged as delinquent and sent to New York State Training School for Boys in Warwick.  This was a reformatory for juveniles.  I wonder if their hatred spilled out in that institution too, or if they were more concerned with surviving and getting out.  As a side note, Cline was later sent to the same reformatory that Stringfellow was sent to.

Elizabeth Morgan, the woman who supplied the gun to Samuel, was arrested by the NYPD and her punishment was a $50 fine.

Lastly, Samuel Stringfellow – the one who fired the three shots from the U.S. Army pistol – was charged with 1st Degree Assault and a Violation of 1897 which meant carrying a dangerous weapon.  However, he ended up pleading guilty on Feb.6, 1947 to 3rd Degree Assault on a recommendation from Assistant District Attorney O’Brien.  On February 20, 1947, he was sentenced for three years to an upstate New York reformatory.

For those who have read other pages on this website about reformatories, the way it worked was the prisoner was shipped to Elmira Reception Center, where they took about three  months to analyze the prisoner.  After their analysis, they sent the prisoner to the reformatory that they thought would best rehabilitate him.  In Samuel’s case he arrived at Elmira on March 3, 1947, stayed there until May 13, 1947 and was sent to an upstate reformatory.

Samuel had some discipline infractions, one of which will be discussed below, but for the most part his time there was uneventful.  One of the first reports from the institution about Samuel’s progress was on September 2, 1947.  It said:

This inmate has been assigned to the bake shop for a period of 4 months.  His adjustment has been satisfactory.  He is dependable with supervision.  A good worker.  Friendly and cooperative with others.  He has made an exceptional adjustment in general education.  His teachers all speak well of him.  He is working on a 9th grade level.  In physical education his adjustment has been fair.  He has very little interest in physical activities and appears to be lazy.

You will have noticed that the progress report said Samuel worked in the bake shop.  He had entered the bake program on May 20, 1947, and worked there off and on for 15.5 months.  The report on him three days before Christmas 1948 was solid:

He performs the following: general cleaning; cleaning, greasing bread and cake pans; care of work benches; care and cleaning bread racks; care of dough and mixing machines; care and cleaning of ovens; scaling ingredients; molding dough; making bread and rolls; making and roll mixtures; making cake and cookie mixtures; making pies; and oven work.  He received a rating of A- in work and B- in attitude.  Usually a good and dependable worker.

On July 8, 1949, Samuel was caught for making a home brew along with two other inmates.  Interestingly, one of the prisoners had the same last name as him.  This tells me it had to be his brother Ernie.  Ernest must have performed poorly on probation and either repeatedly broke the rules or committed a crime and got thrown into the same reformatory as his big brother Samuel.  As you will recall, Samuel’s sentence was for three years and his maximum expiration was Nov.27, 1949.  He had already been rejected by the parole board prior to his home brew bust, and it appears that Samuel served the entire three-year sentence which is very unusual to see.  No word on whether Samuel was able to taste the home brew.

Like so many stories of this time, Samuel disappears from the record after being released on Nov.27, 1949 and nothing more is known about him.  His plan was to move back in with his mother and get a job in a bakery somewhere, but it looked like he was only able to get a job as a Western Union messenger boy.  Hopefully the scare of her son being sent to a reformatory made his mother change her parenting tactics, although at the time of his release he would be 20 years old.  Samuel was no longer a kid.  When he was growing up, Samuel’s mother wasn’t interested in her children and he was allowed to hang out on the street until the late hours and associate with anyone he chose to.  His mother said she was aware of the poor neighborhood conditions and even that her sons Samuel and Ernest were members of a gang.  In fact, she was frightened about what would happen if her son returned back home.  She previously tried to get police protection for her sons, but wasn’t successful.  Most likely she didn’t see that it was the other kids that needed to be protected from her sons.  Samuel said that it was true he was a member of the Noble Dukes and that the gang was created to protect themselves, but also to gain a “rep” in the neighborhood.

When he attended Food Trades Vocational High School in Harlem, he took a baking class, but school wasn’t for him and he had to repeat his 4th term.  He was a behavior problem and a truant.  During his first term he was present for 23 days and absent 68 days.  A teacher said that Samuel was “deaf to all pleas to mend his ways and become a respectable student and citizen.”  I hope the teacher’s words came back to Samuel and he was able to turn things around.