“I’m Ready to Take my Medicine”

On May 8, 1959, the custodian of P.S. 83 at 1634 Dean Street in Crown Heights, (just south of Bed-Stuy), locked the doors at for the day 5:00 p.m.  It was Friday evening, but the custodian went to work the next day (Saturday) as well as on Sunday.

However, on Monday morning, May 11, the custodian noticed that a wire screen and window had been forced open.  The school had been broken into.

1634 Dean Street P.S. 83

I imagine his heart was racing as he went through the building to see what was missing.  He checked different rooms and saw that a window near the main office was smashed and that four classrooms on the second floor had been entered and messes made.  The science room got it really bad – glassware was smashed.  It was obvious the culprits did not like science.

Benjamin Golden, who was the Principal of P.S. 83, came to the scene of the crime and found out from the teachers that 90 cents had been taken from a desk in one room, $3.00 from a desk in another, as well as a radio and record player.  He figured that after the bandits broke in, they went to the second floor where his office was and smashed the window to get the set of master keys which were hung up on a board.   Principal Golden called the police and Detective Paul Code who was attached to the 77th Squad was assigned to the case.  Not only was the school broken into that weekend, but there had been a number of similar complaints weeks earlier.

About two weeks passed before Detective Code was able to crack the case.  On May 28, 1959, he and his partner rounded up a number of juveniles who were throwing rocks at windows in the P.S. 83 schoolyard.  After they questioned the boys, some names came out about the theft of the radio and phonograph from P.S. 83 earlier that month.  They were “Red,” “Bonehead” and a juvenile named Julius. Code picked up all three and took them to the police station for questioning.

It didn’t take long for Red and Bonehead to spill the beans.  They had been playing stickball in the schoolyard of P.S. 83 on the afternoon of May 10, 1959 (Sunday) when they noticed the screen to a window of the building was unlocked.  They climbed on top of a ledge, opened the window and went inside with Julius.  Later this story changed to they were playing stickball and somebody hit the ball onto the roof.  All three clambered onto the roof to retrieve the ball and while they were up there, they noticed a skylight was broken.  From there the three boys broke into the school.  The boys admitted that they agreed to steal the phonograph and record player, but before they did, they finished their stickball game.  They stashed the stolen property in Red’s older brother’s place and asked an older acquaintance to pawn the items off for their pay day.

In the interrogation Red and Bonehead admitted to breaking the window to get into Principal Golden’s office, but denied ransacking the classrooms or taking the money – although they conceded they took the keys with them and later threw them into a hallway.  Not only that, they also entered the school on May 17 and 24, 1959 (both Sundays) but didn’t take anything.

Their older acquaintance sold the record player for $7.00 to a junk shop which he shared with Red and Bonehead.  However, when he tried to pawn the radio off at Fulton Pawn Brokers, he was unsure of himself and the owner – no doubt a predator looking to score off an easy mark – smelled an opportunity to rip him off.  So he took the radio and refused to pay for it (this came back to haunt him later when he was arrested for possession of stolen property).

Red of the Corsair Lords

Red was a member of the Corsair Lords, a black gang that had its turf in the Kingsborough Houses and only two blocks away from P.S. 83.  Like a politician denying the truth, Bonehead vociferously denied being a member of the gang.  However, Red said that Bonehead was in the gang and that he even participated on two or three occasions in rumbles against the Jonquils, enemies of the Corsair Lords.  Both he and Bonehead carried knives, sticks and stones to the rumbles.

Red was the most truthful of the three boys and said that they used the money to purchase liquor.  Bonehead, who blamed Red for “shooting his mouth off” to juveniles in the neighborhood, said that he wanted “a little money in his pocket.”  Later they recanted their previous confession and said they never entered the school on May 17 and 24 as well as ransacking the classrooms.  Red showed little remorse for his actions and shrugged it off as a prank.  However, he knew punishment was coming and that he was “ready to take my medicine.”

The police recovered the record player which was a Sonocraft valued at about $30.00 as well as the radio, a Granco, FM/AM radio valued at $32.00.  The $3.90 was never recovered, probably used to buy liquor.  The set of master keys were found lying on the floor and the damage in the science room came to $7.00 for all the smashed beakers, test tubes and other glass paraphernalia.  The glass window for Principal Golden’s office cost $5.00 to repair.

Red got bail which is surprising because he already had two other brushes with the law, one of them for when he broke into a garage owned by the “Tastee Bread Company,” at 1674 Atlantic Avenue in search of cake and donuts.  The other situation was when he, Givens and three others climbed through the window of some girls they knew and got into a fight with the mother and daughters, hitting them and pushing them around.  They broke a bathroom window and threw garbage into the hallway.  This case was dismissed, so perhaps that’s why Red got out on bail.

Red’s freedom didn’t last long.  While he was out on bail, he was collared by Patrolman Monahan of the 77th Precinct on the corner of Utica Ave and Dean St.  Red was caught red-handed with a .22 caliber revolver fully loaded with six shells.  He had the gun in his hand, and when Patrolman Monahan approached him, Red put the revolver in his pocket but changed his mind and threw it to the ground.  The serial number had been filed off and it was impossible to figure out the make of the revolver.  Red pointed out that he had found the revolver and that it didn’t have a trigger.  But a triggerless gun didn’t matter: bail was over.

Red was sent to Elmira Reception Center where he was analyzed to figure out what reformatory to send him to.  During one of his meetings with prison authorities, he had to go back to Brooklyn for a few hours to face the weapon possession charge, he didn’t want to go.  “It’s twice as good here – I’m out of the cell every day,” he said.  Red’s home life was quite sad and his school situation was just as bad.  Things were so bad back in Brooklyn that life in Elmira was preferable to him!

When Red was examined at Elmira, this was one of their observations:

“…he is a rather smooth customer, not troubled by anxiety or remorse, who is very adept at sizing up social situations and to then manipulate them towards his own ends.  Despite overt compliance, he wants things pretty much on his own terms and has the attitude that he will change his modus operandi when he wants to do so and not because others feel he should do so.  Principles or learning have little meaning for him and he would evidently act rather than think about the situation in which he finds himself.  He is markedly egocentric, lacks insight, and lacks consideration for others.  The social prognosis seems rather poor.”

However, despite this report, Red’s behavior at the reformatory was decent and the only disciplinary report against him was that he fixed his shoe without permission, which sounds ridiculous to me that this was an issue.

Red got out of the reformatory on March 27, 1961 and from here I don’t know what happened to him.  Like many other gangs, drugs became a big problem and in the case of the Corsair Lords it was their downfall.  Guys sold dope and then started using their own product, first snorting, then skin popping and then mainlining.  I’m not saying that’s what happened to Red, but it’s possible he went down this path like other Corsair Lords.

Red’s co-defendant “Bonehead,” was an example of a Corsair Lord that went down the poison path of drugs.  On Mar.20, 1963, he sold drugs to an undercover Patrolman with the Narcotics Bureau, going down as one of Bonehead’s more boneheaded actions.  He was charged and at his arrest admitted what he did and said he was selling between “4 to 5 decks of heroin per day” to support his habit.  He earned $200 to $250 per day and required as many as ten decks of heroin to keep his habit going.

In 1959 when Bonehead was arrested for breaking into P.S. 83, he denied using drugs.  That changed in the spring of 1962 when he started using drugs and could not explain the reasons why he did this.  At first he felt he could always discontinue the use of drugs at any time, but by the winter of 1962, he knew he was hooked.  From that point on he returned to using drugs every time he was released from a penal institution and built up his habit to six bags of heroin every day.  He wanted to quit, but didn’t do anything about it, spending most of his leisure hours hanging out at the Green Rooster Bar on Pacific Street and Utica Avenue where he drank beer, liquor and took drugs.  Most likely – and tragically – he nodded himself to an early death.

Did Bonehead’s likely drug demise happen to Red too?  I’m not sure.  But I sincerely hope it didn’t.