This was moved from another node that I foolishly created. Most is covered in Infinite Burn's wu above.
This is the true and fascinating story about Salvador Agron, a.k.a. The Capeman. It
shocked and fascinated millions of people back in the late 1950's, and most New
Yorkers have heard about it. The story was presented to a new public with the
1998 Broadway Musical The Capeman by Paul Simon and Derek Walcott.
Salvador Agron was born in Puerto Rico in 1943 and lived there with his
mother Esmeralda and his sister Aurea. They were
very poor, and Esmeralda worked in a convent trying to raise money for the
family. The small children were treated very badly at the convent, and this
finally led to their mother marrying a minister of the Pentecostal
congregation, with whom the family moved to New York. However, the stepfather
would continue the abuse, and it was especially Salvador that was the target of
this. He was driven to live in the streets for days in a row sometimes. At the
age of 13 he begged and got his mothers permission to move back to Puerto Rico
to live with his real father and stepmother. Following the stepmother's
suicide, Salvador moved back to New York at the age of 15.
At this time he got involved with street gangs, and eventually became the
president of the Mau Mau gang in Brooklyn, where he now lived. He then
helped form and also led the gang The Vampires who resided between West 70th
and 80th street on Manhattan.
The Capeman Murders
On the late night of August 29, 1959, everything would become different for
Salvador. The Vampires had decided to attack the Irish gang Nordic down in
Hell's Kitchen, down on West 45th and 46th street. This would be retaliation
for earlier harassment of Puerto Ricans. An appointment had been made with
members of the Nordic, and together with Antonio Luis Hernandez a.k.a. The
Umbrella Man and five other Vampires, they stormed the playground - "Where's
Frenchy" being their battle cry - where the fight were
supposed to take place. However, the Nordic failed to show, and only a few local
teenagers were hanging around. These had nothing to do with the Nordic gang, but
were attacked by The Vampires anyway. The two 16-year old Robert Young and
Anthony Krzesinski were stabbed to death, and another boy, 18-year old Edward
Riemer were stabbed and seriously wounded.
This event triggered a series of events with gang related violence on
the lower east side. Witnesses had seen Salvador Agron, who at the time was
wearing a black cape, and his gang, and soon the police were looking for the
Capeman, as he was called in the media.
Following a massive manhunt, the Capeman, the Umbrella Man and the others
were arrested 3 days later on September 2. Salvador was charged for with the
murders, two others with manslaughter. The cold reply from Salvador as to why
he did it infuriated the public;
"Because I felt like
it." "I don't care if I burn. My mother could watch me."
A big debate followed, where the
responsibility of society were discussed. Salvador had spent his whole life in a
love-less and violent environment, in and out of detention homes. When the trial
started in 1960, Salvador was charged with two first-degree murders, and one
attempted first-degree murder. Salvador Agron initially pleaded guilty to all
charges. It was the rule of The Vampires that the youngest member would take the
fall for the others, and many years later Salvador said he didn't do it:
"The other knife with
the blood of the victim was suppressed by the prosecution, was forgot. . . I
can't see myself actually plunging in the knife."
Hernandez was tried on manslaughter
and found guilty. He was sentenced to 7.5 to 15 years of prison, but later
re-tried and released. Salvador Agron was, despite heavy criticism and arguments
that he wasn't mentally fit, sentenced to death. It was also claimed
that the trial wasn't fair, partly since Salvador changed his statement saying
that he didn't remember the events in the playground. Salvador was at this time
18 years old, and the youngest ever on death row in New York, where he was in
Eleanor Roosevelt worked against
the death penalty, and especially for turning Salvador's sentence into a life
term. This was supported by the father of victim Robert Young, while
Krzesinski's mother vowed for retribution. Just six days before his scheduled execution
in 1962, Governor Nelson Rockefeller changed the sentence to life in prison
without any parole until 1993.
The Prison Time
During his time in prison, Salvador
changed. He learned how to read and write. He was a calm and liked prisoner. The
social worker Stella Davis became his teacher and close friend. He started to
take College correspondence courses and published his poems in newspapers. He
started helping fellow inmates with writing legal papers such as appeals etc.
He earned a B.A. of Sociology and Philosophy.
The Changed Man
In 1975 he wrote a letter to the
New York Times where he said
"I have been able to
maintain the little humanity that was left within me, and working at it
in the face of backward surroundings, have been able to cultivate my
humanity...and increase my respect for all human beings. I will continue
to make this a positive experience. However, how much is enough? How long
does it take to correct or rehabilitate a first-time offender?"
In 1976 his sentence were changed,
finally allowing parole. In 1977 he participated in a jail-release program, from
which he escaped. He voluntarily turned himself over after two weeks - in Arizona
- and claimed temporary insanity. That didn't work, however, and another two
years were added to his sentence.
In 1979, he was released on parole
again, and moved in with his mother and sister in Bronx, New York. He took a
job as a youth counselor and also helped former offenders back to society. He
lived quietly in New York City with his mother, sister and her daughter.
In 1986, shortly before his 43rd birthday,
he was taken to hospital for pneumonia and internal bleedings. The Capeman
died a week later, at the age of 42.
sources: The Unofficial Capeman Website, The Capeman Murders by George
Spiegler & Mary Clark