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.

The Background

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."

The Trials

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 Sing Sing.  

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

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