Hells Kitchen and the Capeman Murder Essay

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Hells Kitchen and the Capeman Murder

Hell’s Kitchen and the Capeman Murder

Hell’s Kitchen is the section of Manhattan that is between 34th and 59th Streets and
from 8th Avenue to the Hudson River. It was the home of New York’s most dangerous
criminals from the early tenement days to Prohibition to the Westies. The population
consisted of poor people who lived in a disorderly fashion and expressed themselves with a
demanding spirit. Mayhem and reports of criminal homicide from the late nineteenth
century on supply a good idea of daily life in Hell’s Kitchen. These reports
illustrate a neighborhood full of crime, poverty, religious worship, hard work and family
commitment. “ Vampires, Dragons, and Egyptian Kings divided by race, ethnicity, and
neighborhood boundaries but united by common styles, slang, and codes of honor. They
fought and sometimes killed to expand their territory. The youth gangs were a colorful
and controversial part of the urban landscape made famous by the West Side Story and
infamous by the media” (Schneider, 1959). The violence and the gangs on the streets
formed ethnic ties as well as disparities among the people that led to a great amount of
hostility and extreme violence.

But before the gang wars began, there were some contributing factors that led to this
hostility among the society. The first major change, in 1851, was due to the construction
of a Hudson River Railroad station at the future site of 30th Street and 10th Avenue.
Many Irish and German immigrants (the latter escaping the Great Potato Famine) filled the
area and went to work in the Railroad yards, West Side breweries, factories,
slaughterhouses, warehouses, backyards and on the docks. The soaring population reached
over 350,000 by the start of the Civil War, most were divided by ethnic backgrounds, most
of which lived in rows of tenements that were situated in the middle of the
slaughterhouses and factories that gave off an awful smell. Second, during the drafting
of the Civil War there was a lot of chaos and many fatal riots against the rich because
they were able to buy there way out of the war, including the protest of the Conscription
Act. Differences in the beliefs of these people led to a segregated community and the
creation of gangs had begun.

The first neighborhood gangs were formed by the massive amount of children (often referred
to as sea urchins) that became homeless after the Civil War. The Dutch Heinrichs led the
19th Street Gang and it was known as one of the most infamous cliques around. They
commanded tribute from factory owners and merchants, they broke into houses and they
abused and robbed strangers. The gang’s leader – Dutch Heinricks – was
incarcerated after attacking a police Captain. Thereafter came the Gophers, who were
targeted for arrest after the slaying of a man named William Lennon in a bar at 45th
Street and 11th Avenue, and the Dead Rabbits who lived in the filthy tenements west of 7th
Avenue in the 20’s and 30’s.

By the 1900’s, 36th Street to 59th Street west of 9th Avenue became an area of dirty
tenements and factories forming a depressing and dark neighborhood that carried out the
nature of slum life. The murder rate (often committed by gang members) in this section of
the city continuously multiplied. The practices of the local criminal and the Westies
gang in the middle of the 1900’s became so brutal. “One gang man tossed the
heads of victims into the railway cut between 10th and 11th Avenues”
(http://hellskitchen.net/resource/history/brendle/crime.htm). The Westies were involved
in loansharking, labor racketeering, robbery, narcotics and murder with purported ties to
the Gambino crime organization. Evidently this hard neighborhood developed an underworld
type of atmosphere filled with murder and acquired a suitable nickname,
“Hell’s Kitchen.”

One of the most infamous murders that appeared for several days in the media after it
occurred, on August 29, 1959, was known as The Capeman Murders.

Salvador Agron, better known as the Capeman, and other a.k.a.’s such as Dracula,
Bigfoot, and Machinegun Sal, aged 16, came from Brooklyn, where he once led a gang named
the Mau Maus. Eventually he became the head of a gang that controlled Manhattan’s
West 70’s and 80’s, named the Vampires. He always carried a
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