How Queens battled the crime wave of 1959

By Greater Astoria Historical Society

In conjunction with the Greater Astoria Historical Society, the TimesLedger newspaper presents noteworthy events in the borough’s history.

In September 1959, Queens, like the rest of the country, was in the grip of a sharp increase in crime. It was estimated that there were over 100 gangs in the city with a combined membership in the thousands. The overall juvenile delinquent problem had grown to such proportions that the Senate Juvenile Delinquency Committee began hearings in Congress to study the nationwide problem of “teenage terrorists.” Mayor Wagner vowed to put 1,080 more policemen on the streets. Governor Rockefeller announced that the state would move immediately to curb the problem by setting up work camps for potential hoodlums.

Attorney General William P. Rogers and FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover announced a 9.3 percent increase in crime in the United States in 1958 over 1957. A murder occurred every 64.2 minutes and a criminal attack every 36.1 minutes. Youths under 18 represented only 12.1 percent of arrests. They accounted, however, for 64.1percent of auto theft arrests, 49.9 percent of burglary arrests and 48.5 percent of those for larceny. New York City Police Commissioner Kennedy also reported that teen murders were up 30 percent over 1958.

September in Queens began with news that police had thwarted a re-engagement in a war of gangs from Jamaica and Hollis. One innocent 14-year-old bystander was shot in the chest. Twelve boys, some under 15, were arrested, and an arsenal of knives, broomsticks, chains and metal whips was seized. The boys were released into their parents’ custody and were to appear in court in Jamaica.

Police in several precincts had been observed chasing youngsters from street corners in the early evening. A sergeant in one precinct was assaulted when he stopped to question a group of men loitering on a corner. More than 60 additional policemen were patrolling Queens streets during the late evening and early morning hours as part of the police department’s latest drive on teenage violence.

Five hundred transit policemen stood ready to fight the rising teen violence on their own time and without pay, and the Queens Chapter of the Reserve Officers Association proposed forming an auxiliary force of war veterans, who had served in occupied areas abroad, to patrol city streets and amusement areas to ensure enforcement of a proposed 9 p.m. curfew for teenagers.

On the evening of Sept. 25, notorious gangster Anthony (Little Augie Pisano) Carfano, 62, once the No. 2 man in the nation’s underworld and right hand man to Al Capone, and his companion, Mrs. Janice Drake, 32, the beautiful blonde wife of Forest Hills comedian Allen Drake, were shot to death in a car on a street in Jackson Heights.

The killers, who may have been hiding in the back seat of the car, pumped several slugs into the back of their heads. Authorities surmised that Mrs. Drake was killed simply to silence her about the incident. Queens District Attorney Frank O’Connor probed the possibility that “Little Augie” was rubbed out to prevent his testimony before the Senate Rackets Investigating Committee.

For further information, call the Greater Astoria Historical Society at 718-278-0700 or visit our website at www.astorialic.org.

More from Around New York