April 24, 1943|
Mayagüez, Puerto Rico
|Died||April 22, 1986
New York City
|Criminal charge||Murder, two counts|
|Criminal penalty||Death penalty|
|Criminal status||Sentence commuted to life imprisonment, released after 16 years|
Salvador Agron [note 1] (April 24, 1943 – April 22, 1986), a.k.a. "The Capeman", was a Puerto Rican gang member who murdered two teenagers in a Hell's Kitchen park in 1959. Agron mistook both teenagers for members of a gang called the Norsemen who were supposed to show up for a gang fight. Agron was the subject of the musical The Capeman by Paul Simon.
Agron was born in the city of Mayagüez on the western coast of Puerto Rico. When he was young, his parents divorced and his mother had custody of him and his sister, Aurea. She earned a living by working at a local convent; however, according to Agron, he and his sister were mistreated by the nuns. His mother met and married a Pentecostal minister and the family moved to New York City. Agron's relationship with his stepfather was negative, and he asked his mother to send him back to Puerto Rico to live with his father. In Puerto Rico, his father had remarried. One day the teenage Agron found the body of his stepmother, who had committed suicide by hanging herself. Agron began to get into trouble and was sent to the Industrial School of Mayagüez.
His father sent him back to his mother in New York, and in 1958 he became a member of notorious teenage street gang the Mau Maus from the Fort Greene neighborhood of Brooklyn. He later joined another gang called the Vampires after meeting Tony Hernandez,[note 2] the gang's president. On August 29, 1959, the Vampires were on their way to "rumble" (street gang fight) with a gang composed mostly of Irish Americans called the Norsemen. When they arrived, they mistook a group of teenagers for members of the Norsemen. Agron stabbed two of the teenagers to death and fled the scene. The two victims were Anthony Krzesinski and Robert Young, Jr.
The murders made headlines in New York and the city went into an uproar. Agron was called "The Capeman" because he wore a black cape with red lining during the fight, while Hernandez was labeled "The Umbrella Man" because he used an umbrella with a sharp end as a weapon. After Agron was captured, he was quoted as saying: "I don't care if I burn, my mother could watch me."
Agron was sentenced to death, which made the 16-year-old the youngest prisoner ever sentenced to death row. While many New Yorkers were outraged about the killings, others like former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and Robert Young, the father of one of the victims, campaigned for leniency. While on death row, Agron became a born-again Christian. In prison he learned to read and write, earning his high school equivalency diploma. He wrote poems about his life and street life, including "The Political Identity of Salvador Agron; Travel Log of Thirty-Four Years", "Uhuru Sasa! (A Freedom Call)", and "Justice, Law and Order", which were published by some newspapers. He later earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in sociology and philosophy from the State University of New York in New Paltz, New York. His death sentence was commuted to life in prison by Governor Nelson Rockefeller in 1962.
Escape and release from prison
In December 1976, Governor Hugh Carey reduced Agron's sentence, making him eligible for release in 1977. Agron was enrolled at SUNY New Paltz while spending his nights at the Fishkill Correctional Facility. However, in April 1977, Agron took flight and absconded to Phoenix where he was captured two weeks later and brought back to New York. In November 1977, Agron went on trial for his escape (his lawyer was William Kunstler), but was found not guilty of absconding due to "mental illness." Agron was finally released from prison on November 1, 1979. A television movie based on his life was proposed and he set up a fund for the families of his victims with the money he received.
Agron began working as a youth counselor, and spoke out against gang violence for over five years. On April 16, 1986, he was admitted to a hospital with pneumonia and internal bleeding and died six days later at age 42.
In popular culture
- 'Conversations with the Capeman: The Untold Story of Salvador Agron was written by Richard Jacoby, with an introduction by Hubert Selby, Jr..
- The Capeman, a Broadway musical written by Paul Simon and Derek Walcott was based on the life of Agron. The play opened at the Marquis Theatre in 1998.
- In 2009, Puerto Rican singer Obie Bermúdez, together with Danny Rivera, Ray de la Paz, Claudette Sierra and Frankie Negrón, participated in the recording of Songs of the Capeman, based on Paul Simon's play, under the direction of Oscar Hernández and his Spanish Harlem Orquestra.
- Agron, Salvador, Rubinstein, Annette T., and Kresky, Harry. Salvador Agron: Puerto Rican, Prisoner, Poet, Charter Group for a Pledge of Conscience, 1978.
- Jacoby, Richard. Conversations with the Capeman: The Untold Story of Salvador Agron, University of Wisconsin Press: Madison, 2004.
- The correct spelling of his surname in Spanish is Agrón. But the biography by Jacoby, his personal friend, uses the americanized spelling Agron exclusively throughout. The book contains numerous examples of personal correspondence from its subject, and he signs himself Agron, even when writing in Spanish, for example, "Tu amigo y hermano, Salvador Agron #16846" (Jacoby, p. 70).
Reports of his arrest use the conventional americanized spelling. He was described as "Salvador Agron, the Cape Man" in the New York Herald Tribune on 3 September 1959 (reprinted in Jacoby, p. 181).
- The correct spelling of his surname in Spanish is Hernández. The biography by Jacoby uses the americanized spelling Hernandez (Jacoby, p. 182).