Many of the names and some of the descriptions in this blog have been changed to protect the guilty.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Sixteen Acres Gangs of the 1990s

Let me begin this screed by stating that none of the names in this blog post are real, for obvious reasons. You are now free to move about Hell’s Acres.

Thief Mob vs. Natural Born Racists

In the mid-1990s, when hip-hop/gangsta culture produced white suburban wannabes across the United States, Springfield was no exception. Sixteen Acres had Thief Mob: eventual high school dropouts around the Joan Street neighborhood who joined forces with some kids who lived near Tinkham Road and Kiley Junior High School. These youths did mostly house burglaries (no cars) but if Acres folk had a car stereo—and no car alarm—these guys were certainly game. 

TM liked to listen to Wu-Tang Clan’s 36 Chambers, Mobb Deep’s Infamous, and Illmatic by Nas.

“A pretty tough dude found out one of these guys broke in to his house and he cornered him in a Central High bathroom, wrote THIEF on his forehead, and told him head kick his ass if he didn’t leave it for the rest of the day. He ended up skipping the remaining classes that day,” said Jane, a woman I know from East Sixteen Acres.

TM’s main rival: NBR (Natural Born Racists), a bunch of white college hat-wearing preppies. They thought they were slick, wearing baseball caps of teams whose teams’ names could be interpreted in “other ways,” such as the Oregon State Beavers and COCKS (South Carolina Gamecocks).

The “gang” label for both these groups may not be totally accurate, because at the time Springfield was overrun with the real thing, and the Acres crews knew full well that if they truly made a name for themselves, it was very possible that the Latin Kings, Los Solidos, La Familia, or Neta would have called them out. Even the city’s smaller gangs, the posses (South Side, Eastern Avenue, Hilltop, and Bristol Street) would not have taken kindly to anyone posing as hardcore players. TM and NBR realized this and were pretty much under the radar as the 1990s went on. 

“I think NBR formed out of necessity as Springfield public schools were riddled with black and Hispanic gangs at the time,” said Jane. NBR was made up guys from the area around Tinkham Road and Gate of Heaven Cemetery and the Brunton School: the connecting woods between the side streets east of Brunton linked teens in this neighborhood with those of the cemetery area, with the magic link being a handmade bridge over the South Branch of the Mill River:

NBR also had among their ranks a handful of guys from Forest Park’s X neighborhood. These groups’ “tags” could be seen in different places, such as the back of Brunton School (NBR). The electrical box at the corner of Glenoak Drive and Joan Street (pictured below) bore TM’s tags, because this place was somewhat of a hangout with little car and bus traffic there prior to the construction of Sabis International Charter School.

There is still graffiti on the electrical box, but no Thief Mob tags. Just random stuff and a 413 scratched into the paint.

And then there was the fire at 105 Joan Street on January 16, 1995. Who burned down the vacant house? Inquiring minds want to know. Could it have been the Thief Mob? Leave a message or send a private comment to hellsacres@gmail.com!

TM and NBR were known to clash violently, with one confrontation resulting in the savage beating of an NBR member near the Woodland Road. 

“Thief Mob ended up dying out as they got older and sort of morphed in to a group that hung out at an underground tattoo parlor on Glenoak,” said Jane. This was around 1999-2000, when a middle-aged gentleman named Ray remodeled his basement with a pool table and inking area, where he partied with neighborhood youths and worked on their tattoos. He died in 2000. 

NBR eventually “rebranded” itself, reforming into a group called the Alcoholic Grave Yard Society and throwing keggers in the woods behind Gate of Heaven Cemetery. The gangs’ old names were gone, but there was still bad blood, which occasionally led to hostilities.

Thief Mob vs. Forest Park goons

In December of 1998, a birthday party on Spikenard Circle for Jake Blanchard, the guy who had “THIEF” written on his forehead years earlier, had all the ingredients for trouble. By then, the words Thief Mob were seldom uttered by the gang’s members, but, because of Jake’s popularity, there were several different groups of people attended that would not have normally come in to contact with each other, including a clique who “liked to grab 30 packs of cheap beer, get annihilated and play endless games of poker,” said Jane. “Such a game was happening in the kitchen that night. Winter coats ended up piling on the backs of the chairs as more and more people showed up.” Enter Frank Clason, a Thief Mob tag-along, the kind of guy who was always bumming money and wasn’t above raiding medicine cabinets if he couldn’t scrounge up enough change to buy a 40-ouncer. The kind of guy who was always broke, but somehow ended up by far the most hammered at the end of the night. The kind of guy who dug out half smoked cigarettes from public ashtrays. The kind of guy who would…gulp… drink the bottom of someone else’s beer bottles.  

As the evening wore on, and the beer flowed (boy oh boy did it flow—and spill), Frank stumbled through the kitchen and grabbed his coat, which was under a pile of coats stacked on the back of a chair. In doing so, he toppled other coats onto the floor, which was covered with beer and dirt. Allen Gallagher, part of the poker-playing group, took exception and got in Frank’s face. “I’m too high for this,” Frank replied and walked away. But belligerent Allen wouldn’t let it go. “He was nearly blacked out drunk and with his friends there, thought he was safe,” said Jane. In mid-diatribe, Allen was FULLY blacked out with a sucker shot. Who threw the punch? Who knows? Then nearly everyone in the kitchen jumped in and stomped him, knocking out or cracking most of his teeth and breaking bones in his face. 911 time. He was unresponsive as his friends waited for an ambulance.  

There were other Thief Mob guys at the party: brothers Art and Phil Johnson the latter of whom didn’t like the presence of a troublemaker named Jim Graves at the party because of an old beef, so there was tension even before the Allen beating took place.

Jim Graves and his Forest Park his buddies were totally insane, especially Wayne and Dave Henson, who were each six-foot-two and 215 pounds, and ready to kick ass. “They didn't want to be outdone by some Acres kids, and problems between them and the [Johnsons] started almost immediately after,” said Jane. “As [Allen’s] limp body was being dragged away, the [Johnsons] almost immediately took on the Hensons and their crew. [Phil] was about 6-2 as well, but he was a twig—160 pounds maybe—but he was able to use his reach, his long arms and legs, to keep [Jim] and the [Henson brothers] somewhat at bay as he was trapped in the corner kitchen counter.”

And that’s when the fun started. Other members of the Henson crew wanted some action and began throwing and breaking bottles over the Johnsons’ heads. Art Johnson was knocked out pretty early in the battle and was lying on the floor between his brother and the attacking mob, leaving Phil fending the three main attackers with a crowd behind them either reaching over and smashing or lobbing bottles at him.

The attack stopped when Thief Mob guy Jake Blanchard picked up a half-full glass wine jug and smashed it over the head of one of the Henson brothers (twice—the second swing shattered the jug, but only staggered the Henson). Then the other Henson popped dirtball Frank Clason, knocking out his front teeth, and then they dropped a microwave oven on his head when he was on the floor for good measure. The kitchen, needless to say was trashed. Even the ceiling over the corner of the room where the Johnsons stood their ground had blood splatter stains. “It looked like the roof had a period,” said Jane.

And there you have it: “gang” life in Sixteen Acres in the 1990s. Charges were brought related to the first brawl at the party, but no one did any time over it. Jake Blanchard, Wayne Henson, and Jim Graves have been in and out of trouble with the law over the years, but they haven’t killed anybody yet. Art and Phil Johnson actually turned out to be productive members of society.

As for another “society,” the Alcoholic Grave Yard Society, which was more of a party group, it fizzled around 1999-2000.  “I’m sure that some members of the Grave Yard Society had no idea most of their members were from NBR, as I do recall some ‘non-whites’ being part of the crowd,” said Jane.

I wonder what these former rivals would do if they ran into each other on the street today? Would there be violence? Regarding the Spikenard Circle party brawlers, the events of the night “had lasting effects on the participants with grudges that I doubt have been resolved,” insisted Jane. Yeah, but they’re all adults now. Surely cooler heads would prevail. Right guys?


Anonymous said...

Enjoyed reading your story. I'm one of Henson brother's. My brother and I have a family we love and we spend alot time and energy helping people in recovery. We would love and see the Johnson brothers and apologize for are behavior as stupid kids.

Anonymous said...

I am one of the Johnson brother's. We are all adults with families now and moved on from the past.

Anonymous said...

Used to party with the AGS kids in the woods back when I was in high school in the late 90s. They never struck me as racist, politically incorrect, sure- but definitely not actually racist.

Those keg parties were always a good time- to be young again!