The Brooklyn Thrill-Kill Gang and the Great Comic Book Scare of the 1950s
New Books in American StudiesNew Books in HistoryNew Books in Jewish StudiesNew Books in LawNew Books in Peoples & PlacesNew Books in Politics & SocietyNew Books in Religion & FaithNew Books Network March 24, 2016 Marshall Poe
Stereotypes should always be viewed with skepticism. That said, when we consider Jewish kids from Brooklyn we ordinarily think of well-behaved, studious types on their way to “good schools” and professions of one sort or another. Rude boys roving the streets of New York seeking to “cleanse” the city by assaulting and even killing “bums” do not readily come to mind. Yet there were such Jewish thugs in the 1950s. Mariah Adin tells their tale in her wonderful book The Brooklyn Thrill-Kill Gang and the Great Comic Book Scare of the 1950s (Praeger, 2014).
In the summer of 1954, the Brooklyn “Thrill Killers” murdered two men and tortured several others. All of the victims were essentially indigent men. After the boys were captured, it was discovered that their leader, troubled teenager Robert Tractenberg, was fascinated with the Nazis. Not only that, he was a big fan of violent horror comic books, some of which contained avenging characters. These facts led investigators to believe that the message found in the comics influenced the Thrill Killers’ violent mission and methods. In other words, the violent comics were corrupting youth and were, perhaps, at the root of a perceived national upsurge in “juvenile delinquency.” If this were true, then some sort of censorship might be in order. But what of constitutional considerations? Listen in and learn how it all played out.