The Vice Lords were founded as a street gang in the late 1950s, and rose quickly to become the dominant power in the Westside Lawndale neighborhood, a position they largely continue to hold today. They first came to public notice, however, with a senseless murder in the evening of August 12, 1961.
The Vice Lords of that period were hardly organized criminals. While the gang later grew into an organized corporate group focused on the drug trade, the original Vice Lords, who patrolled the area between Roosevelt and Cermak roads, and between Central Park Ave. and Pulaski, were primarily alienated youths seeking status among their peers. There was some violence in the frequent battles over territory and control with other, rival, Westside gangs such as the Imperials or the Egyptian Cobras, but deaths were not common. Most Chicagoans saw the Vice Lords as akin to the Jets and the Sharks, the fictional gangs of West Side Story, and until a late night in August, 1961, they might have been basically correct.
Just after midnight on Saturday, August 12, Chrispulo Mangaser, a 56 year-old maintenance man at a Southside printing plant was returning home after work. When he arrived at his home, 1811 S. Lawndale, pictured above, he encountered Chester “Fools” Solomon, a 17 year-old member of the “Midget” Vice Lords.
The Midgets were the youngest group of Vice Lords, ranging in age between 12 and 17. A group of about 15 of the juvenile gangsters, including Solomon, had been hanging out on Lawndale St. that afternoon. They had met up earlier that evening at the corner of 16th and Lawndale, and were searching the neighborhood for members of the rival Cobras gang. Seeing the old man returning from work, Solomon turned to his fellows and said, “I will get me some money.” He then ran across the street and asked Mangaser for a dime.
“Who do you think I am, your father?” replied Mangaser. The words sealed his fate.
(Pictured: Chrispulo Mangaser)
Under later questioning by the police, Solomon admitted that he then turned and put his fist into Mangaser’s body, dropping him to the ground. Other gang members, who had watched the scene either from the other side of the street, or from a van one of the members owned, jumped into the fight, kicking and beating Mangaser violently. One of the boys, 15 year-old Larry Richardson, carried an umbrella, and he allegedly used it to rain blows upon his victim, cracking his skull. When Mangaser became unconscious, the group ripped his trousers and emptied the pockets, making off with $25, which they split between them, although Solomon, who had started the fight, only got $0.30 of the loot.
Mangaser bled on the street until police arrived on the scene and took him to the hospital, where he fell into a coma and died the next day from his injuries. The media dubbed the killing the “10c murder” after Chester Solomon’s insolent demand from his victim, and the entire city was shocked at the cheapness and senselessness of the crime.
A passer-by who had witnessed the beating told police that the attacker wore a long trenchcoat, a garment that was Solomon’s trademark. The police picked Chester Solomon up and, they later claimed, questioned him for only about fifteen minutes. Officers noticed immediately that Solomon could not hide a bandaged and broken wrist which had not been properly set, which they took as clear evidence of his part in the crime. They then left Solomon alone with his thoughts while they left to apprehend two other known Midget Vice Lords, including the umbrella-wielding Larry Richardson and another 15 year-old, Alfred “Brains” Johnson. When the police returned to question Solomon further, he was ready to talk. Solomon signed a full confession to the murder of Chrispulo Mangaser which also implicated Richardson and Johnson. For their part, the latter two admitted they received part of the $25 taken from the victim, but refused to admit they were involved in the beating itself.
On November 28, 1961, eight Midget Vice Lords went on trial for the murder, including Chester Solomon, Larry Richardson and Alfred Johnson, plus five others who were believed to have been part of the team that beat Mangaser senseless. Charges against another five also believed to be at the scene were dropped for insufficient evidence. Solomon’s signed confession was the core of the state’s case. However, a bit of sloppy record-keeping almost ended the entire trial when the police admitted they had thrown out the original copy of the confession, and could only produce a photocopy. Solomon also claimed he had been questioned for hours under duress by the police, and allowed no food, water, or sleep before signing the statement, a claim the police contradicted in their testimony. In the end, the only saving grace for the police was that, three hours after the police had quizzed Solomon, an assistant state’s attorney had followed up briefly, and Solomon had signed one other critical statement during that interrogation, which had been preserved.
After a two-week trial, Chester Solomon was sentenced to 40 years. Richards and Johnson each received 25 years, and two other Vice Lords received the minimum sentence for murder, 14 years. Three others were acquitted for lack of evidence that they took part in either the beating or the loot. As the sentences were read, only Alfred Johnson winced and bowed his head. The others just stared straight ahead.
Mangaser's home, in front of which he suffered the beating that took his life, is no longer standing, replaced by an empty lot.