Joe Bruno on the Mob – The Daybreak Boys– The Most Treacherous Killers Ever To Prowl Manhattan’s East Side Docks

The Daybreak Boys were the most treacherous killers ever to prowl Manhattan’s East Side docks. When they formed their dandy little bunch in the late 1840’s, there were said to be three dozen members, none of them over the age of twenty. Some of the Daybreak Boys were as young as ten years old, but lack of age never meant a paucity of violence.

The Daybreak Boys’ first leaders were Nicholas Saul and William Howlett, who were sixteen and fifteen years old respectively when they took control of the gang. Other noted members were murderers like Slobbery Jim, Sow Madden, Cow-legged Sam McCarthy and Patsy the Barber. It was rumored that every member of the gang had committed at least one murder and scores of robberies, before they reached the age of sixteen. The police said that The Daybreak Boys not only murdered in the course of a robbery, but also for the sheer ecstasy of doing so, even if there was no hope of cashing in on a score. The police estimated that in the three years that Saul and Howlett were their leaders, the Daybreak Boys robbed over $100,000 and killed as many as forty people.

The Daybreak Boys base of operations was the Slaughter House Point, owned by Pete Williams, located at the intersection of James and Water Street. On August 25, 1852, a passing policeman looked in at the Slaughter House Point and saw Saul and Howlett huddled in a corner, with low level gang member Bill Johnson, who was half sloshed. The policeman suspected they were up to no good, and decided to drop by later. When he did, the three men were gone. In the darkness, they had taken a row boat and navigated the East River to a ship named the William Watson, intent on stealing valuables they heard was on board. They were met by the night watchman Charles Baxter, and they shot Baxter dead on the spot. Thinking the gunshot would attract attention, they jumped ship from the William Watson, empty-handed, and rowed back to shore.

The policeman who had spotted them earlier, saw the rowboat dock, and watched as Saul and Howlett dragged Johnson, who was now totally drunk, from the boat and carry him to the Slaughter House Point. Soon after, the body of the night watchman was found, and a group of twenty policemen, armed to the hilt, bum-rushed the Slaughter House Point. After a long and bloody battle, in which a score of Daybreak Boys tried to thwart the arrest of their three men, Saul, Howlett and Johnson were finally arrested. After a short trial, Johnson was sentenced to life imprisonment, but Saul and Howlett were awarded the death sentence. On January 28, 1853, Saul and Howlett were hanged to death in the courtyard of the Tombs Prison. Saul was barely twenty years old, and Howlett was one year younger.

After the deaths of Saul and Howlett, Slobbery Jim took over the Daybreak Boys. But he soon had to take it on the lam after he whacked his old pal Patsy the Barber. In 1857, The Daybreak Boys continued their decline. The Slaughter House Point, which was the base of their operations for a decade, with a little prompting from the New York City Police Department, finally closed it doors. In 1858, more than a dozen gang member were killed in shootouts with the police, and with the newly created Harbor Patrol. Scores of others were arrested and sent to jail. By 1859, the Daybreak Boys basically ceased to exist, when its remaining members took up with other gangs in the Bowery and in the Five Points areas.


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