Bobby Halpern, who is 44 years old, is unwinding tape from his hands when he is told that the heavyweight he has just beaten is not Dave Conteh after all, not the brother of the British light heavy champ, John Conteh. "He's Dave Sands from Brooklyn," the guy says, and Bobby Halpern smiles, widening a diamond-shaped cut on his chin. Blood is slowly dripping from a gash over Halpern's right eye. He is a short-legged, thick-chested, thick-armed mauler, 5'10", 192 pounds, built something like Rocky Marciano. His face is heavily scarred around the eyes and chin. His friends say he fights best after he's been stung a few times.
Halpern's left forearm bears white scars that resemble needle tracks, but when you look closely you see that the scars are too long and too deep for that. They are the slash marks of a razor, 10 of them, and were self-inflicted. Halpern says he did it to avoid a beating by the guards at Green Haven Penitentiary, his home for 8� years.
Once Halpern was a very hot pugilistic property, an East Bronx boy and a credit to a neighborhood famous for its fighters, such as Steve and Mike Belloise, Tami Mauriello and Jake LaMotta. Seventeen years in prison ended all that, and now Halpern is picking up $200 here and there by fighting four-and six-rounders. He fought Conteh, a.k.a. Sands, in the Westchester Country ( N.Y.) Center. Six brutal rounds. He earned his money.
"What's your record, Halpern?" a writer wants to know.
"Robbery one, assault two, kidnapping," says a guy who knew Bobby back in Green Haven, and a few men snicker. Bobby Halpern smiles again.
"Don't forget grand larceny," he says. "They got me on that, too."
This is April 1977, and Bobby has been out 15 months. In 1959, he was sentenced to 20 years to life for robbery, grand larceny, assault and kidnapping. According to the indictment, Halpern and John Doe, legal terminology for a defendant unknown and never caught, invaded the car of Jack Michaelson, a 19-year-old interior decorator, and stole his ring, wristwatch and $1.20 in cash. They shoved him into the trunk, drove him 40 miles upstate to Goldens Bridge, N.Y., beat him, tied him up and left him semiconscious. Then they drove his car away, set fire to it and went home.
Francis McPartland, the arresting officer, said he figured Halpern and his buddy were "drunk and crazy" at the time. Halpern, a promising heavyweight who had had two bouts at New York's St. Nicholas Arena and one at Madison Square Garden, said it was a frame job. He said he wasn't there. Halpern said that when McPartland arrested him and Michaelson identified him he was in Fordham Hospital in the Bronx, recovering from shotgun wounds in the left arm inflicted by George Colitto, an owner of a sporting goods inflicted by George Colitto, an owner of a sporting goods store and a minor rackets guy.
They'd had an argument over a girl, which led to a shootout in Colitto's apartment on East 180th Street. Halpern unloaded his revolver at Colitto, missing all six shots. Colitto fired once and Halpern, bleeding heavily from the left arm, jumped out the window and escaped. Later that day he checked himself into Fordham Hospital where he could await the pending charge of three counts of extortion that Colitto had brought against him. Then Detective McPartland and Michaelson paid him a call. He was identified and arrested. It had been a busy day for Halpern. In three days he was scheduled to fight Eddie Vick in the semifinal at St. Nick's. He asked someone to please call the matchmaker and tell him that he didn't think he could make the fight.
"They prodded that guy Michaelson into identifying me," Halpern says now. "They were just looking to get me on something, to put me away. When I went up for sentencing, every assistant D.A. in the Bronx was lined up there, like I was John Dillinger. Six guards were behind me and a deputy was out in the hallway ready to come in with more guys if he had to. It was like they expected me to go berserk or something."