They blasted him
in the face with a shotgun, then they let him have it twice in the chest and
once in the belly with a .38, and when he went down, one of the gunmen emptied
his .38 into Bobby Halpern and the other one reloaded his shotgun and fired
another blast, just to make sure.
Then they walked
out of the B&G clothing store on East 187th Street in the borough of the
Bronx in New York City, out into the late afternoon sunlight, and got into a
blue 1973 Oldsmobile registered to a vacant lot in Brooklyn and drove away.
story of Bobby Halpern, the Bronx heavyweight who was making a comeback at age
45 (SI, Dec. 5, 1977), who had served a 17-year stretch in various New York
State prisons and who had fought a main event in Madison Square Garden 10 days
before the May 25 shooting, should have been over. But Bobby Halpern didn't
He didn't die for
two reasons. The years of relentless training in the prison gyms of Attica and
Dannemora and Green Haven had developed his upper body to such an extent that
the bullets couldn't penetrate the wall of abdominal muscle or the muscle
sheath protecting his heart. "The pectoral muscle in his chest stopped a
.38 slug just one centimeter from his aorta," said Dr. John Sherman, the
chief surgical resident at North Central Bronx Hospital and a member of the
operating team that put Halpern back together that night. "And his
abdominal muscles were so strong that the bullet that hit him in the stomach
couldn't get through. I've never seen anything like it."
The second reason
was that when Halpern hit the floor his reflexes took over—his survival
reflexes—and he kept rolling around, never giving the two gunmen a stationary
target. "A guy gets shot and he goes down. 99 times out of 100 he'll curl
up in the fetal position," says Bronx Detective John Kelly, who is
investigating the shooting. "He's thinking, 'Please God, don't let them
shoot me again.' But Halpern kept moving. He kept rolling around. They couldn't
get a good shot at him. Maybe they panicked and didn't want to get too close to
him, but whatever it was, it saved his life. It's amazing for a guy to have
instincts like that.
"It was a
hit. There was no doubt that they intended to kill him, but they couldn't wait
around all day. I mean they didn't have 15 or 20 minutes to spend there. As yet
we don't know who did it—but it was somebody on orders."
not be that helpful, because the bullets and shotgun pellets that entered
Halpern's body will remain there. "You're better off leaving them
there." said Dr. Michael Kempster, the surgical resident who took care of
Halpern during his six days in the intensive care unit. "It's more
dangerous to start going in and operating on them. How many are in him? It's
tough to say, because of the fragmentation."
He held a set of
X rays up to the light. There were two objects he identified as .38 slugs in
the chest, another in the abdomen, one in the left wrist and another in the
right shin. The first shotgun blast had shredded Halpern's upper lip and
knocked out eight teeth and had torn a chunk out of his left palm when he put
up his hand to shield his face. Shotgun pellets had entered his lower
intestine, one of them shattering his hip bone—or maybe it was a .38 slug that
fragmented; Dr. Kempster isn't sure. He said there are more than 100 fragmented
pieces of metal in Halpern's body.
It was a savage
and vicious assault, even by East Bronx standards, and in a neighborhood where
Bobby Halpern is something of a legend, they're wondering who would want to
take him out. After he had come out of prison in January 1976, he had run up an
8-2 record, with seven knockouts, fighting four-and six-round bouts before the
Garden signed him to a May 15 semifinal against Guy (Rocky) Casale, a
22-year-old former Golden Gloves finalist.
Bernardo Mercado, one of the contestants in the scheduled main event, dropped
out, the Garden, noting the publicity Halpern was attracting and the $8,000
worth of tickets he had sold on his own, made Halpern-Casale the main event. It
was Halpern's first decent purse—$5,000, including his commission on tickets he
sold. Three independent movie and TV producers were talking about doing his
life story: there was a book contract in the works. Then at 1:13 of the third
round with Casale, he walked into a straight right and was counted out. He had
won the first two rounds on all cards. After the fight, he said he had
"gotten careless...I started fooling around with the kid...."