Act II - Episode 6 - Slice in Time - Bay Shores - 1965 - Judge Helfant's Kangaroo Court
If you go back to any of these places today, say the joint that is now where Bay Shores used to be, where they change the name, chefs and management every few years or so, some new fancy dancy hot de' trot first class joint with a wine list, small portions and a staid jazz band that plays soft standard tunes that are like a backdrop to awkward conversations, where people sit around marveling at the bay views and salt air and they think they're having a good time, a fine vacation, good weather, wish you were here kind of post card setting, but they really don't know what a good time is.
You don't have to have a conversation when you're having a real good time.
And they could never know unless they were there, the same exact spot, the same small quadrant in this universe, same place but a different time, actually not that long ago, still within some living memories, and sometimes it comes back, like a latter day Brigadoon.
Usually after hours, when there's no living soul around, the waves lapping at the deck pilings set the vibes in motion, and you get thrown back via the memory cells in the back of the mind that take you to that same place in time. If Sherman could set the Way Back Machine to the summer of '65, or any time in that era, you would find Johnny Caswell and the Crystal Mansion playing on the back stage, the full moon high tide bringing small waves that occasionally seep through the cracks in the back dance floor as people dance to Caswell singing, “Schools's out, come on let's go! We're going down the shore, just like before, cause there's no school anymore, so baby, meet me at the shore..."
As Caswell's set winds down, the other stage comes to life, with Pete Carroll and the Carroll Brothers coming on as the dancers shift from one floor to another, the beat goes on, and as the boys get cooking, it doesn't take long for the house to be rockin' once again. The Carroll Brothers aren't real kin brothers, they just call themselves brothers in a white, soul brothers sense. As they reach a fever pitch, a girl jumps up on the bar to dance and nobody stops her, and then the sax player lays down, his back on the bar as he continues playing and wiggling around like an overturned turtle, as the place goes crazy with everyone clapping, singing along or shouting, as you couldn't have a conversation in Bay Shores between the hours of 8 pm and 2 am when the music went off.
Then, unannounced and out of seeming nowhere, Gary U.S. Bonds jumps on stage, gives Pete a hug and grabs a microphone as the band, drummer first, shifts beats to a very familiar one - “Quarter-to-Three,” - and the place is going crazy, everyone moving and dancing where ever they were, including the bartenders and bar backs, who stop working for a few moments to take it all in.
Then between songs, as Pete Carroll announced that Gary U.S. Bonds would be performing that song again – at 2:45 am at the Dunes, there's a roar at the door that gets everyone's attention. Jack Murray, sitting on a bar stool by the door, jumps back, slips cash into his jacket and leans against the wall as a motorcycle, you hear it coming before you saw it ride in the door, around the bar and onto the dance floor where the college kid did circles, scattering the dancers.
Pete quickly whips the band into an appropriate song, as the bouncers grab the guy on the motorcycle, shut off the bike engine and hand the kid over to some of Bader's Raiders, who were already at the door.
Bader's Raiders would throw him in the back of their Paddy Wagon and take him to the drunk tank jail at City Hall where he would wait until he got a chance to meet Judge Helfant, whose midnight Kangaroo Court began nightly at midnight.
The Dark Side of Bay Avenue
Judge Eddie Helfant
Judge Eddie Helfant
The guy who rode his motorcycle on the Bay Shores dance floor did one of the things you have to do to get picked up by Bader's Raiders and meet Judge Helfant, the others being urinating in public, drunk and disorderly, littering and assault and battery.
And there are more girls picked up than you'd expect, like the girl in “Chest Fever” they get drunk and do drugs and get jealous of their boyfriends dancing with others and a do something crazy or get into a cat fights, and are quickly dispensed with by the efficient work of the bouncers and handed over to Bader's Raiders.
The Paddy Wagon takes offenders to City Hall where they are put into the group drunk tank until Judge Helfant arrives and begins his court proceedings at midnight.
One by one the drunk tank is emptied and the offender brought before the Judge, who having a list of the contents of the defendant, knows how much cash he has on hand, and fines him whatever that amount happens to be. If the arrested person is broke, they were given a dime to make a phone call from the pay phone to get the bail money or fine.
What made Helfant's midnight mischief a Kangaroo Court is the fact that no records were kept. And since the defendants didn't mind that it didn't go on their official record, they didn't complain. And the cash that was collected by Helfant was spread around loosely, like fertilizer he said, "the more you spread it around the better it works for you." The city financial manager was aware of the arrangement, and got a small cut, Lt. Bader got a big cut but had to pay his thirty some man Bay Avenue police force. Judge Helfant kept the biggest cut for himself, but he had to share some of it with Stumpy Orman, the underworld boss of Atlantic City who cut his share with Angelo Bruno, the nominal mob boss of Philadelphia and South Jersey, who got a slice of every shady deal made on his turf.
The mayor and tax payers, while kept in the dark about the details, didn't mind Helfant's Midnight Court sessions since they knew it paid for the extra summer season police force and kept taxes down, so nobody complained.
But this time, the guy on the motorcycle was filmed by the KYW TV crew as he rode into the club and got arrested, and the KYW crew followed the Paddy Wagon to City Hall and learned about Helfant's midnight court sessions, and David Brenner smelled a rat.
No Helfant said, he would not permit his television cameras in his court, period.
Next - Act II - Episode 8