Part of an ongoing, irregular series of historical articles called True Crime: Bay Ridge.
Before the shots were fired—before bullets busted the front windows and lodged into the living-room walls—the phone rang. Esther Jokiel was home on Wednesday evening, April 28, 1948, about 9pm, when she picked up. A voice she later described as feminine, high-pitched, soprano, asked for her daughter, a math teacher at Fort Hamilton High School; but Margaret, a music lover, was at Carnegie Hall, at a performance of the Down Town Glee Club. (As a student at St. Joseph’s college, in Clinton Hill, she had been a member of the glee club. Apparently she liked glee clubs.) The caller hung up.
A few minutes later, the phone rang again. Esther, a teacher at PS 102, picked up the second floor extension. Her husband was in the bedroom, asleep. The same voice shouted, “Pass everyone in math or you’ll be pushing up daisies!” Esther thought it was a practical joke, until minutes later, when she heard the gunfire. Bullets broke the front window or embedded themselves in the frame of the house, at 127 98th Street, near the end of the dead-end block. Twenty-eight bullets, from .22-caliber rifles stolen from a Coney Island shooting gallery, had been fired at the house; seven got through one-and-a-half inches of front-door and came into the living room.
Four more bullets went into neighbors’ houses, Nos. 129 and 133. The former was home to a contractor named Eugene Reynolds, who was sitting in the dining room with his wife when a bullet came through a living room window; the latter was home to Professor John Horan, of St. John’s University, who was sitting on his porch when his phone rang. As he went inside to answer it, “a bullet ripped into the wall directly in line with where his head had been,” the Brooklyn Eagle reported.
The car from which the shots had been fired sped away, its headlights off. No one had been hurt.
But Margaret was shaken. She called the incident “fantastic.” Police guarded the house all night, and her uncle, a sergeant, escorted her to school the next morning, where she administered exams; defiantly, she told a reporter she would “fail those who do not receive passing grades.” The principal found a substitute by the end of the school day so Margaret could go home and “rest.” Dr. Ludwig surmised the crime was “a lark of an adolescent with no thought to the consequences,” or that the assailant was “just a wise guy.”
Margaret Jokiel was “pretty, blond, 24-years-old,” according to the Brooklyn Eagle; later it called her, “slim, attractive.” In fact, all the reporting on the incident, including by the Associated Press, which made the story into national news, made a point to mention her appearance. A headline in the Milwaukee Journal read, “Pretty Teacher Gives Exams Under Guard After Shots, Warning.”
Police planned to question 100 of her students about their whereabouts the previous evening. They went through 96 of them before they caught a break. A proctor covering for Miss Jokiel, Margaret Higney, spotted a boy taking the algebra test who didn’t belong there. That boy became confused when he was questioned; he was found with a Western Union money order made out to a name different from that of the student he was supposed to be.
That money order was payment to take the test for a fellow 16-year-old, so terrified of that test that he lead the effort to scare his math teacher. The night before, he’d roused some friends, all 14- or 15-years-old, at a candy store on Fort Hamilton Parkway and 66th Street, left instructions with one to phone in the threat at 9pm, and took another four with him; they stole a car, stopped at the ringleaders’ home to pick up seven stolen rifles and ammunition, covered the headlights and license plates with handkerchiefs, and, about 9:30pm, fired.
The gang abandoned the stolen car and retired to a soda fountain, where the ringleader enlisted his ringer. The next day, within four hours of discovering the phony test taker, the six were in custody—five charged with discharging firearms in the city without a permit, the caller charged with acting in concert; the test-taker was released by police, but was expected to face disciplinary action from the school. Another two boys were charged later.
The ringleader was held on $10,000 bail (almost $100,000, adjusted for inflation) in the Raymond Street jail for a felony charge of malicious mischief—for causing $250 (almost $2,500) in damage. He was arraigned in Adolescent Court; the others were arraigned in Children’s Court, charged with juvenile delinquency, of which they would all eventually be found guilty. One was placed on probation; another was sent to live with his family in Elmont and attend school there, and he was ordered “not to return to his old haunts”; the other five were sent to the State Training School for Boys in Warwick, NY.
The Eagle reported:
Judge James V. Mulholland declared the responsibility for “the dangerous trend juvenile delinquency has progressively reached” is shared by parents, the Board of Education and other city authorities. He said the court could not excuse the defendants because of their youth, warning that would “increase the menace and leave the community at the mercy of irresponsible hoodlums and incipient gangsters.”
Three of the boys, the ones who’d stolen the rifles, also confessed to having stolen microscopes, typewriters and movie projectors from Fort Hamilton high school; all were recovered. The Eagle never named any of the children, and it never reported what happened to the 16-year-old ringleader.
At the end of the year, Eagle readers voted this story the fourth-biggest news story of 1948, behind Marine Park and Jamaica Bay residents ending the odoriferous practice of garbage dumping; the resignation of Leo Durocher, manager of the Dodgers; and the rape and murder of an 80-year-old woman in Bed-Stuy.
Within three weeks of the shooting, Margaret’s father, Paul, died. The funeral was held at the bullet-scarred house. Esther died four years later, in June 1952; her funeral was also held at the house. In 1949, Miss Jokiel got engaged to John Joyce, of 428 74th Street; they married the following year, at St. Patrick’s.
Miss Jokiel, by the way, had graded the ringer’s test.
He got a 43.