At approximately 4:30 A.M. EDT May 11, 1968 several sleek, dark, vehicles belonging to the Fort Hill Mob pulled quietly up to the curb at the AVATAR offices, 37 Rutland St. Boston. As the Mob, including the notorious ring leaders Eben Given and Brian Keating and henchmen George Peper, Ian Frankenstein, David Gude, and several as yet unidentified members of the ring left their automobiles, two figures emerged from a nearby alley. The two were rather immediately recognized as prominent Salem financier, young roustabout, and heart of young Republicanism, J. Michael Freedberg and the notorious Ethel "Frankie" Nagel.
It soon became obvious to the lone member of the South Side Gang then present in the AVATAR office, John Pebbles, that the Mob had decided to move in on the 45,000 copies of a newspaper labeled AVATAR No. 25 then present there. The bundles of papers were still warm from the giant presses at Paul's place in Worchester and had been delivered only an hour before.
Whether the presence of politician Freedberg and his lady companion Nagel was part of a larger plan, or whether they joined the Mob only by chance is not entirely clear, but they did join the raiding party almost immediately upon finishing large, spectacularly lavish ice-cream cones.
After the Mob had entered the office by means of keys supplied by Freedberg, they were confronted with South Side Gang member Pebbles, who managed to stall them for several minutes in conversation. When he could hold them off no longer and the leaders of the newspaper ring gave the signal to cop the $10,000 worth of beautiful tri-colored newspapers, Pebbles feigned indifference and set to work alerting the other members of the widely dispersed South Side Gang by telephone.
The Mob moved with swift precision. Before the press arrived, 40,000 papers were trucked to a then secret hideaway on Fort Hill. During the final five minutes of the heist, however, while the Mob was busy locating and lifting the last 5,000 papers, 4000 photos were taken of the operation.
The Great Newspaper heist of '68 was a part of a growing feud between AVATAR's Fort Hill Mob and AVATAR's South Side Gang. Subsequent to AVATAR's battle with the police in Boston and Cambridge there came a division of intent in the internal workings of the newspaper. There was an ever-growing resistance to Fort Hill domination of AVATAR even as early as issue No. 19 by a wide variety of AVATAR writers, street vendors, artists, and erstwhile publishers. As press time for issue No. 24 approached, the factionalism reached fever pitch. It was at this point that the Fort Hill Mob copped the scene, publishing equipment, deserted the South End, and published AVATAR No. 24 from Fort Hill. This left the embryonic South Side Gang in frustrated confusion. It was out of this confusion that AVATAR No. 25 was born and published. Ed Fox, Mob member, termed No. 25 "violently critical of Fort Hill." Other Mob members claim that No. 25 is not AVATAR at all and that it was only within their rights to seize the issue from the South Side Gang since it was labeled as AVATAR. "It had our name on it," is a contention often heard around town at Mob hangouts. Various legal actions since that time have disclosed that the name AVATAR does not belong to Fort Hill but to AVATAR, INC., of which Fort Hill is only a part.
Although No. 25 is labeled AVATAR, it quite boldly and in no uncertain terms declares that it is not the work of any individual on Fort Hill. If we are to view No. 24 as the work of the Mob and NO. 25 as the work of the Gang, it is clear that the Mob was interested more in the personal expression of Mel Lyman than in a community newspaper.
The week following the Great Newspaper Heist was a week of turmoil for both sides in the gang-land feud. During the course of several meetings in an abandoned warehouse on Shawmut Avenue the two sides hurled insults and accusations at each other and upon several occasions came near to violence. The final outcome of the many attempts at successful confrontation or negotiation was the destruction of the 45,000 newspapers by the Fort Hill Mob. Approximately 1000 copies of No. 25, which were safely out of the Mob's reach at the time of the heist, were distributed in the Harvard Square area. Neither side in the dispute seemed much concerned for its readers who might make the best judgment as to whether No. 25 was worth reading or not. What was so important that the Mob decided to act as censor? What so unimportant that the much larger South Side Gang didn't attempt to recapture the papers when it learned they were locked in the Fort Hill Tower?
As is normal in questions of gang-land rivalry, it is difficult to tell who is moving in on whom. The most recent development is that the two gangs are reunited. Rumor has it that the next issue of AVATAR will be labeled No. 25 and that the whole event will be denied. A united front, never mind the truth? The New York AVATAR carried a fairly accurate, even if somewhat long-winded and apologetic article by New York Mobster, Brian Keating, in its issue No. 5.