Decades of Crimes of Passion, Protests, Bank Robberies, and Other Mayhem in Sunnyside, Queens

Monday, April 13, 2009

September 22, 1948 - Communist Leader Beaten, Stabbed Near Sunnyside Home

Sixty-one years ago, anti-Communist hysteria was at its peak in the United States. The Soviet Union was expanding its sphere of influence, perhaps even into America - Communists could very well have been your neighbor, your priest, your child's teacher - anyone was a potential threat to American security. Robert Thompson (then 33 years old according to the Times), chairman of the New York State Communist Party and Sunnyside resident, had already been indicted for advocating the overthrow of the U.S. government. On September 22, 1948 he was stabbed and beaten by three unknown assailants near his Sunnyside home (at 39-40 46th Street).

His colleague, John Gates, editor of the Daily Worker (official NYS Communist newspaper) and Sunnyside resident, characterized it a "political attack" according to the Times, as no effort was made to rob the Communist leader. Mr. Thompson staggered to the nearby home of William Norman, another Communist Party member, at 39-77 46th Street, where he collapsed. The Times noted that Thompson and Norman reported the crime to the 108th Precinct, but the NYPD said no such crime report was received.

Of note, of course, is that Sunnyside appeared to be the political center of Communism in New York State in the late 1940s, with the chairman, an editor, and at least one additional Communist figure residents of the neighborhood. A few additional interesting items about Mr. Thompson: according to the Political Graveyard, he was a 1946 candidate for NYS Comptroller, which the Times failed to mention (he lost to the Republican incumbent Frank C. Moore). While Thompson survived his injuries, in less than a year he would be sentenced to three years in prison for violating the Smith Act, a Federal statute still on the books that makes it a crime to: "knowingly or willfully advocate, abet, advise or teach the duty, necessity, desirability or propriety of overthrowing the Government of the United States or of any State by force or violence..."

According to his obituary (dated October 17, 1965), Thompson fled after this conviction (and three-year sentence), and was on the lam for two years before being captured in the Sierra Mountains of California. After his capture, he was placed in Alcatraz to begin serving his sentence for violating the Smith Act. More physical pain would strike the Communist leader in October 1953, when his skull was cracked by a Yugoslavian inmate awaiting deportation while waiting in line for lunch at Manhattan's West Street Detention Center. After this recovery, Thompson was sentenced to another four years detention for his earlier escape. He would serve his sentence until 1960 when he was released for good behavior, and would die of a heart attack at the age of 50 just three years later (then a resident of Riverside Drive in Manhattan).

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