Wednesday, August 27, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Teen mob violence not a new problem.

In 1981, teen mobs left a Philadelphia handyman and a Penn student dead.

Teen mob violence not a new problem.

Now we call them "flash mobs" or "teen mobs," but in the early 1980's Philadelphians called them a somewhat more indelicate term: "wolf packs." In 1981 and 1982, Philly struggled to deal with dozens of violent attacks and robberies committed by packs of marauding teens across the city: on the Market-Frankford EL; in Northern Liberties, in University City; and in Center City.

In Oct. 1980, according to Inquirer clippings, 49 young people were arrested in the aftermath of "wolf pack" raids on Super Sunday revelers. About 250 teens walked through the Benjamin Franklin Parkway crowds, punching and pouncing people, police said. 

Two weeks later, during the Phillies World Series Parade, police arrested 226 purse snatchers and pick-pockets -- many of them working in "wolf packs," police said.

Today, as the Mayor announced a 9 p.m. weekend curfew for teens to deal with the recent violence, people rightfully worry that the next outburst could leave someone dead.

That's what happened back in the 80's.

In Dec. 1981, a pack of teens stomped a 59-year-old West Philly handyman named George Byrd to death for a six-pack of beer he was carrying.  

And on Nov. 23 1980, around 2:30 a.m., ten teens pounced on a University of Pennsylvania student named Douglas Huffman. The teens had been trolling West Philly for hours when they spotted Huffman, 23, and his friend, Bruce McClellan, 23, getting out of a car near Huffman's apartment at 44th and Osage, police said. 

McClellan would later testify that one of teens yelled, "Knockout," after another attacker, who was just 14, landed the blow that knocked Huffman temporarily unconscious.

McClellan helped his injured friend inside. He had bruises on his forehead and threw up, McClellan would later tell police.

"I don't feel well, my head hurts," McClellan remembered Huffman saying. A police officer encouraged Huffman to go to the hospital, but he refused, wanting to sleep instead. McClellan left Huffman in his bed, where he found him dead two days later. A coroner said he died from a brain hemorrhage brought on from the beating.

Huffman's Penn classmates and teachers gathered for a memorial service. Huffman was an idealistic student who studied city planning "and wanted to set cities straight," one teacher said in a eulogy.

Police quickly arrested all ten of the teens. A judge sentenced three of them to life in prison, including the 14-year-old.

The "defendants sat calmly at their defense tables with their lawyers showing no sign of emotion and actually appearing bored as the verdicts were read," the Inquirer reported.

Huffman's father traveled from Cincinnati to be the courtroom.

"We're here to see if Philadelphia feels sorry for itself - for having to be afraid to walk the streets at night," the grieving man said.

About this blog

Mike Newall has been covering Philly crime, cops and mayhem since 2007, beginning with his work with the Philadelphia City Paper and Philadelphia Weekly.

He joined the Inquirer’s New Jersey Bureau in 2010, reporting extensively on violence in Camden, and has been back on the Philly crime beat since April, where he finds the people and the stories behind the daily crime blotter.

Reach Newall at mnewall@phillynews.com.

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