An assistant professor in the College of Liberal Arts is at the center of a controversy involving Temple University Press, the Philadelphia Irish underworld and a book about a crime gang that has been a part of the city for decades.
Confessions of a Second Story Man: Junior Kripplebauer and the K&A Gang, written by Allen Hornblum, was pulled from shelves last spring by its original publisher, Temple University Press.
“It was Temple’s lead book. Temple was getting a lot of media press from sources where they had never received it,” Hornblum said. “Sources like Playboy.”
John Berkery, one of the ex-members of the K&A gang, which was named after the Kensington and Allegheny intersection of Philadelphia, has said that the book tells mistruths about him. Berkery said he feels that this could ruin his reputation and could be a case of defamation. He called Temple University Press on it just last spring, threatening to sue them and anyone involved with the book and its promotions if Temple University Press continued with the publication.
The book describes the story of the K&A gang, a very prominent Irish crime group that was in existence from the early 1950s to the late 1970s. The gang, noted for their smooth larceny tactics, was one of the most popular gangs during this time and in the book, gang member Junior Kripplebauer shares his stories with Hornblum.
Though Hornblum mentions Berkery in the book, who has been long-suspected of being behind the theft of nearly $500,000 worth of goods in a house burglary in 1959, Hornblum said he was not featured prominently.
After Berkery threatened a lawsuit, Temple University Press backed out of the publication, releasing the book back to Hornblum in fall 2005. Hornblum was still able to get the story published by another company, even with the controversy surrounding the book and the Temple University Press.
It was Barricade Books, a publishing company well-known for picking up manuscripts that many publishers may be skeptical of touching, who decided to publish the book, releasing it last month.
Hornblum said he’s sorry that the situation with the book and Temple University Press ended this way. He said he wished it could have turned out differently, especially because of the publicity that the book has received.
Alex Holzman, director of Temple University Press, said Temple University Press publishes a wide range of controversial books every year
“Temple will always publish controversial, cutting-edge books on many of the major issues of the day,” Holzman said in an e-mailed statement.
Libel and defamation has historically been very difficult to argue in court. Libel, by law, has to be a falsely written publication that damages a person’s reputation.
But the story, according to Hornblum, is the true accounts, told by Junior Kripplebaur, of the lives and encounters surrounding the men of the K&A gang. Berkery, who sued Hornblum for libel last month, told the Philadelphia Inquirer that the “whole book is a lie.”
Hornblum said he feels that Philadelphia has a wealth of stories that should be illuminated more.
“I always thought some journalists would have come along and picked the story up,” Hornblum said.
But when other journalists didn’t follow the story, Hornblum did.
As for any regrets, Hornblum said the legal hassle is his biggest regret. He knew the story would be controversial, but having to deal with a lawsuit made the process more difficult.
The book is now in stores nationwide.
Mya Douglas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.