Frankie DePaula ran crew of kid copper thieves.

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In addition to his many other talents, Frankie DePaula was Hudson County’s answer to Fagin, the fictional character who trained children for a life of crime. DePaula the boxer headed a gang of boys. One and all stole copper wire from rail yards. As these thefts required a lot of ladder climbing, perhaps minors — weighing only a fraction of adults — were more agile and thus better suited to the overhead work.

The use of children as instruments by criminals was not unknown in Hudson County. Small time burglars would break into a location by boring a small hole in a wall. A skinny kid then could squeeze through and simply unlock and open a door from the inside.

Hudson County organized criminals — Numbers runners in particular — did steer clear from involving juveniles. In the days of easily purchased “understanding,” an adult nabbed with Numbers generally could evade jail time. A charge of contributing to the delinquency of a minor was a paradigm shift that resulted in a nasty conviction with a serious sentence. This very well might have been an echo of Frank Hague’s legacy of Puritanical practice. It also might have been the Hudson County legal system’s way of getting even with those not playing “fair.” Numbers bankers were expected to buy protection for their runners from the law. Using kids to evade risk was breaking the rules.

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