Narrator[voiceover]: On December 1st, 1935, Mrs. William Starkwell, the wife of a New Jersey handyman, gives birth to her first and only child. It is a boy, and they name it Virgil. He is an exceptionally cute baby with a sweet disposition. Before he is 25 years old, he will be wanted by police in six states for assault, armed robbery, and illegal possession of a wart. Growing up in a slum neighborhood where the crime where the crime rate is amongst the highest in the nation is not easy, particularly for Virgil, who is small and frail compared to the other children. Virgil Starkwell attends this school, where he scores well on an IQ test although his behavior disturbs the teachers. We interviewed Mrs. Dorothy Lowry, the school teacher who remembered Virgil.
Mrs. Dorothy Lowry: I remember one time, he stole a fountain pen. I didn't want to embarrass him, so, you know, teachers have ways of doing things, so I said to the class, "We will all close our eyes, and will the one who took the pen, please return it?" Well, while our eyes were closed, he returned the pen, but he took the opportunity of feeling all the girls. Can I say "feel"?
Narrator: [voiceover] Spending most of his time in the streets, Virgil takes to crime at an early age. He is an immediate failure, barely manages to escape with a gumball machine stuck on his hand. With both parents working to make ends meet, Virgil becomes closest to his grandfather, a 60-year-old German immigrant who takes the boy to movies and baseball games. Then, tragedy strikes, at a Washington senator's game, Virgil's grandfather is struck in the head by a fowl ball. The blow causes permanent injury to his mind, and he becomes convinced he is Kaiser Wilhelm. Here are some rare photos of him with other patients in the sanitarium grounds. When he is 15 years old, amidst the violence and poverty of the slums, Virgil receives a cello as a gift. He is fascinated by the instrument, and for the first time in the Starkwell house, music is heard. We spoke to Mr. Torgman, his first and only cello teacher.
Mr. Torgman: Uh, there's not very much to tell because his cello playing was just . . . terrible. He would uh, he had no idea about tone production. He would just saw back and forth, just scratch the instrument to such a point that it drived everyone that listened to it absolutely insane. He had no conception of the instrument. He was blowing into it. He loved his cello, and he I think he stole to pay for his lessons, but he would not apply himself one iota.
Narrator[voiceover]: Virgil steals to pay for cello lessons, and although he does not achieve greatness on the instrument, he is soon good enough to play in a local band. A jungle, however, is no place for a cellist, and Virgil soon learned the facts of life. At 18, Virgil is lonely and confused. Unable to concentrate in school, he has long since dropped out. He wants nothing more than to belong, if only to a street gang. It is here, he thinks he will prove his manhood. Under constant economic pressure, Virgil turns to the local pool hall as a means of making a living. "I'm going to be a pool hustler," he tells his friends.
Virgil Starkwell: Ball, please. [Someone hands him a ball] Okay, thanks.
Narrator[voiceover]: Virgil tries to join the navy but is psychologically unfit.
Virgil Starkwell: That looks to me like . . . two elephants making love to a men's glee club.
Narrator[voiceover]: Mr. T. S. Foster, Virgil's first probation officer, remembers him vividly.
T. S. Foster: He was trustworthy kind of person, I mean, you had to remember certain idiosyncrasies that he had.
Interviewer: Like what?
T. S. Foster: Like, uh, not always telling the truth. He didn't always tell the truth. Sometimes, uh, he exaggerated the truth.
T. S. Foster: Sometimes, he uhh you know, just plain lies. He does have a criminal record, yes, but, that doesn't mean that the boy was all bad.
Narrator[voiceover]: Unable to fit in with any aspect of his environment, Virgil strikes out on his own.