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BY GERARD FLYNN | Friends and fellow gutter pirates held a memorial Friday evening for Joel Pakela, a.k.a. L.E.S. Jewels, the 43-year-old godfather of gutter punks and hobos who have made the Crusty Row section of Tompkins Square Park their temporary home for more than 25 years.
Its benches were the scene for some of Jewels’s craziest antics, and drew a good-sized crowd on the night to remember the much-loved New Jersey native, who died on the morning of Sat., Sept. 14, of unknown causes. Family and friends are awaiting the results of an autopsy from the medical examiner’s office, which is due in early October. Though police said they are not treating his death as suspicious, the investigation is still open.
In attendance at the memorial was a person who one crusty pointed out as his “murderer,” whose presence drew gasps and steely-eyed stares from some.
In addition to having an outlandish reputation for some of his antics, for harassing bystanders for liquor money when intoxicated or for crapping on cop cars, Jewels was also known as a spoken-word poet of considerable merit. His poems were read, as were dirges to his memory, by his ex-wife, Amy Sanchez.
Sanchez, who believes Jewels died as a result of an assault days before his death, said he was the “pirate of the street” who lived to be free.
“He was a pirate of the trash and the filth who was on his way out to sea to be a pirate of the sea but that never happened,” she said.
The memorial lasted a couple of hours. Besides the poetry and sad crusties there was the smashed Jerry Saust lying across a bench intoning that it was the despairing world that had driven all the gutter pirates to the bottom of the bottle.
Sanchez said Jewels told her that he had been kicked in the head by a crusty and left bloodied several days before he died. At around 6:30 a.m. on the Thursday morning before his death, an ambulance was called to Andrews House on the Bowery, which provides transitional supportive housing for homeless people. Jewels had been renting a room there for more than three years for a small weekly fee.
Staff at the former flop house wouldn’t let him go to his room because he was in such bad shape, with blood and bruising, Sanchez said.
“They cleaned him up and he left against medical advice. He often waived medical advice,” she said. “He didn’t know he had a concussion.”
She said that she saw him with symptoms pointing to concussion. She has reported all of this to the police, she said, adding that the assailant bragged to her face about the attack.
She said police found Jewels on Saturday morning. Because Jewels often drank himself into a stupor, several friends who saw him passed out thought nothing of it when they saw him on the street during the early hours of Saturday morning.
Sanchez is convinced he died because of the assault, which took place in the early hours of Wednesday morning. But she’s awaiting the medical examiner’s findings, which will be released in early October, she said. He will then be cremated and a ceremony will follow.