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Monday, November 19, 2018

Thom Nickels and Johnny Bobbitt

Join us for a reading & signing of Thom Nickels’ new book Learning To Do a Bad Thing Well: Looking for Johnny Bobbitt.

About the Book

This is the story of Johnny Bobbitt and the homeless scene in Philadelphia’s Riverwards neighborhood as told by an intimate friend of Bobbitt’s. Nickels was there. He entertained Bobbitt at home; he knew his secrets. He knew Bobbitt’s friends; he followed them and recorded their stories for his newspaper columns as they went ‘down the way’ into Kensington to score drugs or to hustle men or women for sex and money. He observed their lives, their fights, their struggles with police and security guards as well as their various turf wars with other homeless men.

City Safari: Bobbitt undercover

Bobbitt Book Cover, Amazon Books

By Thom Nickels
Wed, Nov 07, 2018

I wasn’t going to write an update on homeless vet Johnny Bobbitt but since so many Bobbitt-related events have been happening in my neighborhood I decided to file this report.

As most readers are aware, the Shirley Temple version of the story goes like this (this was actually reported by 6ABC): “Bobbitt gave up his last $20 to help Kate McClure, who had run out of gas off of I-95. McClure was so moved she and her boyfriend, D’Amico, started the GoFundMe account for Bobbitt, a man who was also struggling with addiction.”

If only life was as simple as that!

This new report concerns a twenty-something man named Vinny, a smart and streetwise semi-homeless guy with penetrating eyes who likes to bury his body in sweat pants and a hoody. The word ‘semi-homeless’ is appropriate here because Vinny has resources, family and friends, who will sometimes offer him shelter. When this doesn’t happen, one of the places Vinny might spend the night is in Bobbitt’s old encampment under I-95.

For the last month or so, Vinny has been my point of contact on all things Johnny Bobbitt. At this point, as far as I can tell, Vinny is the only guy on the street with any connection to Bobbitt. All of Bobbitt’s other friends have disappeared, died, moved on to other parts of the city, or committed themselves to long-term rehab. Bobbitt’s closest street friend, RJ, for instance, hasn’t been seen for almost half a year.

The news media of late has been mum on all things Johnny Bobbitt. The last we heard (and this was from Bobbitt’s lawyer, Chris Fallon,) was that Bobbitt was going away to an extensive 45-day rehab in preparation for the ‘fleshing out’ of his civil law suit against Kate McClure and Mark D’Amico. That lawsuit accuses McClure and D’Amico of mismanaging (and spending) the funds raised for Bobbitt via Go Fund Me in 2017. After the announcement that Bobbitt was going into some kind of rehab, press coverage of the case seemed to stop. Prior to this, there were reports that McClure and D’Amico lied to their own lawyer about how much Go Fund Me money was left. McClure and D’Amico kept changing the numbers: first they claimed $200,000, then $150,000, and finally they said zero. Some people speculated that indictments were just around the corner but that hasn’t happened yet.

Big media, which used to be a never-ending Ticker Tape parade of Bobbittmania, has now taken a vow of silence. Bobbitt news updates have died like millions of hold out withered autumn leaves.

But along comes…Vinny.

Inconspicuous sweat pants wearing Vinny, with his I Phone obsession and curb sitting, told me barely two weeks ago that Bobbitt was back in the area making runs to Kensington for drugs and sleeping once again under I-95. So what happened to that 45-day rehab?
The front of the Dollar Tree store in the Port Richmond Shopping Center where Bobbitt used to sit with his books and Big Gulp WAWA cup for contributions. Where I initially met Bobbitt. 

Vinny told me that he had spent three nights with Bobbitt in Bobbitt’s old encampment under 95. He said that Bobbitt had walked out of rehab-- that 45 day rehab-- after only two days, and that he was making daily excursions with his brother Joshua into Kensington for (what else) drugs. For a second, I played devil’s advocate and told Vinny that it was odd that with all the walking I do that I have never once bumped into Bobbitt. I added that listening to him right now was a little bit like listening to someone claiming to have seen a UFO, even if Bobbitt might be said to be more real than a silver disc in the sky.

“I really hung out with him for three nights,” Vinny said. “He slept where I slept for three nights and then after the third night he went off with his brother Josh to score in Kensington.” Vinny pointed to the vast cluttered construction lot behind Dollar Tree where Johnny slept over a year ago.
         The WAWA where Bobbitt used to look for cigarette butts. 

Vinny became my source-man, so I took his number and said I’d be in touch if I had any questions. I urged him to call me if he saw Bobbitt. He had also given me permission to mention his name to Inquirer reporter Barbara Boyer, the author of two lengthy Bobbitt articles and who was probably working on a third. Boyer and I had had a long telephone conversation about Bobbitt after the publication of her first piece, so an email to her was in order. I told Boyer that I had met a friend of Bobbitt’s who said that Bobbitt was back under 95. Boyer seemed grateful for the tip so when I offered to show her the area around 95 where Johnny used to hang out, she said it sounded like a good idea.

Boyer, being a good reporter, also played devil’s advocate and suggested that Vinny may have mistaken Joshua Bobbitt for Johnny Bobbitt, so when I asked Vinny about this he said, “Oh no. Joshua has a ponytail. They look completely different!”

Boyer and I made tentative plans for the following Monday. She would call me in the morning, arrange a meeting time, and then I’d meet her and show her the beginnings of the Heroin Trail that led into Kensington near the Huntingdon and Somerset El stations. We had a good rapport. I even quipped, “Don’t wear your stilettos, because the terrain, especially near the shopping center as it goes under 95, can be pretty messy.” As far as I know, Boyer does not wear stilettos but a little levity is always fun.
Bobbitt's mattress under I-95 just before he was arrested in an apartment in Fishtown. 

I wanted Boyer to see the Dollar Tree store where Johnny used to sit with his plastic cup and homeless vet sign. I also wanted to show her Johnny’s original encampment, the spot where he had his mattress and where his comrades had their mattresses and piles of found items, from BBQ grills to shopping carts to kids’ bicycles. A reporter should see this stuff.

I also wanted to introduce her to Vinny, and I wanted to watch as Vinny told her that he had seen and talked with Bobbitt, that Bobbitt wasn’t in rehab and had in fact had gone full circle and was on the street again.
The encampment under I-95. 

I was happy that Boyer was willing to put on her Jane Goodall shoes and do some exploring. But Monday came and went without a call, and then on Tuesday I received an apology and an offer of an expedition that day (but I was unhappily ensconced in a dentist’s chair), so we left it open for Wednesday but Wednesday was not good for Boyer and so Thursday was considered briefly before being scratched out for a definite Friday excursion. In between, there were various email updates (usually concerning what Vinny was saying). As the back and forth accelerated I increasingly felt that Friday was a sitting duck. My instincts were correct when Boyer, whom I genuinely like, suggested that maybe I should just give her Vinny’s phone number and tell him that she’d give him a shout out sometime in the afternoon. So, there would be no under I-95 City Safari, but as the poet Robert Burns said, “The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.”

In the evenings during my jaunts around the neighborhood, I’d always run into Vinny. He’d be sitting curbside in front of Rite Aid or standing in front of WAWA, a rare thing these days since WAWA has more security guards than a Center City bank.

I organized my own expedition, camera in hand, to Bobbitt’s old sleeping space at the extreme end of the 95 overpass. When Bobbitt was a regular here in 2017 there were no small tents but that’s all changed now. I found three or four tents and a mattress where Bobbitt’s mattress used to be. Could this new mattress be Bobbitt’s sleeping area? Coincidentally I noticed a book on the ground beside the mattress. This was pure Bobbittmania, since Johnny was always reading and always had a book nearby.

I took some pictures, aware that at any moment someone could come out of one of the tents and scold me (or worse) for invading their privacy.
The poor girl is a victim. 

Nobody surfaced.

I ran into Vinny later that evening.

I asked him to tell me again what Johnny told him about the original gas can incident way back in the fall of 2017. At that time Johnny told him that the story did not happen the way the news media reported it.

“Johnny didn’t give anybody any money,” Vinny said. “When she [McClure] spotted Johnny after [presumably] running out of gas, she gave Johnny ten dollars to go get gas. When Johnny came back she had already contacted D’Amico who was at Sugar House and D’Amico got involved and then the twenty dollar-rescue story was concocted.”

So, it’s McClure and D’Amico vs. Vinny when it comes to the gas can story!

A few days later I got a phone call from Vinny who said that he had just talked to Bobbitt and that he was even meeting him later in the day and if I wanted he could try to get him to give me a call.

The day came and went without any Bobbitt rings.

Saturday, September 1, 2018

I will say nothing to no one, not my business

The intersection of art, entertainment, culture,
opinion and mad genius

Hi Thom,

I am sending this to you to let you know that I’m taking the magazine in a different direction and your work is no longer needed.

I wish you success in all your future endeavors.



Trina McKenna
ICON Magazine
PO Box 120
New Hope, PA 18938
Voice 215.862.9558

you accidentally CC'd me on this

-----Original Message-----
From: Trina McKenna <>
To: Thom Nickels <>
Sent: Wed, May 2, 2018 12:57 pm
Subject: ICON

Hi Thom,

I am sending this to you to let you know that I’m taking the magazine in a different direction and your work is no longer needed.

I wish you success in all your future endeavors.



Wow. Where did this come from? With no warning, out of nowhere, it seems. She decided to change the decor of the magazine. She said she was taking the magazine in a new direction but she was changing only one direction...the direction that pointed to me. And then she accidentally CC's the writer who would replace me. Now, I know this guy, this writer, this man about town. He publishes all over. He writes nearly 50 percent of ICON, at least two features an issue and a number of columns. And I know he was gunning for my column. He was gunning because he wants everything. He did it to me when we both wrote for Philadelphia Style years ago. AD comes in, and I go out. It has happened other times too. So, one can only assume that he and the publisher, whom I have always liked, plotted this for while. And then finally AD got his way. Trina, the publisher, never did tell me why she discontinued my column. Not a word. I wrote her several emails, asking, asking, but nothing. Nothing. After almost a decade of writing for her. It feels like a date rape of sorts. I've read AD's theater columns since my expulsion and they are like weak tea. They are more like previews of plays. He does not know how to review a play. He has no opinions. No soul, no critical pizazz. He is just a meat processor of words, words that sound and feel cool but that rarely say anything.  

This post will be updated from time to time. We will follow AD's marriage to ICON and see how and when the story ends.      
Wed, May 2, 2018 1:47 pm
Trina McKenna ( Details 
Sorry, Thom. it was accidental.
Wed, May 2, 2018 1:49 pm
ivaland ( Details


I will say nothing to no one
not my business

-----Original Message-----
From: divaland <>
To: trina <>; ThomNickels1 <>
Sent: Wed, May 2, 2018 12:59 pm
Subject: Re: ICON

Confusion at The Inky

My published letter in The Philadelphia Inquirer on Thursday, August 30, 2018 was attributed to another writer. The Inquirer editorial board apologized and told me that a correction was forthcoming. The correction appeared in the September 1st Sunday edition. The correction was hard to find. The correction said that 'Thom Nickels of Philadelphia' was the author of the letter (on August 30) on Bobbitt. But there was another letter that focused on Bobbitt that day, so now readers are left to guess which letter was mine if they remember them at all.   

To the Editor:

As someone who knew Johnny S. Bobbitt Jr. both as an acquaintance and journalist, I believe that the only one suckered
out of money raised by Kate McClure and Mark D'Amico on behalf of Bobbitt were the naive public who thought they were going to change the life of a homeless man with a severe drug addiction. emptied their pockets thinking they were going to change the life of a homeless man with a severe addiction problem.

The Go Fund Me campaign occurred around Thanksgiving 2017 when the Disneyland aspects
of giving to a homeless Good Samaritan seemed to trump the logic of donating thousands of
dollars to a chronic heroin user. Little thought was given to forcing Bobbitt into
rehab before giving him a cent. Few reporters questioned the severity of Bobbitt's drug problem. Everyone wanted to believe the fairy tale that a ton of money and publicity would preform a miracle cure. 

This case is really about a con meeting a con. A heroin addict turns away from family and friends, so why wouldn't he turn away from McClure and D'Amico? Herion turns users into narcissistic, self-absorbed people while money on the grand scale of the Bobbitt Go Fund Me campaign can turn the organizers of that campaign into greedy venture capitalists. One wonders why this story is even being perpetuated at this point. Is it to drum up sympathy and support for Bobbitt, the tragic victim, so that this Thanksgiving someone else will initiate another Go Fund Me campaign for Bobbitt's continued heroin use? 

Thom Nickels

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Philadelphia in 2035

We cannot always know the future, although there’s no law against speculation and armchair prophecy.  Here’s my dystopian vision of Philadelphia in the year 2035. 

    It’s 2035 and the mayor is Michael White, the alleged killer of real estate developer Sean Schellenger way back in 2018. How did Michael White get to become mayor? After his conviction of voluntary manslaughter charges (the third degree murder charge was eliminated by DA Krasner shortly before White’s trial), White went on to serve 10 years in prison but was released in five years for good behavior. While in jail he perfected his rap and slam poetry and became quite a talent at various city poetry events. He became a poetry sensation despite a few difficult years in the beginning when the memory of the alleged murder tainted his reputation. But since time heals all wounds—yes, even the most horrendous—and since people have a short memory, the public came around to accepting the poet’s terrific charisma and ability.
  White’s long rap poem on the night he met Schellenger was the poem that had people comparing him to Robert Lowell and Ezra Pound. His recitation of this poem at poetry slams always caused him to shed a few tears; this dramatic act alone was enough to win him several poetry awards. After his release from prison he was offered a scholarship to law school from the Southern Poverty Law Center. After law school, he ditched poetry for politics and ran for Philadelphia City Council. In 2030 he was named one of Philadelphia Magazine’s ‘Ten People to Watch.’ Shortly after this he ran for mayor and won. 

      As for Schellenger, his name was pretty much forgotten although as mayor, White insisted that Chancellor Street be named for the slain real estate developer. The empathic mayor shed a few tears at the ribbon cutting. 

    In 2035, DA Larry Krasner was long gone (he was safely ensconced in Roxborough’s Cathedral Village) but his criminal justice philosophy had worked its way into the consciousness of city government so that all the DA’s that followed him were known as “more Krasner than Krasner.” Most Philadelphians applauded this development but a tiny remnant protested what looked to them like a permanent change.  If you think that Philadelphia was a one party town in 2018, in 2035 the Republican Party had been pretty much eliminated. Republicans fled the city because they realized that “co-existence” with city Dems was pretty near impossible.
      This voluntary political banishment happened when President Trump, in his second term, applied lightning bolt screws to the nation’s sanctuary cities, especially Philadelphia, because by 2020 Philadelphia was the nation’s foremost sanctuary city, permitting illegal immigrants the right to vote and even offering illegals city jobs in various areas like Recreation and Sanitation. Mayor Kenney, in a whirlwind frenzy to outdo the radical mayors of NYC and San Francisco (his competition), allowed illegals to skip the standard qualifying tests that city job applicants have taken for decades.  Ordinary Philadelphians (aka, tax paying legals) were told they had to wait and apply for these jobs after the illegals in need had been processed and given their “fair slot” in the system. “It’s a new world order,” the mayor said to great applaud in City Hall courtyard. 

   It was after Mayor Kenney’s ramping up of the city’s sanctuary city status that the Republicans moved out of the city, making Philadelphia solidly (and explosively) Leftist. Gone was the old Democratic party; in its place was a totalitarian regime that wanted to ban everything, from straws to sugary drinks. It was hard to keep track of these new laws and restrictions. They included: the banning of firearms in advertisements, toys in McDonald’s Happy Meals, toy guns and water pistols for children, all sugary drinks, the Pledge of Allegiance, the sale of Barbie dolls (the philosophy being that Barbie dolls influence young girls into wanting to grow up and be beautiful), bottled water, goldfish (cruel and inhumane treatment in tiny fish bowl jails).

    City employees were also banned from traveling to red state areas like Arizona. Hate speech laws were enacted. Failing to address a transgendered person by their preferred pronoun resulted in one hundred dollar tickets. Criticism of Christianity was encouraged but the slightest criticism of Islam put the offender on an online ‘watch list.’
    New freedoms, if you want to call them that, were enacted, such as the freedom to walk the city in the nude provided that individuals got a parade permit.  Defecation on the sidewalks was permissible in certain areas (but not near upscale restaurants with sidewalk tables).  Heroin safe injection sites and free heroin for addicts became the new normal. Addicts were now seen as a protected minority group. Hate crimes against addicts included the use of “disparaging” terms like “junkie,” “lowlife,” and “derelict.” Heroin addicts from all over the country flocked to Philadelphia.  “Do your heroin Philly,” became the city’s new slogan in trade and travel magazines. 

      The Made in America concert, by 2035, had become a monthly event on the Parkway. Jay-Z, well into his mature years, was given the green light to make all decisions regarding the length and scope of these concerts, which was now ten days long.  Many Parkway residents, beaten down with weariness from the chronic traffic, drums, noise and celebratory mayhem, had left for the suburbs, in effect reversing the great trend of people moving from the suburbs into the city.  Great clouds of marijuana smoke, as thick as LA smog, hung over the Parkway 24/7. Philadelphia Museum of Art employees, including the erstwhile Timothy Rub, spend their days attempting to fight off unwanted highs.  It was, as many old people, exclaimed, “A sight for ore eyes.”   

  President Trump, in his second term, hit Philadelphia with a battery of assaults, all of them financial. He cut off all financial aid to the city. The city no longer had access to the Office of Federal Programs. This in turn affected Housing and Urban grants, the Department of Transportation, and the elimination of Community Development Block Grants.  Litter piled up in the streets, Septa trains were cut in half and the city’s delicate and already crumbling infrastructure began to crumble even more, since the city no longer received Tiger Grants.  Schools closed. Children in large groups, most of them screaming and yelling, now wandered the concourses of Suburban Station and along Penn’s Landing. 

  “This is a city that fights fascism!” banners along the Parkway read. “Humanity first!”

    Mayor Kenney, as one of his last deeds in office at the end of his second term, threw a punch at President Trump by inviting 40,000 Syrian immigrants into the city, and offering free tent cities for anyone wishing to migrate from South America.

  Philadelphia in 2035 was no longer recognizable but for many people this was a fantastic thing.  Gone was the Union League, that bastion of white, moneyed Republican privilege. The League was renamed the People’s Pavilion, a pay-as-you-can drop in community center (and safe injection site) with graffiti workshops sponsored by a radical art collective.
  Many of the Union League’s portraits of the city’s valued former leaders and historic figures were replaced with photographs of new city heroes: drag queen Resistance leaders, illegals raising clenched fists, and pussy hatted matriarchs calling for an end to the patriarchy, and more. 

  Sloppily chiseled onto the side of the Union League was this message from a monograph entitled Why Riot, from the Occupy ICE people way back in 2018.

  “…It is simply utopian to believe that the present system can be perpetuated indefinitely without great violence….Riots appear to produce little in terms of concrete results and, when you add up the numbers, often do less actual economic damage to large business interests than, for example, blockading the port. They produce a certain spectacle, but so does Jay Z.” 

Thom Nickels
Contributing Editor