On August 25, 1972, LIFE magazine published a story on a South Bronx street gang known as The Reapers. They've republished the story for its 40th anniversary, and John Shearer, who captured the images, recently spoke about the piece: "I visited the neighborhood five or six times, without my camera, just so I could get a feel for that part of the South Bronx. A few times I was approached by Reapers asking me what I was done there, but largely I was left alone."
Shearer met Eddie Cuevas, leader of The Reapers, who invited him to photograph the group. Shearer says The Reapers weren't just your common gang of hooligans, and Cuevas certainly wasn't the typical leader. "Eddie fancied himself something of an artist... He’d designed the Reapers’ colors, for example, and the fact that my dad was the man behind a comic strip that he read every day provided me with my ticket into his world, in a way."
Click through to see how the gang lived back in the day. The photos are like images straight out of a movie.