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Socialist graffiti fanatic who stirred up Ed Koch’s ire dies

BY PAUL DeRIENZO | William H. Depperman, dubbed the “master graffiti writer” by The New York Times in 1986 and whose relentless postering campaign in the early 1980s screaming that “AIDS is GERM WARFARE by the U.S. government” and in support of other radical causes, has died at 80.

The huge white posters with small black print that covered hundreds of locations, along with graffiti-decorated subway cars, became synonymous with a city fallen on hard times.

One day in the summer of 1986 Ed Koch saw the posters from his car. The mayor’s complaint sent the New York Police Department’s Major Case Squad after Depperman in a caper that had infiltrators approach him at his 10 E. 16th St. apartment looking to help put up his posters. The cops then ensnared the self-proclaimed “revolutionary communist” in a paste-and-bust operation, catching him spamming posters on a building at Sixth Ave. and 27th Street.

Depperman was known for his posters — and for picking fights with lefties. (Photo by Normal Bob)

Captain Michael Julian, then an N.Y.P.D. spokesperson who would go on to command the Ninth Precinct after the Tompkins Square Park police riot, said they wanted to “catch him in the ac,” of pasting the unwelcome broadsides.

Aron Kay, the Yippie “Pie Man,” who notably tossed pies in the face of the anti-gay conservative Phyllis Schlafly in the ’70s as well as Studio 54 mogul Steve Rubell, among other notables, was involved in a case against Depperman.

His foes mockingly knew Depperman as “Diaper Man.” Kay calls his plasterings “diaper rash.” Kay adds the screeds contained “fascist” claims and violent threats against several Yippies, including himself, late WBAI host Bob Fass, Yippie leader Dana Beal and infamous garbologist AJ Weberman. Kay says Fass had his nose broken by Depperman during an altercation.

One of Depperman’s posters advocating for “socialist revolution.” (Photo by Normal Bob)

According to Kay, the conflict began in 1970 with Depperman allegedly defacing the Elgin (now Joyce) Theater in Chelsea, where an event was held plugging “Coup D’Etat in America,” a book claiming the U.S. government was seized in a coup on the day of the J.F.K. assassination. The book was penned by Weberman and Mike Canfield.

William Depperman with, from right, Geoffrey Blank and Joel Myers of the No Police State Coalition, along with blogger Bob Arihood and an unidentified man. (Photo by Normal Bob)

Apparently, Depperman took issue with some of the book’s findings that included allegations J.F.K. was actually shot by tramps who resembled several known C.I.A. agents, including Watergate burglar E. Howard Hunt. According to Kay, the vitriol came to a head when Depperman “recruited teens” in Washington Square Park to harass the Yippies. In the ensuing melee, Depperman allegedly pulled a knife on Kay and Weberman, leading them to press a charge of menacing against him.

Depperman defended himself at the trial, calling Kay to the stand and accusing him of being a C.I.A. agent, to laughter from the jury, which ultimately handed in a conviction.

A cartoon of William Depperman. (Drawing by Normal Bob)

A leaflet distributed after the trial defending Depperman was authored by longtime Lower East Side activist Joel Meyers, who claimed “fake anarchist” Yippies were slandering Depperman to “generate an atmosphere in which murder or attempted murder of Depperman is supposed to be acceptable.” The leaflet added that the Yippies were “proto-fascist” for handing out free pot at their smoke-ins.

Depperman spent the ’90s and early 2000s as a fixture in Union Square Park, where he ranted about the “fake left” and harassed other political groups, including the No Police State Coalition, who were using the park to promote anti-racism.

A photographer published numerous photos of Depperman, with scraggly mutton-chop sideburns and neck veins popping, screaming at activists who covered him in spray-can Silly String. The photog, Normal Bob, calls Depperman “an atheist with a lisp.” But ultimately Bob says Depperman was a one-man show who “couldn’t find someone else” to hold up the other end of a banner. But he adds he’ll miss him as the “lone voice” of a Russian communist sympathizer, calling him “wonderful, beautiful, peculiar.”

William Depperman, left, in Union Square with a banner calling for a mutiny by U.S. troops againast the Iraq War. (Photo by Normal Bob)

William H. Depperman suffered a stroke in July and was admitted to a hospital, where he died four days later on Aug. 1. His remains are at the morgue of the city’s Office of Chief Medical Examiner, where the body is yet to be claimed.

The morgue staff says they called a Steve Depperman they think is a relation, but the call wasn’t returned. The Village Sun called, as well, but our message hasn’t been returned either. The M.E. has requested that William Depperman be buried on Hart Island, the city’s potter’s field.

3 Comments

  1. Chris Flash Chris Flash December 8, 2021

    GOOD RIDDANCE.

    Depperman was part of a “lunatic fringe” that always seems to pop up at legitimate political rallies and events in order to push their own agenda.

    His appearances, sometimes with, and mostly without, lackeys, as he rarely could find someone to work with him, during which he would harass those attending events or scream and shout to drown out event organizers (easier than organizing his own event, I guess) would undermine support for those rallies and events. If he wasn’t being paid to act as an agent provocateur, he should have been.

    I remember seeing his huge posters everywhere in the early 1980s — I tended to agree that AIDS really WAS a form of germ warfare by the government, but I always wondered WHY he would include his real address on the posters (10 East 16th Street). Not very smart, I thought.

    Sure enough, one day, after recruiting a couple of strangers to help him and his lackey Joel Meyers put up his posters, Depperman was busted by the strangers, who turned out to be undercover cops. Like I said, not very smart.

    I understood that he made his living operating iron lung devices at an NYC hospital. When I heard that, I pitied the poor patients trapped in those things that couldn’t get away from him!

    The last time I saw Depperman around 2019-2020, his body was shaped like an upside-down letter L. He apparently had experienced a severe spinal disorder. Whereas in the past, he’d give me a dirty look, that time, he just looked at me, helpless as a baby kitten.

    Once, many years ago, in a post office where we were both on line, Depperman saw me. With eyes widened like a crazy person, he pointed at me, and, standing on his tippy toes, he screamed at the top of his lungs, “THIS MAN IS A SECRET AGENT OF THE GOVERNMENT!!!!” Of course, everyone was looking at HIM, not at me!

    I never knew what it was that made him hate me, though I suppose he hated EVERYONE. (People in his building have told me all kinds of horror stories living there with him!) Maybe it was because I was publishing The SHADOW? Who knows? WHO CARES?

    Like I said, GOOD RIDDANCE.

    Depperman was one of those truly crazy New York characters that you avoided like the plague and who will not be missed.

  2. Alan Jules Weberman Alan Jules Weberman December 8, 2021

    He was not a Leftist. He was an FBI Op gone bad. The FBI sent us an informer’s report with his name before a Smoke-In and Ben Maisel and Steve D’Angelo beat him up bad. He was a Nazi whose pops was in the America First Committee. Aron gave you bozofied info.

  3. Aron Kay Aron Kay December 8, 2021

    Depperman turned out to be an FBI operative thanks to my FBI file….
    This caused him to undergo ridicule and getting beat up by Ben Masel, Steve DeAngelo and others in a ring around the diaper.

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