Abe Reles - Biography
Abe "Kid Twist" Reles (May 10, 1906 – November 12, 1941) was a New York mobster who was widely considered the most feared hit man for Murder, Inc., the enforcement contractor for the National Crime Syndicate. Reles later turned government witness and sent several members of Murder, Inc. to the electric chair.
Abraham Reles, the son of Austrian Jewish immigrants, was born in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn, New York on May 10, 1906. His father worked in one of the garment trades until some time during the Great Depression. His father's last known occupation was peddling knishes on the streets of Brownsville. His full formal Hebrew name was "Elkanah ben Reb Shimon".
Reles attended school through the 8th grade. After leaving school, Reles began hanging out at pool rooms and candy stores in and around Brownsville. He soon teamed up with two of his childhood friends who eventually rose to power with him in the group conventionally known as Murder Inc., Martin Goldstein and Harry Strauss. His first arrest came in 1921 for stealing $2 worth of gum from a vending machine, and he was sent to the children's village at Dobbs Ferry, New York for four months.
Physically, Reles was short, but he had long arms and hands with short, stubby fingers. His small physical size did not deter him from committing ruthless acts of violence. When carrying out murders, his weapon of choice was an ice pick, which he would ram through his victim's ear right into the brain. Reles became so adept at using the ice pick that many of his murder victims were thought to have died of cerebral hemorrhages.
Reles became known as a particularly cold-blooded and psychopathic murderer. On one occasion, in broad daylight, he attacked a worker at a car wash for failing to clean a smudge from the fender of his car. Another time, Reles killed a parking lot attendant for failing to fetch his car fast enough. On another occasion, he brought a guest to his mother-in-law's home for supper. When his mother retired after the meal, Reles and another gang member murdered the guest and then removed the body.
Reles reportedly got the nickname "Kid Twist" after an earlier New York killer, Max "Kid Twist" Zwerbach. Another theory behind the moniker is that it was the name of his favorite candy. Yet another theory is that the nickname described his method for strangling people.
Reles was a bootlegger who rarely touched alcohol.
Prohibition & Murder Inc.
During the Prohibition days of the 1920s, while still teenagers, Reles and friend Martin "Buggsy" Goldstein went to work for the Shapiro brothers, who ran the Brooklyn rackets. Soon, Reles and Goldstein were committing petty crimes for the brothers. On one such occasion, Reles was caught and sentenced to two years in an upstate New York juvenile institution. The Shapiro brothers failed to help Reles, prompting Reles to plan revenge.
After his release, Reles, Goldstein, and George Defeo entered the slot machine business, the province of the Shapiro Brothers. Through Defeo's connections with Meyer Lansky, Reles and Goldstein were able to make a deal with the influential crime lord. Lansky needed access to the poorer neighborhoods of Brooklyn and thus agreed to the deal. Both parties prospered: Lansky was able to get sizeable footholds in Brownsville, East New York, and Ocean Hill, while Reles gained the backing he needed to keep both his business and himself alive.
Reles, Goldstein and Strauss were partners in all of their criminal activities which had primarily been the slot machine business and quickly expanded to include loan sharking, crap games and labor slugging in connection with union activities, especially the Restaurant Union.
The slot machine business thrived and soon Reles and Goldstein were on the Shapiros' hit list. One night, the two men received a phone call from a "friend" saying that the Shapiros had left their East New York headquarters. Hopping into a car with Defeo, they headed to East New York. However, when they reached the Shapiro's building, the three men were ambushed. Reles and Goldstein were wounded, but all three managed to escape. In the meantime, Meyer Shapiro abducted Reles' girlfriend and dragged her to an open field, where he beat and raped her.
Revenge against Shapiro Brothers
To avenge the ambush and his girlfriend's rape, Reles enlisted the help of fellow Murder, Inc. killers Frank "Dasher" Abbandando and Harry "Happy" Maione. The two killers were glad to help; they hoped to kill the Shapiro brothers and take over some of their operations. After several futile attempts by each side to eradicate the other, the Murder, Inc. group finally caught up with Irving Shapiro. On that occasion, Reles dragged Irving from the hallway of his home out into the street. Reles then beat, kicked, and then shot Irving numerous times, killing him. Two months later, Reles met Meyer Shapiro on the street and shot him dead in the face. Another three years elapsed before Reles finally got the last Shapiro brother, William. William was abducted off the street and taken to a gang hideout. Once there, William was beaten nearly to death, stuffed into a sack, and driven out to the Canarsie section of Brooklyn and buried. Before the gang could finish burying William, a passerby spotted them and they had to flee the scene. William Shapiro's body was exhumed shortly thereafter, and after being autopsied, it was determined that he had been buried alive.
In 1940, Reles was implicated in a number of killings. Realizing that he faced execution if convicted, Reles became a government witness. Reles implicated his boss in Murder, Inc, Louis Buchalter in the murder of Brooklyn candy store owner Joseph Rosen; Buchalter was eventually convicted and executed for this crime. Reles' information also implicated Harry "Pittsburgh Phil" Strauss, Mendy Weiss, Harry "Happy" Maione, Frank "Dasher" Abbandando, and even Reles' childhood friend Buggsy Goldstein. All of these men were convicted and executed. Following these convictions, Reles' next target was Albert Anastasia, who had been co-chief of operations of Murder, Inc. Reles was to implicate Anastasia on the murder of union longshoreman Pete Panto. However, unlike other members of Murder Inc., Anastasia was a high-ranking member of the Cosa Nostra. The trial, based solely on Reles' testimony, was set for 12 November 1941. Until then, Reles was under constant guard by six police detectives at the Half Moon Hotel on Coney Island. To protect the New York crime families from exposure, boss Frank Costello reportedly raised $100,000 to bribe these guards to kill Reles. It is alleged that Charles Burns, one of the police bodyguards, was involved in the disappearance of Judge Joseph Force Crater in 1930.
In the early morning of November 12, 1941, Abe Reles fell to his death from a hotel window. It is not known whether he was thrown or pushed out the window, or if he was trying to escape. The angle of trajectory suggests that he was in fact pushed.
Because of his mob status as a "stool pigeon" and the circumstances surrounding his death, Reles gained another moniker after his passing. Reles became known in a newspaper article, as "the canary who sang, but couldn't fly."
Reles is buried in Old Mount Carmel Cemetery in the Glendale section of Queens, New York.
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