Killer Ring Broken; 21 Murders Solved

THE GANG: Harry Strauss, Martin Goldstein, Abe Reles and Harry Maione

"Twenty-one murders in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn during 1939 have been solved by the roundup of a murder syndicate which took killing contracts at so much a head, District Attorney William F. O'Dwyer of Kings County announced last night."

- Daily News, March 19, 1940

This was merely the tip of the iceberg.

The men arrested were part of what the press later dubbed Murder, Inc., the enforcement arm of the Mafia. Though they were based out of Midnight Rose's candy store in Brownsville, their reach was national. More than 400 killings across the country would eventually be laid at the doorstep of these men.

The idea behind Murder, Inc. was a simple one. When Meyer Lansky and Charles (Lucky) Luciano formed a national syndicate of crime (essentially organized crime franchises under a ruling board known as the "Commission"), they realized the need for a body of men to keep order and enforce decisions of the syndicate committee. Thus Murder, Inc. was born. Under the Commission's guidelines, Mobsters from around the country had the right to ask for a Murder, Inc. killer to come and take care of whatever problem they faced, though there were restrictions.

Murder, Inc. could not be used to kill civilians, only those involved with the Mafia. It was felt that killing innocent people, corrupt politicians, police officers and reporters generated too much heat, and might interfere with other mob ventures.

O'Dwyer had no idea what he had caught a piece of, until one of them started to talk.

The Stool Pigeon

"Abe (Kid Twist) Reles - once the terror of Brownsville,

now the Dixie Davis of the wholesale murder probe -

'sang' from the witness stand for four hours in Kings

County Court yesterday."

- Daily News, May 16, 1940.

Once a lieutenant in Murder, Inc., Reles was charged with murder by police in 1940. He feared other mobsters who were behind bars would sell out first, so he started singing his lungs out. In a short time he told authorities the details of over 200 mob sanctioned killings. But before he could testify against the Mafia's top players, Reles went out the window of the Half Moon Hotel in Coney Island under mysterious circumstances.

He became known as the canary who sang, but couldn't fly.

The Killers

According to a yellowing folder in the Daily News morgue, Murder, Inc. included:

Mendy Weiss, a vicious killer with eyes of stone.

Abe (Kid Twist) Reles, a name he took from a vicious killer of an earlier generation.

Frank (The Dasher) Abbandando, who got his nickname from a botched job where he ran around the block from his victim so fast he caught up with him from behind and pumped three bullets into him.

Seymour (Blue Jaw) Magoon, a killer who always looked like he needed a shave.

Martin (Buggsy) Goldstein, earned his name the same way Bugsy Siegel did, by being a a little crazy, or "buggy."

Vito (Chicken Head) Gurino, earned his moniker because he used chickens for target practice.

Harry (Happy) Maione, a man who wore a perpetual scowl.

Harry (Pittsburgh Phil) Strauss who, as far as anyone knew, never spent time in Pittsburgh. He killed so callously that he didn't know who his victims were. Often, he would pick up the paper after a job to find out who he had killed and why.

Oscar the Poet, so called because he was arrested while reading poetry in the park.

Leaders of the group, who were notorious in their own right, have their own folders in the News archive. Menlike Lepke Buchalter, Albert Anastasia, and Bugsy Siegel.

Tools of Their Trade

Not all killers have a particular m.o., and many of the members of Murder, Inc. were quite versatile in their killing methods. Below are some of the implements they used for destruction:

The ice pick, often used to conceal the cause of

death. By sticking the ice pick into the ear of the victim it was possible to scramble the brains and make the death look very much like cerebral hemorrhage. The small puncture wound often went unnoticed by authorities.

Knives, sometimes used to slit a throat quickly, sometimes used to slowly torture victims.

Guns, of all sorts, although the Thompson submachine gun is by far the most famous of Mafia weaponry.

Strangulation, achieved by hand, piano wire, or rope.

The ax, rarely used.

Beatings, by fist, pipe or baseball bat, usually resulted in death for the victim.

The Victims

Estimates of the number of people slain by Murder, Inc. range from 200 all the way to 1,000, in a six year period. The upper end figure my seem ridiculous, but it comes from the man who prosecuted the killers.

Two of the most famous victims of Murder, Inc. are Louis (Pretty) Amberg (left), a notorious gangster and killer himself, and Dutch Schultz, a member of the syndicate.

There are hundreds of other victims attributed to Murder, Inc., many of them never found and most of them anonymous to history.

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All original work Copyright 1998. All rights reserved.