Mob Rats – Abe “Kid Twist Reles – Part 1
He was a braggadocio street punk with a hair-trigger temper and a face only a mother could love. Still, it was a shock to his pals that Abe “Kid Twist” Reles spilled his guts to the government, and will forever be known as the “Canary who could sing, but couldn’t fly.”
In the early 1920’s, the Shapiro brothers controlled the illegal activities in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn with an iron fist. Meyer was the second-oldest, but he was the leader, instead of his older brother, Irving. Meyer was considered a lowlife with no morals whatsoever. Meyer owned 15 brothels in Brownsville, with no partners, except his brothers, to share in the proceeds.
“I’m the boss of Brownsville,” Meyer told anyone in the neighborhood who got in his way.
Irving was not as bright or as tough as Meyer, and was considered the second-in-command. Willie was the youngest of the three; not too bright and not too tough; not a good combination in the mean streets of Brownsville
Besides running broads, the Shapiro brothers cornered the Brownsville market in illegal booze and slot machines. In order to operate unimpeded, Meyer paid tribute to the mob bosses from the other parts of Brooklyn (Meyer didn’t consider them partners; just the cost of doing business). As long as he greased the right palms, Meyer was the King of Brownsville, with no competition in sight.
“We got everything straightened out our way,” Meyer told his brothers. “As long as we stay in our own backyard, we’ve got nothing to worry about.”
Meyer never figured a punk like Abe Reles would start having grand ideas.
Reles’s father, Abraham, was an Austrian Jew; a humble man who had come to America seeking a better life. When he arrived in the “Mountain of Gold,” Abraham Reles supported his family by doing piecework in Manhattan’s Garment Center. Soon, he had saved enough money to start his own business; selling knishes on the streets of Brooklyn with his mobile stand, which Abraham Reles pushed from corner to corner, looking for the busiest spot.
Abe Jr. was a stocky 5-foot-2-inch menace, with the large and powerful hands of a 6-footer, and he abhorred his father’s honorable, but hard-working way of life. Wanting a better fate than his father, Reles quit school after the eighth grade, and he went to work as a gofer for the Shapiro brothers. The Shapiros used Reles for the most menial tasks; like running errands and keeping an eye on one of the many Shapiro brothers’ lucrative slot machines.
One day, Reles took a bullet in his back while minding a Shapiro slot (a flesh wound which didn’t strike bone), and this got Reles to thinking maybe working for the Shapiros wasn’t in Reles’s best long-term interest.
His back still smarting from the bullet, Reles ran to his childhood pal Martin “Buggsy” Goldstein, who also worked for the Shapiros, and said, “Why do we have to take the leftovers? We should cut a piece; the hell with those guys.”
(It was about this time Reles took the nickname “Kid Twist,” in honor of a previous New York City Jewish gangster named Max “Kid Twist” Zwerbach, who, in 1908, was shot to death in front of a Coney Island dance hall. (Ironically, both Kid Twists met their end in Coney Island.)
Since they were kids, Reles had been the pied piper, and Goldstein followed close behind. While Reles was a tough runt who could kill with the best of them, the hulking Goldstein was the epitome of street muscle. Reles decided he and Goldstein should go into business for themselves; nothing big, maybe a few slot machines and a single brothel for starters. Goldstein readily agreed.
However, Reles knew the Shapiros had numerous shooters controlling the Brownsville streets, and Reles needed to make alliances with other street toughs in order to challenge the Shapiros’ supremacy. Reles told Goldstein, in would be in their mutual best interests, if they paid a little visit to “Happy” and the “Dasher.”
Harry “Happy” Maione and Frank “Dasher” Abbandando were two Italian-American lowlifes who headed the Ocean Hill Hooligans; a ruthless street gang which ran the bookmaking and loansharking operations in Ocean Hill, Brooklyn, which was adjacent to Brownsville. Maione, the elder of the two, was the boss; Abbandando was this handsome, but murderous assistant.
Dasher got his nickname because he had excelled as a “dashing (fleet of foot)” baseball player for the Elmira Reformatory, where he had spent the vast majority of his youth. Fellow Elmira inmates claimed the hulking Dasher could have been a hell-of-a-professional baseball player had that been his bent. But, the only hits (beside murders) Dasher sought when he was let loose on the streets was with the opposite sex.
Unfortunately, Dasher had a unique problem with women: he enjoyed raping them. Years later as he awaited his murder trial, Dasher admitted he had participated in dozens of rapes, but he denied one rape in particular.
“That one didn’t count,” Dasher said. “Because I married her later.”
Dasher’s usual mode of murder was with the ice pick because, he said, “It didn’t make too much noise.”
Happy Maione was short and mean, with beady eyes set deep into his skull. Happy was called “Happy” because he never smiled; even after making a stupendous score.
Once, in order to kill someone who Murder Incorporated said needed to be whacked, the slender Maione, dressed as a sexy woman, knocked on the apartment door of his intended victim. Through the peephole, the sucker spotted what he thought was an attractive dame. But as soon as he opened the door, Maione shot him dead.
Abe Reles figured mean thugs like Happy and the Dasher would be swell partners in his takeover of the Brownsville rackets. But knowing Happy was always in a bad mood, Reles approached the Dasher first.
“How about we get together for a little bookmaking?” Reles told the Dasher. “We could handle some betting; you here, and me and Buggsy in Brownsville.”
The Dasher knew Maione would be a tough sell working with Reles, since both men hated each other.
“I don’t know. Me and Happy are okay here,” the Dasher told Reles. “And what about those Shapiros? They won’t like it.”
“Let me worry about those bums,” Reles said. “I’m for Kid Reles from here on in.”
Reles set up a summit between himself and Buggsy, and Happy and the Dasher. At this meeting, Reles got right to the point.
“Those bums can be taken,” Reles told Happy.
“What’s on your mind?” Happy said.
“Listen, if we put a mob together, we could take everything over,” Reles said.
Happy was unimpressed. “Look, I’m the boss of Ocean Hill, and I get left alone. Why should I stick my neck out?”
“You throw in with us, and we all move in,” Reles said.
“Where do I fit in?” Happy said.
“Simple,” Reles said. “We take care of the Shapiros; then we take over. Everything goes into the pot, Brownsville, East New York, and Ocean Hill – everything. Then we cut down the middle.”
Happy told Reles he’d think about it.
Not sure teaming with Reles was in his best interest, Happy approached his mentor, Louis Capone, and he told Capone about Reles’s proposition.
Capone (no relation to Al Capone) was ostensibly a Brooklyn restaurateur, but was, in fact, a big-time gangster with close ties to Mafioso Joe “Adonis” Doto and Albert “The Lord High Executioner” Anastasia. Capone was knee-deep in loan-sharking and was also a force in several labor union rackets.
New York City District Attorney William O’Dwyer once told the New York Times, “Capone had his fingers dipped in every dirty crime committed by the organized crime gangs. He was the contact between lesser lights like Reles, Straus, Maione, and Goldstein, and bosses like Anastasia and Buchalter (Louie Lepke). But he was not a real head of the mob.”
Happy figured if Capone okayed a merger between Happy and Reles, it must be the right thing to do. So, Happy laid out Reles’s plan to Capone.
Capone told Maione. “It sounds real good, Hap.”
Capone also convinced Happy to take in another Capone protégé, Vito Gurino, a 5 foot-6-inch, 265-pound ox, who could kill as easily as eating a pound of macaroni. Gurino’s insertion into the crew gave the Reles-Maione crew another prized ally in their impending war against the Shapiros.