Mob Rats – Abe “Kid Twist” Reles ” Part 5
Soon after Rosen’s death, with Dewey and his men closing in on Lepke and Murder Inc., Lepke went on the lam for almost four years. While Lepke was hiding in plain sight in Brooklyn, one-by-one his Murder Inc. killers were arrested by the police. Most clammed up, but some started singing to save their own skins.
Happy Maione, Dasher Abbandando, and Mendy Weiss played dumb to the cops. But Blue Jaw Magoon and Allie Tannenbaum were eager to cut deals in order to avoid Sing Sing’s electric chair.
On Jan. 24, 1940, Reles was picked up for the murder of small-time crook, Red Alpert. Reles was smug about the pinch, figuring there was no independent corroboration of his involvement in Alpert’s murder, which had taken place way back in 1933.
Reles was wrong.
Two Murder Inc. flunkies had run to the Feds and implicated Reles in Alpert’s murder: small-time thug Harry Rudolph, who had witnessed the Alpert killing, and car-thief Dukey Maffetore. Both men also connected Happy Maione to the Alpert hit.
Maione, who had been nabbed on vagrancy charge and not yet charged with Alpert’s murder, and Reles were housed together in the Tombs Prison on Center Street. Lying through his teeth, Reles told Maione, “Don’t worry Hap. Everything’s okay.”
On March 21, after a visit from his lawyer in prison, Reles sat down and wrote a letter to his wife, Rose. The letter said: “Dear Rose, Go and see (New York District Attorney) O’Dwyer, and tell him I want to talk with him.”
The next day Rose Reles paid a visit to the New York City District Attorney’s office. There she met Brooklyn assistant District Attorney Burton Turkus.
Rose Reles told Turkus, “I want to talk to O’Dwyer personally. I want to save my husband from the electric chair. My baby is coming in June.”
Turkus nearly broke a leg rushing to tell O’Dwyer about their good fortune. Hours later, Abe Reles signed a “Consent to Be Interviewed” form, and the ball was rolling to put Murder Inc. out of business for good.
While his world was crumbling around him, Louie “Lepke” Buchalter was in limbo; moving from place to place in Brooklyn and in Manhattan, still hiding from the law. To make matters worse, there was a $50,000 bounty on his head. Things were so bad for Lepke, FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, ignoring Adolph Hitler, called Lepke “The Most Dangerous Man on Earth.” New York City Mayor Fiorello La Guardia added to Lepke’s angst when he ordered his police commissioner, Lewis J. Valentine, to wage a “war on hoodlums.”
The National Crime Commission was in trouble because of Lepke, and they knew it. Word reached Luciano (who was in prison on a trumped-up prostitution charge orchestrated by Dewey) for advice as to how to handle the Lepke situation. Luciano knew there was only two ways for the heat to die down. Either Lepke had to surrender to the Feds, or Lepke had to be killed and left on the streets.
However, convincing Lepke to do the right thing would take serious conniving.
“Dimples” Wolensky was a long-time pal of Lepke’s; whom Lepke trusted without question. The Commission sent Wolensky to meet Lepke in hiding and to convince the fugitive the fix was in. Wolensky told Lepke if Lepke surrendered, he would be tried only on the narcotics charge; netting him five years in prison, at most. Wolensky also told Lepke if Lepke surrendered directly to Hoover, Dewey would then be completely out of the picture.
Lepke was skeptical and he told Wolensky he’d think it over.
Lepke conferred with his closest pal in Murder Inc. – Albert Anastasia. Anastasia told Lepke the plan sounded screwy.
Anastasia told Lepke, “As long as they can’t get you, they can’t hurt you.”
However, the pressure was on from the law, and Lepke knew if he didn’t turn himself in, his pals on the National Crime Commission would do him in instead.
On Aug. 5, 1940, gossip columnist and radio host Walter Winchell received a phone call at his nightly headquarters: the Stork Club, at 3 East 53rd Street. Although he didn’t know it at the time, the voice on the phone was that of Albert Anastasia.
Anastasia told Winchell, “Don’t ask who I am, but Lepke wants to come in. Contact Hoover and tell him Lepke wants a guarantee he will not be harmed if he surrenders to Hoover.”
The following day, Winchell said on his national syndicated radio show, “Your reporter is reliably informed that Lepke, the fugitive, is on the verge of surrender, possibly this week. If Lepke can find someone he can trust, I am told, he will come in. I am authorized by the G-men that Lepke is assured of safe delivery.”
On Aug. 24, 1940, Winchell received another phone call at the Stork Club; telling him to go to a drug store on Eighth Avenue and 19th Street and to sit in a phone booth in the back. Winchell did as he was directed. At 9 pm, a customer casually strolled up to Winchell and told him to phone Hoover and to tell Hoover to be on the corner of Fifth Avenue and 29th Street at 10:20 pm. Winchell himself was directed to drive at once to the corner of Madison Avenue and 23rd Street.
Winchell followed the instructions, and at 10:15 pm, Lepke, wearing a mustache, and 20 pounds heavier than Winchell had remembered him, entered Winchell’s car. Minutes later, the two men exited Winchell’s car and walked to a parked black limousine. Hoover was sitting alone in the back seat.
Winchell opened the back door of the limo and said, “Mr. Hoover, this is Lepke.”
Hoover said to Lepke, “How do you do?”
Lepke said to Hoover, “Glad to meet you. Let’s go.”
Minutes after Lepke had entered the limo, he realized he had been screwed. But there was nothing he could do.
With Abe Reles and Allie Tannenbaum doing most of the squealing in court, and with Blue Jaw Magoon thrown in for good measure, one-by-one Murder Inc. killers were tried and convicted.
Buggsy Goldstein and Harry “Pittsburgh Phil” Strauss were indicted for the murder of small-time hood Puggy Feinstein. At their trial, Magoon, who became Goldstein’s best friend in the mob, testified against Goldstein.
While Magoon was babbling away in front of the jury, Goldstein jumped to his feet and screamed, “For God sake Seymour, that’s some story you’re telling. You’re burning me!”
Both Goldstein and Strauss were found guilty, and at sentencing, the judge asked Goldstein if he had any final words to say.
Goldstein stood tall and smiled, “Yeah Judge, I’d like to pee up your leg.”
On the night of June 12, 1941, both Goldstein and Strauss were fried in Sing Sing’s electric chair.
Partners for life until death, Harry “Happy” Maione and Frank “The Dasher” Abbandando, went on trial next for the 1937 murder of gambler George Rudnick. The main witness against them was Abe “Kid Twist” Reles, who himself was in on the Rudnick murder.
While Reles was on the stand telling intimate details of the Rudnick slaying, Maione’s face turned a deep red at the treachery of his former partner. Several times, Maione jumped to his feet, ready to attack Reles. But court officers subdued him before Maione could do any damage to Reles.
After being convicted of murder and sentenced to the chair, Maione yelled in court, “I don’t mind going to the chair, but I wish I was holding onto Reles’s leg when they put on the juice.”
After several appeals were denied, on Feb. 19, 1942, both Maione and Abbandando were executed at Sing Sing Prison.
While waiting for him to testify at several trials, including those of Albert Anastasia and Bugsy Siegel, the New York City‘s District Attorney’s Office had Abe “Kid Twist” Reles locked under 24-hour police guard at the Half Moon Hotel, in Coney Island. Also there in custody were songbirds Allie Tannenbaum, Sholem Bernstein, and Mikey Syckoff. All four men had separate rooms in the hotel, and all were constantly in the presence of lawmen; even when they slept.
On the evening of Nov. 11, 1941, Rose Reles visited her husband in his sixth-floor room. According to a policeman on duty, Rose and Abe engaged in a heated argument, which the policeman characterized as “quite a fight.”
The following morning, at 6:45 am, the assistant manager of the Half Moon Hotel, Al Litzberg, heard a loud thud from the direction of an extension roof, which lay four stories below Reles’s window.
According to the Nov. 13, 1941 edition of the New York Times:
“Sometime after daylight yesterday, Abe Reles, squat bulgy-jawed informer against the Brooklyn murder ring, climbed out on a window edge of the sixth floor of the Half Moon Hotel on Coney Island, fully dressed, but hatless. Strong wind from the gray sea tugged at his long, crisp black hair and tore at his gray suit.
“Behind him, in his room, lights still burned. Behind him the little radio that had played all night, still blared and babbled. The informer, looking southward, could see the surf break against the jetties. He could hear the dolorous clanging of the buoy as it rocked in the tide. He could see far down the deserted boardwalk. It was shrouded in the morning mist.
“Reles let the two bed sheets down the hotel’s east wall, two windows north of the hotel’s Boardwalk front. Around one end of the upper bed sheet he had twisted a four-foot length of radio lead-in wire. He had wound the free end of the wire on a radio valve under the window.
“He let himself down on the sheets to the fifth floor. One hand desperately clung to the sheet. With the other, Reles tugged at the screen and at the window of the vacant fifth-floor room. He worked them up six inches. He tugged again with his full 160-pound weight.
“The strain was too much for the amateur wire knot on the valve. Little by little, it came undone. Reles tried to save himself. He kicked towards the fifth-floor window ledge with his left foot, but merely brushed the shoe leather from toe to heal. He plunged to the hotel’s concrete kitchen roof, a two-story extension, 42 feet below. He landed on his back, breaking his spine.”
Of course, this was total nonsense fed to the newspapers by the crooked police, who, in fact, had picked Reles up and flung him, kicking and screaming, out the window (Reles landed 20 feet from the base of the building. If he had fallen accidentally, he would’ve dropped straight down.).
It had been a $50,000 bribe, paid by Italian mobster Frank Costello to stop Reles from testifying at any more Murder Inc. trials, which had induced several New York City officers of the law to act in such an unprofessional manner.