With Louis Capone serving as the intermediary to keep peace between Kid Twist and Happy, the Boys from Brownsville thrived. When Albert Anastasia needed someone murdered, he relayed this information to Capone, who gave the contract to Reles and Maione, who then used their stable of killers, including themselves, to do the dirty deeds.
Despite the money they raked in weekly as Murder Inc. killers, Reles’s crew’s main source of income was shylocking (loaning money at usurious rates), bookmaking (taking illegal bets on sporting events), and floating craps (dice) games. The floating craps games took place on street corners and in vacant lots; the more expensive games in car garages, or in buildings vacant for the night.
The shylocking and bookmaking businesses were run from the backroom of a Brownsville candy store called “Midnight Rose’s.” The store was owned by a cranky old lady named Rose: the mother of one of the minor members of the crew known only as “The Dapper.” Rose was hassled several times by the law over the types of people who frequented her candy store.
“Why do you let hoodlums hang out in your store?” detectives asked her.
“Why don’t the police keep them out?” Rose said. “Can I help it who comes into my store?”
Another time she was asked by the police if she knew anyone named “Pittsburgh Phil.”
“Pittsburgh, Chicago, San Francisco… what do I know about them?” she said. “I was never out of Brooklyn in my life. All I know is I got ‘syracuse’ veins. I’m a sick woman.”
In a 1942 corruption report to New York Governor Herbert Lehman, written by Special Assistant Attorney John Harlan, it said in 1938 alone, more than $400,000 in loans was handled by Midnight Rose herself.
Reles also ran a “stolen-car department,” run by the younger members of the crew, who were mainly gofers for Reles, Happy Maione, Pittsburgh Phil, and the rest of the higher-ups. Teenagers like Dukey Maffetore and Pretty Levine stole cars on a regular basis, as did “Blue Jaw” Magoon, and stolen-car-specialist Sholem Bernstein. Some cars were broken down and sold for their parts, but most were used as transportation in murder contracts.
It was around the time of the Willie Shapiro murder that Reles and his men had moved up in stature in the National Crime Commission. Through the liaison, Louis Capone, Reles and his crew were given frequent murder contracts by the commission, which culminated in the Boys from Brownsville being given more territories in Brooklyn in which to run their rackets.
There is no doubt Abe Reles’s elimination of the Shapiro brothers spurred Reles’s transition from a small-timer into the major leagues of organized crime.
After the Castellammarese War ended in 1931, with both opposing bosses, Joe “The Boss” Masseria and Salvatore Maranzano, ending up dead due to the treachery of Lucky Luciano, amongst others, Luciano, along with Jewish mobster Meyer Lansky, formed a nine-member National Crime Commission which cut across ethnic lines.
There was no single boss of the commission. Instead the leadership was divided equally amongst Luciano, Lansky, Lansky’s sidekick Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel, Frank Costello, Joe Bonanno, Vincent Mangano, Joe “Adonis” Doto, Louis “Lepke” Buchalter, and his right-hand man Jacob “Gurrah” Shapiro. (Loose cannon Dutch Schultz – real name Arthur Flegenheimer – was not a member of the Commission because could not be trusted with making common sense decisions.)
Of course, all corporations need a separation of powers, whereas certain members are given duties which do not tread upon the powers of other members. This is where Murder Inc. came into play.
It was decided, for the good of the National Crime Commission, sometimes unpleasant things needed to be done to keep the Commission safe and profitable. This included killing people who endangered the continued cash flow into the Commission’s coffers. The commission decided they needed to establish a separate branch of their organization; which was responsible for one thing: the murder of people the bosses said needed to be killed.
Louie “Lepke” Buchalter was anointed the main boss of what the press called Murder Inc. To assist Lepke, the Commission appointed Albert Anastasia, nicknamed “The Lord High Executioner,” to be Lepke’s second-in-command.
Lepke never gave a direct order to any of his killers to do a job. Instead, Lepke used trusted men like Mendy Weiss and Louis Capone to issue the final order to the hit men chosen. By keeping a level or two of insulation between himself and the actual killers, Lepke figured nothing could ever be directly pinned on him.
The first order of business for Lepke and Anastasia was to assemble a crack hit-team to do the dirty work. Through Louis Capone, who was close to Anastasia, Lepke had been nurturing a group of homicidal maniacs; some of whom would rather kill than eat. These murderers were Reles’s crew: “The Boys from Brownsville.”
Reles’s crew was not the only killers employed by Murder Inc. But they were the foundation which led to as many as 100 freelance assassins being put on a steady weekly salary (of $125 and up), to be ready to kill whenever the order was given. These men were sometimes paid extra for a job especially well-done. Plus, they were allowed to operate in designated territories in the gambling and loansharking businesses, or in any illegal operation; like hijackings, and even kidnappings. However, even if a member of Murder Inc. didn’t kill anyone for a month, or two, or three, his killing salary came in steadily every week.
By eliminating the three Shapiro brothers, Reles, Maione, and their crews had taken over all the illegal rackets in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn, as well as in Ocean Hill and the surrounding areas. Despite their differences, Reles and Maione worked like a well-oiled killing machine. Under the direction of Anastasia and Capone, the Murder Inc. killers operated in a manner that was almost foolproof.
The key to their method of killing was the concepts of corroboration and separation of powers. The bosses brought in several men to do different aspects of each job, with one man knowing nothing about the other men and their involvement. However, each man was so intimately involved in the operation, he would be considered an accomplice, and his possible corroborating testimony was useless in a court of law in case he ever decided to turn rat.
For instance, let’s say Joe Schmoe from Illinois was next on Murder Inc.’s hit list. Murder Inc. would hire one man to steal an automobile for the getaway. Then another man would be directed to get as many guns as were needed for the job. Then they would employ a third man, who would be the “finger-man” – the person who would point out Joe Schmoe to the actual shooters. They also needed a getaway driver, and a driver of a “crash car” – a legitimately registered car, which would crash into a pursuing police car, or the car of a nosy citizen, after the hit was accomplished. The reason for a legit car as the crash car was that the driver of the crash car could later claim the crash was an accident, while the shooters escaped in the stolen car. (It is not a good idea to crash into a police car with a stolen car.)
The beauty of this routine was that each man involved in the murder would have limited knowledge of the other men involved in the hit. The man who stole the car would not know who purchased the guns, or who did the actual shooting, etc.… etc.…
However, even the most careful men made mistakes, and for Murder Inc. boss, Louie “Lepke” Buchalter, the one he made turned out to be fatal.
Joe Rosen was a hard-working trucker, who through his own initiative had started a very successful trucking business which catered to non-union, tailoring-contract customers in the Wilkes-Barre, PA area. Since his business was so flush with cash, Rosen was made a partner in the New York & New Jersey Trucking Company; a non-union organization. The only problem was Lepke and his sometimes-partner Max Rubin controlled the Amalgamated Clothing Worker’s Union and were incensed Rubin, a non-union man, was doing business without the benefit of their union’s protection.
In 1932, Rubin and Lepke approached Rosen and demanded he stop delivering to non-union tailor shops in Pennsylvania.
“But if I lose the Pennsylvania business, I lose everything,” Rosen told them. “I’ve been in the clothing business all my life and now I’m being pushed out of it.”
However, Lepke, with his Murder Inc. men backing him up, could be every persuasive.
Lepke forced Rosen out of business, and he threw Rosen a bone by giving him a job as a lowly truck driver at Garfield Express, a trucking company in which Lepke owned 50 percent interest with his partner Louis Cooper. Eight months later, Cooper fired Rosen, and Rosen was out of work for 18 months. Rosen used borrowed funds to open a small candy store in Brownsville, but Rosen was a loud and unhappy camper.
Special Prosecutor Thomas E. Dewey was making noise about Lepke’s involvement with the Amalgamated Clothing Worker’s Union. Joe Rosen was also making noise, saying to anyone who would listen, maybe he and Dewey should sit down and have a little talk about Lepke’s stranglehold of the unions.
Max Rubin told Lepke, “This is bad. Joe (Rosen) is going around complaining he’s got a family and he doesn’t have anything to eat. We’ve got a desperate man on our hands.”
At first, Lepke figured he’d give Rosen a few bucks, and tell Rosen to get out of town, or else. And that Lepke did, through Rubin, who made a trip to Rosen’s candy store.
Rubin told Rosen, “Here’s $200. Lepke wants you to go away and cool down. You better do what he says.”
Figuring he didn’t have a choice, Rosen closed his candy store and absconded to Reading, PA, where his son worked as a coal miner. But after an unpleasant week slaving in the coal mines, Rosen defied Lepke and headed back to Brooklyn, where he reopened his candy store. Rosen also began running his mouth again about having a little chat with Dewey. This infuriated Lepke, and in Lepke’s midtown office, Lepke voiced his rage to Rubin.
Lepke thought he and Rubin were alone in Lepke’s office, but new Murder Inc. killer Allie Tannenbaum, fresh off the successful murder of renegade taxi-business owner Irv Ashkenaz in the Catskills, was in an adjoining room, and the door to Lepke’s office was wide open.
Tannenbaum heard Lepke say to Rubin, “I’ve seen enough of this crap. That (expletive) Rosen, he’s going around shooting his mouth off about seeing Dewey. He and nobody else is going any place and doing any talking. I’ll take care of him.”
On Sept. 13, 1936, Joe Rosen opened his candy store at approximately 7:30 am. Waiting in a car across the street from the candy store were a group of Murder Inc. hitmen, led by Harry “Pittsburgh Phil” Strauss and Happy Maione. As soon as Rosen walked into the candy store, Strauss and Maione busted through the front door and emptied 17 bullets into Rosen’s body. Strauss fired four shots into Rosen’s body after Rosen was dead.