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Murder, Inc.: One of the Most Brutal Death Squads in American History

Nine of the most important goons in Murder, Inc. stand side-by-side in a police line-up. While this photo was being taken, mobster Jacob 'Gurrah' Shapiro was snarling at the police, 'You can't do nuttin' to us.' PHOTO: York City, 1942 Los Angeles Public Library

Starting with the Prohibition era in cities like New York and Chicago, alliances formed between Italians and Jewish gangsters. These groups understood the power of cross-ethnic mergers and were willing to put aside ethnic differences in pursuit of more lucrative business practices.

In Chicago, Al Capone’s right hand man was Jake “Greasy Thumb” Guzik, a Jew. Bugs Moran, the target of the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, headed a virtual rainbow coalition of gangsters with members who had names like O’Banion, Weiss and Drucci.

Meyer Lansky and Lucky Luciano, legends of organized crime who grew up in the Lower East Side and Little Italy respectively, were such close friends and business partners that, according to Luciano, they “didn’t even have to explain things to each other” as they considered each other “blood brothers.”

At the beginning of Prohibition, southern Italians Luciano and Joe Adonis along with Jews Lansky and Bugsy Siegel started a bootlegging operation in Brooklyn. This operation soon began supplying large amounts of alcohol to the show-business community in the Broadway district of Manhattan.

Murder, Inc.

Three members of Murder, Inc.: Harry ‘Pittsburgh Phil’ Strauss, Harry ‘Happy’ Maione and Frank Abbandando.

A mixed group of Jewish and Italian gangsters were operating out of the Brownsville and neighboring Ocean Hill sections of Brooklyn. These men included notorious killers Harry “Happy” Maione (Italian), Frank “The Dasher” Abbandando (Italian), Louis Capone (Italian), Harry “Pittsburgh Phil” Strauss (Jewish), Abe Reles (Jewish), Allie “Tic Toc” Tannenbaum (Jewish), Seymour “Blue Jaw” Magoon (Jewish) and Martin “Bugsy” Goldstein (Jewish).

These goons formed the core of the group dubbed Murder, Inc. and became the nationwide execution arm of what was known as The Syndicate, whose leadership included at various times Lucky LucianoMeyer LanskyBenjamin “Bugsy” SiegelDutch Schultz and Joe Adonis.

Soon the group expanded to include Lepke Buchalter’s (Jewish) and Albert Anastasia’s (Italian) personal killers, Charlie Workman and Emmanuel “Mendy” Weiss. It’s proven that Workman has been responsible for more than 20 murders. Workman and hitman Weiss shot Dutch Schultz and three of his men on Oct. 23, 1935. Schultz had angered the Syndicate by ordering a hit on his prosecutor, Thomas Dewey.

It’s believed that the group of about nine principal goons were responsible for at least 1,000 murders, including one war of extermination waged on behalf of Buchalter, who was attempting to eliminate any witnesses who could possibly testify against him.

Harry Strauss’ handiwork

Harry Strauss was the most prolific and was frequently sent on out-of-town hit jobs for regional crime organizations; who correctly reasoned that, since he was not affiliated with those hiring him and a stranger to the local police, the hit man and his hires would not be linked to the killings.

Detroit Purple Gang mob leader Harry Millman after encounter with Murder Inc.

One such job was the 1937 execution of the Purple Gang’s Harry Millman (Jewish) in a crowded diner in Detroit. Strauss and another man had entered the establishment with pistols blasting and, along with killing their target, wounded five other diners.

Strauss purportedly killed over 100 men, but some historians put the number as high as 500. He used a creative variety of methods, including shooting, stabbing with ice picks, drowning, live burial and strangulation.

Abe Reles turned informant and began to reveal the inner workings of Murder, Inc. to Brooklyn Assistant District Attorney Burton Kaplan. With his testimony and his amazing recollection for details, the police were able to close the book on 85 murders in Brooklyn alone. He also testified at trials in Los Angeles and Newark, New Jersey.

Seymour “Blue Jaw” Magoon, another cooperating witness, disappeared, but his remains were recovered in the desert outside of Las Vegas in 2003.

Along with members of his own gang, Reles implicated Buchalter and Albert Anastasia in countless homicides and detailed the inner workings and structure of the murder organization. Until then, the authorities had been unaware of the mafia’s streamlined contract killing system, let alone its scope and extent.

Abe ‘Kid Twist’ Reles in life and after his fatal fall from a 6th-floor window.

In the early morning of Nov. 12, 1941, with police guarding the door, Reles “fell” to his death from a window of Room 623 at the Half Moon Hotel. The newspapers dubbed him “The Canary Who Could Sing, But Couldn’t Fly.”

Reles had shown no inclination to escape from protective custody, and indeed had demonstrated a fear of even being out of earshot of the police. On the day of his death, he was to have testified against Anastasia, a high-ranking member of the Cosa Nostra, and the trial was based solely on Reles’ testimony.

His testimony sent most of his associates to the electric chair. They included Lepke Buchalter, Harry Strauss, Emanuel Weiss, Louis Capone, Harry “Happy” Maione and Frank Abbandando.

Smiling convicted killers, Emanuel “Mendy” Weiss (right) and Louis Capone, surrounded by detectives, ride the New York Central railroad ‘up the river’ to the Sing Sing prison death house.
Murder inc’s Lepke Buchalter awaits death sentence

Targets of assassinations were informants, those who stole from the mob, other gang members or those who crossed Murder, Inc.’s members at the wrong time.

While other American-Jewish gangsters worked within cross-ethnic alliances, the Jewish Purple Gang dominated Detroit entirely on its own. Like its criminally minded contemporaries, the Purple Gang was engaged in various criminal enterprises, including bootlegging, hijackings, gambling operations, narcotics and kidnappings. And plenty of homicides were committed along the way.

For further reading and insights:

Green Gang Secret Society Ruled Kuomintang China Through Narco Trade

10 Comments on Murder, Inc.: One of the Most Brutal Death Squads in American History

  1. My theory is that the vicious killers of this type went mainstream at some point and cleaned up the optics a bit, and now basically run the country, continuing their ongoing project to suck the American people dry. I think it happened gradually, but probably was a fait accompli by the time of the JFK rubout. Gus Russo’s book Supermob is a great resource in helping to get the big picture. Russ, you might even have been the one who cited the Russo book a while back, I can’t remember.

  2. Yea it’s like the anglos figured out that the best way to run the most productive mob operation was just to run the entire government. Enter skull & bones and the Bush crime family. With central banking already locked up just legalize your criminality. No more hiding from the law you are the law. So the Italian-Jewish mob just became the anglo-Jewish mob, a world wide operation now that reaps enormous profits…the old vile murdering gang seems almost quaint in comparison. Maybe that’s why “The Godfather” has enjoyed such success. Nostalgia for when crime was crime and not the “law” of the land.

  3. Sources I have been coming across say the great Mao of China was a Yalie. That is correct Yale had an extention in China and Mao was a graduate. Sources say the whole Yale operation would have included the skull and bones society and Mao was likely skull and bones. You might want to look into that but it seems reliable. Sure would make sense connecting the Brits, the Jews and the connecting skull and bones crime operation with the 19th century opium wars. The hitch is that Mao later rejected the opium dealers putting them to death. Don’t know what to make of it all. Look forward to a Winter column sometime in the future that can shed some light on it.

    • I love how everyone dressed back in this period of time. As a kid I thought all mob guys had to be Italian by mafia law. Once you find out the jewish connection you start to look at all history differently.

  4. RW,

    I did not ignore this one, you know we both share a keen interest in this tie period; I just did not have the tie to do anything meaningful when you put it up this past week. First, let me just say that this thread is really well written and I like where you went with it. So few people as even aware of the Purple Gang and Detroit, even if they understand a little about New York, Chicago and maybe Florida. This was a strong ending:

    “…the Jewish Purple Gang dominated Detroit entirely on its own. Like its criminally minded contemporaries, the Purple Gang was engaged in various criminal enterprises, including bootlegging, hijackings, gambling operations, narcotics and kidnappings.”

    that really captures the monopoly that this gang had on the city (and you did not even touch upon the unions, which were another whole facet of their reach). Also, what we could add was just how racist these Jewish gangs were. Lest we forget that Dutch Schultz tried to control Harlem not just for the money, but because Mr. Arthur Simon Flegenheimer was an absolute dirty racist (even if he did like women of color – he was such a deplorable misogynistic pig that he was abusive and very dangerous to their well being).

    Now where I am going to respectfully / humbly disagree with you here is in this statement:

    “These goons formed the core of the group dubbed Murder, Inc. and became the nationwide execution arm of what was known as The Syndicate, whose leadership included at various times Lucky Luciano, Meyer Lansky, Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel, Dutch Schultz and Joe Adonis.”

    Schultz lead his own gang, but he was never head of The Syndicate, because they thought of him as too much of a “hot head” and way too erratic. The guy we could add to the list is Mr. Frank Costello both in his youth and then again in his later years.

    Still you did a heck of a job here with this thread and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it.

    All my best,

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