In Brownsville, Brooklyn, at the corner of Livonia and Saratoga Avenues, stood a small twenty-four hour candy store named Midnight Rose’s. This wasn’t any ordinary candy store. It housed some of the most lethal for-hire Jewish and Italian contract killers that this country has ever known. While sharing egg creams and betting on Dodger games played at Ebbets Field, these men, dubiously named Murder Incorporated by the press, carried out over eight hundred contract murders. Many if not all are still unsolved.
Charles “Lucky” Luciano and Meyer Lansky established the National Crime Syndicate in the late Twenties, after the murders of then Mafia kingpins, Joe “the Boss” Masseria and Salvatore Maranzano. As gambling, prostitution, and drug trafficking businesses grew for the mob, so did the number of wayward gangsters who skimmed profits and took matters into their own hands. Lucky and Meyer needed a way to deal with these rogues from inside of the Syndicate; therefore Murder Inc. operated as a separate entity and designed solely for hits within the organization. The location was ideal. The candy store was located under the elevated train that brought many people too and from Manhattan. There were always kids around from the local rows of attached houses. This provided security in its own way. A street lamp gave enough light for people to see where they were going, and a small window that faced each side of the street, was perfect for a lookout. Albert “the Mad Hatter” Anastasia, long time friend of Luciano, along with Garment District king pin Louis “Lepke” Buchalter were perfect choices for the leadership of Murder Inc. Since it was a separate entity, Murder Inc. supplied members with lawyers when needed and bought their own police protection and politicians.
Anastasia and Buchalter were two of the most brutal men ever to walk the streets of New York. When the Syndicate approved a hit it would be sent down to Anastasia and he would make sure it was carried out with the utmost of care. Mistakes, such as killing an innocent bystander, would not be tolerated. Many of their victims ended up murdered, missing, or never to be heard from again. At one point, Anastasia had over one hundred contract killers on the payroll for as little as two hundred dollars a week. Some of the names included: Harry “Pittsburg Phil” Strauss who was the organizations traveling door-to-door salesman. He sold death instead of encyclopedias and was the organizations top producer. Martin “Bugsy” Goldstein, Albert “Allie Tick Tock” Tannenbaum, Harry “Happy” Maione a man with an eternal grimace and Frank “The Dasher” Abundando who could have played for the Dodgers because of his speed, hence the nickname, “Dasher”. The most infamous of them was Abe “Kid Twist” Reles, nicknamed after a legendary killer from the Lower East Side. Abe’s weapon of choice was an ice pick that he would jam in the contracts’ ear and scrambled their brains. He was so good at what he did that many of his victims’ deaths were deemed as brain hemorrhages. Abe was the acting Jewish liaison and Harry “Happy” Maione represented the Italian side of Murder Inc. These men ruled over the Brownsville, Williamsburg and the East New York sections of Brooklyn, and their reach was nationwide.
Murder Inc. had strict rules. Luciano and Lansky did not want policemen, judges or district attorneys rubbed out for fear of reprisal against the Syndicate. They felt that any politicians or police personnel that were on the payroll would quickly turn against them. This was an important rule that was carried down from previous generations of Mafiosi.
In order to prevent this type of behavior from occurring, all contracts had to be brought in front of the Commission and voted on. To avoid wiretaps, members of Murder Inc. invented an entire new vocabulary. The hit became known as a “contract,” the intended victim became the “bum”. On one occasion, Arthur Flegenheimer, whose chosen nickname was Dutch Shultz, requested that District Attorney Thomas Dewey be murdered. Dewey was prosecuting many members of the mob at that time and was closing in on Shultz who was fighting extradition to New York. Luciano vehemently denied the Dutchman’s request, and Shultz stormed out of the meeting threatening to do the hit himself. Luciano had to send a message to stem this sort of behavior by members of the Syndicate. The call was made to Anastasia. Before he could get to the troublesome District Attorney, Dutch Shultz was shot in the Palace Chophouse Tavern in Newark, New Jersey on October 23, 1935. Lingering on for over twenty-four hours,he succumbed to his wounds in the hospital. Coincidentally, Murder Inc carried out another big hit on the same day, the murder of Louis “Pretty” Amberg. When Dutch Schultz died, his empire was divided up between, Luciano, Genovese and Buchalter. Years later, Charlie “The Bug” Workman pled guilty to the murder of killing Shultz and received a life sentence because of Abe Reles’ testimony. Workman spent twenty years in prison and was released and never returned to his old bad habits.
During the decade spanning the Thirties, Murder Inc.’s reach stretched from New York to California and left in its wake a trail of bodies and mayhem. In 1940, Kings County District Attorney William O’Dwyer had Abe ‘Kid Twist’ Reles, the “Terror of Brownsville”, picked up on a murder charge based on information supplied by an informant. In order to save himself from a date with the electric chair, Reles decided to turn against his former employers, Murder Inc. It was the first time that law enforcement officials became aware of the closely regarded secret. His testimony on May 16, 1940, supplied enough evidence to help send Louis ‘Lepke’ Buchalter to the electric chair in Sing Sing prison in 1944 for the murder of Joseph Rosen that Lepke planned in 1935. Along with Buchalter, Harry “Pittsburg Phil” Strauss, Mendy Weiss, “Happy” Maione and his childhood friend Martin “Buggsy Goldstein, met similar fates.
A trial was planned for Murder Inc. boss, Albert Anastasia, but the day before he was to testify, ‘Kid Twist’ mysteriously fell from the sixth floor window of room 623, of the Half Moon Hotel, in Coney Island under heavy police guard. He would be forever known amongst other mob members as the “Canary that sung, but couldn’t fly.”