The most feared men in the underworld are typically not the bosses, or the brash, flashy gangsters who grab headlines. They are the silent killers. The nameless, faceless men who murder for hire and disappear without a trace. Below are the stories of 5 deadly mob hitmen who left behind a trail of bodies while maintaining a relatively low profile.
“Pittsburgh Phil” Strauss
Harry “Pittsburgh Phil” Strauss was a feared enforcer for Murder, Inc., the gang of killers employed by various organized crime groups in the 1930s and 1940s, primarily in New York. Strauss was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1909 and quickly fell into a life of crime. By the age of 25, Strauss had already been arrested 17 times in New York City. As was typical of organized crime figures of the day, Strauss was never convicted for any of these early transgressions. An Assistant District Attorney in New York said Strauss “had never been convicted of so much as smoking on a subway platform.”
By the time Strauss was a full-blown assassin for Murder, Inc., he used many tools to get rid of witnesses, enemies, and anyone else who had crossed the mafia. He carried a knife, gun, and an icepick so he could choose between weapons when killing a target. Strauss was sometimes sent out of town to conduct business, including the high-profile murder of Harry Millman of the Purple Gang in a diner in Detroit.
Strauss continued to murder throughout the 1930s, until a fellow Murder, Inc. associate decided to talk to authorities and pin a number of crimes on his fellow gang members. Abe “Kid Twist” Reles cooperated with police, and Strauss was just one of the names he named. Strauss was arrested for the murder of gangster Irving “Puggy” Feinstein in 1940. Reles’ account of the murder could be counted on by police: he had participated in Feinstein’s killing.
During his trial, “Pittsburgh Phil” Strauss attempted to convince the judge and jury that he was insane. He grew a long beard, stopped showering, and made a point of chewing on a leather briefcase strap throughout the ordeal. The jury wasn’t buying the act, however, and Strauss, along with his companion Martin “Bugsy” Goldstein, was sentenced to death in Sing Sing Prison’s electric chair, known as “Old Sparky.” On June 12, 1941, Strauss and Goldstein were executed. As for the informant, Abe “Kid Twist” Reles; he mysteriously fell from a window and died while under police protection in November 1941.