When committing murder to fulfill a contract Abe Reles preferred weapon of choice was an icepick, jammed into his victim’s right ear, a method at which he became quite adept. Some of his victims killed in this manner were originally believed to have died of cerebral hemorrhage, the fact of their murder not being revealed until several of the former members of Murder Inc. were cooperating with the authorities. Reles was a short but powerfully built man, who built a crew in Ocean Hill and Brownsville which eventually dominated the illegal gambling, bootlegging, extortion, and loansharking rackets, eliminating their rivals through murdering them.
Reles crew became the core of Murder Inc. after it attracted the attention of Louis Buchalter, and was used by the syndicate to carry out the executions ordered by the Five Families and approved when necessary by the Commission. Once hired, Reles or other members of the crew traveled across the United States carrying out murders, which were performed in a manner dependent upon the particular killer’s preference. The crew planned meticulously and avoided confrontations with police officers and the possibility of their crimes being observed by troublesome witnesses.
Reles was charged in several instances during the 1930s as being involved in murders but was able to avoid conviction. He did serve time for assault, which occurred when a parking lot attendant asked him to stop his repeated honking of his horn. Another account states that Reles was angry that the attendant was slow in retrieving his vehicle. In either event, Reles beat the man severely, for which he was sent to prison for a brief term in the 1930s. Reles had served other terms as a youth, including one in which he was sent to a juvenile workhouse and reform school for a term of two years. By the late 1930s, his luck avoiding conviction was running out.
After Buchalter ordered the elimination of several Murder Inc. associates and other low-level mobsters who could implicate him in multiple murders and other crimes, some gangsters turned to the authorities, offering information for protection. Reles was implicated in up to six murders, and rather than face the death penalty he too offered to provide evidence for the state. Reles gave prosecutors information regarding scores of murders and their perpetrators, including Buchalter, Abbandando, Louis Capone (no relation to Al Capone) and several more, all of whom were convicted and sent to the electric chair. With Buchalter removed, the authorities targeted his replacement, Albert Anastasia.
Reles was in protective custody at the Half Moon Hotel, on the morning of November 12, 1941, the day he was scheduled to testify at Anastasia’s trial for the murder of a longshoreman. That morning Reles fell from the window in his room on the sixth floor. There was evidence that he had tried to lower himself using a rope made of bedsheets to the fifth-floor window below, but it was likely planted. The five police officers who were guarding him were demoted after Reles’s death. Officially it was declared an accidental death, but rumors that the guards were bribed by Frank Costello and that Reles was pushed out the window began immediately. They have never been proved, but Reles had shown no desire to leave protective custody.