Albert “The Lord High Executioner” Anastasia
When Murder Inc. was founded, Albert Anastasia (1902 – 1957) became the chief deputy of the execution squad’s founder, Louis “Lepke” Buchalter, and headed the Italian contract killer segment of the organization. When Buchalter went on the lam in 1936, his duties were taken over by Anastasia, who rose to head the entirety of Murder Incorporated.
Anastasia was trouble from early on. He arrived in the US in 1919 as an illegal immigrant, and went to work on New York’s waterfront. In 1921, he was convicted of murdering a longshoreman and sentenced to death. Anastasia was awaiting execution in Sing Sing prison, when his sentence was thrown out on a technicality, and he was granted a retrial. When the retrial came around in 1922, all the witnesses from the first trial had vanished, and Anastasia walked free. The following year, he was convicted on a firearms charge, and sentenced to two years. In 1928, he was again tried for murder, but walked after all the prosecution’s witnesses disappeared or changed their mind about testifying. He walked from additional murder raps, for the same reasons, in 1932 and 1933.
By the late 1920s, Anastasia was a major labor racketeer, and controlled NYC’s longshoreman unions. He allied himself with Joe Masseria, but when his ship started sinking in the Castellamarese War, Anastasia joined Lucky Luciano in killing Masseria. Five months later, Anastasia participated in the murder of Masseria’s successor, Salvatore Maranzano. Anastasia rose to prominence in the new mob era resulting from the Masseria and Maranzano murders.
Lucky Luciano tapped Anastasia to play a leading role in Murder Inc. Unlike Buchalter, who kept a low profile about his viciousness, Anastasia was a vicious murderer who took pleasure in letting everybody know that he was a vicious murderer. He took such joy in his duties with Murder Inc. that he became the most feared mobster of his era, earning the nicknames “Lord High Executioner” and “The Mad Hatter”.
When Murder Inc. began unraveling after hitman Abe Reles turned state’s evidence, it seemed that Anastasia was finally done for. Reles was scheduled to offer evidence against Anastasia, but early on the morning of that day, he fell to his death from a 6th floor window. “Fell” was the official explanation, and as police explained it, Reles had been trying to lower himself out the window via an improvised rope made of tied bed sheets. However, he had shown no inclination to escape, and ever since snitching on the mob, had been deathly afraid to be out of police sight. With Reles out of the way, Anastasia escaped prosecution for his Murder Inc. misdeeds.
Anastasia enlisted in the US Army during WWII, rose to technical sergeant, and was honorably discharged in 1944, receiving US citizenship as reward for his services. After the war, he founded what is today the Gambino crime family, but his greed and brutality alienated his subordinates. On October 25th, 1957, belated karma finally caught up with Albert Anastasia, when he was shot to death in a barber’s chair while waiting for a shave.