Murder Incorporated: 10 Fascinating and Disturbing Things You Didn't Know About the Mafia's Death Squad
Murder Incorporated: 10 Fascinating and Disturbing Things You Didn’t Know About the Mafia’s Death Squad

Murder Incorporated: 10 Fascinating and Disturbing Things You Didn’t Know About the Mafia’s Death Squad

Khalid Elhassan - February 1, 2018

Murder Incorporated: 10 Fascinating and Disturbing Things You Didn’t Know About the Mafia’s Death Squad
Albert Anastasia, in life and death. The Mob Museum

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.

Murder Incorporated: 10 Fascinating and Disturbing Things You Didn’t Know About the Mafia’s Death Squad
Abe “Kid Twist” Reles, in life and after his fatal fall from a 6th floor window. Pintrest

The Unmasking and Undoing of Murder Inc.

Murder Inc. began to unravel in 1940, when Harry Rudolph, a career criminal and police informant, was held as a material witness in a 1933 murder of a minor teenaged gangster. Rudolph implicated three Murder Inc. hitmen, and one of the trio, Abraham “Kid Twist” Reles was flipped by the authorities, and agreed to testify against his colleagues in over 200 murders.

Until then, the authorities had been unaware of the mafia’s streamlined contract killing system, let alone its scope and extent. Abe Reles’ flipping was thus the moment when the smelly stuff hit the proverbial fan for Murder Inc. Worse, for Murder Incorporated’s leaders and contract killers, Abe Reles turned out to be some kind of savant, with a freakish photographic memory of nearly every moment of his entire life. As applied to Murder, Inc., it meant that Reles could provide detailed testimony of every murder he had been involved in or heard of. That included dates, participants, where the killings had occurred, and how they had been carried out.

Once Abe Reles started singing, other Murder Inc. killers saw the wisdom of cutting a deal with the authorities. Eventually, four other hitmen turned state’s evidence, and joined Reles in sinking their former colleagues. The first trials of the mafia’s contract killers began in May of 1940, and with the testimony of Reles and the other canaries singing, the convictions came in quick succession. They included the conviction and sentencing to death of Louis Buchalter, Murder Incorporated’s founder, his chief lieutenants, and other hitmen. Within a few years, Murder Inc. had vanished, with most of its members executed or imprisoned.

Reles and the other hitmen who had turned state’s evidence were stashed by the authorities in a secure location, the Half Moon Hotel in Coney Island. Early in the morning of November 12th, 1941, with police guarding the door, Reles fell to his death out the window of his sixth floor hotel room. Police explained it as an accidental death, but the circumstances were such that it was clear that the mob had gotten to Reles’ police bodyguards, and that one or more of them had pushed him out. As one mobster put it: “The canary could sing, but he couldn’t fly“.


Sources and Further Reading:

Burton, Turkus B., and Feder, Sid – Murder Inc.: The Story of the Syndicate (2003)

Encyclopedia Britannica – Lucky Luciano

J Grit – Murder, Inc. – The Syndicate’s Killing Team

Kavieff, Paul R. – The Life and Times of Lepke Buchalter, America’s Most Ruthless Labor Racketeer

Mafia Genealogy – The Castellamarese War

Murderpedia – Louis Lepke Buchalter

New York Times, The – Guards Demoted in Reles Escape (11/ 14/ 1941)

Sifakis, Carl – The Mafia Encyclopedia (2005)

Time Magazine – Top 10 Real Life Mob Bosses (1/ 20/ 2011)

Wikipedia – Albert Anastasia

Wikipedia – Dutch Schultz