Weird Mafia Myths Popularized by the Godfather and Media
Weird Mafia Myths Popularized by the Godfather and Media

Weird Mafia Myths Popularized by the Godfather and Media

Khalid Elhassan - July 15, 2022

Weird Mafia Myths Popularized by the Godfather and Media
Three of Murder Incorporated’s most prolific killers, from left to right, Harry ‘Pittsburgh Phil’ Strauss, Harry ‘Happy’ Maione, and Frank ‘Dasher’ Abandando. Pinterest

5. The Mafia Created a Streamlined Murder System

From the early 1930s to early 1940s, the Italian-American mafia’s oversight board, The Commission, kept a coalition of Italian and Jewish gangsters as retained contract killers. Dubbed “Murder Incorporated” or “Murder Inc.”, the hitmen were the mob leadership’s on-call execution squad. During its existence, Murder Inc. enforced The Commission’s will and regulated the underworld by taking out the troublesome, which made them the mob’s literal troubleshooters. Murder Inc. was formed in the early 1930s, after a period of chaotic gang warfare that had greatly disrupted mafia activity.

Weird Mafia Myths Popularized by the Godfather and Media
Murder, Inc. Legends of America.

When the dust settled, the Italian-American mafia was reorganized into a more streamlined structure. The goal was to enable the mafia to pursue its illicit activities in a business-like manner, with as few disruptions as possible. That was accomplished by setting up what came to be known as “The Commission” – a collective leadership council, akin to a board of directors – to oversee broad strategy and settle disputes. Murder Inc. was the muscle that did the actual dispute settling.

Weird Mafia Myths Popularized by the Godfather and Media
Murder Incorporated’s leaders, Louis ‘Lepke’ Buchalter, left, and Albert ‘Lord High Executioner’ Anastasia. National Crime Syndicate

4. The Birth of a Contract-Killing Outfit

Murder Inc. was the brainchild of Jewish-American labor racketeer Louis “Lepke” Buchalter. It was a streamlined contract killing system, intended to isolate mafia members from any connection with the necessary murders that went with their line of business. Murder Inc. operated out of a 24-hour Brownsville coffee shop called Midnight Rose. There, the killers whiled away the time, ready at a moment’s notice to go out on a job once word came down. After it was founded in the early 1930s, Murder Inc. was initially led by its creator, Louis “Lepke” Buchalter, until he was arrested in 1936.

Weird Mafia Myths Popularized by the Godfather and Media
Louis “Lepke” Buchalter. My Jewish Learning.

The execution squad was then taken over by the colorful Albert “The Mad Hatter” Anastasia, also known as the “Lord High Executioner”. Much of Murder Incorporated’s work took place in and around New York City, but the retained killers’ reach was nationwide, and they carried out hits as far away as Detroit, southern Florida, and Los Angeles. The organization existed for barely a decade, from its founding in the early 1930s to its exposure in 1940. In that relatively brief period, the Murder Incorporated’s hitmen carried out an estimated 1000 contract killings.

Weird Mafia Myths Popularized by the Godfather and Media
An FBI wanted poster for Murder Incorporated bigwigs Lepke Buchalter and Jacob Shapiro. Library of Congress

3. When the Mob’s Streamlined Murder Machine Began to Come Apart

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. He agreed to testify against his colleagues in over 200 murders. Until then, the authorities had been unaware of the mob’s streamlined contract murder system, let alone its scope and extent.

Weird Mafia Myths Popularized by the Godfather and Media
Abe Reles. Pinterest.

Abe Reles’ flipping was thus the moment when the smelly stuff hit the proverbial fan. 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.

Weird Mafia Myths Popularized by the Godfather and Media
Abe ‘Kid Twist’ Reles. Pinterest

2. Omerta Was and Remains a Myth

Omerta, the mob’s code of silence, was always a myth. Once Abe Reles began to sing, 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 to testify against their former colleagues. The first trials 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 condemnation 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.

Weird Mafia Myths Popularized by the Godfather and Media
Half Moon Hotel in Coney Island. Reddit.

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, shortly before he was to testify against Murder Incorporated’s second leader, Albert Anastasia, Reles fell to his demise out the window of his sixth-floor hotel room. Police explained it as an accidental death. However, 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“.

Weird Mafia Myths Popularized by the Godfather and Media
Paul Castellano. Pinterest

1. Betrayal Was and Remains Rife in the Mafia

Mafia boss Paul “Big Paulie” Castellano (1915 – 1985) was head of NYC’s Gambino crime family from 1976 until his passing. The son of a mobster in the Mangano family – forerunner of the Gambinos – who ran a numbers game, Castellano dropped out of school in eighth grade to become a hoodlum. By the 1950s, he had risen to become a capo. Although up to his neck in mob rackets, Castellano acted as if he was a legitimate businessman – an affectation that annoyed many of his hoodlum underlings, who had no delusions about their careers.

Weird Mafia Myths Popularized by the Godfather and Media
John Gotti, Paul Castellano’s successor as Gambino boss, leaving court in 1990. Rolling Stone

The disgruntled underlings of the Gambino boss included an ambitious capo named John Gotti. When Castellano failed to attend a prominent subordinate’s funeral in 1985, it offended many Gambinos, and disgruntlement soon grew into rebellion. On December 16th, Gotti organized a hit squad that waited for Castellano’s outside one of his favorite restaurants, Sparks Steak House, in midtown Manhattan. As Castellano exited his car, Gotti watched from across the street as the hitmen rushed the mob boss, and gunned him down.

Read More: John Gotti The Mafia Don Was Sentenced.

________________

Where Did We Find This Stuff? Some Sources and Further Reading

Annals of Crime – The Real Father of Organized Crime in America

Behr, Edward – Prohibition: Thirteen Years That Changed America (1996)

Burns, Eric – The Spirits of America: A Social History of Alcohol (2003)

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

Capeci, Jerry – The Complete Idiot’s Guide to the Mafia (2005)

Costanzo, Ezio – The Mafia and the Allies: Sicily, 1943, and the Return of the Mafia (2007)

Critchley, David – The Origin of Organized Crime in America: The New York City Mafia, 1891-1931 (2008)

Daily Beast – For 50 Years ‘The Godfather’ Has Sold Us a Beautiful Lie

Duggan, Christopher – Fascism and the Mafia (1989)

Encyclopedia Britannica – Anti-Saloon League

Gambino, Richard – Vendetta: The True Story of the Largest Lynching in US History (2000)

Gigantino, Anthony, La Salle University Digital Commons, The Histories, Volume 4, Issue 1, Article 3 – Il Duce and the Mafia: Mussolini’s Hatred of the Mafia and the American Alliance With Organized Crime

GQ, June 20th, 2019 – A Dirty, Rotten, Double Crossing (True) Story of What Happened to the Italian American Mob

History Collection – What It’s Like Growing up in a Crime Family

History Network – The Grisly Story of America’s Largest Lynching

Hortis, C. Alexander – The Mob and the City: The Hidden History of How the Mafia Captured New York (2014)

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 (2006)

Lupo, Salvatore – History of the Mafia (2009)

Mob Museum – Prohibition Profits Transformed the Mob

New Orleans Historical – Sicilian Lynching at the Old Parish Prison

NIH National Library of Medicine – Temperance and Prohibition in America: A Historical Overview

New York Times, November 14th, 1941 – Guards Demoted in Reles Escape

Orkent, Daniel – Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition (2010)

Raab, Selwyn – Five Families: The Rise, Decline, and Resurgence of America’s Most Powerful Mafia Empires (2005)

Sifakis, Carl – The Mafia Encyclopedia (2005)

Washington Post, May 5th, 2017 – Five Myths About the Mafia

Advertisement