Abe Reles

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Abraham Reles
Born Abraham Reles
(1906-05-10)May 10, 1906
Brooklyn, New York, USA
Died November 12, 1941(1941-11-12) (aged 35)
Brooklyn, New York, USA
Other names Kid Twist

Abe "Kid Twist" Reles (/ˈrɛlɨs/; May 10, 1906 – November 12, 1941) was a New York mobster who was widely considered the most feared hit man for Murder, Inc., the enforcement contractor for the National Crime Syndicate.[citation needed] Reles later turned government witness and sent several members of Murder, Inc. to the electric chair.

Early years[edit]

Abraham Reles, the son of Austrian Jewish[1] immigrants, was born in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn, New York, on May 10, 1906. His father worked in one of the garment trades until sometime during the Great Depression. His father's last known occupation was peddling knishes on the streets of Brownsville. His full formal Hebrew name was Elkanah ben Shimon.[2]

Reles attended school through the 8th grade. After leaving school, he began hanging out at pool rooms and candy stores in and around Brownsville. He soon teamed up with two of his childhood friends, Martin "Buggsy" Goldstein and Harry "Pittsburgh Phil" Strauss, who eventually rose to power with him in the group conventionally known as Murder Inc. His first arrest came in 1921 for stealing $2 worth of gum from a vending machine, and he was sent to the children's village at Dobbs Ferry, New York, for four months.

Reles's small physical size did not deter him from committing ruthless acts of violence. When carrying out murders, his weapon of choice was an ice pick, which he would ram through his victim's ear right into the brain. Reles became so adept at using the ice pick that many of his murder victims were thought to have died of a cerebral hemorrhage.

Reles became known[according to whom?] as a particularly cold-blooded and psychopathic murderer. On one occasion, in broad daylight, he attacked a worker at a car wash for failing to clean a smudge from the fender of his car.[3] Another time, Reles killed a parking lot attendant for failing to fetch his car fast enough.[3] On another occasion, he brought a guest to his mother-in-law's home for supper. When his mother-in-law retired after the meal, Reles and another gang member murdered the guest and then removed the body.[citation needed]

Reles reportedly got the nickname "Kid Twist" after an earlier New York killer, Max "Kid Twist" Zwerbach. Another theory behind the moniker is that it was the name of his favorite candy. Yet another theory is that the nickname described his method for strangling people.

Reles was a bootlegger who rarely touched alcohol.

Reles lived at 649 East 91st Street in Brooklyn, before moving to 9102 Avenue A, also in Brooklyn.

Prohibition and Murder, Inc.[edit]

During the Prohibition days of the 1920s, while still teenagers, Reles and Goldstein went to work for the Shapiro brothers, who ran the Brooklyn rackets. Soon Reles and Goldstein were committing petty crimes for the brothers. On one such occasion, Reles was caught and sentenced to two years in an upstate New York juvenile institution. The Shapiro brothers failed to help Reles, prompting Reles to plan revenge.

After his release, Reles, Goldstein, and George Defeo entered the slot machine business, the province of the Shapiro Brothers. Through Defeo's connections, Reles and Goldstein were able to make a deal with the influential crime lord Meyer Lansky, who wanted access to the poorer neighborhoods of Brooklyn and thus agreed. Both parties prospered: Lansky was able to get sizable footholds in Brownsville, East New York, and Ocean Hill, while Reles gained the backing he needed to keep both his business and himself alive.

Reles, Goldstein, and Strauss were partners in all of their criminal activities, which had primarily been the slot machine business and quickly expanded to include loan sharking, crap games, and labor slugging in connection with union activities, especially the restaurant union.

The slot machine business thrived and soon Reles and Goldstein were on the Shapiros' hit list. One night, the two men received a phone call from a "friend" saying that the Shapiros had left their East New York headquarters. Hopping into a car with Defeo, they headed to East New York. However, when they reached the Shapiro's building, the three men were ambushed. Reles and Goldstein were wounded, but all three managed to escape. In the meantime, Meyer Shapiro abducted Reles's girlfriend and dragged her to an open field, where he beat and raped her.

Revenge against Shapiro Brothers[edit]

To avenge the ambush and his girlfriend's rape, Reles enlisted the help of fellow Murder, Inc. killers Frank "Dasher" Abbandando and Harry "Happy" Maione. The two killers were glad to help: they hoped to kill the Shapiro brothers and take over some of their operations. After several futile attempts by each side to eradicate the other, the Murder, Inc. group finally caught up with Irving Shapiro. On that occasion, Reles dragged Irving from the hallway of his home out into the street. Reles beat, kicked, and then shot Irving numerous times, killing him. Two months later, Reles met Meyer Shapiro on the street and killed him by shooting him in the face. Another three years elapsed before Reles finally got the last Shapiro brother, William. William was abducted off the street and taken to a gang hideout. Once there, he was beaten nearly to death, stuffed into a sack, and driven out to the Canarsie section of Brooklyn and buried. Before the gang could finish burying William, a passerby spotted them and they had to flee the scene. William Shapiro's body was exhumed shortly thereafter, and after being autopsied it was determined that he had been buried alive.

Government informant[edit]

In 1940, Reles was implicated in a number of killings. Realizing that he faced execution if convicted, Reles became a government witness. Reles implicated his boss Lepke Buchalter in the murder of Brooklyn candy store owner Joseph Rosen; Buchalter was eventually convicted and executed for this crime. Reles's information also implicated Harry Strauss, Louis Capone, Mendy Weiss, Harry Maione, Frank Abbandando, Irving ("Knadles" and "the Plug") Nitzberg, and even his own childhood friend "Buggsy" Goldstein, who were all convicted and executed. Reles' next target was Albert Anastasia, who had been co-chief of operations of Murder, Inc. Reles was to implicate Anastasia in the murder of union longshoreman Pete Panto. However, unlike other members of Murder, Inc., Anastasia was a high-ranking member of the Cosa Nostra. The trial, based solely on Reles' testimony, was set for November 12, 1941. Until then, Reles was under constant guard by police detectives at the Half Moon Hotel in Coney Island. To protect the New York crime families from exposure, boss Frank Costello reportedly raised $100,000 to bribe these guards to kill Reles. It is alleged that Charles Burns, one of the police bodyguards, was also involved in the disappearance of Judge Joseph Force Crater in 1930.


In the early morning of November 12, 1941, with police guarding the door, Reles fell to his death from a window of room 623 at the Half Moon Hotel.[4][5][6] He had been trying to lower himself to the fifth floor window underneath using two bedsheets tied together and then to a four foot length of wire that he had attached to a valve in his room. However, the wire knot to the valve became undone, and he fell to a second floor outdoor landing.[4] The following day, five police officers who had been guarding him were demoted.[7] Because Reles had shown no inclination to escape from protective custody, and indeed had demonstrated a fear of even being out of earshot of the police,[4] there was widespread speculation for years that he had been thrown or pushed out of the window and the room had been arranged to look like he was trying to escape, but in 1951, a grand jury concluded that it was an accidental death during an attempted escape.[8] Suspicion still remains about whether or not he was murdered.[9]

Because of his mob status as a "stool pigeon" and the circumstances surrounding his death, Reles gained another moniker after his death. Reles became known in a newspaper article as "The Canary Who Could Sing, But Couldn't Fly".

Reles is buried in Old Mount Carmel Cemetery in the Glendale section of Queens, New York.[2]


  1. ^ (http://www.britannica.com/eb/article-9063132/Abe-Reles Abe Reles)
  2. ^ a b Abraham Reles at Find a Grave
  3. ^ a b Cummings and Volkman 1992, p.36
  4. ^ a b c "Abe Reles Killed Trying to Escape". New York Times. November 13, 1941. p. 29. Retrieved 29 September 2015. 
  5. ^ "Neighborhood report: Southern Brooklyn; Ill-Fated Stool Pigeon's Roost Finally Following Him Down". New York Times. Retrieved 9 July 2015. 
  6. ^ Abe at www.nyu.edu
  7. ^ "Guards Demoted in Reles Escape - Five to Get Department Trials on Laxity Charge, Mayor Orders Inquiry". New York Times. November 14, 1941. p. 1. Retrieved 29 September 2015. 
  8. ^ "Inquiry Discredits O'Dwyer For Calling Reles Important". New York Times. December 22, 1951. p. 1. Retrieved 29 September 2015. 
  9. ^ http://www.nysun.com/arts/excess-of-burnses-keep-a-case-open/20104/
  • Rockaway, Robert A. (2000). But he was good to his mother: The Lives and Crimes of Jewish Gangsters. Gefen Publishing House. ISBN 965-229-249-4
  • Cummings, John, and Ernest Volkman (1992). Goombata: The Improbable Rise and Fall of John Gotti and His Gang. Avon Books. ISBN 0-380-71487-6

Further reading[edit]

  • Davis, John H. Mafia Dynasty: The Rise and Fall of the Gambino Crime Family. New York: HarperCollins, 1993. ISBN 0-06-016357-7
  • Messick, Hank. Lansky. London: Robert Hale & Company, 1973. ISBN 0-7091-3966-7
  • Elmaleh, Edmund. The Canary Sang but Couldn't Fly. New York: Union Square, 2009. ISBN 978-1-4027-6113-3
  • Almog, Oz, Kosher Nostra Jüdische Gangster in Amerika, 1890–1980 ; Jüdischen Museum der Stadt Wien ; 2003, Text Oz Almog, Erich Metz, ISBN 3-901398-33-3
  • Turkus, Burton. (2003). Murder, Inc. The Story of the Syndicate. New York, N.Y.: Da Capo Press.

External links[edit]