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July 27, 1904|
Newark, New Jersey, U.S.
|Died||February 27, 1959
West Orange, New Jersey, U.S.
|Cause of death||Suicide (hanging)|
|Resting place||B'nai Abraham Memorial Park, Union, New Jersey, U.S.|
|Residence||West Orange, New Jersey|
|Other names||"Longie", "Abele"|
|Occupation||Mobster, businessman, bootlegger|
|Known for||One of biggest non-Italian mobsters|
|Spouse(s)||Mary de Groot Mendels Steinbach Zwillman|
|Allegiance||Chicago Outfit (associate)|
|Partner(s)||Willie Moretti, Al Capone, Dutch Schultz|
It is believed that Zwillman was born on July 27, 1904, in Newark, New Jersey. He was forced to quit school in order to support his family after his father's death in 1918. Zwillman first began working at a Prince Street cafe, the headquarters of a local alderman in Newark's Third Ward. However, in need of more money, Zwillman was eventually forced to quit, later selling fruits and vegetables in his neighborhood with a rented horse and wagon.
Zwillman was unable to compete with the cheaper Prince Street pushcarts, however, so he moved to the more upper-class neighborhood of Clinton Hill, where he began selling lottery tickets to local housewives. He observed that much more money was made selling lottery tickets than produce, so he concentrated on selling lottery tickets through local merchants. By 1920, Zwillman controlled the bulk of the numbers racket with the help of hired muscle.
At the start of Prohibition, Zwillman began smuggling whiskey into New Jersey through Canada, using several World War I armored trucks. Zwillman later joined a syndicate headed by Joseph Reinfeld to smuggle liquor from Canada using ships. They were reputed to have controlled 40% of liquor smuggling. Zwillman used this revenue to greatly expand his operations in illegal gambling, prostitution, and labor racketeering, as well as legitimate businesses, including several prominent night clubs and restaurants.
In 1929, he was sent to prison for six months, for assaulting an associate. It was the only crime he was ever convicted of.
Zwillman dated actress Jean Harlow at one time and got her a two-picture deal at Columbia Pictures by giving its head, Harry Cohn, a huge loan. He also bought Harlow a jeweled bracelet and a red Cadillac. He referred to her in derogatory terms to other mobsters in secret surveillance tapes. He married Mary de Groot Mendels Steinbach, in 1939. She was the only daughter of Eugene Mendels, whose father, Emanuel S. Mendels, was a founder of the American Stock Exchange (then known as the Curb Exchange). The Zwillmans had a daughter, Lynn Kathryn Zwillman born c. 1944. Mary Zwillman had a son from previous marriage, who became Abner Zwillman's stepson.
The "Al Capone of New Jersey"
After Dutch Schultz's murder in 1935, Zwillman took over those of Schultz's criminal operations that were in New Jersey. The press began calling Zwillman the "Al Capone of New Jersey." Zwillman was particularly close to Capone and was his partner in controlling the movie projectionist union. In the mid-1940s, he went into hiding while the union leaders were tried for forcing Hollywood studios to pay huge bribes to ensure that their theaters would remain open. He and Capone were reportedly paid millions of dollars annually.
However, Zwillman often sought to legitimize his image, offering a reward for the return of the Lindbergh baby in 1932, and contributed to charities, including $250,000 to a Newark slum-clearing project.
Shortly after taking over Schultz's operations, Zwillman became involved in local politics, eventually controlling the majority of local politicians in Newark for over twenty years. During the 1940s Zwillman, along with long-time associate Willie Moretti, dominated gambling operations in New Jersey, in particular the Marine Room inside Zwillman's Riviera nightclub, The Palisades.
In 1951, Zwillman's activities were a major focus by the Kefauver Committee on organized crime. While Zwillman acknowledged that he was a bootlegger during Prohibition, he insisted that his subsequent businesses were legitimate.
Zwillman was also close to many celebrities, including Joe DiMaggio. When Zwillman was being investigated by the Kefauver Committee along with other alleged "Outfit" members he reportedly planted three trunks full of money with DiMaggio to hide it from the IRS. It was not returned after Zwillman's death.
In 1956, Zwillman was tried for income tax evasion. However, the jury became deadlocked on the charges and the jury was dismissed. However, several associates of Zwillman were subsequently arrested and charged with bribing two of the jurors.
During the 1959 McClellan Senate Committee hearings on organized crime, Zwillman was issued a subpoena to testify before the committee. However, shortly before he was to appear, Zwillman was found hanged in his West Orange, New Jersey, residence on February 27, 1959. He was buried the same day, after a funeral attended by 1,850, including celebrities and his 80-year-old mother, Ella.
Zwillman's death was ruled a suicide, attributed to intractable income tax and health problems. His stepson, John Steinbach, said that he was also depressed about Senate investigations into jukebox racketeering and a jury tampering investigation, related to a previous failed attempt to prosecute him.
However, police found bruises on Zwillman's wrists, supporting a theory that Zwillman had been tied up before being hanged. It is often speculated[by whom?] that Vito Genovese had ordered Zwillman killed. Others have alleged that Meyer Lansky, suspecting that the New Jersey gangster had agreed to become a government informant, gave permission for the Italian Mafia to take action against Zwillman. The theory that he was hanged was also supported by deported mobster Charles "Lucky" Luciano, who allegedly told journalist Martin Gosch in Italy that the suicide theory was nonsense, and that before hanging him, Zwillman's killers had trussed him up like a pig. Martin Gosch's biography (which he co-authored with Richard Hammer) of Lucky Luciano is somewhat controversial and considered fictional by many mob experts. However, the authors have claimed that the contents are entirely based on interviews with Luciano, who died before the book was ever published.
- "Longie Zwillman Kills Self". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Associated Press. February 26, 1959. p. 3.
- "Mobster Who Made Millions as Rum-Runner Hangs Self". Albuquerque Journal. 1959-02-27. p. 33. Retrieved 2017-10-29 – via Newspapers.com .
- "'Respectable' Underworld Figure Buried". Statesman Journal. 1959-02-28. p. 2. Retrieved 2017-10-29 – via Newspapers.com .
- "Target of Crime Probes Found Hanged in Mansion". Greeley Daily Tribune. 1959-02-26. p. 24. Retrieved 2017-10-30 – via Newspapers.com .
- "Harry Wismer, Widow Wed". Standard-Speaker. 1962-07-25. p. 13. Retrieved 2017-10-30 – via Newspapers.com .
- "Kefauver Committee Final Report Aug. 31, 1951". U.S. Senate Special Committee to Investigate Organized Crime in Interstate Commerce.
- Richard Ben Cramer. Joe DiMaggio: The Hero's Life. pp. 384–385.
- Joseph F. Sullivan (March 9, 1980). "Jersey Man in Abscam Case Is Experienced With Inquiries". The New York Times. p. 20. Retrieved 2010-05-12.
Mr. Zwillman, who later was found hanged in his West Orange home, also testified about his relationship with Mr. Bozzo ...(subscription required)
- Hutchings, Harold (February 27, 1959). "Zwillman, Millionaire Racketeer, Hangs Self". Chicago Daily Tribune. p. C11. Retrieved 2010-05-12.
Abner [Longie] Zwillman, 54, bootleg era millionaire who tried to hide his past in the respectability of his 20...(subscription required)
- "Lynn Zwillman Weds Warren Tuttle". The Mercury. 1968-06-21. p. 6. Retrieved 2017-10-30 – via Newspapers.com .
- Stuart, Mark A. Gangster: The True Story of The Man Who Invented Crime. W.H. Allen & Co. Plc, 1985.
- 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