Abe Reles: A Brotherhood Betrayed

March 15, 2021

Abe Reles: A Brotherhood Betrayed

Gary interviews Michael Cannell, the author of four non-fiction books and former sportswriter and editor for the New York Times. His most recent book, A Brotherhood betrayed: The man Behind the Rise and Fall of Murder Inc. tells the story of Murderer Incorporated’s most prolific killer, Abe Reles.  The feared Albert Anastasia had turned to a group of young ambitious Jewish gangsters to carry out murders for the Mafia. They were so feared by other gangsters and they committed so many murders that the press dubbed the group Murder Inc.

The Making of a Killer

Abe Reles grew up on Manhatten’s lower east side and like most of his peers, he gravitated to a life of crime. Like most young men, he followed the older gangsters. He even adopted the nickname of “Kid Twist” after hearing about an older Jewish gangster named Max “Kid Twist” Zweiback. The most prominent Jewish gangster of the day was Lepke Buchalter. During the 1930s, chaos among organized crime members ran rampant. the boss of bosses, Lucky Luciano, and the other bosses formed the Commission. In one of their early moves, they created a hit team to handle rebellious young gangsters and bring them in line with the established Mafia Commission. They noticed Abe “Kid Twist” Reles as a man they could trust and picked him to be the anchor of this new hit team that became known as Murder Inc.

Abe Reles: The Canary Who Sang But Couldn’t Fly

Law enforcement and the press noticed the rise in unexplained and unprosecuted murders of gangsters. Thomas Dewey was the crime-busting politically ambitious prosecutor. He chose an aggressive Irishman named William O’Dwyer as his assistant and gave him the job to eliminate this professional criminal culture that had dominated New York City since prohibition. O’Dwyer found a good informant named Harry Rudolph who ratted on Abe Reles. It was not long before Kid Twist realized this only chance to avoid the Electric Chair was to become a cooperating witness against Lepke Buchalter and other mafia bosses. The Mafia Commission put out the word that anyone who killed Abe Reles would be paid $100,000. By 1941 a momentous trial was underway that threatened New York’s most brutal mob bosses, specifically the Lord high Executioner, Albert Anastasia. O’Dwyer based his case on a star witness, Abe Reles. The police stashed Kid Twist in a hotel room at the Coney Island Half Moon hotel and maintained 24 hours a day guard on the door. But before he could testify, the guards found his shattered body on the rooftop of an adjoining building. The first question was whether or not it was a botched escape or murder. They did find several sheets tied together and hanging out the window. The Grand Jury ruled he had tied these sheets to a radiator and when he tried to slide down them, he lost his grip and fell to his death.

Michael Cannell’s A Brotherhood Betrayed documents the rise and all of Murder, Inc. through Reles’ life span from punk gangsters, to a top hitman to stool pigeon, and ending with his death.  on a Coney Island rooftop. He colorfully depicts a time when crime became “organized” crime. The time of wise-cracking mobsters with names like Kid Twist, The Mad Hatter, The Prime Minister of the Underworld, and Tick Tock Tannenbaum.

Show Notes by Gary Jenkins

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