Mobsters in America – Abe “Kid Twist” Reles – The Canary Who Could Sing, But Couldn’t Fly

He was a vicious killer from the time he was 18 years old, but Abe “Kid Twist” Reles, was no man’s man. When it came down to push and shove, he was nothing but a yellow-bellied canary, who ratted out his best friends to save his own skin.

Abraham Reles was born in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn, New York on May 10, 1906. His father was an Austrian Jew, who had immigrated to American to seek a better life. But after working for years as a lowly piece worker in the garment trade, he wound up selling knishes on the streets of Brooklyn from a mobile stand.

Quickly realizing his father’s life was not for him, the five-foot-two-inch Reles, quit school after the eight grade. He soon worked as a gofer for the powerful Shapiro brothers, Meyer, Irving, and Willie, who ran the rackets in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn. Reles was reduced to running errands and doing light work for the Shapiros, for sometimes as little as five bucks a pop. One of these errands consisted of watching over one of the Shapiro’s many slot machines, and for this, Reles took a bullet to his back, which caused nothing more than a flesh would, but a big blast to Reles’ ego. It was about this time that Reles reportedly took the nickname “Kid Twist,” in honor of a previous New York City Jewish mobster named Max “Kid Twist” Zwerbach, who strangely enough, was also killed in Coney Island.

Annoyed, and not wanting to keep on getting the short end of the stick from the Shapiros, Reles formed his own small gang, consisting of childhood friend Bugsy Goldstein, and the Italian duo of Happy Maione and Dasher Abbendado. Soon sadistic killer Harry “Pittsburgh Phil” Strauss joined the crew, and Reles announced, at the ripe age of twenty, that he and his boys were going to take Brownsville and all its rackets away from the Shapiros. Reles named his motley crew of killers “Brooklyn Inc.”

“Why do we have to take the left-overs?” Reles asked Goldstein. “We should cut a piece. The hell with those guys.”

When word got back to the Shapiros what Reles was planning, Meyer, the boss of the clan, was furious. “Brownsville belongs to us,” Meyer Shapiro said. “Nobody moves in here.”

Meyer Shapiro fired the first salvo in the war for control of Brownsville by snatching Reles girlfriend off the street, and brutally beating and raping her. Now it was personal to Reles, and he and Goldstein stalked the streets of Brownsville, looking to kill the all three Shapiros, but Meyer mostly, because of the indignity of him desecrating Reles’ girlfriend. During an entire year, Reles and Goldstein shot at Meyer Shapiro nineteen times, but only wounded him only once. Then one night, figuring they had Meyer Shapiro and his two brother ambushed in front of their apartment building on Blake Avenue, Reles was chagrined to find only Irving had bothered to show. As soon as Irving Shapiro entered his fifth-floor apartment, Reles and Goldstein emptied their guns, first hitting Irving twice in the face and then sixteen more times in the back.

A few days later, Reles and his boys cornered Meyer Shapiro on the streets of Brooklyn. A single bullet into Meyer Sharpiro ‘s ear fired by Reles, dislodged Shapiro as boss of the Brownsville rackets. It took Reles three years to finally eliminate Willie Shapiro, who had been threatening all along to kill Reles and his pals. After abducting Willie Shapiro in a bar, they brought him to a Brooklyn basement, beat him unmercifully, then buried him in a shallow sand dune in Canarsie Flats. Willie Shapiro’s body was soon found, and the Medical Examiner doing the autopsy, located sand in his lungs, meaning he had been buried alive.

Reles and his boys’ triumph over the Shapiro brothers caught the eye of Louis “Lepke” Buchalter, and soon Brooklyn Inc. became a sub-corporation of Murder Incorporated. It was said, Lepke had several dozen killers on his payroll, and in the decade of the 1930’s, police estimated Murder Incorporated was responsible for as many as five hundred hits throughout the country.

Yet nothing good ever lasts forever. On February 2, 1940, Reles, Goldstein and Anthony “Dukey” Maffetore were arrested for the 1934 murder of petty hood named Red Alpert. Maffetore was the first to turn states evidence against his crew, but the biggest rat jewel for New York District Attorney William O’Dwyer was Reles, who was the highest ranking member of Murder Incorporated under Lepke. At Lepke’s trial, which also included Mendy Weiss and Louis Capone as defendants, Reles, who had a photographic memory, gave intimate details of over over 200 murders the defendants were involved with. All three of Reles’ former pals were subsequently convicted and fried in the Sing Sing electric chair.

Yet, the government was not through with Reles’ squealing. They wanted him as the prime witness at the upcoming trials of Murder Incorporated big shots Albert Anastasia and Bugsy Siegel. While Reles was awaiting several more trips to court, O’Dwyer hid Reles at the Half Moon Hotel, located on the sandy beaches of Coney Island. Reles was under constant police guard, with no less than six police officers at a time guarding him, even while he was sleeping.

Yet, in the early morning hours of November 12, 1941, Reles fell to his death from the sixth-floor window of the hotel. He was found laying askew on his back, with his suit jacket on, but his white shirt unbuttoned, exposing a fat belly. Several sheets were found tied together, and even though Reles’ body was found twenty feet from the base of the hotel, the official cause of death was listed as “dying from a fall, while trying to escape.” After Reles’ death, O’Dwyer announced that his future cases went “out the window” with Reles.

Years later, it was said by Italian crime boss Lucky Luciano, that $50,000 was paid by Frank Costello, to be spread around in the New York City police department, to see if the man who could “sing like a canary,” could fly like one too.

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