By the late 1930s, Abe Reles had solidified his reputation as a brutally efficient hit man for Murder, Inc.
Calling himself “Kid Twist”, he preferred wielding an ice pick as a weapon – ramming it through his victim’s right ear and into the brain.
He was universally feared as a genuine psychopath who would resort to violence with the slightest provocation. Reportedly, he once brutalized a car wash employee for failing to remove a smudge from his car.
But earlier, during the Prohibition era, Reles and his friend Martin “Buggsy” Goldstein got their start in petty crime with the Shapiro brothers, who ran the Brooklyn rackets. When Reles was caught and arrested, the Shapiros did nothing to help him. He did two years in juvenile detention, plotting his revenge.
After his release, Reles, Goldstein, and George Defeo decided to muscle in on the slot machine business, which the Shapiro brothers controlled. Defeo had connections that put them in touch with noted mobster Meyer Lansky, who saw the advantage in gaining access to Brooklyn’s poorer neighborhoods and gave them the protection they needed.
With Lansky’s backing, the slots business was soon thriving, and Reles, Goldstein, and Harry “Pittsburgh Phil” Strauss expanded their activities to include loan sharking, crap games, and union strong-arm tactics. Then, the Shapiros struck back.
One night, a call came saying that the Shapiro brothers had left their headquarters. Reles, Goldstein and Defeo got in a car and headed to East New York, where they walked into an ambush. The three men survived, but Reles and Goldstein were wounded in the melee.
Elsewhere, in the meantime, Meyer Shapiro had abducted Reles’s girlfriend. He took her to an open field, where he beat and raped her.
Now there was open conflict between the two groups.
Reles, by now well-established with Murder, Inc., recruited two of his fellow killers – Frank “Dasher” Abbandando and Harry “Happy” Maione to help him exact revenge. Seeing the opportunity to eliminate the other group and take over some of their operations, the three made a few abortive attempts before they finally cornered Irving Shapiro at his home.
Reles dragged him into the street. He beat and kicked Irving and then shot him to death. Two months later, he encountered Meyer Shapiro and ended his life with a bullet to the face.
It was another three years before they could finish the job. William Shapiro was grabbed off the street and taken to a gang hideout. There, he was beaten nearly to death and stuffed into a sack. They then drove to the Canarsie section of Brooklyn with plans to bury him.
But a passerby saw what was going on, and they left in a hurry. So it wasn’t long before Shapiro’s body was exhumed. An autopsy determined that he had dirt in his lungs – clear indication that he was alive when dumped in that hole.
By 1940, Reles was 34 years old and had been arrested 42 times (six times for homicide) and served six prison terms. Facing yet another murder charge, he decided to cooperate with the DA’s office. His detailed revelations about the national crime syndicate Murder, Inc. cleared up about 70 unsolved cases and sent several killers to the electric chair.
On November 12, 1941, while in protective custody waiting to testify at the trial of Albert Anastasia, Reles fell from a window and died. The official story was that it was an escape attempt gone wrong.
But Joseph Valachi – himself a mob informant in later years – thought otherwise, saying, “I never met anybody who thought Abe went out that window because he wanted to.”